Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

CAROLINE WOSTMANN – ONE VERY FAST LADY RUNNER :

In 2015 Caroline Wostmann (pronounced Versed-man) shot to prominence when she became the first South African woman in 14 years to win Comrades and only the second South African woman to win Two Oceans and Comrades in the same year. She has an amazing story of a runner who started out as a very ordinary and average runner and became a “superstar” of Comrades.

I had never met Caroline prior to getting together for this chat and found a charming, down to earth and very together young lady who was easy to talk to and who had no airs and graces.

D.J.    How did it all start, your running career?

CW:    I battled to lose weight after the birth of my first baby. I was very unfit and      decided to attempt running as a means of weight loss. I started with a lap around my 800m block each morning and slowly built up from there.

 

DJ:      At what stage did you realise that you had that “special something” that would set you apart from the ordinary runner and take you into the category of the top runner where you are today?

CW:    I don’t think I ever thought that I had a “special something” but when I came 15th in 2012, I did think that if I trained harder I would be able to get into the top 10. I then overdid it and got a stress fracture and had to miss 2013 which definitely made me think I lacked the “special something” that the “elites” had!   Fortunately, I had a great doctor who referred me to biokineticists who helped me a great deal in getting strong enough to handle the hard training.

 

DJ:      In Comrades last year you seemed to be running to a time rather than against anybody else. Is that the way you ran Comrades and in fact Two Oceans last year?

CW:    Two Oceans was strange because I wasn’t trying to win it and I was just so comfortable and found myself in the lead and not in any discomfort at all and went on to a very comfortable win. In Comrades I was running to a time and my plan was to try to go into the lead around 20Kms from home but I was very surprised when I found myself alongside the leading ladies very early on and I was running with them but at a pace that was uncomfortably slow and so I moved away whilst I was able to do so and was comfortable with my pace right through to the finish.

 

 DJ:      What is your training like and do you race a lot?

CW:    I generally train twice a day with an early morning session and then late afternoon session and whilst I don’t race a lot I enjoy taking part in races but as training runs where I run slower than I would if I were racing. I enjoy the camaraderie of taking part in races but I am careful not to over race.

 

DJ:      Has winning Comrades changed you?

CW:    I don’t think it has. I’m still the same person I’ve always been with the same      priorities of family and if for any reason my training started to put strain on my family then I would put competitive running aside.

 

DJ:      Have people treated you differently since you won Comrades?

CW:    I find people are wanting to take a lot of “selfies” with me and I don’t mind that at all.           

 

DJ:      What are your future goals in running?

CW:    For now, my attention is still on Comrades and concentrating on that. I have run a 2:44 marathon and I am not sure that the marathon distance is where I want to focus my attention right now. I feel more comfortable at the longer distance.

 

DJ:      What do you think you can get to time-wise in Comrades? Under 6 hours on the Down Run?

CW:    I ran 6:51 in the last Down Run in 2014 so I have a long way to go to get to 6 hours on the Down and whilst I did 6:12 on the Up Run to win in 2015 they are very different races so we’ll have to wait and see. 2016 is going to be a very exciting Comrades with the field we expect this year.

 

DJ:      In your build-up to Comrades 2015 it must have been very difficult balancing three jobs that of mother to your two daughters, lecturer at Wits and runner at the level you are at. How did you manage it?

CW:    I couldn’t possibly have done it if it hadn’t been for the enormous support I had from my family. My husband was amazing and he would handle everything at home as far as the children were concerned. I would leave home at around 4am to go through to Wits so that I could get my early morning training session in, then it would be my lectures and then after that back to Pretoria for my afternoon training session before getting back home for our family time where we sat down as a family before the children went off to bed. During that family time there was no television or anything like that. It was quality family time. It was only after Comrades that we took the decision as a family that I would stop lecturing at Wits and only focus on running so that took a lot of pressure off us all.

