January 10, 2019 by DAVE JACK
As each day passes more and more people are becoming familiar with The Running Mann and I am repeatedly asked whether I know him. I’m happy to say that I do know him.
His name is Stuart Mann and over the last while we have got to know each other fairly well, but who exactly is he and what makes him tick?
We know he runs every marathon in sight and that he writes about it and writes well. We also know that he’s generous to a fault and that his offer to help those who didn’t have the money to enter Comrades until the end of the month when they were paid was something that very seldom happens.
The problem those people had was that had they waited until the end of the month when they had been paid so that they could enter Comrades (entries opened on the 19th of October) they would have been too late to enter because entries reached capacity six days after opening. Stuart came to the rescue of some of those runners offering them loans to have the money to enter.
I sat down with him to find out more about him and started off by asking where he comes from, where he was born, where he went to school and that sort of thing.
SM: I was born in Cape Town and did all my schooling in Cape Town. I finished high school at Rondebosch Boys High and then went to varsity at UCT. After I had finished at varsity where I started off studying law and then I switched to information systems in my second year, the call of Johannesburg was very strong so I moved and have never left and that was at the beginning of 1998. I had done a Business Science degree and I got a couple of job offers in Johannesburg and I’ve been here ever since.
DJ: And your sporting interests in your growing up years?
SM: At school I played quite a lot of cricket and played for the school as well. I swam a fair amount and played a bit of hockey but cricket was the sport I enjoyed the most but at university I became pretty lazy and didn’t play any sport at all. A lot of my school and varsity friends find it pretty strange that I have now run as many marathons and ultras as I have.
DJ: So when did the running start?
SM: I did do one half marathon when I was at university. It was the Knysna Half Marathon but I didn’t take it too seriously and it was just to get a bit of fitness but I didn’t run after that for some time. My father ran for many years for Celtic Harriers so I got used to what running was all about.
When I was in my 20’s I got a strange eye infection and was on cortisone for 18 to 24 months so I ended up looking like a bit of a marshmallow at the end of it so when I came off the cortisone I decided that I had better lose some of the weight I had gained because of the cortisone and running seemed like a good way to do that and the bug bit.
When I started running a couple of mates from work heard I was running and asked me why I didn’t run a marathon.
DJ: So when did you run your first marathon?
SM: It was in 2002. The Johnson Crane Marathon in Benoni. A lot of people run to do Comrades but I started to run with Two Oceans in mind as that was the race I most wanted to do at that stage. Also I ran it with my father so the idea was to run Two Oceans together and that was something special.
DJ: When you ran that first marathon did you run it seriously or were you there just for the fun of it all?
SM: I took it reasonably seriously and I was still trying to do some reasonable times but I eventually got a best marathon time of 2:59 and I claim to be the only person to have run a marathon under three hours with a three stop strategy after Mother Nature intervened!
DJ: Where did you run that sub 3?
SM: It was at Kaapsehoop and I remember that because of the pit stops I had to run the last 16km at just under 4 minutes per kay and I remember just putting my head down and wondering how close I could get.
DJ: Was it you intention to try for sub three that day?
SM: It was but I should have been good for about 2:55 based on my other times but obviously with the race not going according to plan, I remember hitting that last kilometre and thinking that I hoped it wasn’t a long kilometre because I was just going to break it.
DJ: When was the idea born of wanting to run lots of marathons because during November you hit the 200 marathon mark and that’s something quite serious?
SM: I’ve always enjoyed them so the first year I ran, I think I did 7 marathons and some of them were marathons I had heard about from my dad who had run them. After I did Johnson Crane as a qualifier I ran Om Die Dam which was more just to do a long run because I had heard it was a big run and the guys said come and run because it’s a nice run. Two Oceans was then my third run and two of the other marathons I did that year were the Knysna Marathon – the full marathon, and that I also ran with my father as well and the Voet of Afrika in Bredasdorp because that was also one of the ones I grew up with because of my dad running it.
