Running the 2015 PPC Cement Riebeeck Bergmarathon

I finished the 2015 PPC Cement Riebeeck Bergmarathon on my first attempt at a road marathon. That’s a whole 42.195 kilometres or 26 miles and 385 yards (if you are that way inclined).

The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921.


My goal and motivation

At the beginning of the year I entered the Ultra-trail Cape Town 2015 65 km solo race. It takes place on Saturday, the 3rd of October, 2015. And as of March this year, I’ve been trail running most weekends. The furthest distance I’d run leading up to my first marathon was 31 km off-road and 25 km on the road.

With the 65 km trail race on my mind, I thought it would be a good idea to test myself over a longer distance. And I set myself a goal of 4 hours, which would need an average pace of 5:44/km.

Training and preparation

In the month leading up to the marathon, I ran 8 times for a total of 8 hours and covered 94 kilometers. On top of that, I usually go to the gym twice a week, where I do the super circuit (with steps between sets). In hindsight, a few longer runs might have been a good idea. But I didn’t have much more time available and the training I was doing was enjoyable.

I was happy with how I had prepared.

The morning of the race

Riebeek Kasteel is just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town. The PPC Cement factory situated a few more kilometers on from Riebeek Kasteel in Riebeek West.

It was pretty cold on the way to Riebeeck Kasteel this weekend!

A photo posted by Michael Thorne (@mikkelz_za) on

The temperature dropped as low as 1.5° on the way there, but the skies were clear and there was no wind to speak of.

I made sure to get to the venue about half an hour before the start of the race. This meant I had time to eat one more banana and take a relaxed walk up to starting line from where I’d parked my car.

The race

All the articles I’d read up on running your first marathon had a common theme: start slow and finish strong. I definitely did my best to run within myself, although it was quite difficult. When you have a lot of runners passing you in the first few kilometers, it is difficult to hold back. But yet, the feeling of passing people in the last few kilometers of the race made it worthwhile.

I marked off a few key points on the route which were my goals within the race. They were as follows:

  • 8 kms you turned around and ran back in the direction of the start
  • 13 kms you turned off on to a dirt road
  • 18 kms was the first proper climb of 5 kms in distance
  • 21 kms my target was 2 hours
  • 26 kms you turned back on to a tar road with the next climb
  • 32 kms you turned off to Riebeek Kasteel for the final 10 km

I was on target for my goal throughout the race and made sure that I kept my head up and didn’t fixate on checking my watch. There were about 12 kilometers on a dirt road which was amazing. This was a welcome relief from running on a hard surface. And the views of the farms and cattle on either side of the road were beautiful.

Due to the cold temperatures, I drank a lot less than usual. I think this was also the reason that I ate less than I normal. A slice of toast for breakfast with peanut butter and honey and two bananas before the race started.

Then during the race I ate a Wedgewood Race Food nougat bar, two mouthfuls of a raw date bar and half a banana.

Thinking back, I should have eaten some more of the date bar, but I didn’t feel like it at the time.

On my iPod, I listened to Jack Johnson and a BBC Essential Mix by Max Cooper. This took my mind off the distance and allowed me to focus on my rhythm and work towards my goal. I don’t always listen to music when I run, but this helped me during the marathon.

The final 7 to 8 kilometers were tough. The course has an uphill finish and I felt pressured to finish within my goal time. I also felt a slight onset of cramping in my left quadricep which I’ve never had before. With a few kms remaining, I knew that finishing in under 4 hours was not possible (without blowing a gasket).

So I made it over the finish line at my own pace in 4 hours, 2 minutes and 9 seconds.


Aside from the usual kit of a cap, sunglasses, shirt and shorts (and socks), a few items made the difference.

Just going for a quick run...

A photo posted by Michael Thorne (@mikkelz_za) on

I recently purchased a pair of adidas adistar Boost ESM and they are fantastic. The previous model has served me well (889 kms), but I had the occasional problem with blisters. The ESM upper is so comfortable and the cushioning and stability is perfect for my style of running.

As part of my trail running kit, I have started using a S-LAB ADV SKIN3 12SET from Salomon. I thought I’d run with it during the marathon, in preparation for the Ultra-trail Cape Town race. There I will have to wear it (for hydration and emergency supplies requirements).

I used two 500 ml (20 oz) bottles with kicker valves from Ultimate Direction. I prefer them to the soft flasks that come with the Salomon pack.

What I learned

The pride and happiness I felt on completing such a tough challenge made it all worthwhile. I realised that I am mentally strong and if I put my mind to it, I can achieve what I want. You need to be fit, but mental health and a good strategy is even more important for challenges like this.

42 kms is a long distance and running for four hours is not easy. If you can appreciate the fact that it is a privilege to run, then you’ll do well.


A photo posted by Michael Thorne (@mikkelz_za) on

It’s more of an experience than it is a race and I’m so glad that I did it.

Further reading

My thoughts on some of the other races I have completed: