Nike, let’s rather ‘take back the streets’ together

2012-03-23 06:23

There was no letting up on the pace, and there was no walking. The spectators just wouldn’t allow that, and neither would the thousands of neon yellow T-shirt clad runners determinedly streaming through the streets of night-time central Joburg.

Between the two groups, it was difficult to tell who was the most enthusiastic.

In fact, I was still glowing this morning after last night’s Run Free, Run Jozi event – impeccably organised and sponsored by Nike.

We started by crossing the beautifully-lit Nelson Mandela Bridge. The scale of it – and the setting – reminded me of the big city marathons I did a few years ago in London and Paris.

The number of runners almost equalled that of the Comrades, and was about double that of the ANC Youth League’s economic freedom marchers last year.

And speaking of economic freedom, the R70 entry fee was cheap for the amount of entertainment we got on the night.

It was obviously also part of a marketing drive, as Nike wants to position itself as the defining brand for runners – and they’re gradually converting me, although I, like many of my Comrades buddies, still perceive Asics to be the more serious shoe.

Nike offered hospitality, food and complimentary entries to runners from the media. They also ply us with gear.

Still, even us VIP journos had to wait for almost two hours out in the cold with the masses at the start in Braamfontein, although we did have a special pen in the front from where we could report the entertainment and mingle with the celebs and elite runners in peace.

I’m ridiculously bad at spotting celebs but Kaizer Chiefs founder Kaizer Motaung’s wife and daughter (Jessica, also marketing manager for the club) with their “Khozi for Life” customised T-shirts were rather obvious.

By the way, Nike offered to customise everyone’s T-shirts, and there were many with names, nicknames and sexy names on them, but embarrassingly I only remember the rude ones now.

As starting gun went off (a minute or two late) we were worried that there would be a push or that the Nelson Mandela Bridge might collapse under the weight of the runners. A friend who had witnessed the Ellis Park stampede in 2001 and the collapse of another bridge said he was planning to do a sprint-start to avoid a tragedy.

But no tragedy occurred, and fireworks lit up the city streets as we crossed the bridge at the start.

It felt a bit like the American Fourth of July celebrations – and what a festive way to celebrate Human Rights Day.

In that sense Nike was spot-on.

But the introduction of the political message of taking back the streets, because it should be a human right to run anywhere you like, might have jarred somewhat if you weren’t one of the mostly privileged (and majority white) 10 000 runners taking part in the race.

Who do these streets belong to, after all, and who is supposed to take it back from who? And do those people wanting to take back the streets – ostensibly the middle classes – have any more of a claim to them than the somewhat poorer crowds, many of them from foreign countries, who witnessed the run?

Sure it was great to be able to run after seven in those streets – some of them rather dark because the street lights didn’t work – without any fear of traffic, muggings or the incidental shooting.

And it was amazing to see people come out of their flats to support and high-five us.

It did make me realise again that Johannesburg’s world-classy-ness extends way beyond Sandton’s snooty boundaries.

Plus it did probably infect quite a few people with the street-running bug, including one of my gym buddies who I dragged off the treadmill to run with me.

But maybe next time (and I do hope there will be a next time) Nike could find a way to include the inner city crowd in their run too.

Then we can all take to the streets together.

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