Bonkolo marathon not for the faint hearted

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Luthando Hejana, winner of the 2015 Twizza Bonkolo marathon, aims to do the same again  Picture: SONJA RAASCH
Luthando Hejana, winner of the 2015 Twizza Bonkolo marathon, aims to do the same again Picture: SONJA RAASCH

THE first 12km are easy, taking runners out towards Dordrecht and back along the Bonkolo basin on the Aloe Grove road. It is flat and in the cool morning freshness runners may be tempted to get as far as possible as quickly as possible.
Runners should, however, try to take advantage of this section without tiring themselves out.

Having returned to the road past the dam, the route heads into town. Apart from the steep descent at the dam wall it is still quite flat. At 17.5km they will be confronted by the first hill in the suburb of Blue Rise. It will still be cool but they should remember to take in liquids from early on. Runners who are lulled into a false sense of security by the easy first half of the marathon, will later pay dearly as the mighty Longhill mountain drive looms ahead.

After the halfway mark near the Harriers clubhouse in Frost Street there is a long, gradual climb up Haig Avenue (22.5km) followed by a gradual descent in Wapadsberg Road before the race starts in earnest on the Longhill drive (25km). Here the road rises steeply until they reach the look-out point, then there is a series of ups and downs until Heartbreak Hill at the 27km mark. This is a major obstacle at this point of the race and is a planned “walk” for most.

The runners who have been cautious up to now can make up some time on the long downhill to the Sunnyside picnic spot where another little rise must be negotiated to the gates of the game reserve near the 30km mark.

The 2.5km stretch into town is a difficult part of the race as it is hot by now and the gravel road seems endless, but once Hangklip Road and the tarred surface is reached at the 32km mark there will be some shade and plenty of support. The next 3km are easy, but when Livingstone Road is reached at the 35km mark, the runners will need to dig deep into their physical and mental reserves. This next 2km has been described as the “steepest piece of flat road in the country”, and seems to go on forever.

With patience and perseverance, Livingstone Road is eventually conquered, to be followed by the little hill past the golf course. Those runners who have started conservatively and taken in sufficient fluids and carbohydrates at the excellent water points, can now make good time to the finish, but those who are in trouble will just have to hang in there for the last 5km to the finish. The section at the turn-off to the Bonkolo Dam (at the 38km mark) can be quite hot as the surrounding mountains block off any breeze, but runners should be able to smell the cold beers at the dam… so they must just keep going.

Just after the 40km mark the runners are challenged by a steep 500 metre climb up to the dam wall. Unless they are feeling very strong and going for a fast time, it is probably best to walk this section as there is still some work to be done. Once they reach the top, the tired runners’ spirits will be lifted by the sight of the finish a kilometre and a half away.

The hot, tired and footsore runners will be given a heroes’ welcome by the large, festive crowd at the finish and they will receive their well-deserved medals with that unique sense of satisfaction that only marathon runners understand. After that they can shower and relax with some cold refreshments while waiting for the prize-giving.

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