Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 143, July 2021 July 2020 | Page 32

MANN the running mann by STUART MANN


MANN the running mann by STUART MANN

Running in Big 5 Country

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown , I have not been able to get my usual marathoning and travel fix in for a while , but I do have some great memories of races in years gone by . So , until we can race again , you ’ ll have to make do with me taking running trips down memory lane , and this month , I ’ d like to go a bit off the beaten track for a change , so to say , and tell you about one of my rare off-road marathons back in 2008 in the Big 5 Marathon , run in the Entabeni Game Reserve in Limpopo Province .
Overall , foreigners probably made up at least 50 % of what was a surprisingly small field of just over 100 runners split over the full and half marathons . A few seemed to have come over for a Comrades “ holiday ” and then stayed on for this race a fortnight later . Personally , I would recommend that any international marathon enthusiast rather combines this marathon with Knysna during a two-week stay .

WOW ! That is the best way to describe this route , because 42km through a pristine game reserve in the Waterberg is about as good as it gets for this marathon runner . Throw in large herds of antelope ( and the odd giraffe ) for spectators , an incredibly tough course and excellent organisation and you have the recipe for one of South Africa ’ s great races .

As the name suggests the race is run in Big 5 territory with rangers out to ‘ marshal ’ the more dangerous animals away from the runners . ( Actually , dodging rhinos seems to be the biggest challenge .) And one thing that you do have to be careful of is not admiring the spectacular surroundings too much , or you are liable to step in a large pile of elephant-style bran muffins !
The reduced “ local ” race entry fee of R270 ( remember , this was in 2008 ) still made it the most expensive standard marathon in the country , but the fee was cheap by international standards and definitely worth it . Proceeds from the race went to a good cause , the South African Red Cross Society , and that year they had an anti- Xenophobia campaign as part of it . The organisers also offered a reduced weekend package for locals to stay within the reserve , but at just under three hours ’ drive from Johannesburg , many people chose to drive through on the morning of the race . The entry fee did include a buffet lunch , but ‘ day trippers ’ had to fork out R200 if they wanted the attractive Puma dry-wick race shirt .
Kathy and I decided to go with the weekend package , but we unfortunately arrived too late to take in the Friday afternoon pre-race route inspection . However , this was a good thing from Kathy ’ s perspective , because she would not have done the half marathon if she knew what she was in for . This is a tough half marathon to tackle when you ’ re three months pregnant – apparently it takes two hours just to drive the race route in a Land Cruiser !
The route is simply fantastic , and this was the second time in my life – the first was my maiden Knysna Marathon – that I enjoyed a course so much that I found myself half dreading each kilometre board passing ( although I have to admit that relief definitely started to overpower this dread towards the end !)
European Invasion
When I explored the race web site ( www . big-five-marathon . com ) I found out that this event is organised by a Danish-based travel company , Albatross Adventure Marathons , and this explains the large Danish contingent in the field each year .
The Running Mann with better half Kathy
The Entabeni Monolith Dominates the route
The route profile ( with commentary )
Images : Martin Mulder , Courtesy Stuart Mann
32 ISSUE 143 JULY 2021 / www . modernathlete . co . za