Waking up 2.5 hours before sunrise is needed so that you may get to the finish line and catch the bus 42km out of town to the start of the Buffs Marathon. East London is a small port city in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. But as small and lazy as it may seem it often seems like a hive of activity and the road heading out of town early on this Saturday morning was no exception. The outskirts of town came quickly and soon the bus was rolling through the pitch black, with only headlights to be seen. After what seemed like a very long 42km, the bus came to a stop and everyone filed out on to the side of the road. No barriers stopping traffic, no marshals directing the traffic. Just 850 people scattered along the side of the road waiting for the 5.30 start. Then without prompt, as if it had been rehearsed, the crowd pushed together and shuffled forward stopping to form an barrier that not even the cars and trucks would brave. Out of no-where, an inflatable, "Old Mutual" starting arch rose up across the road, and a mega phone voice announced - "it's erection"...the starting instructions, and the race was off.
Into the night, but not for long. The road ran east and into a spectacular sunrise, which lit up the rolling hills of countryside that was to be the back drop for most of this run. A cool summer morning with not much breeze(an added treat for an area where windless is the exception). Already, after about 10km, this was showing all the signs of being a perfect marathon, and did not disappoint. So why?
Basically because the simplicity of the race's infrastructure, making the joy of long distance running the core focus. Nothing was a big deal, one just got to a point on the side of the road and started running home. No clocks, little blocks dropped on the side of the road showed the km's pass by, and best of all - the water stops gave out water in mini sealed packets - da? genius! awesome! Who wants to be handed a cup of water to sip - road races are not cocktail partys. But small packets, you can bite off an edge and peacefully sip as you run...or even carry for a while.
Things get a bit tricky as the race started to wind through town, but nothing a road runner cant handle. After dodging a bit a traffic, running through a couple of neighborhoods up a couple of nice little climbs, the finish seems to come as quickly as the start and with a 5.30 start, there is plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day.
Here is to travel to places off the path beaten by tourists! To experience a culture before it has been artificially enhanced makes for a rich experience, and why not make that trip targeting a local event just to get things started.
The rest of that day whizzed by, starting with a hearty stuffed pancake and cappuccino overlooking the water. Once again, as quiet and lazy as this town may seem from a distance - there is always a lot going on, especially when it comes to outdoor activity. Just in front of cafe, the handful of patron's toggled their attention from the rubber dingy race where the helmeted crew were launching their boats over shoulder height waves at break-neck speeds; and a fisherman landing 6 foot Ragged Tooth Shark from the rocks across the road....needless to say a swim in the tidal pool seemed like the best option.
Sundowners, an escargot starter, and a big plate of Kingklip ended the day just as it started - with a big satisfied smile!