On the 23rd July 2022, I participated in a Half Marathon in Selebi-Phikwe, an old mining town in the Central District of Botswana. Originally named the Bosele Marathon, the Orange Phikwe Marathon is the oldest in Botswana, started in 1985 by the late Boet Kahts and Phill Roberts who was a teacher at Selebi Phikwe Senior Secondary School. The marathon has since grown from strength to strength and is even recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). Amongst the running community in Botswana, it carries a distinct ‘celebrity race’ status and its IAAF accreditation means it also attracts international athletes from around the continent. When I started running in 2017, it was one of the races I bucket-listed and although it has taken me 5.5 years to #RunPhikwe, I finally did it!
Unfortunately, I was hit with a nasty cold about nine days before the big day. Thankfully, it wasn’t the dreaded virus, but it took down the whole family, and we struggled through the week with the kids having to skip school. By Thursday, we were feeling better but not wanting to burden the grandparents with sick kids, we decided to take them with us on the 5-hour road trip, with promises of limitless screen-time. The lodge we had booked couldn’t give us another room but they promised two extra camper beds at a minimal cost. So as we drove to Phikwe we were in good spirits and the kids enjoyed their traditional skip over the Tropic of Capricorn!
I can’t talk about the race without highlighting some of the interesting history of this town. Selebi and Phikwe were originally two settlements sitting on a large undiscovered deposit of copper and nickel. With the discovery of the minerals in the 1960s, a mine and township were built here and the whole area named Selebi-Phikwe. The main source of employment was the BCL mine which excavated and smelted mixed copper-nickel ore from several shafts in deep and opencast mines. Ore was transported from the shaft by rail and the locomotives used were steam-powered, bought from National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and South African Railways (SAR). An old relic is found in the Nickel Park by the Stadium entrance.
Sadly, the mine closed in October 2016, after years of high operational costs, excessive debt and low base metal prices. At least 4,300 workers lost their jobs leaving the town devastated. There have since been some efforts to resuscitate the town through economic diversification and in February 2022 it was reported that Premium Nickel Resources Botswana (PNRB) may restart operations in the next three years. This whole story really shows the significance of the marathon in the continued economic, sports and community development of Phikwe.
We arrived in Phikwe around 16:30 and headed straight to Hotel Selebi to collect our race numbers. We were directed to a large room with several tables carrying race packs and a few personnel operating laptops. We were first asked to line up outside the door. There were only three people in front of us but the process took really long. After a 40 minute wait, we entered the room. The first stop was a table where we had to share our proof of payment before proceeding to the next counter for our race goodies and then a third counter for race numbers and chips. Once done, we headed to the Phokoje Bush Lodge for the night.
The following morning we were up at 05h00 and out the door by 06h00. We knew the marathoners would start at 06h30 and assumed we would follow shortly after. When we got to the Stadium, there was a long queue but we found a great parking spot next to the entrance. What struck me immediately was how much warmer it was here than in Gaborone. Temperatures were closer to 12/13˚C, double what we’ve seen in Gaborone recently. When we entered the Stadium, we were directed to the Start. I soon spotted Julie who I follow on Instagram. We had only met once (at the third SPAR Series Race) and it was fantastic to see her again. We chatted for a bit as we waited for the small group of marathoners (about 62) to set off. Once they were underway, the Half Marathoners (about 224 of us) were called to the gantry.
There was no loudspeaker and one of the runners cheerfully instructed that once we heard “Twaaaa” we run! Even though my body felt tired, I was comforted by the solid 16km run I’d done on Monday at the height of my cold. I also knew the fact I had no idea where I was going would add to the excitement. But more than anything I was just happy to finally be doing a race I’d dreamt of for years. I’m not at peak fitness so even before I fell sick I never had any lofty goals for this race and instead wanted to use it as a measure of where I’m at as my last Half was Pretoria in February 2020. Even though it wasn’t crowded, the gun shot at 07:02 took most of us by surprise and it was a slow start out the gantry. We ran 300m on the dirt track in the Stadium and then exited via one of the gates running through hundreds of 5km and 10km runners who had lined the road outside and were enthusiastically cheering us on!
The Day We Painted Phikwe Orange!
1 – 7km: As we got onto the main road outside the Stadium we ran around Nickel Park which had one of the old steam engines on display as well as some mining equipment. We continued on Meepo Road, crossed the Molwasekgoma Road and headed right onto Independence Road. I was with a big group of runners at this stage and it was fun listening to the chatter around me. One commented whether it was too late to do the 10km course and another laughed that if we felt this way after 400metres did we have any hope? Two km in, there were loud exclamations of how hot it suddenly felt and I was thankful I hadn’t gone with layers. The extra heat may also have been from the fact the road had a steady incline. It wasn’t obvious but step by step you could feel the sustained upward climb that left many struggling early on. There were several of these sustained ups throughout the race, working us hard, especially those from flat Gaborone!
