Breaking new ground, Cape Town Marathon goes virtual

Cape Town Marathon organisers and sponsors turn to technology to keep the show on (off) the road.

What will NOT be seen this year... spectators cheer competitors in the 2019 Cape Town Marathon

The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon 2020 will go ahead and will host runners from all corners of the planet, according to the organisers – but with one major caveat: the race will be offered in virtual form.

Cape Town Marathon ambassadors Francois Pienaar and Elana van Zyl, together with a new team of race organisers, on Wednesday (May 6) made the announcement at a virtual media briefing (see video).  Race director, Renée Jordaan, also announced that entries were now available through webtickets.

The event, scheduled for October 18, remains the only marathon in Africa to enjoy IAAF Gold Label status, which was recently awarded to the race for the fourth consecutive year.

Competitors will be able to run the route “virtually” with the aid of one of the most innovative apps in the business, geared to give runners across the globe an interactive and immersive race experience by superimposing the traditional race route on top of streets, open spaces and gardens chosen by participants. The app comes complete with live tracking, distance markers, and push messages with information about key “landmarks” as they are passed.

Kenyan front runners Edwin Koech (right) and Daniel Muteti during the 2019 Cape Town Marathon (Photo: Stephen Granger)

“It will be unlikely that international air travel will have opened up again by October,” explained Pienaar. “And mass participation sports may not have been given the green light by then. But we can now assure everyone that there will be a virtual component to the race which will enable runners to enjoy running the Cape Town Marathon this year.”

“Virtual,” however, will involve real sweat.  Participants will need to train for the race as with any marathon, experience the traditional race build-up at the start – including the singing of the anthem and Mayor’s speech – and will race 42,2 kilometres. The exhaustion at the physical effort and the exhilaration at completing the journey will be very real.

 “We’ve extended the cut-off time to seven hours, thirty minutes longer than our usual cut-off, which is in recognition of the need for runners to be self-supporting,” Jordaan explained.

“We want to offer a virtual experience like no other,” added event general manager, Barry van Blerk. “The app will let you know, either through audio or visual prompt, exactly where you are on the route you have chosen and at the equivalent place along the Cape Town Marathon route, providing information on Cape Town’s many iconic landmarks.

 “So, if you’re running through Central Park, New York, and you have completed 14.1 kilometres, the app will show you that you’re running past the statue of Nelson Mandela on the City Hall balcony, appearing to greet the runners on their way.  We will also load pre-recorded videos to capture the traditional “gees” of the marathon, involving colourful local musicians and performers.

 The race will start at 06h30 local (CAT) time, wherever in the world the participant might be, the organisers said.

Sydney Mbhele, Chief Executive of Brand at headline sponsor, Sanlam, said the brand was delighted to take the race into the digital space. “Offering the opportunity to achieve their personal goals is a big focus for us at Sanlam,” he said.

“Whether it is running a personal best in this marathon or achieving any other 2020 financial goal, it is vital that all of us – as South Africans, Africans and the world – work together to find new ways of making our dreams come true. 


How things won’t look this year, if the virtual race takes place as planned (Photo: Stephen Granger)

 “I commend the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon organisers for thinking outside the box,” said City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith. “The world may not be able to come to the Mother City this year, but this virtual race provides a unique opportunity to take Cape Town to the world, so important to our tourism marketing.”

While the 5km and 10km Peace Runs will also be presented in virtual race format on 17 and 18 October respectively, there will not be a virtual race option for the 2020 Trail Runs.  Depending on circumstances, however, all races could still take place as originally planned within the scope of whatever restrictions might be in place at the time, but Cape Town runners will still be encouraged to run their marathons along routes in their own neighbourhoods this time around.

 “Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures. The Sanlam Cape Town Virtual Marathon will provide athletes the opportunity to train, remain competitive, and stay connected to the greater running community,” concluded Jordaan. “What better way to illustrate our solidarity than by participating in a virtual race that brings Cape Town to your doorstep. This will truly be a race like no other.”