First run in 1970, the Two Oceans Marathon has become, with the exception of the Comrades Marathon, the most famous ultra-marathon in South Africa, a beautiful and picturesque race that is known worldwide.
As indicated in the name, the marathon’s route takes in two oceans, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, which meet at a point fluctuating between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. It winds along the seaboard, along an astoundingly beautiful route which, it is widely agreed, makes it among the most scenic, if not the most scenic, marathon in the world.
For any self-respecting masochist whose preferred form of torture is running, the Two Oceans Marathon offers a pleasant way of passing an Easter Saturday. The backdrop of spectacular scenery offers a pleasurable experience – but the six-hour time limit ensures that participants don’t take things too easy!
The race is not just about the ultra-marathon, which was its only race when it began. A half-marathon is now part of the event and has become extremely popular. In fact, it is the largest half-marathon in South Africa. In 2009, the entry for the 21.1-kilometre event was a record 12 000 people.
Ironically, the Two Oceans Marathon was conceived and brought into being by a Durban man who was transferred to Cape Town and missed the vibrant running scene of Natal. Dave Venter reasoned that Capetonians would view the event as a good warm-up race for the Comrades.
But it wasn’t simply a case of adopting an idea and making it happen. It took Venter two years of trying before the Western Province Amateur Athletic Association finally gave him the go-ahead to put the race together.
Finding a course
His first problem, that of finding a course for a race that he wanted to be a 35-miler, was an easy one for Venter. He loved the picturesque Cape scenery, and simply chose his favourite training run, over Chapman’s Peak, through Hout Bay and around Table Mountain.
Since the first race, which proved to be 36½ miles long, the route has changed little. Anyone who knows the course will understand why. It is a tough challenge, but also a stunning visual treat of nature at her finest.
The first running of the ultra-marathon, then known as the Celtic 35 Mile Road Race, attracted 26 starters, 15 of whom managed to finish the event within the six-hour time limit. Victory in the inaugural race went to Dirkie Steyn of Maties, who competed barefoot. His winning time was 03:55:50.
The event was run in terrible weather, with a powerful wind making matters difficult for the runners. One of the starters, Noel Stamper, decided to call it a day when he reached Muizenberg, not having trained for the race. It was a decision that would come back to haunt Stamper, for since that day he has completed every Two Oceans Marathon.
Don Hartley claimed consecutive victories in 1972 and 1973, improving the record to 03:24:05.
Derek Preiss became the first man to win the Comrades and the Two Oceans marathons in the same year when he did the double in 1974 and 1975. His winning time in 1974 improved on Hartley’s record by over three minutes.
First female entrant
1975 was a special year for another reason besides Preiss’ second title. It was the first year that women took part, or rather, that a woman took part. Ulla Paul, the only female entry, entered the record books as the first women’s champion. Her (winning) time was 05:14:51.
Paul ran again in 1975, after which she quit running. She returned to the race 24 years later, however, taking 35 minutes more than her first run to finish the race.
1976’s winner was Marie-Jeanne Duyvejonk, a secretary at the Belgian Consulate in Cape Town, who finished the race just outside five hours. She repeated her victory in 1977.
Rakabele’s record run
Vincent Rakabele, the first black runner to win a Comrades Marathon medal, won the Two Oceans in 1976, outduelling Alan Robb as he surged ahead with the finish in sight to claim the title. He clipped almost four minutes off the record, winning in 03:18:05.
Rakabele missed the 1977 race, which was won by Brian Chamberlain in a record time of 03:15:22. Chamberlain won again in 1978, amazingly finishing just one second over his winning time of the previous year. Janet Bailey took the women’s title in a touch over four-and-a-half hours.
In 1979, Dianne Alperstein improved on Bailey’s time by over 10 minutes, taking the women’s record to 04:22:58. Rakabele secured his second men’s victory, crossing the finish line in 03:08:56, yet another record.
Comrades and Two Oceans success
Comrades’ great Hoseah Tjale, who finished in the top three of the Comrades Marathon four times between 1985 and 1990, was an easy winner of the 1980 race, albeit in a time well outside Rakabele’s record. Gail Ingram won the women’s event and continued the trend of improving the record. She repeated her victory in 1981, lowering the record to 04:11:31.
The talented Johnny Halberstadt shattered the men’s record in 1981, chasing down two-time winner Rakebele before crossing the line in 03:05:37.
Ben Cheou, an accomplished marathon runner, won in 1982, while Beverley Malan claimed the first of her three women’s titles. More importantly, she became the first woman to crack the four-hour barrier.
In 1983, she improved her record time to 03:57:32. In the same year, Siphiwe Gqele won the first of three consecutive men’s titles, outsprinting Warwick Ewers to snatch victory.
Lucre’s women’s record
Gqele won again in 1984, while Helen Lucre, who went on to win the Comrades from 1985 to 1987, established a new women’s record, triumphing in 03:52:50.
