Annie Bothma breaks the tape at the Cape Town leg of the Sanlam Virtual Cape Town Marathon, October 18, 2020. Photo: Stephen Granger

Edward Mothibi and Annie Bothma were crowned the overall 2020 Sanlam Virtual Cape Town Marathon champions, as many of South Africa’s leading marathoners engaged in intense battle in three of South Africa’s cities to decide the final outcome.

While thousands around the world competed in the virtual marathon, half-marathon, 10km or 5 km, forty-three elite athletes took part in a unique marathon challenge in Cape Town, Pretoria and Potchefstroom, with the athletes running together in time, if not in place, united by a broadcast signal from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) that seamlessly delivered to South African viewers and provided SPNAfrica.com with a live-stream seen across Africa and around the world.

Last year’s Comrades Marathon champion, Mothibi, won the Potchefstroom race in 2:16:48, while Bothma set a new personal best by a full eight minutes, clocking an impressive 2:33:35.

In a made-for-television drama, the leaders of the respective races in the three cities, Mothibi in Potchefstroom, triple Comrades champion Bongmusa Mthembu in Cape Town and Philemon Mathiba in Pretoria, were running ‘virtually’ stride for stride in the final lap, with just 91 seconds separating the three individual winners as they each broke the finish-tape to clinch leg victories.

Cape Town leg winner Bongmusa Mthembu holds aloft the peace torch. Photo: Stephen Granger

To level the playing fields between those athletes running at altitude and those at sea-level, a handicap time was applied to those running in Pretoria and Potchefstroom, leaving Mothibi a clear winner in a corrected time of 2:13:12, 1 min 37 sec ahead of Pretoria winner, Mathiba, and 4:20 up on Cape Town winner, Mthembu, who was nonetheless delighted with a personal best time of 2:17:32.

“It’s really good to be racing again,” Mthembu said after his victory in Cape Town. “I’ve been so impressed at the way the Cape Town Marathon is organised and the way they look after the elite athletes.  It makes such a difference to have someone like Elana (van Zyl) who has been there herself and understands what is needed.  And I’m also grateful to ASA for allowing us to race today.

“I’m delighted to have run my personal best time following my 2 hr 20 min marathon in KZN earlier in the year before lockdown and will be looking for a chance to get my time down still further.”

Bothma made no secret that she had harboured ambitions of running an Olympic qualifier and gave it her all.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s not the time I was looking for, but I’m pleased to have improved my best time,” Bothma reflected. “I’m a different athlete since my last race, which was in fact the 2019 Cape Town Marathon, when I placed 10th in 2 hr 41 min.

“I spent three months in Kenya, training with (world record holder) Bridget Kosgei.  It was an incredible opportunity and she’s such an incredibly humble and generous person.  I had to leave Kenya because of the threat of lockdown in March, but I’m planning to return soon for further training prior to another marathon next year.

“I had hoped to beat the Olympic qualifier (2:29:30) but I had problems with my nutrition today. Even after taking my first bottle in the race I started to feel nauseous and had to force myself to take energy food at each refreshment station.  I was still close to 2 hr 30 min pace after 30 km but lost a lot of time on the last lap.

“Although the conditions were perfect, I found the course surprisingly tough, with its many turns and paved-stone surfaces, which are tough on the legs.”

The traditional arrival of the Peace Torch, a greeting from Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato and the singing of the national anthem preceded the race as dawn broke in Cape Town and the sun rose higher in Pretoria and Potchefstroom. And while the start line congestion at the three venues was missing with athletes suitably socially distanced, the surge of athletes at the gun as the adrenalin kicked in proved no different to previous years.

Cape Town men’s leg winners on the podium with Cape Town Marathon ambassadors. Photo: Stephen Granger

After months of uncertainty and careful planning, the organisers breathed sighs of collective relief as the elite component of the Sanlam Virtual Cape Town Marathon got underway in perfect running conditions at each of the venues.

