The Mandela Day Marathon is off my bucket list. And no, I did not finally run the notorious KwaZulu-Natal race last weekend.

But I experienced it alright! And what I saw there scared the living daylights out of me. Typical of runners, I have made an undertaking to chalk up all of the country’s renowned marathons and the Mandela Day Marathon is, well, was, until last weekend, among those.

That those who run it always come back with less than glowing feedbacks did not dissuade me. The fact that they describe it as tough added to the lure of wanting to run it and I had those ideas this year, only to catch the flu a few days before it.

But I still went alright, to support clubmate Jeff who was chasing a sub three-hour finish. Well, am I glad I did?

Glad, yes, because I now know not to put myself through self torture in a race so tough and seemingly pretty poorly organised.

For one, I witnessed the heartbreaking last hours of 65-year-old Narend Singh who died after completing the 21km race. I was walking back to the finish line to await Jeff, having given him his supplements at the half marathon mark and Singh lay on the road, a fellow lady runner attempting to resuscitate him.

I approached one of the policemen at the scene to ask him to call for medical help and he said they had. We were less than a kilometre from the finish at the Capture Site and one assumed the race paramedics would be quick to the scene.

But we, myself and Jeff’s wife, walked to the finish and waited for a good 10 minutes before he ran in to complete the race some 17 minutes later than his targeted sub-three finish.

On the walk back to where we had parked, we saw the ambulance just arriving and the paramedics only putting Singh on a stretcher then. This must have been a good 20 minutes if not more after we had first passed the scene.

Granted, death is a reality we are all going to meet up with at some time and in a particular way set just for us. Yet, while I am not saying Singh would have survived had he been helped ‘immediately’ as some reports during the week suggested, the fact that it seemingly took too long for the man to be attended to makes me not want to risk it by running the race.

As it was, while we were waiting forJeff to run into the finish, one runner collapsed after crossing the line and the announcer’s repeated calls for paramedics to ‘please come to the finish line’ appeared to fall on deaf ears for some time.

The complaints post race about water having run out at some points on the route are common place in South African races. But they are becoming too much and when you have a race named after the icon that is our former State President you surely want to make sure there are no qualms about your event, don’t you?

The biggest gripe among runners about the Mandela Day Race is the seeming focus on the politicians and lack of care about runners’ needs, with two elites posting this week that they stay away from races organised by politicians.

Information sent out pre-race tended to focus on comments by the politicians and an effort to get the start list to be aware of the contenders proved futile.

Durban colleagues who were meant to cover the race could not do so because the person responsible for allocating the accreditation went AWOL from Friday.

There can be no denying it is good to have races such as the Mandela Day Marathon which help add to a region’s economy by attracting people from all over the country and the world. But they have to be done right if they are to work.

As a runner, I want to go to a race with the peace of mind that I will be taken care of should there be a need. I do not have that when it comes to the Mandela Day Marathon. Not after what I witnessed last weekend. Did I hear someone say: “You’re just scared of Struggle Hill!”


Sunday Independent