I wish someone had told me: The Skukuza half-marathon is a must do event
A few months ago, Gabbi – one of the partners at CN&CO – had an idea that we should write a blog titled “I wish someone had told me” – especially when we came across lekker events or places that we wish we had done earlier in our lives. The Skukuza half marathon is such an event and I was lucky enough to run it at the beginning of August 2016.
The race is hosted by the Kruger Park Marathon Club (KPMC) – started in 1986 through the initiative of Dr Vossie de Vos (you just have to love the nicknames – I hope this IS a nickname! – we come up with in South Africa), an avid roadrunner who had already completed eight Comrades marathons (I love seeing a KPMC branded runner during Comrades – more proof how universal running is).
As with all small clubs, its website informs me, in the early years the club struggled financially to keep going. The affiliation and registration fees for the club were heavy and there were no more than 15 runners.
In addition, the Eastern Transvaal Road Running Association (ETRRA) insisted that all affiliated clubs had to hold at least one open race per year. If the club did not hold a race, then it would have to pay the ETRRA the average of a percentage of the income made at all the races held in the Eastern Transvaal. For such a small club that would be impossible.
The site continues:
“Vossie and another founder member, Pieter Scholtz, had continuous discussions during their regular runs, on a solution to the problem. Vossie made contact with Arthur Meneke (Chairman of the ETRRA) who was extremely helpful and encouraging. At first it was suggested that a race be held outside the Park from Kruger Gate towards Hazyview. However, in the end it was decided to hold the race within Kruger and permission was granted by the National Parks Board to hold a half-marathon within the confines of the village of Skukuza, as long as the principles of the National Parks Boards towards nature conservation were not violated.
A sponsor had to be found and Vossie, after a lot of searching, was fortunate to make contact with “Sams” meat suppliers, who agreed to support the race. The first Skukuza half-marathon took place on Saturday 5 August 1989. The meat supplier remained the wonderful sponsor of the Sams Skukuza Half Marathon for 12 years. Each year the sponsor brought in 10 top runners, provided excellent medals and badges for the runners, hosted a pasta evening the night before the race and much more. Unfortunately, due to economic reasons, Sams had to withdraw its sponsorship in 2001. Luckily South African Breweries came to the rescue and has been the main sponsor ever since.”
In 1993 the KPMC added a new dimension to the race. The club started to use it as a vehicle for raising money for nature conservation projects in our national parks. Each year the KPMC, in conjunction with SAN Parks, selects priority projects to support. Runners are then asked to seek sponsorship and so far have raised many millions – and as you know, I love to support charities through my running!
The Kruger Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth and running in the bush was something I had long wanted to do. Hearing about the route made me even more excited – directly into the bush with armed rangers protecting us every few metres (from animals and poachers and perhaps each other!)
The start was at a lazy 8.30am so we didn’t have to stay in Skukuza, instead opting for Pretoriuskop. On our drive to the start we saw four wild dog close to the road tearing their kill apart, as well as many other animals.
This year around 1 700 athletes (and I use that term lightly… as you all know my running mate Allan and I participate rather than compete!) lined up under the starting banner on the Skukuza cricket pitch. By the way, I bumped into tons of mates. It seems many people I know run this race, but have kept it a secret from me – hence this blog to help all of you get in!
We were set off by a recording of a lion roar – of course, not without a slight delay as the helicopter used to keep a watchful eye over us (especially making sure that no rhino, lion, elephant and buffalo are too close) was used to apprehend poachers near Berg-en-Dal.
The route is a combination of tar and sand, which makes for nice variety. A few roads are closed to the public for a couple of hours. Our run was on a perfect day, under a lovely hot winter’s sun and breathing crisp bushveld air. There are a few loops. Normally that bugs me in races, but the scenery is so phenomenal and changing in nature that the loop doesn’t mater.
The water points were good. I thought of my mate Blake and his crusade against litter. Most runners were really good at disposing of the water sachets at the point and not in the bush. Of course, the highlight water point was the SAB one. Allan and I shunned the tasting cups and had a proper beer (or two) in a beer mug! With a kilometre or so to go, we felt really good 🙂
The finish is festive. Here we found loads of stalls manned by the locals from the Skukuza staff village. We had a lekker boerie roll and loved the R12 beers! And, of course, my mates from the PinkDrive were there doing their bit AGAIN to #Fucancer and get more of us focused on early detection.
With music playing we watched the final runners come in. Once again I was emotional as I cheered on 80-year-olds (yes EIGHTY) and people who make me look thin, finishing the run beaming with pride and exhaustion. We humans can, individually and together, really do ANYTHING if we put our minds to it!
Driving back to Pretoriuskop, Allan and I were happy and chilled and committed to this race for 2017. It’s in a unique venue, it raises money for charity and it showcases the best of South Africa and her people. If you want a spot (and they are limited, very limited and previous runners – yeah! – get preference) you must register now and pay R50. You then have until March to raise a minimum of R750. Or you can try your luck in the lottery for one of the (few) remaining spaces.
So now that I HAVE told you, I look forward to seeing you in Skukuza in 2017. No excuses!