After introducing iRunFar readers to the road-based Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (56 km or 34.8 miles) in Cape Town, South Africa, last year, this year I want to go into a bit more depth about the field.
Two Oceans was started in 1970 as a training run for Comrades, and the winner ran completely barefoot in a very respectable time of 3:55. South Africa’s two main ultras are also the two biggest by participation in the world. Two Oceans is the little brother of Comrades, but this year has a record 11,000 entrants in the ultra with a further 16,000 in the half marathon and 800 in the shorter trail runs on the day before the race. This Easter Saturday, March 30th, will be the 44th consecutive Two Oceans Marathon and the race has a pedigree of being extremely competitive.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the last year or two about the move of faster road marathoners to trail ultras in the US, mainly on the men’s side with the likes of Max King and Sage Canaday. However, this isn’t a new phenomenon in road ultrarunning, even in the US – towards the end of the last century there were guys breaking 5 hours for 50 miles (6 minute/mile pace) that we’re not seeing on roads or trails outside of South Africa currently.
Billed as the ‘world’s most beautiful marathon,’ thanks to South Africans calling numerous distances marathons, it’s also as fast as a city marathon, but with a third extra distance and a harder course than a normal road marathon. The course is mainly flat along the coastline and so can be affected by the gusts of wind that the city is well-known for. It has two main climbs, 600′ up the scenic road to Chapman’s Peak (“Chappies,” which is so pretty you would normally need to pay to drive it) and over 700′ on the steeper Constantia Nek.
Men’s Course Record
3:03:44 (5:17/mile pace) – Thompson Magawana, 1988
The world best for 50k were set as a split within Two Oceans at 2:43. Bear in mind that the 50k mark is just after both climbs so the real race for positions often occurs after that.
In South Africa they’ve offered large prize purses for many years. At Two Oceans at current exchange rates there’s the equivalent of $27,000 for the winner, $13,500 for second and $7,000 for third and these are before sponsor or course record bonuses, which add a significant amount extra. Prize money goes 10 deep plus age category prizes.
The extremely long men’s elite list with some difficult-to-pronounce names
If you ever wondered what would happen if elite marathoners ran ultras, this is the race to find out. There are at least 18 men with marathon PRs under 2:20, including the South African record holder (2:06). Several of these guys got their best times in the previous decade, but some come into the race with their fastest times in the last couple of years. More importantly most of the best global 50k and 50-mile split (i.e., in Comrades) times of recent years have been run by this group of men.
[Editor’s Note: We’ve also published a 2013 Two Oceans Marathon women’s preview.]
The list is up-to-date as of a couple of days ago so all these runners plan to race, but some may not start and there may be a few others who slipped under the radar. Unfortunately, this list includes four men who have tested positive for banned substances at some point, although none received particularly severe penalties and one was completely exonerated.
The local’s best hope is probably Bongmusa Mthembu who was 5th last year and also came 2nd at Comrades, despite being a mid-2:20s marathoner. Controversially, South Africa’s Modibe Ludwick Mamabolo finished first in the 2012 Comrades 55-miler, but then returned a positive test for a banned substance and was suspended. At the time the organizers compiled runner biographies the case was still pending, but according to the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport Mamabolo’s suspension was “provisionally lifted [with] conditions attached to it pending the finalization of the hearing.” The details about this aren’t clear but his many Two Oceans results have been outside the top 10, except 2009 when he came 7th in a relatively slow 3:14 and he has a 2:49 50k PR.
Proving that he’s still one of the finest endurance runners in the country at age 41, Gert Thys is the South African marathon record holder (2:06 in 1999) and an Olympian from the 1992 Barcelona Games and he still managed a 2:10 marathon in 2010 as well as 4th at last year’s Two Oceans. He’s unlikely to win, but there’s nobody with more racing experience and last year’s top placing should stand him in good stead for another top finish. He won his first marathon at the age of 16 in 2:34 and in 1998 he became the first man to run two sub-2:08 times in one year, and in 1999 became the first to achieve three sub-2:08 career times.
However, Thys tested positive for a prohibited substance at the Seoul International Marathon in March 2006 and was banned by Athletics South Africa (ASA). He appealed against this decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and his appeal was upheld in May 2009. The decision by the CAS Arbitral Tribunal stated that the ASA ruling was “set aside” and Thys was “exonerated of any doping infraction.”
Lucas Nonyana finished 8th in the 2012 Two Oceans, but tested positive for a banned substance and was disqualified and suspended; his ban expired on 17 June 2012 and he’s also broken the top 10 at Comrades in recent years and has a 2:21 marathon PR from 2009.
