Brandkop parkrun

Date: 30 July
Distance: 5km
Time: 28:26

I guess we’re starting to acclimatise to the Free State altitude of 1500 metres. Although I didn’t manage another female win (still giggling about that one) I managed an improved time of 28:26 (28 minutes being particularly apt since this day also marked our 28th wedding anniversary).

This parkrun takes one around an old race course. What used to be the Brandkop race track of 2.11 miles, is now just an overgrown ruin. A recent fire also blackened the vegetation around the track. The run starts on a dirt road of almost 1k going halfway around the small hill (named Brandkop – ‘brand’ meaning fire/burn), to meet up with where the race track starts. A loop around the track brings one back to the dirt road and the home stretch to the finish.

In the 70s a couple of Formula 1 races took place on this track, followed by many other races, until the residents in the nearby suburbs complained about the noise, and the track was closed for good in 1993.

Since this parkrun follows a racing track and is as flat as they come with no sharp turns or turn-arounds, I guess it can be considered a fast course. Course records are 16:50 (male), and 17:23 (female). Bloemfontein is the capital city of the Free State province with a population of about 556 000. I’m surprised the course records are not quicker.

Apparently the race director had a wee gift for all visitors at the finish, but it slipped my mind, and we dashed off to meet my brother for breakfast at a restaurant.

We’ve been in South Africa for two weeks now, and the decline is shocking. Understandably, in a way. About 60 million people needs catering for in terms of services, food, etc, of which a vast number (likely more than the population of NZ) is made up of illegal emigrants from neighbouring countries, due to a lack of border control. Sometimes it only takes a walk through a crocodile infested river (Zimbabwe), or taking your chances through a wildlife nature reserve (Mozambique) to find ‘greener pastures’, other times it’s just a walk through the veld (Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana), where once there might have been a fence, and border patrol and control.

Rules are for the birds and we ourselves have sped through a couple of stop streets (by accident!), simply because the stop signs are long gone, and the paint on the roads have weathered away. I suspect we might have skipped some others unawares. Add to that the fact that everyone is dodging potholes (sometimes the size of cars), passing wherever they like, driving at speed, stopping wherever they want to pick up and drop off people, skipping red lights (never stop on a yellow light – you will be rear-ended, and don’t pull away on green as drivers are still crossing on red), driving across lanes, and so on. Quite an adventure to drive in Africa.

I love Africa dearly, but the constant interference of the western culture is the downfall of the continent, in my humble opinion of course. Very old African traditions go down the drain, as the younger black generations pursue the western way of living. These two cultures – African and Western – are like water and oil. You simply can’t force the two to mix – each one different and unique in their own right. Which, again my opinion, is why South Africa is on the brink of a total dystopia. The divide between the haves and the have nots is massive, and this goes for both black and white. Some blacks (the so-called black diamonds) live in nauseating abundance, while others live on the street. And the same goes for the whites – some super rich and others begging on street corners. Corruption is rife, which adds to this problem.

After breakfast with my brother and friends, we attended the opening of an art exhibition. The main speaker, Johan Cromhout, was an acquaintance from yonks ago and now a professor in music. Bald and also getting on in years, as we all do. Going back to a familiar environment, the whole experience felt like a time warp.

Back at my brothers, we spent the last day with my sister, before they had to leave early the next morning. A fire and some wine, a few yarns and good food rounded out the night.

Inibos parkrun (Bloemfontein, South Africa)

Date: 23 July 2022
Distance: 5km
Time: 30:16 (Gerry, 30:50, even though we finished together)

On a visit to my homeland, we decided to do one of the local parkruns in Bloemfontein, the town I grew up in.

With the Comrades marathon – the pinnacle of South African road running (an 89km run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, alternating the starting town from year to year) – being the largest and oldest on-road ultra in the world, the whole running calendar is geared towards getting about 15,000 (or 23,961 on the race’s 75 anniversary in 2000) participants thought the course in 12 hours every year. Some interesting facts about the race was published in Runner’s World.

This is a country with a lot of focus (unofficially) on running – a lot of people run (a small event would draw 1000 participants), and when we were still living here, a 6min/km pace would place one in the middle of the pack. In New Zealand, you can easily be last with a 6min/km pace. But things are changing, and with more people taking up the sport, the focus is increasingly more on participation, even in New Zealand.