 

DJ:      Tell me about your decision to change running clubs

CW:    Towards the end of 2015 I heard rumours that KPMG was launching a running club. Being a chartered accountant I was naturally interested to find out more about this as KPMG is one of the largest and best firms in my profession. I found out that KPMG had been developing athletics in South Africa for the last three years through a project at Vorentoe  School called the KPMG Vorentoe Running Academy. I was amazed to discover that after such a short period of time they had managed to win 38 medals in the SA athletic and cross country championships in each of the previous two years. This enabled me to realise the extent of talent we have in our country. Being passionate about education and athletics I was eager to become a part of this initiative and was thrilled to be afforded the opportunity by KPMG. I have no doubt that future Olympians and world champs will come from this project and hope that other corporates will follow in KPMG’s footsteps in developing our country’s potential.

 

 

 If anybody deserves success, it’s this lady. She has worked very hard to get to where she is now and we can only hope that it pays off for many years to come.

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

JACKIE MEKLER, ONE OF THE COMRADES GREATS :

Jackie Mekler has always been my Comrades hero and the fact that he was the winner for his 5th time the year I ran my 1st Comrades in 1968 gave me a special affinity that I know Jackie doesn’t even know about – or didn’t until he reads this blog. In those far off days little did I know that years later I would be able to count Jackie as a friend and that, for me was, and still is, an enormous honour.

Jackie was, to my mind one of the greatest ever Comrades runners and the dedication we saw from him in his preparation was unparalleled. I regard it as a privilege to have been able to have asked him a bit about his running career.

D.J.     What drew you to marathon and later to ultra marathon and Comrades in particular at a time when road running was not really regarded as a glamour sport?

J.M.     My mother died when I was nine, and I was sent to live in an orphanage where I hated the restrictions and the confinement of institutional living. Early one morning, aged thirteen while everyone else was still asleep, I slipped on a pair of takkies and went for a run on a nearby road. I enjoyed the exhilaration and freedom, imagining myself winning races in front of cheering crowds. As a schoolboy I watched many races over track, cross-country and marathons collecting autographs and getting to know the runners and clubs. Germiston Callies appeared to be best suited to my aspirations and I joined them at the age of 16. At 18 I ran my first marathon, and won my first marathon at 20, the same year that I ran my first Comrades.

 

D.J.     What was your philosophy on training for Comrades? We know that you did very long distances in your preparation.

J.M      By to-day’s standards my training appears nothing short of being haphazard. Throughout the seasons I raced over track, cross-country and marathons which I regarded as my speed work and my general training 5 min/km was an average club Comrades pace. Later when I was training alone I reduced this to 4.30min/km. 

When I was a printer’s apprentice, I used to run to and from work and once ran 57kms before work starting at 2:30am.  In a normal working week I ran up to 185 miles and which over a seven-year period gave me a weekly average of just under 160kms. I ran a lot of distance because I loved it and I enjoyed the loneliness especially running in forests and mountains. My mind’s constant repetitive playback of winning races played a big part in my approach to racing my Sunday training in later years often comprised of 80kms in the morning followed by a fast-ish 16kms in the afternoon. The whole trick is not to get too tired!

My longest race was the 100-miler from Bath to London in 1953 when I was 21, at a time when British athletes were not allowed to run more than 10 miles. I received a lot of encouragement from Arthur Newton, Fred Morrison and Wally Hayward.

The long, slow training I did with Wally and Fred under Newton’s watchful eye in 1953 did me no harm. I returned home the following year and ran with the best over 6 and 10 miles as well as winning several marathons as well as setting world track records for 30, 40, and 50 miles.

Jackie on a training run with Wally Hayward and Fred Morrison

 D.J.     There weren’t a lot of races around in those days, but did you do a lot of racing as part of your Comrades preparation?  If so how many races in the 5 months from January?