Murray and Roberts’ athlete, Sithembiso Mqhele, set the early pace in the Cape Town race and had opened up a sizeable lead by the time the athletes raced past the Green Point Lighthouse on their third of the 4,2 km laps, but his ambition outweighed his pace judgement and he was hauled in by the chasing pack of four athletes shortly before the hour mark.

Nedbank veteran, Lindikhaya Mthangayi, was pushing the pace up front with Maxed Elite KZN’s Nkoshona Mhlakwana, Entsika’s Lindelani Zondi and Mthembu, running in the colours of Arthur Ford, in close attendance.

Twenty-five km into the race and just the “three M’s” remained in front – Mthangayi, Mhlakwana and Mthembu – as the athletes raced through Green Point Urban Park with just four laps to the finish.  But when Mthembu upped the pace he quickly established a lead which grew with every passing kilometre and he crossed the finish line four minutes clear of Mhlakwana.

In Pretoria, last year’s runner up in the Dublin Marathon, Nedbank’s Philemon Tebogo Mathiba, found himself in a close contest with M&R’s Philani Buthelezi, with Mathiba racing home in 2:18:29, over two minutes clear of his rival.

But there was no stopping Mothibi in Potchefstroom, with the ultra-distance star showing surprising speed over the standard marathon distance as he raced away on his own in the latter stages to cross the finish line just 44 seconds before Mthembu did so in Cape Town, to win in 2:16:48 and take overall victory in an altitude-adjusted time of 2:13:12, just one second outside his personal best time set in Dublin.

Ashworth took the lead from Cornelia Joubert in Potchefstroom to finish in 2:46:14 take second place overall, 8 minutes behind Bothma with her adjusted time of 2:41:51. 

Elite trail athletes Ryan Sandes and Toni McCann ahead of Clark Gardner on their Peace Run 10km on the race circuit. 

Results

Sanlam Cape Town Marathon Best Overall Performance 

(times for Potchefstroom and Pretoria legs corrected for altitude)

Men

1 Edward Mothibi (Nedbank) 2:13:12 ( Potch); 2 Philemon Mathiba (Nedbank) 2:14:49 ( Pta); 3 Philani Buthelezi (M&R) 2:17:26 (Pta); 4 Bongmusa Mthembu (Arthur Ford) 2:17:32 (Cape Town); 5 Jeremia Moshwetsi ( Impala) 2:17:32 (Potch)

Women

1 Annie Bothma (Individ) 2:33:35 ( CT); 2 Ann Ashworth (Massmart) 2:41:51 (Potch) ; 3 Nontokozo Mkhize ( Arthur Ford) 2:46:42 ( CT); 4 Charne Bosman (M&R) 2:51:41; 5 Lebo Phalula ( Boxer) 2:52:37 (Potch)

Leg times (net times)

Cape Town leg

Men: 1 Bongmusa Mthembu (Arthur Ford) 2:17:32; 2 Nkosikhona Mhlakwana (Maxed Elite) 2:21:41; 3 Msawenkosi Mthalane (Entsika) 2:22:02

Women: 1 Annie Bothma (Individ) 2:33:35; 2 Nontokozo Mkhize (Arthur Ford) 2:46:42; 3 Tanith Maxwell (Boxer) 2:55:28

Pretoria leg

Men: 1 Philemon Tebogo Mathiba (Nedbank) 2:18:29; 2 Philani Buthelezi M&R) 2:21:10); 3 Kabelo Melamu (2:26:32)

Women: 1 Charne Bosman (M&R) 2:56:19; 2 Yolande Maclean (M&R) 2:57:31; 3 Chrizell Roberts (Nedbank) 3:21:59

Potchefstroom leg

Men: 1 Edward Mothibi (Nedbank) 2:16:48; 2 Jeremia Moshwetsi (Impala) 2:21:15; 3 Peter Muthubi (Nedbank) 2:25:22

Women: 1 Ann Ashworth (Massmart) 2:46:13; 2 Lebo Phalula (Boxer) 2:57:15; 3 Melinda Janse van Vuuren (Massmart) 3:03:36

Elana van Zyl holds aloft the torch, alongside Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato at the singing of the anthem by Alexis Petersen. Photo: Stephen Granger