JOHANNESBURG - The refrain “it is the perfect Comrades (Marathon) qualifier” is used so much by many a social runner when they talk about the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon that it could well become a cliche.
But such is the reality of Africa’s only marathon to attain IAAF Gold Label Status. While the likes of Two Oceans champion Lungile Gongqa and Gladwin Mzazi - to mention just two - will be out to try and unseat Asefe Negewo, several other South African runners who will descend on the Mother City will have KwaZulu-Natal on their minds as they pound the streets next Sunday.
“I’ve encouraged my club to try and go run Sanlam because it is the perfect Comrades qualifier,” says Kgwathamane Malatjie, coach of Fat Cats Athletic Club. “And there are many good reasons. For one, Sanlam is flat and fast, unlike other qualifiers where there are some tough hills, so it makes it easier for runners to qualify.
"Also it is in Cape Town, where the weather conditions are generally favourable for good runs because it is not too hot.”
Malatjie also likes the fact that the Cape Town Marathon is happening now, giving runners enough time to start preparing for Comrades after qualifying.
“I’ve seen a lot of runners failing to qualify, not because they are not good enough, but rather because they have left things too late. And because of the pressure, they end up not running well and thus fail to qualify. So Sanlam is perfect in that it comes early and you run it in a relaxed mode in the knowledge that you still have a lot of other races should things not work out. And I’ve found that a relaxed runner, is a better runner who gets to achieve his goals,” Malatjie said.
And being the flat and fast course it is, runners stand a good chance of posting good times that will earn them a good seeding for the Comrades.
“Even if you are not a top runner, the nature of Sanlam is such that you can run a sub three (hour). And once you achieve that now, you can even afford to take a break from running and start preparing for Comrades in February. That kind of rest will help minimise injuries,” Malatjie said.
One of Malatjie’s runners who is going to Cape Town with the goal of posting a sub three hour run is Bongani Bilankulu.
“I ran Sanlam last year and I completed it in three hours and 13 minutes,” Bilankulu said “So my aim is to improve on that time. This is not just a Sanlam goal though, but a personal journey that I began back in 2015 when I set myself the goal of completing a marathon under three hours by 2018.
"For me, there are a few factors that make Sanlam the perfect qualifier. For one it is reasonably flat in comparison to the routes of races here in Gauteng, and coming from a high altitude place it is easier to run at sea level. And then there’s the fact that there is full road closures and great organisation. I am really looking forward to it and I’ve encouraged a lot of my club mates to run it.”
Mulalo Mammburu of Faranani AC believes he can run a sub three hour time, but is not putting himself under any undue pressure.
“Last year I ran 3:19 without having trained properly. This year I have trained and I think I can do a sub three if I really have to. But I will be happy with anything between 3:04 and 3:10," Mammburu said.
"Obviously, the easier the course or race profile the more people feel it will be an easier race. It is (a) flat course and the elevation is only 50 metre gain, so it is fast. But it can be difficult because it will be like running on track, where you go at the same heart rate. You have to be very strong on endurance and people with good leg muscles will do well there. What I’ve learnt though is that people often set their targets too high and come out disappointed.”