J.M.     In January I generally ran a 25 km race; February S.Tvl Marathon; March SA Marathon; April Pieter Korkie 38 miler; May Comrades

 

D.J.     Would you have liked to have been able to have run Comrades today given the professional era in which we find ourselves and what do you think you could have done because this is something that must have crossed your mind?

 J.M.     No I don’t think of it like that. When I started out, marathon running was very different to what it is today – the whole world has changed, and we now have the benefit of what we pioneers have struggled through. Just think that I ran for five years with undiagnosed anaemia, simply because medical science related to running was very scarce – the runners were so few that doctors had limited opportunity to gain experience from treating runners. I have no regrets of having run in my time frame.

 

D.J.     You were the first man to break 6 hours on the up run.  That must have been an amazing day. One of those days where everything just went right?

J.M.     Yes it was a very special day to have become the first Comrades runner to hear Maritzburg’s midday gun salute. It was the easiest of all my Comrades runs. I went on to win by over half-an-hour and better Wally Hayward’s record by 16 minutes. I had tracked Wally’s record all the way. I was 3.21 ahead at Pinetown; 4.55 ahead at Hillcrest; 7.40 ahead at Drummond, and 16.23 ahead at the finish.

Jackie with that familiar No. 9 to one side on his vest in Comrades

D.J.     Who was your biggest rival in Comrades?

J.M.     I can’t really say, because nobody beat me more than once, so I’ll have to block-book John Smith, Bernard Gomersall and Dave Bagshaw the three English runners who each beat me on different occasions.

 

D.J.     You split the English “attack” in 1962 when John Smith won and you were second and the remaining Englishmen in 3, 4 and 5. Was that one of your toughest Comrades?

J.M.     It was really a tough race. I ran like a novice going into the lead right from the start, was well clear of the field after six miles, and 8 minutes inside my record at Botha’s Hill. I received my first warning sign where the road winds down into Drummond at half way – I felt cold and shivery and called for hot tea. The cheers at Drummond told me that my 2hr 57min was 5 minutes inside the record and 6 minutes ahead of the English runners. The pace was telling on the way up Inchanga but there was nothing I could do about it but watch Smith come galloping past with 12 miles to go. It was a disappointing run for me because the English runners were well off my London-Brighton record and were not given a chance of winning. Smith retired a year later – he told me that he couldn’t be bothered to do all that kind of hard training!

 

 D.J.     Jackie Mekler aside, who do you think is the greatest Comrades runner of them all.

J.M.     I always try to avoid answering that question because of the “fivers”, Newton, Ballington, Hayward, Fordyce (and there could well be other contenders). Each lived in their own time frame and circumstances that I would find it difficult to separate them. I would give each 100% as athletes, as personalities, and for contribution to the Comrades.

 

D.J.     August 1954 in Vancouver and the Empire Games Marathon. One of the most dramatic marathons ever recorded Jim Peters came onto the track at the finish with a 17 minute lead and collapsed and didn’t finish. You eventually took the silver medal that day. What do you remember about it?

 J.M.     The staggering and collapse of world record holder Jim Peters with 200 yards to the finishing line will surely live as one of the most dramatic events in sporting history.

Jim Peters on the point of collapse

The British Empire and Commonwealth Games Marathon started in the Vancouver Stadium at 12.30 pm on a warm and windless summer’s afternoon – not ideal conditions for a marathon.

Added to this was a poorly organised event leading with the England team complaining that the course was too long. The feeding stations weren’t organised properly, runners could only have drinks at official feeding stations and team managers were not allowed on the course nor were runners told what was happening during the race.

Much of this confusion could be attributed to the “Miracle Mile”, the clash between the only two 4-minute milers in the world – Roger Bannister and John Landy – which event was being held just before the runners entered the stadium.  I was expecting a slow race and was prepared to bide my time at the beginning and anticipating to pick up a tiring field towards the end. I tried to keep track of the number of runners ahead of me, getting no information from officials or spectators. I was terribly disheartened thinking I was in 8th or 9th position. The only runner I passed was compatriot Jan Barnard struggling at 18 miles. Running up the last hill I could see a loudspeaker blaring in the distance at the final feeding station. By the time I had arrived the loudspeaker was gone. It was only after I appeared inside the stadium that I was told that I was lying second. Joe McGhee of Scotland won in 2.39.36 while I was 2nd in 2.40.57 and Barnard 3rd.