In terms of parkrun, there are 206 parkruns in South Africa. The SA male and female parkrun records are 14:02 and 16:35 respectively, compared to NZ at 14:26 and 16:23. A faster male time in SA and a faster female time in NZ.

The Inibos parkrun is one of three parkruns in Bloemfontein, capital of the Free State province. In summer it takes place every Saturday at 7:00am (October – March) and in winter at 8:00am (April – September). Although parkrun is usually at 8am around the world, I guess an earlier start is granted in semi-arid and desert-type countries where the temperatures may pose problems in terms of heat exhaustion and sun stroke. It was quite a change moving to NZ where events rarely starts before 8am, when we were used to start at 6am and be finished with a 21k run by 8:00. Also, in summertime SA events would often start at 5am.

Inibos (a colloquialism for what would roughly translate to ‘in the bush’) is a private playground for runners, walkers, MTBers, kids’ quad bike rides, airsoft, and other adventures, with a picnic area and coffee shop. The course is run on gravel roads and single track trails. It is a double lapper of 2.5km with just a small uphill stretch in the middle of each lap. The familiar dead, yellow winter grass, dusty tracks, eucalyptus and other indigenous trees, not to mentioned prickly weeds that get into socks and shoes and eventually skin, bring back good memories of our running beginnings some twenty-plus years ago.

We started near the back, and soon had to pass some walkers and slower runners. Since we ran some twists and loops, we could see the runners ahead and behind us. The ground was uneven, solid and dusty, making it hand to just tune out and run.

We were going at a reasonable clip despite the fact that we’re running at 1500 metre altitude. Add to that my current ‘fitness level’ (or rather lack of fitness), and I was huffing and puffing like and old steam engine. But without totally killing myself I could manage a 6 min/km pace.

At the little hump at the finish where the volunteers recorded our time, the one lady edged me on to run quick and not let the men ‘beat us women’. I assumed she was referring to Gerry who was right behind me. On the clock on the wall I saw that my time was a bit over thirty minutes which is not flash, but I was happy to be able to achieve that. When the results came out, big was my surprise to be the first female (haha) and 13th overall out of 99 runners. This parkrun is perhaps more focussed on getting out and being social than running at speed, the way parkrun is intended to be.

We didn’t stay for any social activities afterwards as we didn’t want to be away from the family for longer than needed. It’s been seven years since we last made a trip to South Africa, making our long-overdue family time precious.

Perhaps next week we’ll try a different one.

Palmy Christmas parkrun

Date: 16 December 2017
Distance: 5km
Time: 38.08
Previous: Hamilton #1, Palmy #1, Kapiti Coast #1, Palmy #2, Porirua #1

Another change in our work schedule meant we could fit in another backyard parkrun. The organisers decided to make it a Christmas themed event, so we all (okay, some of us) dressed up for the occasion. Continue reading

Porirua parkrun

Date: 2 December 2017
Distance: 5km
Time: 29.27
Previous: Hamilton #1, Palmy #1, Kapiti Coast #1, Palmy #2

On another work outing to Wellington, we decided to try the Porirua parkrun, which saw its first running in the winter of 2013. We haven’t done it before and aren’t too sure when we will get the opportunity again. Continue reading

Kapiti Coast parkrun

Date: 11 November 2017
Distance: 5km
Time: 28.36
Previous: Hamilton #1, Palmy #1

For more than six years, we’ve been driving down to Wellington on Saturday mornings for work. Not every Saturday, but on average about ten to twenty times per year. And for the past many years, we spoke about how we should leave earlier and do a parkrun on the way down. Having to work on a Saturday, is bad enough, let alone having to get up very early to drive down and still be in time. To fit in a parkrun would mean getting up even earlier, which sounded like pure torture. And with Fridays being, well, Fridays – the end of the week, time for a glass or two, movie, late night, contemplating the week and philosophising about life into the wee hours of the morning – getting up early on a Saturday is the last thing you want to do. And getting up really, really early is the very last thing you want to do. Continue reading