Where The Two Oceans Meet

The name of the Two Oceans Marathon was only adopted for the third edition of the race, and it required some serious brainstorming and debate to arrive at the now-famous name. – By Sean Falconer

After two successful editions of the Celtic 35 Mile Road Race in 1970 and 1971, Celtic Harriers agreed to make it an official club event, and authorised Dave Venter to look for a sponsor for the 1972 race. His employers, BP Southern Africa, declined the opportunity, and that saw Venter approach a keen supporter of the race, Bryan Grieve of The Argus newspaper, who introduced him to The Argus Promotions Department. The newspaper agreed to sponsor the race, with the proviso that it had a definite Cape flavour.

This led to a meeting of Celtic Harriers members at the Grand Hotel in Strand Street, Cape Town, to discuss a new name for the event. Among the suggestions tabled was Harold Berman’s ‘Inter Oceans Marathon,’ while Venter proposed ‘Oceans to Oceans,’ but it was eventually Noel Stamper who came up with the winning name, the ‘Two Oceans Marathon.’ This new name was welcomed by The Argus, who agreed to publicise the race, print race numbers and certificates for finishers, and present a new trophy for the winner. Thus the race became known as The Argus Two Oceans Marathon.

Putting Plans in Place

Next Venter formed a Celtic Harriers sub-committee, comprising John Masureik, Noel Stamper and himself, to plan the race and handle negotiations with sponsors and partners. This included another meeting at the Grand Hotel, where the Lions Club agreed to organise various refreshment and activity stalls at Brookside on race day. Furthermore, the Celtic Harriers team wanted spectators at Brookside to be kept entertained, so they organised a programme of sports events, including seven-a-side rugby and a demonstration of para-sports. It was decided to make two trophies available for the ‘Fastest Last Lap’ of the field at Brookside, one for veterans (40 and older), and one for non-veterans.

The sub-committee undertook to advertise the race to runners from other provinces, buying up postcards with Terence McNally’s portraits of the Cape and sending them to runners all over the country. This resulted in a record number of 115 entries, including runners from Laingsburg, East London, Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg, and even two entries from Botswana and one from Australia.


At the post-race prize-giving, His Worship the Mayor of Cape Town, Dick Friedlander, told the runners that the Two Oceans Marathon was quickly growing into a Cape Town tradition, and this sentiment was echoed by The Argus committing to another year’s sponsorship. Meanwhile, the runners themselves also gave the race their wholehearted approval. As Boet Rabie of East London put it, “Your race has everything, and after the wonderful time we had, you can rest assured of a good entry from East London in future years.” Roland Davey of Durban summed it up in even fewer words: “A long distance to travel, but well worth the effort.”

A Hotly Debated Topic

Some believe that Cape Point at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula is where the warm Agulhas Current flowing down from the tropics in the Indian Ocean meets the cold Benguela Current flowing up from Antarctica in the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, others maintain that they meet at the southernmost point of the African continent, Cape Agulhas, about 175km south-east of Cape Town

The Two Oceans Marathon has always had one foot in either ocean. This is because the race runs past the warmer waters off Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek on the eastern side of the Peninsula, then passes the much colder waters off Noordhoek and Hout Bay on the western side. Ask any runner who has stopped for a dip along the way and they will tell you there is a big difference in temperature between east and west!

As a result, while the International Hydrographic Organisation officially recognises the waters of False Bay as part of the Atlantic Ocean, the Two Oceans Marathon prefers to think of the False Bay side of the route as the ‘Atlantic Ocean touched by the Indian Ocean.’ Meanwhile, given the debate over where the two oceans actually meet – Cape Point versus Cape Agulhas – there have been people who objected strongly to the name of the Two Oceans Marathon. As former Celtic Harriers Club Secretary Harold Berman explains, “The event was actually threatened with legal action twice in the 1980s, unless we agreed to change the name of the race. These weren’t actual lawsuits, just a threat to issue summons, because we were told that we were assuming incorrectly that the two oceans met at Cape Point. We never argued that point, but felt that the name of the event should stay.”