D.J.     I heard that you still go out and do short runs.  Is that correct and any idea of the total distance you have run in your lifetime?

J.M.     Yes these days I do my own brand of “fartlek” training – jogging interspersed with walking.    I have run more than 160,000 kms

 

D.J.     I know you still get to Comrades every year. It’s changed tremendously but does it still hold that special appeal for you?

J.M.     I do enjoy going down to Comrades each year meeting old friends and officials. Unfortunately these are becoming fewer and fewer. I also get satisfaction in helping handing out Green Numbers.

There you have it. Jackie Mekler’s story. One of the greatest Comrades runners ever?  In my book there is absolutely no debate about it and a true gentleman as well.

 

 

Posted in PERSONAL OPINION

IS COMRADES TOUGH? YES IT ISN’T :

It’s January and time to start thinking seriously about running Comrades and how you intend to train to get there. Right?

It seems this is not the case at all and I know that this particular blog will probably land me in hot water with a lot of people many of whom will probably say “The silly old goat can only think of the old days” and perhaps that’s quite right but the “silly old goat” started 14 Comrades, finished 14 Comrades at a time when we didn’t have the luxury of a 12 hour time limit. We also didn’t have the luxury of a refreshment station every few Kms and had to rely on personal seconds who almost always were stuck in traffic jams and we went some fairly long distances without anything to drink. The “silly old goats” also didn’t have the fancy equipment available today and our shoes were the ordinary “takkie” or sandshoe used on tennis courts and we drank “corpse reviver” (described in other posts) and didn’t have the modern food supplements.

I’ve always felt that getting ready for Comrades and running it is pretty much like anything else one has to do in life from writing exams to preparing for a board meeting or running a company. Do it properly and prepare properly and when you get to the actual event itself, it’s not actually that bad.

I am not for one moment knocking the modern runner. Far from it as it was those inferior shoes being worn, added to a childhood back injury, that stopped my running altogether whilst I was training to run my 15th Comrades. I am however concerned that it appears that runners on average today, are slower than they were some 30 to 40 years ago and let me stress that I can’t talk for the winners or even the silver medalists.  I have never been one of those but I certainly know how to run a Bill Rowan so that puts me in the top half of the field.

The bulk of the tail-enders came in during the last hour when we had an 11 hour time limit and now that it’s 12 hours we still have that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the time limit should go back to 11 hours because it’s the 12 hour time limit that has resulted in more people striving to get that medal that is so very precious but it does seem that people have slowed down to finish in under 12 hours now rather than aim for the 11 hours they would have been required to do previously.

So what is the problem or is it even a problem at all?   What is it that’s causing this seemingly slower running?

Why is it that runners are doing a qualifying marathon of 42km in the required 5 hours (it used to be 4:30) but can’t get to the half way which is some 3km further than the marathon distance in the extra time of over an hour allotted to them by Comrades? Why is it, that they will run an ultra of, say, 50km in under 6 hours but 6 hours 15 is not enough time to do the 45km to half way in Comrades?

I was sitting down to write this and came across a quotation by Rich Simmonds, a professional speaker and self-styled “rule breaker and change maker” (I love those sorts of people) who said “Understand what everyone else is doing, but don’t do what everyone else is doing” and it occurred to me that what Rich says applies equally to Comrades.

I have seen the looks on the faces of those who can’t make the cut off times along the route and who fail to get to the finish in under the required 12 hours. That pain of not finishing Comrades stays with those folk until they are able to go back and beat it. I know one runner who talks equally of the one she didn’t finish as much as of the one she did. It must hurt not to be able to finish Comrades. It must hurt badly.

