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Still need to qualify? Manic about seeding? Looking for extra hill conditioning? Running Mann’s got you covered!
Still need to qualify? Manic about seeding? Looking for extra hill conditioning? Running Mann’s got you covered!

1 March 2019

Welcome to the second in a series of three blogs by Running Mann, real name Stuart Mann, who has completed a phenomenal 207 marathons and ultras, and is still going strong! Because OMTOM is his favourite ultra, he has kindly agreed to help us help you qualify. If nothing else, his wry and witty insights will be sure to elicit a giggle and calm the nerves! Follow this self-described ‘middle of the pack’ athlete on TwitterInstagram and Facebook for rolling updates

There are only four weeks and 19 marathons left to qualify for Africa’s biggest running event. Most of them are run over the first two weekends in March – which is the focus for this article.

If you’ve already got a qualifier under the belt, there are some fantastic hilly marathons to get your legs ready for Chapman’s Peak (see pics above and below) and Constantia Nek. For those who’ve still got to qualify I’d recommend one of the tougher options to condition your legs for Cape Town’s best loved running event. Worried about the 5-hour cut-off or fixated on your seeding? Not to worry, I’ll highlight the easy options too.

The two faces of the OMTOM route – fantastic meets frightening

The first half of OMTOM is really easy – and some runners have a tendency to get sucked along, going out too fast and imploding over the second half. If you play it fast and loose over the first half of OMTOM, you’ll see her nasty side during the second!

The race known as the most beautiful marathon in the world has many magnificent stretches and for me, the best is Chapman’s Peak – a challenging climb of 180m over 5k of sheer beauty. By car you need to a pay a toll but access is free to OMTOM runners – and regardless of your method of getting to the top, the view is always priceless.

You’ll meet Constantia Nek just after the marathon mark and this is as nasty as they get – a wild mood swing of 215m over 4k. A good quality qualifier marathon will ensure you enjoy the beauty of Chapman’s Peak and can hit Constantia Nek with enough confidence to get to the top. The good news is that you can celebrate your achievement with an ice-lolly from the Ola refreshment table at the top before the last 10k to the finish at the University of Cape Town.

Your 2-3 March Options

With great hills come great views – and all four of the Saturday marathons on Saturday fit this bracket.

  • The Marakele Marathon (above and also below) is written in pen in my provisional list of Top Ten South African Marathons. It doesn’t get any better – or more South African – than running a marathon in an unfenced Big Five national park while armed rangers ensure your safety. The out-and-back route involves a 600m climb to the top of a spectacular cliff in the Waterberg before heading back to the sanctuary of base camp. Don’t be too disconcerted if you notice that you’re being followed by circling vultures – the reserve is instrumental in the conservation of Cape Vultures with 800 breeding pairs (the most in the world).

  • The Tzaneen Tuffy is as difficult as marathons get. The first half will smash your quads with a skydive that drops you from 1,200m down to 650m. After that there’s some mild turbulence before the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign comes back on again for a monster 600m climb over 10k that will test the aviation skills of even the strongest marathon runner. If the hills don’t leave you breathless, the scenery will.


  • The Harcourts Battlefields Marathon is an out-and-back route nestled into the Drakensburg. Your legs might complain about the hills but your eyes will feast on the Drakensburg over a course that takes you passed relics from the Anglo-Boer War.


  • I’m looking forward to conquering the VKB Surrender Hill Marathon – which Free State runners tell me is the most beautiful in their province. Marathons with the word ‘hill’ in the title should never be taken lightly – and the gruelling route takes you over 2,500m above sea level while you enjoy the natural splendour of the Maluti Mountains.

To balance four of the toughest marathons on the books, the last Saturday option is the fastest ultra in the country. The Uniwisp Fast One (above and below) lives up to its name with a 50k point-to-point quadkiller. This race has
a profile like Bitcoin price-tracking index over the last 12 months. You start in the highveld and drop to the lowveld whilst admiring the views, forests, fauna and foliage of the area all the way to in Mbombela Stadium.

Sunday has two much easier marathon options:

  • The Cape Gate Vaal Marathon is an immensely popular qualification marathon and one many a runner has PBed on. For those who are scared of curves, this is as flat as South African marathons get.


  • The Harry Gwala District Marathon is an undulating point-to-point race in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Your 9-10 March Options

After the hills of weekend one, the options for the second weekend are a lot more sedate.

Upington is nine hours from anywhere but that’s where you’ll find me for the smallest marathon in March (with just 29 finishers in 2018). The John Nugent Marathon is named after the prominent Upington optometrist who dedicated his life to eye-care in the region. His legacy is continued with the John Nugent Marathon and all funds raised from the race are donated to fund corneal transplants for patients who can’t afford the procedure.

The two-lap route tours you along the Orange River, pecan orchards, vineyards and scenic suburbs. Bring your ‘all surface’ shoes the terrain covers farm roads, jeep tracks and tarmac. Although this is a flat course, there is a nasty heartbreak hill towards the end of each lap to make sure you earn your unique medal which is in the form of a pair of spectacles.

You other five options are:

1. The Buffalo Marathon (or Buffs as it is better known) is a fast, downhill marathon that starts near Macleantown 500m above sea-level and drops you back to the ocean in East London. Stick around afterwards to relax on the beautiful beaches – if you’re more adventurous, take a boat trip to watch whales and sharks.

2. The biggest event of the weekend is the Kosmos 3-in-1. Most races force you to select your distance but Secunda’s showpiece allows you to run them all. The day begins with a flat circular marathon but most of 2 000 participants stick around to run another half marathon at lunchtime as well as a further 10k in the evening for a total haul of 73.3k. The race has superb refreshment tables hosted by the local community – so you’ll be well fed as I was in this pic below, and supported over the course of the day (Fat Cats AC were still just Slightly Overweight AC before they started their annual pilgrimage to Kosmos). All races start and finish at the Lake Umuzi Waterfront – an excellent venue that provides plenty of entertainment options for the kids while mom and/or dad run.

3. Kimberley has some gems and the 49th Diamond Marathon is a chance to mix with the friendly Northern Cape running community over a fast and flat circular route.

4. The Welkom runners have made a plan to replace the cancelled Aldam 50k with a 48k race comprising three flat, 16k-laps around town. This low-key event is strictly for those who are bored and in Welkom (but I repeat myself).

5. The Edenvale Marathon is your stock standard, double-lap marathon around Johannesburg’s East Rand. If you’re or just need another marathon on the legs, this is one of the very few Gauteng marathons that takes line entries.

Have fun deciding which of these great races to use as part of your preparation for Africa’s biggest running event.

See you on the road!

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