Race Report: Pick n Pay Half Marathon

The Pick n Pay Marathon is one of the bigger marathons in Joburg. Falling the day after Campbell’s birthday run at the Bronkhorstspruit 32 km, I entered to run the half marathon. As the end to a big week of training, and a faster-than-planned race the previous day I agreed to run with Kirsten at an easy pace.

We set off with Lindsey and Justin, who were running the marathon together, but we split up early in the race as we negotiated the huge number of people in the early going and Kirsten stopped to adjust one of his shoes. After crossing the N3 highway we started the first climb of the race and the crowd opened up enough for us to start setting our own pace. We fell into a comfortable pace and at the early kilometre markers I noted that for the second time in two days the markers were incorrect. Checking with Kirsten our watches agreed that the kilometre markers were falling 700 metres too far. At an average pace of 6:00 min/km that many people will run that inaccuracy in the distance markers would equate to people without GPS watches thinking that they were around 3.5 minutes behind schedule.

The course was a single lap for the half marathon (two laps for the marathon) and at around the halfway mark we reached the highest point on the course. At the 11 km marker a guy who was running just behind us asked whether the marker was correct as he was using a less-accurate foot pod for distance. We confirmed the inaccuracy of the markers and he asked whether we were on track for a sub-1:35. Kirsten confirmed that we were, although we had slowly been edging up the pace and were by then running fairly consistently at better than 4:30 min/km pace and I thought that a time in the low 1:30’s was likely. We chatted further with our companion and found out that he was training for triathlon and rarely completed road running races.

As we climbed a gradual hill just after halfway we past a large group of runners from the area of Randburg, including both Randburg Harriers and Randburg Athletic Club (RAC). Kirsten and I both recognised people we knew and we chatted briefly before continuing past, slowly picking up the pace further. With a few kilometres remaining I pointed out that we were on track for a time in the low 1:30’s and might even sneak under 1:30, but the kilometre markers were consistently 700 metres long so we were unsure whether the final distance would end up long.

The course features a hill up to the school grounds where the race finishes and as we approached the school entrance I looked at my watch and realised that despite having every kilometre marker wrong by 700 metres from at least 3 kilometres to 19 kilometres the course was going to end up being the correct distance. We entered the school grounds and Kirsten pointed out that we were at 1:29. We briefly started to pick up the pace to attempt to stay under 1:30 but quickly determined that the remaining distance was too far. We slowed back down and crossed the finish line in 1:30:38. Our companion had shadowed our run all the way to the finish and seemed extremely happy with the result.

Pick n Pay Half Marathon - Approaching the Finish
Pick n Pay Half Marathon – Approaching the Finish

It was extremely disappointing that such a major race could make such a huge mistake with kilometre markers, and it was lucky for us that the race held no real significance. I believe that Central Gauteng Athletics (CGA) as the governing body for road races in Joburg should fine events for such poor event management, and that repeat problems should result in the revocation of official sanctioning. Perhaps that is just the frustration of two poorly marked races in two days, but unfortunately it really did detract from what was otherwise a well organised race.

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