There was a look of familiarity about the winners the following year as Beverley Malan won for the third time – the first woman to achieve the feat – while Siphiwe Gqele also managed his third victory, his feat being achieved in consecutive years.
Ephraim Sibisi succeeded Gqele as Two Oceans champion in 1986, finishing in just under 03:10:00. Adelene Joubert, meanwhile, came close to a women’s best, missing Helen Lucre’s record by only nine seconds as she won the women’s race.
In 1987, Liz Eglington succeeded Joubert as women’s champion while, in the men’s event, Thompson Magawana ran a superb race to clip six seconds off Rakabele’s record. Magawana’s effort, however, merely served as an appetiser for the following year.
Magawana’s incredible race
Magawana ran an incredible race in 1988 to smash the record and set a couple of world records in the process. His times for 50 kilometres and 30 miles were the best ever, and he went on to finish the Two Oceans in 03:03:44.
His 50-kilometre time was over three minutes better than the previous mark, while his 30-mile time was an astonishing eight minutes inside the previous best.
Monica Drogemoller claimed her first women’s title, taking over seven minutes off Lucre’s record.
Frith’s fantastic performance
Drogemoller might be forgiven for thinking that her new record would last longer than a year. Frith van der Merwe had other plans, however. In 1989, she shattered the women’s record by almost 14 minutes, winning the race in an astonishing 03:30:36.
She then went on that year to become the first woman to complete the Comrades in under six hours, finishing the race in 15th place overall!
Johannes Thobejane, meanwhile, celebrated his 36th birthday in style, claiming the 1989 Two Oceans Marathon title and finishing seven minutes ahead of second-placed Jeremiah Ramokhoase in sweltering conditions.
Willie Mtolo won the Two Oceans in 1990. Two years later, in 1992, he would lift the New York Marathon title. Monica Drogemoller picked up her second win in the women’s race, running her best time of 03:42:39 – still over 10 minutes off Frith van der Merwe’s record.
Miltas Tshabalala prevailed the following year in exactly 03:16:00. In the women’s race it was a case of same story, different year, as Monica Drogemoller again swept to victory, though her time was almost eight minutes slower than her winning effort of 1990.
Record fourth win
In 1992, Drogemoller claimed a different Two Oceans record with her fourth victory in the event. That record stood until 2010 when Russia’s Elene Nurgalieva scored her fourth win. Israel Morake claimed victory in the men’s event.
Isaac Tshabalala must have left some people wandering “what’s in a name?” as he became the second Tshabalala to win the Two Oceans in three years in 1993. He judged his race perfectly, making a decisive move two kilometres from the finish to surge to victory. Pat Lithgow led the women home in a time of 03:57:11.
Phineas Makaba, who ran the Comrades four times between 1991 and 1998, finishing as high as 16th and never lower than 39th, won the 1994 Two Oceans in a shade over three-and-a-quarter hours.
Carolyn Hunter-Rowe, who went on to win the World 100 Kilometre Championship in 1998, took the women’s race in 03:51:37.
In 1995, Simon Malindi clocked 03:10:53 to take the men’s honours, while Eniko Feher upset pre-race favourites Valentina Liakhova and Valentina Shatyayeava to claim the women’s honours.
Zithulele Sinqe, a 02:08:04 marathoner, took over from Malindi as the Two Oceans’ champion in 1996, bettering the previous year’s winning time by over a minute.
Germany’s Maria Bak took victory in the women’s race, a fine result made even more significant when she won the Comrades Marathon later in the year.
Victory went the way of Lesotho in 1997 when Angelina Sephooa clocked a time of 03:45:45 to lift the title. Sinqe repeated as the men’s winner, his time of 03:07:17 being the fastest winning time since Thompson Magawana’s record-shattering 03:03:44 in 1988, nine years previously.
Sinqe appeared to be well on his way to a hat trick of wins in 1998, but little known Fusi Nhlapo cut short that dream, powering past the two-time winner, who was struggling with a suspect hamstring, to claim victory.
Angelina Sephooa won back-to-back titles, battling German Birgit Leinartz for the win, which she ensured by making a decisive move on Constantia Nek.
The Lesotho star was back again in 1999 and once more achieved the same result, becoming only the second woman after Monica Drogemoller to win the Two Oceans three times. She burnt up the course to record the fastest time since Frith van der Merwe’s stunning 03:30:36 in 1989, finishing in 03:38:09.
There was a surprise in the men’s race. Six years after first winning the event, Isaac Tshabalala triumphed again, winning the race in 03:11:20 at the age of 39!
In 2000, Joshua Peterson outduelled Vladimir Kotov to win in 03:13:13, eight seconds ahead of his Russian rival. Sarah Mahlangu upset the women’s favourite, 1996 winner Maria Bak, to take the honours in the women’s race.
First Russian winner
Natalia Volgina enjoyed a good run in 2001, clocking 03:44:53 to become the first Russian winner of the Two Oceans. Zimbabwe had their first ever men’s winner when the delightfully named Honest Mutsakani was first to break the tape in 03:11:18.