George Ntshiliza is prolific racer and a 2:16 marathoner (2007) who still runs in the mid-2:20s and won in 2011 in 3:08, which was his clear stand-out run as he’s finished between 26th and 49th the three most recent years apart from his win.
Youngster, Michael Mazibuko (26) is likely to be one of the fastest men with a 2:15 marathon last year, but he was 16th in the 2011 Two Oceans despite being almost as fast back then. Claude Moshiywa is more of a Comrades expert and his 2:21 marathon PR is a little slow for this event, but he’s been top 10 the past two years at Comrades and has a best of 4th in 2007 at Two Oceans. 28-year old Odwa Tunyiswa is a current 2:18 marathoner who came 8th last year at Two Oceans.
Mzwanele Maphekula has a 2:17 marathon PR from 2008 and a best of 2nd at Two Oceans the same year, but has been outside the top 10 since then. Also amongst the South African contingent, Vusi Malobola came 10th and 13th for the past two years and runs a 2:20 marathon and Peter Muthubi has a 2:19 marathon and has broken the top 10 at Comrades and Two Oceans once each.
Firstly, 37-year old Stephen Muzinghi is a triple winner at Comrades (2009-2011) and won Two Oceans last year in 3:08 (5:24/mile pace). He’s the first man since 1975 to have been reigning champ at both Comrades and Two Oceans at the same time. He had a disappointing 6th last year at Comrades after his Two Oceans win but peaks well for these two events.
His compatriot, Collen Makaza, came 3rd last year at Two Oceans and has a 2:19 marathon PR. 41-year old, Marco Mambo is a Two Oceans legend and 3-time winner with his latest in 2008 as well as the fastest Two Oceans time of any of the runners (3:05 in 2005), but he’s unlikely to win again as his 2:14 marathon PR was from 2005 and he’s not finished in the top 10 since 2009 (2nd) although he did run an astounding 4th at Comrades last year. Another Zimbabwean, Mike Fokoroni, is a recent 2:15 marathoner with a best of 3:11 and 6th place at Two Oceans.
30-year old 2:16 marathoner, Moses Njodzi, hasn’t performed as well this decade, but won Two Oceans in 2006 in 3:06 and had several other top finishes.
Mambuthile Lebopo won the 2010 Two Oceans in 3:06 and has a marathon PR of 2:13 from 2009, but was outside the top 10 the last two years and ran a 2:17 marathon last year, so is still definitely a threat who seems to go for broke. Motlokoa Nkhabutlane has 2:14 marathon pace and was 2nd in 2011 then DNFed last year so he’s got the potential to podium, too.
The mountain kingdom has several other top runners from recent years, especially Tsotang Maine (2:19 marathoner with 3rd and 7th the last two years at Two Oceans) and Moeketsi Mosuhli (top 10 for the past three years and a 2:18 marathoner). Five more Lethothans with a shot at the top 10 are:
- Warinyane Lebopo (2:18 marathoner from 2009 and his best Two Oceans was 5th in 2010)
- Sekeke Lesole (64-min half marathoner focusing mainly on that distance who tried Two Oceans in 2006 but came 1865th)
- Lebohang Mahloane (6th in 2011 but DNFs in 2010 and 2012)
- Lebenya Nkoka (2:15 marathon in 2008, still sub-2:20 in 2011 and came 11th last year)
- Tebosho Sello (3rd in 2010 with a 2:20 marathon last year and several other Two Oceans finishes just outside the top 10)
Last year’s second place runner, Henry Moyo (Malawi) has had multiple top 10 finishes and his 2002 marathon PR of 2:18 has slowed in recent years. He also has a failed drug test in his past – he tested positive for a banned substance after winning the International AM Bank Marathon in Kuala Lumpur in March 2005 and received a public warning.
There don’t appear to be any top contenders from other countries, but the Russians usually do well at both Comrades and Two Oceans.
Two Oceans 56k Debuts
Jeffrey Gwebu (South Africa) is a recent 62-min half marathoner with more of a pedigree below marathon distance. Shadrack Hoff (South Africa) is 39 now, but has a 2:11 marathon best from 2005 with many national track titles under his belt as well as holding the 5,000m South African record of 13:14 from 1995.
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
- Do you get excited for blazing fast road ultras?
- Anyone from southern Africa want to weigh in on who might top the men’s field this weekend?
- Any readers dreaming of running this iconic ultra?