I can’t imagine how awful it must feel to have to get into one of the runners’ rescue busses and have a thick black line drawn through your race number.  The runner I know who had that happen, tried to describe it to me and it must have been horrible. To have that DNF alongside your name never goes away.

I believe that training methods and the mental approach are the main problems facing the modern runner.

Let me also, once again, say that I am not a coach and certainly not one of the official Comrades coaches but I am also not some sanctimonious “old timer” saying “we did it much better then” but I firmly believe that there are problems and that the problems are not the result of what happens on Comrades day. I think the problems are the result of the way runners prepare themselves in the five months from January to Comrades.

Week after week you’ll find the same runners in races “treating them as a training run”.  I honestly don’t believe that it’s possible to run a race as a training run because in the vast majority of instances you will run faster than you would a training run. Carry on doing that for months on end and get to the start of Comrades tired – or injured. 

I have runners saying to me all the time that at the beginning of May they are exhausted.  Good grief!  At the beginning of May runners should be feeling on top of the world and ready for the taper that is going to get them that unbelievably precious medal.

The other thing that has been cast aside now by so many ordinary runners is LSD.  The pure joy of getting together with a bunch of mates to go out on a long run on either Saturday or Sunday and “tea room hop” to get cold drinks is largely a thing of the past.

About now I can hear coaches saying “here he goes again” but the point is it works, and again I stress that I can’t talk for the top runners.  I heard of one runner prior to the 2015 Comrades who was running in a race almost every weekend.  When I was told about her, my reaction was that I thought, as a novice, she would be lucky to get home in under 11:45. I was wrong. She did 11:40!

The ordinary runner is busy with hill repeats and speed work during the week and races at the weekend.  Why?  I am the proud owner of 14 Comrades medals, all under 11 hours and two of them under 9 hours, and never once did I do hill repeats or speed work.

I had a road race called Comrades to run so I trained for that by running on the road. I had a long way to run on Comrades day so I built my leg strength and stamina by doing LSD – and it worked. As I became fitter my speeds automatically improved and that included hill speeds. Was I wrong?  My stats don’t say so.

My focus was Comrades so I studied the route and my times to be at various places. I never went near a gym. I know one runner who has a coach who puts her through rigorous gym sessions to the point where her legs are like jelly. Come Comrades day and it’s “an all fall down”. Her half marathon times are brilliant. Her Comrades times – very ordinary.

The runner who is capable of a best of 4 hours in a marathon, runs a race in 4:15 and says “I did it as a training run”.  That’s not a training run.  It’s just 15 minutes off your best!

If a top runner runs in a race as a “training run” he’ll do around 3 hours for a marathon when he’s actually capable of around 2:20. That’s a “training run”.

In the old days (here he goes again I hear the cry) we used to say that if you RAN IN A RACE you shouldn’t go near another race for 1 day for each mile of the race. In other words a marathon in old language is 26 miles so run a marathon but don’t do any other race of any distance for 26 days. That doesn’t mean don’t run for those 26 days after a marathon. It means don’t run IN ANOTHER RACE for 26 days after a marathon.

20 days for a 32km and 14 days between running a half marathon and any other race. That’s going to basically give you one race a month from January to Comrades.

It works and it’s not the ramblings of “a silly old goat”.

Remember when your mates tell you that I’m crazy what Rich Simmonds says.

“Understand what everyone else is doing, but don’t do what everyone else is doing”

One little bit of advice though. Don’t take advice from everyone in sight – and that includes me – because all that does is leads to confusion and you get to the start full of a dozen different opinions and – DISASTER!

Comrades isn’t tough. It’s the training to get that medal that’s tough.

Do that properly, both on and off the road, and Comrades is a great day. A fun day and boy does it feel good to get home ahead of your mates who ran in races every weekend and in two time trials a week!