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A road race with a difference, the Nelson Mandela Bay Train Race pitches man against machine as teams of relay runners attempt to beat the train from Port Elizabeth to Uitenhage. Since 2014, corporates and clubs have entered their teams consisting of 5 runners and 1 cyclist to try and pip the time the train takes to travel the 38km distance between the two stations.
The idea of a race against a train was started by a few crazy university students back in 1966 who took on the Apple Express that ran between Port Elizabeth and the Longkloof Mountains, a gruelling 72km journey. The race later became a popular team event that grew into one of South Africa’s premier races on the running calendar and continued until 2004 when the Apple Express service ground to a halt. The race was revived a decade later, only this time it pits runners against an everyday electrical passenger train and the length of the race is now much shorter.
The train takes slightly less than 2 hours to make the journey and it’s a tight finish as the top teams run and cycle the route in roughly the same time. For the runners, the 5 legs vary in length with the final leg being the lengthiest and generally run by the team’s fittest member.
Spectators line the route, however, they need not watch the race from the side-lines; they can board the train as it speeds past the majority of runners on its way into Uitenhage.
Corporates seeking branding opportunities are able to sponsor water points or be granted naming rights of the train coaches for the race day. The event is well attended with a number of local companies entering teams as do schools and running clubs. The Nelson Mandel Bay Train Race is a charitable event with all proceeds going towards an organisation assisting destitute families.