Just one year shy of 50-years-old, the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon which takes places along the traditional circum-Peninsula 56km route next Saturday, is balancing a tightrope between its identity as a ‘people’s race'.
It is deeply connected to the traditions of marathon running, and satisfying the demands of a modern-day professional event, catering to an ever-increasing demand as one of the Mother City’s most important mass events.
Balancing this tightrope provides countless challenges to the small organising team under GM Carol Vosloo, but the fact that they have mostly succeeded in remaining true to the best traditions of the race while delivering a top-notch professional event which has earned accolades for its world-class organisation, means that ‘The Oceans’ remains a favoured event of ultra- and half-marathoners in Africa and further afield.
In reality it is impossible, nor desirable, to deliver a 21st millennium event with 30000 participants in similar manner to the low-profile event of the early 1970s, which started life as a Comrades Marathon training run in 1970, with fewer than 30 completing the course.
But not a few runners revere the traditions of yore and are concerned at some of the changes which have become inevitable.
Not all traditions are good ones, however, and the ‘Oceans’ has rightly rid itself of unhelpful customs.
The first years were exclusive contests between white male runners, a tradition which fortunately received short shrift when the event was opened to women and all races in the mid-seventies.
And although some may have celebrated the fact that the rules of entry applied to all, beginner and elite alike - race organiser legend Chet Sainsbury turned down both Elana Meyer and Zola Budd in past years as they had not entered on time - the modern day ‘Oceans’ recognises that elite athletes bring profile and excitement to the event and are treated accordingly.
One of the anachronisms of Two Oceans which still persists, but which adds considerable value to the media coverage, is that of the ‘media bus’ - a platformed truck which allows journalists a close-up view of the race and runners with an opportunity to enjoy the sounds, sights and smells of the event, rather than cover the race from the television screen in the media centre at the finish.
Another change made some years back was the decision to extend the cut-off time for the 56 km event from six to seven hours.
At the time decried by traditionalists, this now has few detractors, with 40 percent of the field typically finishing in the final hour to claim the new blue medal, with the original bronze medal only handed to those beating the 6-hour mark.
The introduction of the half marathon in the 1990s was also controversial at the time but this event has become one of the most sought after 21.1 km races on the continent, with it’s 16000 capacity selling out in hours each year.
When the traditional fish horn sounds to start the race this year it will not be Brian Benningfield giving a blast from a real horn, rather a recording which sound will echo to the thousands of runners at the start line through a sophisticated sound system – another imaginative solution to marry tradition with modernity and keep the Two Oceans a world class event, while retaining the ‘local is lekker’ flavour.