Venter’s Visionary Race

The Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon was first run in 1970, and there is an interesting story behind that first edition of what is now one of the biggest and most internationally renowned races in South Africa. – By Sean Falconer

The fledgling idea for the Two Oceans Marathon was born in the late 1960s when former Durban-based runner Dave Venter was transferred to Cape Town by his then employers, BP Southern Africa. To his great disappointment, Venter found that running in the Cape was very much behind Durban, where the 90km Comrades Marathon had been on the calendar since 1921. He had been a keen member of Savages Athletic Club and had run his first Comrades in 1967, just a year after starting to run at age 36, but in the Cape in 1968, there were only a handful of marathons to choose from and no ultra-marathons.

Venter ran the Stellenbosch Marathon, which only had about 20 entrants, and then had to wait several months for the Western Province Marathon in Bellville, which attracted a mere five entrants. Shortly after this, he took two months’ leave and returned to Natal to run his second Comrades, as well as the Bergville/Ladysmith Ultra. He was actually playing with the idea of asking BP for a transfer back to Natal, but after discussing it with former clubmate Gerry Treloar of Savages, he decided to give the Cape another chance. This after Treloar said, “Now that you’re there, why don’t you try and improve long-distance running in Cape Town?”

That convinced Venter to try to start an ultra with a similar distance to the Bergville/Ladysmith, around 35 miles, as he reasoned that runners in Cape Town planning to run the Comrades would enter it as a training run. However, when he took the idea to Celtic Harriers, the club committee said they didn’t feel there was any need for such a race in Cape Town.

The Western Province Amateur Athletic Association (WPAAA) also turned the idea down, but help was at hand. Through Celtic Harriers secretary Harold Berman, Dave was introduced to The Argus sports reporter Bryan Grieve, who lent his public support to the idea. At the same time, Stewart Banner was elected chairman of the WPAAA, and he too gave a favourable response, so Venter decided to try again. He went back to Celtic Harriers and said if the club would give him its backing, he would take care of all arrangements and ensure the club was not involved in any way.

Convincing the Doubters

With that agreement in place, Venter attended a WPAAA committee meeting in late 1969, and after a heated debate, he was finally given permission to hold the race on 2 May 1970 – just one week after the Peninsula Marathon, in spite of the small number of long distance races on the calendar at that time. Interestingly, the most outspoken critic of the idea was journalist and statistician Harry Beinart, who said he did not see the point of a 35-mile event!

Meanwhile, the WPAAA said the race should take place in May, at the end of the track and field season, so as not to impact other events on the calendar, and added one further strict condition: The race should not interfere with the cross country event scheduled for that afternoon – and Celtic Harriers echoed this condition!

With that hurdle out the way, Venter had an easy decision to make. His favourite training route ran through Muizenberg, Fish Hoek and Noordhoek, over Chapman’s Peak Drive, through Hout Bay, up Constantia Nek Drive and Rhodes Drive, down past Kirstenbosch, offering an incredibly scenic route measuring the approximate distance he was looking for, so the choice of route was simple. He also found a suitable venue for the start and finish by asking BP if he could use their Impala Park grounds in Newlands, and BP donated a floating trophy for the winner.

Getting to the Start Line

The race flyer for the first Celtic 35 Mile Road Race duly went out, with extra emphasis on this being a perfect training run for those planning to run the Comrades. The entry fee was set at 50 cents, with entries closing on 29 April. Runners would need to supply their own seconds to compliment the sponges and drinks available at the 10, 20 and 30-mile markers, where timekeepers would be stationed to record each runner’s progress. The top three finishers would receive prizes, thanks to Venter donating some of the prizes he’d won in Durban, and he also contributed another R6 in order to buy a few extra awards.

Race day arrived, with a small but intrepid group of 24 runners lining up on a wet, blustery morning in Newlands. Dirkie Steyn would go on to win that first edition of the race, in 3:55:50 – and remarkably, he ran the entire race barefoot! It was the start of 50-plus years of incredible running around the Cape Peninsula, and out of that first, small race was to grow one of the biggest running events on the South African calendar.