Runners close in on the finish line at FNB Stadium during the 2016 Soweto Marathon. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – They say the Soweto Marathon is one of the toughest road races in the country and new runners such as myself are usually advised to never tackle it as our debut marathon.

I’ve heeded the advice. And so it will be that when I line up alongside the thousands of runners at the FNB Stadium on Sunday morning, it will be for my second marathon.

I ran my maiden 42.2km race last month, the SABS Jacaranda City Challenge in Pretoria. And having completed it in a Comrades Marathon qualifying time of 4:14:57, I’ve now set my target for Soweto to a sub-four hour finish.

Too ambitious, I hear you say.

Well, why run if you’re not going to set yourself lofty targets I respond.

I started running a year ago and my first official race was the half marathon at the same Soweto Marathon which I finished in 1:49:30. The bug bit hard that day and I’ve not stopped running since - half marathons and less mainly.

And so it made sense that I graduated a year later.

Having taken the plunge to do the big one, my training programme also had to change. And I found myself calculating how many kilometres to go before I completed 42km whenever I was on the road.

I started worrying whether I was fit enough to complete a marathon back in September and my brother advised me to clock up more mileage - that I needed to do at least two 32km races. And so I did a 25km training run with a club in Randburg but still, the uncertainty remained.

I entered Jacaranda with the intention to experience running the distance before tackling the monster that Soweto is made out to be.

Paul Hopane is preparing to run his second  Soweto Marathon.

I ran with my older brother Jackson, an experienced marathoner, as well as my twin Jack - a novice like me who had not even bothered to train.

We started the race late but took things easy knowing the road ahead is still long. Our strategy was to complete the first 21km in less than two hours and to be at 32 km mark at three hours. The first target was achieved with ease though we left my twin along the way. We missed the second target though, only being at 31km by the three-hour mark.

Unhappy, I upped my pace and big brother advised me to leave him behind as he realised he was slowing me down.

I flew away, hoping to get to the finish line in the next hour but my hamstrings started cramping at the 38km, forcing me into a walk.

The good old ice treatment worked like a charm by the 40km mark and I ran all the way to the finish line where I was stunned to find my brother waiting. He had bailed out at the end of the first lap - the 21km.

The big clock above the finish read 04:15:17 - I was pleased.

And it is because of this good maiden marathon run I had at Jacaranda that I am confident that I would have crossed the finish line inside the FNB Stadium with a few minutes if not seconds before the clock strikes 10am tomorrow.

Sub-four is going to fall.

* Paul Hopane works in Independent Media’s Gauteng marketing department.

Saturday Star

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