|The Two Oceans Marathon
by Riel Hauman, author of Century of the Marathon: 1896-1996
The First Two Oceans
Table Mountain, the world famous landmark at the southern tip of Africa, towered above the 26 runners as they set off on their 35-mile-or-thereabouts trek along the mountain chain forming the spine of the Cape Peninsula. The early Portuguese seafarers called the region the Cape of Good Hope and the runners certainly had high hopes for their pioneering adventure.
The date was 2 May 1970 and they were starting the first Two Oceans ultramarathon, a race which over the past three decades has grown to the second largest in South Africa, boasting some of the most spectacular scenery of any road event in the world.
The Two Oceans was the brainchild of Dave Venter who, like many visionaries, met with nothing but opposition when he first mooted the idea of an ultra race around - and over - the mountains guarding Cape Town, the legislative capital of South Africa.
When approval was finally granted, one of the conditions was that the race should not interfere with the cross-country event that was scheduled for the same afternoon. So Venter and a few of his clubmates from Celtic Harriers decided to run both races!
The entry fee for the first Peninsula 35-miler, as it was called (the course was actually 36.5 miles), was 50 cents (in today's money 100 c = US$0.15 ).
The route traversed Chapman's Peak Drive (180 metres above sea level at its highest point), from where runners have a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean below, dropped down in a bone-jarring descent to sea level in Hout Bay just before the 40 km mark, and then ascended Constantia Nek (215 m) before gradually losing elevation again to the finish.
This route, with some minor changes, has been used ever since.
The first race was won in atrocious conditions of pouring rain and bitterly cold wind by Dirkie Steyn, who ran barefoot. His time was 3:55:50. Fifteen runners finished, with Venter fifth.
The Two Oceans - the 1970s
Over the next few years the race grew from 31 finishers in 1971 to 86 in 1972, 78 in 1973, 116 in 1974, and 186 in 1975. The 1975 race was a breakthrough event: under the government policies of the day it received "multi-national" status, meaning athletes of all races could participate. It was the first such permit granted to an event that was not a national or international one.
The first black runner to finish was Goodenough Qokweni, seventh behind winner Derek Preiss (3:22:01).
But the race was also a breakthrough in another way: Ulla Paul became the first woman to officially complete the 56 km within the alloted 6 hours. Her time was 5:14:51.
The next year Lesotho-born international marathoner Gabashane Rakabaele became the first black man to win the race when he set a new record of 3:18:05. Brian Chamberlain bettered this to 3:15:22 in 1977 and also won in 1978, but in 1979 Rakabaele was back with a brilliant new record of 3:08:56.
Chamberlain and Rakabaele have a rare distinction in common - they are the only runners who have ever won the Two Oceans and SA Marathon in the same year, and they did it with a Two Oceans route record on each occasion!
The Two Oceans - the 1980s and 1990s
The years 1983, 1984 and 1985 belonged to Siphiwe Gqele, still the only man to win the race three times.
The year after Gqele's third victory the number of finishers topped 4000 for the first time when 4568 crossed the finish line.
In 1987 5227 runners finished, and this would grow to 7190 in 1993, the highest in the history of the race. But 1987 will be remembered for another reason - the appearance of Thompson Magawana, Gqele's brother-in-law.
The SA marathon champion of 1980, Magawana performed one of the world's greatest distance running doubles in 1987. Competing in his first Two Oceans, he showed no respect for the formidable course. He took the lead at 38 km and ran the last 13.8 km from the standard marathon mark - and this included the gruelling uphill of Constantia Nek - in 45:16, a 3:17/km pace and to this day the fastest ever for this section.
He flashed through the finish in 3:05:31 to break Johnny Halberstadt's 1981 course record by 6 seconds.. He was only the fourth runner to complete the murderous second half faster than the first (1:33:50 and 1:31:41). His explanation was simple: "I like a course with lots of hills."
And then, a mere two weeks later, came the second leg of his remarkable double when he finished third in the SA Marathon in 2:12:35.
Yet nobody was prepared for what he delivered in the 1988 Two Oceans. He flew past 10 km in 30:39 and 20 km in 61:37, and reached halfway in 1:27:30 to become only the second man since Rakabaele to run the distance in under 90 minutes.
He was leading by more than 7 minutes and stormed over Chapman's Peak, clocking 2:15:05 at the marathon mark - a record for the course. But his body had been pushed to the limit and this time he covered the last 13.8 km in "only" 48:39.
Still, he went past 30 miles in 2:37:31 for a new world record and past 50 km in 2:43:38 - also a world record. He won by more than 9 minutes in 3:03:44, certainly the most incredible ultra-distance performance ever seen in South Africa.
His record has not been approached - closest was Zithulele Sinqe in his second win in 1997 when he clocked 3:07:17. Sinqe is the only athlete who have ducked under 3:10 since Magawana's epic run.
Magawana's counterpart among the women is Frith van der Merwe, who also set world records for 30 miles (3:01:16) and 50 km (3:08:39) during her record-breaking 3:30:36 victory in 1989.
Only one runner has won the race four times: Monica Drogemoller in 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992.
The Two Oceans - Today
This year the Two Oceans, which has been compelled by the forces of nature to use a new route for the first time in its existence, also has a new title sponsor, insurance giant Old Mutual. Nike is again the presenting sponsor.
Although the start and finish venues remain the same, a new route will be used after Chapman's Peak Drive had to be closed following a devastating fire in January. The blaze denuded the steep slopes of the mountain above the road, making the soil dangerously unstable and leading to severe rock falls which claimed the life of a female motorist.
Instead of "Chappies", the 31st Two Oceans on Easter Saturday, 22 April, will now climb up Ou Kaapse Weg (Old Cape Road). The first 25 km and last 8 km will remain the same. Whereas the highest point on the traditional route, Constantia Nek (215 m), was at 45 km, the highest point (315 m at the top of Ou Kaapse Weg) will now be much earlier, at 32.5 km.
Old Mutual has contributed R100000 ($15000) to the Save Chapman's Peak Fund. In addition, it has presented each entrant with a pair of socks in its corporate green color and has pledged a further R5 to the fund for each runner crossing the finish line wearing the socks.
Twenty 24-carat gold medals sponsored by the world's largest gold producer, Anglo Gold, will be on offer for the first ten in the male and female races. The winner in both categories will receive R75000 ($11250) plus an air ticket to an international marathon.
The 13320 entries, 9200 for the ultra and 4120 for the accompanying half marathon, is a record for the combined event since the introduction of the half marathon two years ago.
Results of the 2000 Two Oceans Marathon