One of the things that I have found that Comrades winners have in common, is that they are humble and one of the those who best fits this profile has to be the man who won Comrades in 1995 and who stands in third place in terms of the number of Gold medals he has won with 10, and that alongside Jackie Mekler and just behind Alan Robb who has 12 and Bruce Fordyce who has 11. Shaun Meiklejohn has 10 Gold medals and very few people know this because Shaun is so quiet and humble about his Comrades achievements and apart from saying that he won Comrades in 1995 he says very little else about his Comrades achievements.
I decided the time had come to find out more about this man so I asked him to tell me something about himself.
DJ: Where are you from?
SM: I was born in Pretoria, but I have lived in Durban where I did my pre- and primary schooling, Carletonville where I did my high schooling and I matriculated at Carlton Jones High School in Carletonville.
I went back to KZN to Pietermaritzburg to varsity then back to Carletonville after national service where I worked as an assistant accountant on Western Deep Levels Gold Mine and then back to Pmb where I currently live in Hilton.
DJ: What attracted you to running?
SM: It was only in 1981 when I went to university that I joined some of my fellow students who had run Comrades in 1980 with the intention of lining up with them that year. It was really just something to do in our spare time, no real attraction at that stage, it did work up a thirst and would we quench that with ice cold beers!
My first Comrades was in 1982. In 1981 I qualified with a 3:50 marathon at the old Richmond Marathon but was knocked off my motor bike going to lectures one morning so I watched from the side-lines. Bruce Fordyce (black armband) and Isavel Rosch-Kelly won that year. I was hooked after that and I didn’t even run!
DJ: Did you have any other sporting interests as a child?
SM: I was a really keen soccer player and even got Western Transvaal colours U16. I started playing golf in my last couple of years at high school and got my handicap down to 5 at one point. I also enjoyed playing squash & hockey up until I left school.
DJ: What are you by profession?
SM: Financial Director at Innovative Shared Services
DJ: Do you have any hobbies or sporting interests other than running?
SM: I still manage to squeeze in a round of golf, no official handicap, but on a good day I’m an honest 14. I also love to watch the Sharks and Bokke performing at their best, which seems to be a struggle these days.
DJ: People remember you first for your Comrades win in 1995 but I remember you quite a while before that when you suddenly burst on the scene in the colours of Carlton Harriers and you had everyone in quite a stir because of how much they thought you looked like Bruce Fordyce.
SM: Folk first took notice in 1989 when I had moved back to Carletonville and trained properly after finishing 17th in 1988 running out of Queenstown, I had set a top 10 as my goal and led the race until the top of Cowies Hill, Sam Shabalala won that year and I finished 5th. Bruce was in the commentary team that year having won the Standard Bank 100km earlier in the year in Stellenbosch. There was a bit of chirping in the studio if I remember correctly…. I must have looked like a younger version of Bruce back then, ha ha …
DJ: You had been in gold before your win in 1995 but to eventually cross that line to win must have felt amazing! Is it possible to put it into words?
SM: I had 5 golds at that point and even a 2nd place to Nick Bester in 1991. In 1995 I decided to run “full-time” from January and put all my eggs in the Comrades basket. It paid off, I was so confident in my build up and mental preparation that I asked Julie, my wife, at the start if “I looked like a winner”! The race was amazing, I felt in control all the way, running my own race and not panicking when Charl took off after Cowies Hill. I passed him going up Tollgate and opening a 1 minute lead by the finish, I was on such a “high” running into the stadium realising what I had achieved.
DJ: Your Comrades performances are quite remarkable. In 28 runs you haven’t gone slower than 7 hours have you?
SM: I have twice. In 1982 I did 7:17 and 2003 I was 7:15, all the rest under 7 hours
DJ: Your 28 years at Comrades haven’t been in succession and you took a break. Do you think that made a difference and allowed the “old” legs to recover slightly?
SM: I took 6 years off after 2003, feeling physically and mentally stale and running the last few with niggles. The break allowed my body to heal without a doubt but I had put on around 15kgs so it was a struggle to get running again, it was only after I embarked on a proper eating plan eliminating wheat, dairy, sugar and alcohol, did I shed the weight and I was back in 2010 with a 6:45 …
DJ: Do you intend carrying on running Comrades and getting up to 40 Comrades and beyond? Only one other winner has run 40 Comrades and that’s Alan Robb.
SM: I don’t think so, at this stage I’m taking one year at a time, enjoying my running, if my body allows then 30 seems like a good time to reassess.
DJ: How have you managed to balance your running with your business life and family life so successfully?
SM: It is all about finding the balance, which may mean running at 4:00am so I can get kids to school on time and also making a few sacrifices along the way, in the really competitive days our social life would take a back seat, fortunately I have a really supportive wife and kids that understand my passion for running, even now in my “Master” years.
DJ: You finished 4th in the 100Km world champs in Japan in 1994. A great performance. Did you find that very different from something like Comrades. A lot of people say that the 100Km is a completely different thing and interesting that it was the year before you won Comrades. Then in 1995 you did the same thing again.
SM: I was really keen to attempt the 100km distance, I just felt that that little extra distance may suit me. I ran Two Oceans that year in 3:21 so was in good shape, finishing in 6:26 and missing Bruce Fordyce’s SA 100Km record by about a minute. The 100km is not too different from Comrades, the hills in Comrades make up for the slightly shorter distance so if you can handle that you can deal with anything that a 100km event can throw at you, just the support in the form of spectators and drinks is very poor at those other events so you really need to be mentally tough!
DJ: Then in 1994 you won the London to Brighton. So the mid 90’s were good to you.
SM: I felt that I needed a confidence booster going into the 1995 Comrades so I chose London to Brighton, I had a good 100km under the belt and South Africans have a good track record at the event. It was tough, again little or no support and a hill called “Ditchlings Beacon”, the equivalent of Polly Shortts to greet you around 80km into the race.
DJ: For the last 4 years you have won the Master’s category and this year second by something like 42 seconds. What is it that enables you to just keep going year after year and is this still a target?
SM: It’s the competitive spirit I guess, I try to get the best out of myself on the day, if its good enough to be first that a bonus, it gets tougher every year now as I reach the mid-fifties!
DJ: Finally, your focus at Comrades now seems to be much more on charities. Tell us about that.
SM: I would love to do more; there are so many kids that, due to circumstances beyond their control, land up getting involved in activities that get themselves into trouble. Running, in fact sport in general is a great way for them to lead a fit & healthy lifestyle and for those with talent to reach greater heights in terms of personal achievement. I work together with my running club, Save Orion AC, on various projects within local communities to assist those in need.
If you would like to look at the blog with all the details of Shaun’s charities you’ll find it at Meiklejohn.co so go and have a look at the work he’s doing and give him your support.
28 Comrades to his credit, 10 Gold medals and all the rest silver and only two slower than 7 hours. That’s not too shabby a record. Shaun we salute you!