Ultra marathon novice Hlonepha Simon Mphulanyane shocked his more experienced opposition to win the race in 2002, in a time of 3:09:42. Natalia Volgina outduelled Gwen van Lingen in the women’s race to win in 3:38:02, over three-and-a-half minutes ahead of the South African.
Mluleki Nobanda won in 2003, finishing 20 seconds faster than the previous year’s winning time, while Simone Staicu picked up the women’s title, again in a better time than 2002.
In 2004, Marco Mambo of Zimbabwe began a run of his success for his country when he won the men’s race. Russia’s Elena Nurgalieva, who had previously tasted success in the Comrades Marathon, secured the women’s title.
The following year, both athletes repeated their successes, with Mambo winning in 3:05:39 and Nurgalieva in 3:38:12.
Zimbabwe again claimed the men’s title in 2006 when Moses Njodzi succeeded Mambo as champion. Tatyana Zhirkova, another Russian, won the women’s race.
South African winner
In 2007, South Africa produced a men’s winner for the first time since 2003 when Bethuel Netshifhefhe held off 1996 Olympic Marathon champion Josiah Thugwane to win the title.
Madina Biktagirova turned in the second fastest women’s time yet to win the race on her debut. Her victory was the fourth by a Russian in succession.
In 2008, Marco Mambo, the winner in 2004 and 2005, was back on the winning trail, taking victory in 3:11:35, which was somewhat slower than he previous winning times, but a fine effort in very windy conditions.
There was a Russian one-two-three in the women’s race, with Olesya Nurgalieva holding off her sister, two-time winner Elena, to take victory in 3:34:53. 2006 champion Tatyana Zhirkova finished third.
Marco Mambo was relegated to second place in the 2009 event as Kenya’s John Wachira won the Two Oceans Marathon in his first attempt at the ultra in 3:10:06. Third place went to Maseru-based Mpesela Ntlotsoeu.
The women’s race proved to be an easy romp for the Nurgalieva twins, Elena and Olesya. They crossed the finishing line together in 3:40:42, a full 18 minutes ahead of the third placed finisher, Zimbabwean Samukeliso Moyo. After reviewing the finish, race officials awarded a third victory in the race to Elena.
Lesotho’s Mabuthile Lebopo won 2010 race in a fast time of three hours, six minutes and 18 seconds, with his compatriot Moeketsi Mosuhli, the 2008 Soweto Marathon winner, finishing second. Zimbabwe’s Stephen Muzingi, the 2009 Comrades Marathon champion, ended third.
The Nurgalieva twins – again!
The 2010 women’s race was all about the Nurgalieva twins once again, with Olesya taking victory in three hours, 41 minutes and 52 seconds, and Elena claiming second place. Adinda Kruger ran a strong second half to give South Africa a place on the podium.
There was a South African winner again in 2011. George Ntshiliza broke away in the final kilometre to take victory in 3:08:31, ahead of the Lesotho pair of Motlhokoa Nkhabutlane and Tsotang Maine.
Olesya Nurgalieva scored a convincing victory in the women’s race. She pulled away from her sister Elena up Constantia Nek and went on to cross the finishing line almost four minutes clear of her twin in 3:38:58. Mamorallo Tjoka of Lesotho placed third.
Farwa Mentoor, in eighth place, was the leading South African runner.
First Comrades-Two Oceans double since 1974
Comrades Marathon champion Stephen Muzhingi of Zimbabwe showed his class by capturing the 2012 Two Oceans Marathon title in 3:08:08. By winning, he became the first man since Derek Preiss in 1974 to hold the two prestigious ultra-marathon titles simultaneously.
Second place went to Malawi’s Henry Moyo, with Zimbabwean Collen Makaza in third, and South Africa’s Gert Thys in fourth. Thys’ time of 2:48:40 for 50 kilometres took almost five minutes off the world best mark for an athlete aged 40 and over.
Olesya Nurgalivea was missing because of injury, but her sister, Elena, claimed another victory for the Russian twins, crossing the line in 3:41:55. Natalia Volgina, also of Russia, finished second, with American Devon Crosby-Helms in third.
A South African winner
Victory in 2013 race went the way of 2008 South African marathon champion David Gatebe, who made his move at the top of Chapman’s Peak, 32km into the race. He went on to win in 3:08:54, comfortably clear of Mthandazo Qhina, in second, and Moeketsi Mosuhli, in third.
There was a surprise in the women’s race as neither Olesya nor Elena Nurgalieva, the winners of seven titles between them, made it onto the podium. Natalia Volgina claimed the honours for a second time, having previously tasted victory in 2007, in a time of 3:38:38.
Second went to Zimbabwean Olympian Tabitha Tsatsa, with three-time South African marathon champion Charne Bosman claiming third in her first Two Oceans’ attempt.
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