Oh Knysna Forest Marathon, how we love to run thee. But, 2011: spectacular half-marathon taxi debacle delayed start; 2012: understandably cancelled due to flooding of route; 2013: disgraceful marshalling error at a crucial point. What are we to do with you?
So the tax pick-up this year was inspired. I was running a little bit behind my planned time and almost despaired when I saw the queue stretching up the road from Rex Drive. Except wait: it’s not so much a queue as it is a thick stream of people walking into taxis and being taken into the dark, damp Forest.
The spot where the taxis were offloading runners on the side of the road churned up early on in the morning already; maybe some wood chips or gravel here? Knowing that the approach to the starting area would be in total darkness, I had packed a small LED torch to make avoiding mud and other hazards possible.
The chemical whiff of Toilet Town announces your arrival at The Glebe. We immediately joined the queue. There were plenty of toilets and they seemed stocked and clean. There was only one person overseeing the area, and he did not have a torch. This meant that many of the stalls were actually not occupied while people were waiting. Maybe adding another attendant and equipping both with flashlights (can I get a sponsor, Black Diamond, Petzl, Eveready?) would help move the process along.
The Glebe was as damp as ever, but tons of gravel had been dumped and although some of it was a little oozy, it held.
It was pretty chilly so I stood at the back of the marathon start hanging on to my fleece and bag until the last-minute. This meant starting at the back: I do this at almost every race and then get frustrated as I have to work my way through the walkers.
The drama all happened at the “turnaround point”. Our first indication of any problem was a group of runners stopped chatting to a lone marshal. Then some runners heading the other way. The marshal told us to continue. He certainly did not say “turn around”. So we ran on. But then after missing one kilometer marker, and then a second marker we knew there was a problem, and turned back.
Later on the Lead Car passed, as well as a bakkie with what I assumed to be the leaders passed through the field. Seriously.
Cursing I tried to think of races with courses with a similar turnaround leg. Winelands Marathon has one. You are forced from quite a distance to be on the right-hand side of the road, cross over street around marshal and an actual beacon and down the opposite side of the road. This avoids confusion, prevents any runners from turning back early, and creates a controllable zone in which the safety of the runners can be ensured. Can there be any other way!!?? The marshalling on the course is generally pretty thin, I am guessing as a result of the fact that the course is pretty simple following pretty straightforward roads through the forest with little complication, and that there is almost no traffic on the roads in the forest.
It took quite some effort to get me head around the extra distance, and what that meant to the run I had planned. It’s at times like these that it is so great to have a GPS watch: I was able to work out exactly how many extra kilometers I had run, and focus on keeping my average speed on target regardless of the added mileage. I think the biggest factor contributing to my frustration and disappointment was that this was the last leg of the Big 5 Challenge and that it was spoiling such a fantastically organised week of sport.
By the time I reached the descent into the mineshaft the weeks mileage was weighing heavy in my legs. I trotted tenderly down the steep winding road, taking a moment to enjoy the views up the kloof — this section is possibly the most picturesque section of the route. I had started a run-walk climb out the other side (Ben: I thought of you keeping us going along the beach in the Merrell Eden Duo!), and was taking some heavy “IronMan” ribbing as I struggled up the steep incline. Then a wonderful fellow Big 5 Challenger came along: Barbara literally towed me up climb out of the Mineshaft with her encouraging words.
The Simola descent was as tough as I remembered, and I don’t have to say more about running down the hard paving stones of this steep hill to anyone who has experienced it other than once again Barbara managed to keep me chatting and maintain a sense of humor. It was a huge relief to reach the flat section along the N2 as we trotted home alongside the Lagoon, into Waterfront Drive and then turn into the Festival Grounds to cross the finish line.
I covered a total distance of 46.54km with an average pace of 5:38m/km. My time at the marathon mark (42km) was 03:55:00. Technically this was a new marathon PB for me.
I don’t believe the drama around the marshalling error was particularly well handled, however the subsequent frank apology below has since been made via the marathon’s official site:
My apologies and sincere regret to the 42 km runners that ended up running extra distance. I will be in touch with all of you via direct email soon. On paper that was impossible to happen as the road was marked, we had a lead vehicle, there was a Marshall and it was supposed to be a referee monitor point to prevent guys from turning early. Still it all failed and many ran into the blue yonder. I am not the kind of guy to hide behind the anonymity of a committee and as the sharp point of the pyramid in this event will accept all your hate mail to my personal inbox on email@example.com or by phone on 082 422 1033.
I must admit to being pretty furious on the day. I was hoping for a comfortable sub-4, possibly a PB, and a far easier finish to my Big 5 Challenge. Whilst my day was tougher than expected, it was still a super day of running in the forest, I completed my first ultra marathon albeit unofficially, and I qualified for PUFfeR 2013.
I think the Knysna Marathon Club needs to have a long hard look at their organisation from top to bottom. In the 4 years that I have been aware of the marathon, 3 have now been forgettable, even if the cancellation in 2012 could not have been avoided. Not a good run rate.