Over the weekend of 16th / 17th August, two road races were held which highlighted Gauteng’s gracious & glorious past. Too focused on their running, many failed to notice or care. But I did. Isn’t that partly what running is all about?
What is the essence of a great race? What ingredients does it require before the majority of the runners will exclaim, “That was a superb race!” Of course all situations will all have their cynical detractors who will censure or dismiss with scorn even the best organised events. One such runner was Eugene. Perhaps due to his brilliant mind, he would deprecatingly scoff at the organisation of even the best organised events.
In this context, I am not referring to the Eugene’s of this world but rather to the well-adjusted runners. Is this essence of greatness something physical such as the environment or the organisation or is it something more ephemeral such as the vibe.
Take last weekend’s Dawn to Dusk held at the Akasia Hoerskool north of Pretoria. A 12 hour circuit race around a one kilometre track could be tedious and boring whereas this race has an atmosphere which invites participation and engenders a sense of togetherness. It is an eclectic mix of English and Afrikaans, young and old, the fast runner and the jogger. All come together in a spirit of enjoyment.
What makes this race so special for me is the organiser cum announcer Gerrie Strydom. Despite being the plaaslike NG predikant, he has a unique turn of phrase and a whimsical sense of humour which is never mordant. Perhaps uplifting would be a better definition. Whatever it is, combined with a vague Boland Afrikaans accent, it is the perfect booster for an otherwise tiring day. For me, without Gerrie this race would be another long slog.
So it was this year except that Nigel had to attend a wedding on Saturday afternoon which annihilated the traditional plan of 5kms each until the minimum mileage of 80kms was achieved. What this now meant was that Nigel did 10kms and I did 5km until Nigel had completed 40kms upon which I would have to jog a God-damn long hot 25kms without a break while Nigel drank champagne at the Pecanwood estate!
For me one of the preconditions for a great race is an enchanting environment. Sorry Boksburg but this excludes all your races through the Industrial Areas. Of course one cannot run in a nature reserve every weekend but there are plenty of races which are held in salubrious suburbs. On this weekend it was more than an upmarket suburb but rather for me a sense of a bygone era.
On Saturday, the Phobians 15km race was held at the Pretoria Boys School in Brooklyn Pretoria. The grounds are extensive encompassing some 85 hectares. Having been founded in 1901, it has the ethos of old world charm. On entering the premises, one obtains a mere glimpse of the main building. It is sufficient to let the imagination roam into another era.
The race itself winds through the older yet not decrepit parts of Pretoria past the home of the Blue Bulls, Loftus. The more easterly portions represent the more gentrified houses but none were the elegant upmarket houses of the elite who probably, even in those days, would have lived on the Waterkloof ridge.
Sunday’s race was far hillier and much more historic being the Varsity Kudus’ half marathon from Wits. As usual we ran north predominantly through the elegant Westcliffe area.
The few remaining mansions of the Randlords built at the turn of the 20th century are monuments to the colourful history of Johannesburg. Parktown and Westcliff are two of the oldest suburbs of Johannesburg and home to the mining magnates from 1892 till today. The concentration of power and money, combined with the exuberant and extravagant taste of these pioneers, is reflected in the homes they built on the prominent ridges which lie north of the city centre.
The koppie stones which were so readily available on this ridge have been used in the building of many of the houses, perimeter walls, and stairways including some roads. Beneath the dappled shade of the old trees together with a patina of age covering these rocks transforms them into a friendlier mellow variety.
The first people to build along the summits of the northern ridges were the aristocracy of the early mining industry, at the start of the 20th century. A plot on the ridge soon became a must for the very rich and the truly influential, and the ridge became very exclusive.
In fact, although it is practically next to the city’s concrete jungle to the south, Westcliff can be almost remote and even eerie in a countrified way, thus creating a wonderful contrast. And the past is never too distant.
The next time that one is running this particular race watch out for the various blue heritage coat of arms which pervade the area especially along that portion of the road at the very crest of the ridge.
I still have not discovered the precise recipe for an excellent race but personally I prefer my run to be in an uplifting soul enriching area. That is why, apart from the poor organisation of the Gauteng Marathon Challenge, that race is drab and depressing with the dregs of society on display.
Perhaps it is my interest in history that fascinated me about these races or maybe it was something far more mundane: great organisation. But do not ask Eugene for his opinion.
Redolent = strongly reminiscent of