For the first seven kilometres, I was comfortable. There were many runners I used to pace myself with but one sticks out. She had some source of music and wore her number at the back of her sports bra. We ran together for a while, sometimes me in front, sometimes her, but on a particularly difficult uphill stretch on Tshekedi Road, she took the lead. I was inspired by her as she vigorously moved her arms pushing steadily up the hill. When I eventually overtook her, I thanked her for pulling me up that stretch. Around 7km in, we turned onto Ikageng Road, running past neighbourhood side roads including Accra and Nigeria. My splits (min/km) for this section were my fastest – 07:10/ 07:00/ 06:59/ 06:48/ 07:09/ 07:16/ 7:03.
7 – 14km: Somewhere in this section we ran past some beautiful rock outcrops. It was quiet but we still had cheers from children and adults alike going about their morning tasks. We eventually made our way through the town centre and back to Tshekedi where we spotted some of the 10km runners on their final stretch to the Stadium. Sadly for us we still had a way to go! Something that struck me in this section, actually throughout the race, was how neat the town was – you can tell it was built for purpose and with pride – everything has its place and there are well-built roads in both the well-off and less-well off neighbourhoods. My splits (min/km) were – 07:19/ 07:07/ 07:22/07:16/ 07:18/ 07:30/ 7:21.
14km – Finish: We ran past one of the major hotels, Cresta Bosele, and were soon back on a different section of Independence Road. We were close enough to hear the noise from the Stadium but this gradually faded as we headed away from the area. On this stretch we saw some of the other major hotels, starting with Stonehouse where hotel workers stood outside and cheered us on as well as Hotel Selebi where we had collected our race packs.
In between Hotel Selebi and Travel Inn was a beautiful mosque with an imam standing outside. Those last five kilometres were the toughest of all. I had not walked once during the race and I was determined to keep running, but I decided to turn it down a notch. With just 3km to go, we could hear the noise from the Stadium and I kept pushing with the help of some cheers from the neighbourhood kids. With a kilometre to go, I met a guy walking and said “Let’s go, just one km left”. He started running and as we were both from Gaborone we chatted about how as soon as you leave the city’s borders, everything feels hilly. As we approached the stadium, he started cramping again. I kept going but with very little fuel left in the tank for my trademark sprint. Those last 300m round the dirt track felt like an eternity but eventually I crossed the finish for my 8th Half Marathon! Not surprisingly, my splits (min/km) for this last third of the race were the slowest – 07:29/ 07:48/ 07:37/ 07:48/ 07:36/ 07:36/ 7:15.
I ran the course in 2:35:47 (07:19 pace) and was really happy with the overall experience and my performance. Even though the last third of the race was tough, I kept things steady and pushed through to the end with a smile on my face. In terms of statistics, I finished 29th out of 49 female runners, and was 8th of 20, in the 40 – 49 age group. Meanwhile Ditiro’s idea of an easy paced run is finishing in 1:47:20, whilst casually listening to Sherlock Holmes!
I soon spotted Julie and we took a few photos together and chatted about the tough course.
As I was posing for a few more photos, a woman came running up to me, saying she follows and loves my blog! Thank you Amo – your excitement and joyfulness truly made my day. And Ditiro captured the moment we met beautifully!
We headed back to the lodge with our hearts content – despite everything, we had run Phikwe. Back at the hotel, the kids were excited to see us. We had our second shower, packed our bags, and hit the road. We took our time though exploring some of the area – we first drove by the Leshongwane Ruins, then took a detour into Mmadinare to see the Letsibogo Dam which is on the Motloutse River built to initially provide water to Selebi-Phikwe and surrounding areas, but now also supplies Gaborone, via a 400 km pipeline, as well as major villages along the pipeline route. Once we were satisfied with our excursions, we got back onto the A1 with another stop at the Tropic of Capricorn for a special #MedalMonday photo!
An area for improvement is definitely the race pack pick-up which seemed unnecessarily inefficient with many on social media commenting they had waited for hours. But aside from this, the route was incredible and truly allowed us to see and feel the town, and from what I saw of the marathon route, they must have had quite an adventure exploring even more of the town. There were several marshals and police officers directing us and ensuring our seamless crossing at intersections. There were also many fuel stops with water, energy drinks and fruits on offer, as well as volunteers and spectators cheering us on and keeping our spirits high at all times!
THANK YOU PHIKWE – we had the time of our lives.