Run a marathon for Madiba


    Comrades winners Bruce Fordyce and Bongumusa Mthembu at the launch announcement of the 2014 Mandela Marathon. (Image: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

    • Mbali Ndlovu
    communications director
    uMgungundlovu District Municipality
    +27 33 897 6713

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    It would take you, no matter the traffic, 35 minutes to get from Imbali in Pietermaritzburg to Tweedie in Howick by car. But where is the fun in that? Instead, like thousands of other runners, you can take part in this year’s Mandela Day Marathon.

    Do marathon runners take in the scenery they are racing past? If they did, the Mandela Marathon would offer some spectacular eye candy. The route takes runners through some of the most beautiful scenery in KwaZulu-Natal. Leaving Pietermaritzburg behind, it ascends to Sweetwater, up the Challenge Climb to Hilton, before the downhill to Cedara and its magnificent views of the Midlands and Midmar Dam. The trail run and mountain bike rides take place on 30 August; the road run follows the next day.

    Mbali Ndlovu, communications director for the uMgungundlovu District Municipality, says the route has to be a test for runners. It celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela, she says, but demands that we remember the struggles that made him the man we revere. “It is an uphill race, but when [they] reach the hill runners can celebrate overcoming the biggest challenge. In Mandela’s spirit we want people to recognise that no matter how hard the hills or how long the journey, you can only overcome them if you persevere.”

    The race route, the start and end points are tied into the history and legend of Mandela the Black Pimpernel. Manaye Hall in Imbali hosted an ANC organised All In Africa conference on 25 March 1961. Mandela, then on the run, attended as a surprise speaker. In his last speech as a free man he urged the delegates to adopt the principle of one person, one vote.

    Forty two kilometres later the race ends in Howick, at the site of the roadblock where Mandela was captured in August 1962. “Do you think that Madiba’s nerves were on edge while he was on the run?” Ndlovu asks before continuing. “Life is more complicated than a race but you don’t get anywhere in life without putting in a little effort. That’s the lesson we want people to take away from their weekend as our guests.”

    Among the race ambassadors, who will be taking part in the invitation only 46664 race, are Comrades Marathon winners Bruce Fordyce and Bongumusa Mthembu. Race ambassador and Springbok runner Jenna Challenor says that running frees her soul. “Is there a better feeling than accomplishing a goal you have trained hard to get?” It is this spirit of achievement through personal sacrifice that ties the sweat and effort of the runners to the spirit of Mandela.

    There is also the R500 000 – 20% of all entrance fees – that the host uMgungundlovu District Municipality is donating to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The money has been earmarked for literacy programmes the foundation will identify in the very rural part of KwaZulu-Natal.

    First held in 2012 with just 1 500 runners, this year the organisers, the KwaZulu-Natal Athletics Association, are hoping to have at least 10 000 registered participants when entries close on 31 July. Participants can take part in the marathon, a 21km run or a 10km fun run. There is also, for the more adventurous, a 15km trail run around Howick plus mountain bike races of 42km, 21km and 10km.

    For the serious runners, completing a marathon – and the Mandela run is a qualifier for the Comrades – is a personal achievement. For the less serious runners and for the families, the race organisers have included the shorter distances. “There is a certain mystique to finishing a marathon but not everyone can. So we have the shorter distances. We wanted to be inclusive so we added the shorter distance, one that entire families can participate in together,” Ndlovu explains.

    “We hope that the race becomes as big as the Comrades one day.” For the municipality, the race is part of its development plans. “Most tourists are passing through on their way to Durban or spend the day driving along the Midlands Meander. We want people to choose to spend their time and their money here. As the race grows in popularity it will be a big part of our tourism and economic development programme.”