Johannesburg - I can’t say I wasn’t warned! Long before the Soweto Marathon, I was told it wasn’t pap and vleis, but I refused to believe it.
To say the 42km race was gruesome is an understatement. What a tough time I had – and for those of us who took more time to finish, the scorching heat didn’t make things any easier. All I saw were flames! To quote Baroka FC coach Kgoloko Thobejane: “This thing will kill you a real death".
However, I am not a quitter. Nothing was going to stop me from realising my goal of finishing my maiden marathon, no matter the circumstances.
The event had its fair share of drama, which ranged from runners’ cramp to people forgetting where they had parked their cars.
But it’s all part of the fun, and Sowetans know how to make the marathon a memorable, entertaining experience. Big ups to the locals who cheered us all the way. Some poked fun at us with comments such as, “Awuya kwini [where were you going/what were you thinking]”, while others encouraged us to go for it.
Members of the Fat Cats Athletic Club were there in force, supporting us all the way.
What I like most about races such as this one is the camaraderie among athletes as they push one another to greater heights. A standout moment was when one volunteer said, just after the starting point: “You’re almost there!” People laughed at him.
But reaching Vilakazi Street, just after the 27km mark, was no laughing matter. That’s where the going got really tough. Many veterans of this race had told me: “If you survive the Vilakazi Street ascent, you’re almost there".
But this was far from the truth. Although there is a sharp downhill run after Vilakazi going towards Orlando Stadium, it was just after Noordgesig when I saw people struggling. Almost all of us were walking that stretch of road. We were not “almost there” – not by a long shot.
Another steep climb was waiting for us at New Canada towards Highgate, and I felt sorry for the few runners who were forced to give up because of cramps.
The medical personnel had a field day as ambulances transported athletes who could stand the pain no longer. I must admit that the thought of joining them did cross my mind, but I was determined to realise my dream.
My dream came true when I entered the FNB Stadium, in sight of the finish line ... and I crossed it.
When I reached my car, a security guard told me how lucky I was to find the parking spot as he had been fielding questions from runners who were “deurmekaar” and couldn’t remember where they had parked their vehicles.
This marathon is not for the faint-hearted. I’m glad I made it, and I have a medal to show for it.
I have been asked if I will take part in next year’s event. I have decided not to respond for now. Maybe after a few weeks I will be in a less emotional state. For now, I am sitting back and assessing what being a marathon runner really means.
Disclaimer – the sports editor was not involved in the decision made by his colleagues to put themselves through such a challenge.