Under the watchful eye and the steady feet of John Mitchell – a veteran of 13 Old Mutual Two Oceans and 11 Comrades Marathons – the Old Mutual Shongololo will makes its debut at the 2016 Comrades Marathon.
Mitchell has been running as or managing the Shongololo since he took over from Bruce Fordyce at the 2002 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon. In that time, the Shongololo has become a popular feature of the Two Oceans. Now, having completed 11 runs, the time has come for a new challenge: the country’s oldest ultra-marathon.
In preparation for the 89km run, Mitchell and his crew have participated in the 2015 Old Mutual Soweto Marathon and the 2016 Old Mutual Om die Dam Marathon. Both events gave Mitchell some valuable insight into the challenges ahead. “The Soweto Marathon was a difficult race,” he says. “At times, thanks to the wind, it felt as though we were back in the Cape at Two Oceans. The morale was high, though, especially considering it was still early in the season.”
With Soweto and Om die Dam under their belts, the Shongololo runners can now take aim at going where no “millipede” has gone before. “The runners are looking forward to it,” says Mitchell. At the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, we always get great support. Soweto was no different. And we’re certain the crowds will enjoy seeing the Shongololo at Comrades.”
The Shongololo itself is made up of six segments, each 1.8m long and approximately 15 metres in length. On race day at Comrades “the legs” will be supplied by runners from Benoni Northerns and Benoni Harriers Athletic Clubs.
“The Comrades Marathon is already one of the toughest endurance challenges in South Africa,” notes Karen Thomas, Old Mutual Head of Brand,“ so to take on the 89km as ‘the shongololo’ is incredibly impressive. The runners will need teamwork, cohesion, planning and a sound strategy to succeed – which I’m certain they have. I can’t wait to see them running and crossing the line.”
The nucleus of the team has been in place since the 2015 Soweto Marathon, but at Comrades extra runners will help out due to the length of the race. “Currently the plan is to have between 12 and 14 runners participating in the Shongololo this year,” says Mitchell.
Apart from team toilet breaks, potential wind hazards (“One year we almost got blown off Chapman’s Peak,” says Mitchell) and the longer distance of Comrades, another challenge for the Shongololo is ensuring everyone runs at the same pace. “The most important runner is the pacesetter in front as he determines how the rest of the team will run,” says Mitchell. “It’s very important that the runner behind stays with the runner in front of him, otherwise it means that the front runner is pulling the runner behind him.”
Challenges, though, are what make an event like the Comrades Marathon so compelling and Mitchell and the rest of the Shongololo will certainly be up for it come race day.
— Arrive Alive (@_ArriveAlive) May 23, 2016