“To believe this story you must believe that the human race be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million black, white and yellow people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen”
Olympic champion Chris Brasher wrote these words after running the New York City marathon in 1979. He went on to found the London Marathon, the biggest marathon in the world.
Endurance runners are a bunch of weirdos who volunteer to undergo serious pain for hours. I’m one of them. I figure it’s a sort of karmic suffering, to offset the martinis I drink every evening. Once an oddity, marathons are now a cause for city-wide celebrations wherever they are held. The outrage caused by the attack on the Boston marathon was felt not just by Bostonians and Americans but by runners around the world.
Thoughts of outrage were far from my mind as I lined up with 10,000 other pain junkies on a chilly morning in Cape Town. We were running the Two Ocean’s Ultra Marathon – a gorgeous 35 mile (56k) trot from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. The race covers a hilly coastal route which snakes around the Cape of Good Hope. It is arguably one of the most beautiful races in the world and has long been on my bucket list. My support team included mum, sis, brother in law, 5 year old nephew and a group of friends including an African Queen, a party hostess with a van (great for lying down in after the race) and Voldemort, the German masseuse.
Marathoners in Africa face unique challenges. Last year a runner was hurt by rock throwing baboons. The South Africans are a tough lot. While most of them run in takkies (South African slang for sneakers or trainers), I came across a bunch of barefoot runners. They weren’t some hunter gatherer types from the bush either, but slightly overweight middle class white people…
Runners greet pain like an old friend. We wait for him to cross the road, meeting him halfway. He runs alongside us, sometimes in the background, but always there. He mocks us as our legs start cramping. Six hours later I beat him and went out for a martini.
Pre race I focused on carb loading. After the race, my mind was on martinis. For carb loading I visited two stand-out Italian restaurants in Cape Town – Societi Bistro and Il Leone Mastrantonio. Of the two Societi is a lighter, more modern interpretation of Italian cuisine, while Il Leone is more traditional. Off Orange Street in the Gardens district the Societi Bistro has a simple yet modern Italian menu with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. The homemade spaghetti with truffle oil was delicious as was a simple salad of roasted figs and fior di latte (fresh buffalo mozzarella).
Il Leone Mastrantonio is in the district known as De Waterkant (say it with a straight face). Il Leone is the grande dame of Italian restaurants in Cape Town. It is pretty straightforward Italian fare served in a traditional, smartish, yet family friendly atmosphere. The home made ravioli and rib of beef was the perfect pre race dinner.
The Cape Town Jazz festival kicked off after the ultra marathon and I hung out for some cool tunes and cocktails at the rooftop bar at Tjing Tjing on Longmarket Street. Longmarket is a street favoured by students; lined with bars, backpacker hotels and massage parlours. Three floors above street level, Tjing Tjing is an Asian inspired rooftop oasis, with inventive cocktails made from behind a shiny red lacquered bar.
Ginger is the new sexy ingredient in cocktails. The term “gingering up” (or sexing up) came from the old gypsy habit of inserting ginger up a horse’s arse to make it appear frisky and alert while being inspected for sale. The Ginger Ninja at the Tjing Tjing bar had vodka, grenadine, pineapple juice, bitters, ginger and lime. The pineapple added sweetness, but the kick came from the ginger, offset by orangey grenadine flavours. There was no horsing about here – this is a nicely made drink.
The Jelly Baby was made with vanilla vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate juice, lemon juice and yes, jelly babies. There was a candy like sweetness to the drink, offset by the tartness of the lemon juice. It is an improbable sounding drink, but it grows on you. If you are a girl.
The highlight of my culinary and cocktail tour of Cape Town was the Pot Luck Club at the Old Biscuit Mill in the Woodstock district. Built at the top of a grain silo that serviced the former biscuit mill, the Pot Luck Club is a superb Asian fusion restaurant with stunning views. There was more ginger in the cocktails here. I had a Sake Cocktail with ginger, lemon grass and passion fruit. This was a very successful blending of flavours, with the lemon grass and passion fruit combining to add a hint of bitterness, while the ginger left a nice after burn in the throat.
The Ginger & Ginseng martini is a stunning looking cocktail, the liquid made cloudy with ginger, served in an antique goblet with a garnish of preserved ginger. The ginger overwhelmed the ginseng however, making for a spicy cocktail lacking in complexity.
The big hit of the night was an alcoholic dessert. Watermelon is infused with sake and then compressed until it turns jelly-like in consistency. It is accompanied by blood orange sorbet and bitter Campari jellies. This is a bitter dessert that looks a bit like a living thing and tastes divine.
South Africa is home to several great road races. Apart from the Two Ocean’s there is the Comrade’s 56 mile (90k) race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. This is the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon race. I politely declined the offer to run in place of a friend in this year’s race. Perhaps next year…
A big thank you to Kensington Place, my favourite boutique hotel in Cape Town. Austen Johnson and his team took care of all my marathon prep including a cooked breakfast delivered to my room at 3am, plus carb snacks for the race. Meeting points for my support crew were carefully mapped out and taxis arranged. It is a hotel I go back to often!