Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 166 March 2024 | Page 44

MANN the running mann by STUART MANN


MANN the running mann by STUART MANN

Middelburg got its name in 1872 as the halfway mark between Pretoria ( then the capital of the Transvaal Republic ) and the gold-mining town of Lydenburg . It ’ s an easy two-hour highway drive to get from Johannesburg to Middelburg , which is on the cusp of a very early wake-up drive on race morning distance . However , you can get some bad morning fog , so I decided on the overnight in Middelburg option .

Unfortunately , my easy Friday afternoon drive was made a little more hair-raising after getting caught in a hailstorm that left my car with more dents than a naked paintballer ! Also , my B & B was on the southern perimeter of town , whereas the race venue is the Hoërskool Kanonkop , in the northern extremities , and I was somewhat surprised that Middelburg is large enough that it took 15 minutes to drive from one end to the other .


I have visited Middelburg several times to run the Loskop Ultra Marathon , but have spent very little time in the town itself , as the Loskop route directs you straight out of town and towards the Loskop Dam . Therefore , I was looking forward to getting better acquainted with the Mpumalanga town during the Blue Mining MMC Marathon , which was the only January marathon I did not yet have on my running CV . Marathon # 258 / Unique Marathon # 154 / 27 January 2024
However , I was surprised to see the Three Zimigos in their traditional Zimbabwean kit early on the race : Don , Bryge and Farai were doing the Three Amigos – three marathons in just over 24 hours , but with a difference . The traditional way to do this incredible , if slightly crazy feat of endurance is with Akasia in Pretoria , Ottosdal Nite Marathon in the North West and then Johnson Crane in Benoni , but the Zimigos decided to add an additional challenge ( and several hundred more kilometres of driving ) by coming to Mpumalanga , so that they could cover three different provinces over the three marathons .
A few hundred metres down the road , I did actually spot some bunnies , but none of them were doing anything X-rated . As a Monty Python fan , I am always wary of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog , and since I was not carrying the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch , I took a photo of the bunnies from a respectable distance and trotted on . ( Sidenote : I did contemplate trying to do a ‘ Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Trail ’ theme for this race report , but decided against it , as the entire route was on tarmac .)
A relaxed 6am start .
The MMC offers distances for all levels of January fitness , with marathon , 32km , 21km , 15km , 10km and 5km options . The marathon gets the morning ’ s activities going first with a 6am start , but you get to see most of the other runners at some point along the route , as there are several out-and-back sections . Although we got off smoothly and on time , there was a minor drama before the start when a blind runner went missing on the school grounds , but was found shortly thereafter .
Beware of the birds and the bunnies …
Although the route is officially circular , there are several out-and-back stretches , and you kick off with an 8km inner lap with some repeat streets , and then another 8km outer lap . I kept myself entertained in this section by looking at the road signs . In most places , once you get to a certain age , you learn about the ‘ birds and the bees ,’ but in Middelburg they have special signs warning you about the ‘ birds and the bunnies .’ Come to think of it , that is much more appropriate .
Manicured lawns and shrubberies made me say Ni !
Most of the initial kilometres skirt the border of Middelburg . Here it is literally manicured lawns and immaculately sculptured shrubberies on one side of the road – a welcome sight for any knights who say “ Ni ” – and African savannah on the other . ( If you don ’ t get the “ Ni ” comment , I highly recommend you watch the Monty Python sidebar below . Life-changing stuff …)
Graffiti seems to be a popular pastime in Middelburg . I ’ m not sure whether someone thought the speed limit was too slow or is just a fan of films about Spartans ( but adding an additional 9 kilometres onto a 60km / h
The race was established in 2008 and was sponsored by one of the local mining companies , but the sponsorship unfortunately did not survive COVID . Fortunately , Blue Mining Services stepped in to resurrect the race in 2022 . As for the race name , “ MMC Marathon ” stands for Middelburg Marathon Club Marathon , which is quite a mouthful . Being of Scottish heritage , I thought they could have gone with the Middelburg McMarathon , but perhaps they were worried that someone would try to run in a kilt …
The Three Zimigos in their traditional kit .
A mysterious declaration of love on the streets of Middelburg .
Images : Stuart Mann
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