The race is held over an undulating course at altitude, and therefore the men’s and women’s elite times are nothing to write home about. And while it attracts a mass field of more than 10 000 runners, it’s not as big as the Spar Women’s Challenge 10km series, which can have more than
20 000 participants at a single leg, or even the gruelling Two Oceans and Comrades ultra-marathons. The race, however, has held a special place in the packed SA road running calendar since it was first run in 1992 because it offers a link between our country’s brutal past and the bright future any patriot believes we still hold in our young hands.
While blood flowed through the streets of Soweto when a battle between the fed up youth and stubborn politicians reached fever pitch in the Seventies, once a year, every South African has a chance to run through those same bustling streets, now lined with a mix of historic buildings and new opportunities.
Driving through the south of Joburg Central last week with a colleague, Manfred Seidler, dodging marshalls and half-marathon back-markers as we chased runaway Kenyan Shadrack Kemboi to the finish of the Gauteng Marathon, there was none of the vibe that has become synonymous with the Soweto race. It’s the same vibe offered by our classic ultra-marathons in KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town, which are not so much about the runners, but rather about bringing communities together in a show of support for thousands of struggling souls as they are urged towards the finish line.
A few years back, when yet another organisational blunder left participants stranded at refreshment points due to a shortage of water sachets, Soweto residents yanked out their hose pipes, tin baths and buckets, and ensured no runner went thirsty.
It’s hard to know who is really at fault for the confusion around the organisation of the race that left potential entrants concerned this week, and I was informed yesterday that it might be necessary to change the name of the event to ensure it is held this year.
Call it what you want, and relaunch it as a new race, but much like a shortage of water can’t stop them, the residents of Soweto will be ready to line the streets in November for an event they proudly call their own – the People’s Race.