I remember when I first started running looking at the list of the Top 10 listed races in Runners Guide and thinking it would be quite nice to run all of those so I made a point to try and run them.
DJ: When did the idea come that you wanted to run every marathon in South Africa and how many do you still have to go?
SM: I’m going to have to count them, but there’s between 30 or 40 that I haven’t run and some of them are quite hard to get to. Running every marathon in the country was a fairly new idea only last year (2018). What I wanted to do was to run 100 “unique” marathons. I did a count and found that I had run about 58 different marathons including about 30 international marathons pretty much all around the world.
One of the things I realised when I was running overseas was that we make a huge effort to get to those international races but we don’t do the same thing at home and it would be quite nice to put in the same effort to run the races in South Africa that were perhaps not so well known.
DJ: How do you find all these lesser known marathons because some of the races you’ve run, particularly in the last year, people don’t even know they exist?
SM: I always start off with Runners Guide and but since I started writing the blog, race organisers have started sending me stuff telling me about their races. The problem is that there’s very little publicity for these smaller races and when I started writing the blog it was more to write humorous and light hearted race reports from the middle of the pack.
One of the things I’ve found in these more remote races I’ve run, is that race organisers are so happy that someone is interested in their race and writing about it and I always let race organisers know that I’m writing about it.
DJ: One of the races you ran very recently in the KZN Midlands was the Josiah Gumede Marathon and I think you told me that there were something like 54 runners in the race. What’s it like to run a race with that sort of number these days? It takes me back 50 years to when I started running and we had fields that size, what does it feel like to run those races in an era where race organisers are pushing for fields as big as they can get.
SM: Personally, I think it’s fantastic. I actually prefer to do those smaller races. You feel like an individual so you are not in a soulless kind of race. The water tables have a lot of effort put into them and they seem to put more effort into them than some of the bigger races with 5000 runners and what they lay on you have to see to believe.
DJ: How do they fund these water tables and the races themselves? Are they largely sponsored because it can’t be coming from entry fees?
SM: A lot of the new ones seem to be sponsored by the local municipalities. I did the Assegai Marathon in Piet Retief and all the local businesses come out and they all have a table out there and probably the best water table I have ever seen at a race, I saw there. It was done by Charka Firecoal and was possibly 800 meters of branded stuff with charcoal in the road and the braai fires going and it was an out and back so I put in an order for a boerewors roll on my return run (it was an out and back) and they did oblige!
I’ve also found that you get to meet more people in these smaller races and the runners tend to be friendlier in the small fields, and you get to talk to more people and of course there’s always the scenery and I get to see parts of the country that many other people don’t see!
DJ: You’ve been writing about these lesser known races for a while now and you’re becoming better and better known. A difficult question for you to answer without sounding big headed, but do you find that you are becoming a bit of a celebrity at these races?
SM: A few people recognise me and ask if I’m “The Running Mann” and ask for a selfie and I’m always quite happy to oblige because I’m generally not running for a time. It’s quite nice in a way. One of the things I tell people is that “I’m not even the most famous writer in my family”
My wife, Kathy, is a very accomplished writer and her book “Avoiding Burnout” has been very well received and she’s busy with another book right now, the title of which is “Mastering Stress”. People can follow Kathy on Twitter at @kathyallenmann and her website is kathymann.co.za.
DJ: You’re all over the country to run these lesser known races. It must cost you an arm and a leg to get there.
SM: That’s the one downside but I don’t think that what I am spending is very different to someone playing golf two or even three times a week and against that the entry fees for these races are ridiculously cheap. Normally an out of town race can be around R120 and that often includes a T Shirt or Goodie Bag. The travel costs are quite high especially with things like the petrol price. Take the race we’ve just spoken about in Bergville. That’s two tanks of petrol – R1000. Then there’s the accommodation but usually there are plenty of B&Bs and I try to get as close to the start as possible.
DJ: Have you any idea how far you drove in 2018 to get to all these races?
SM: I don’t actually know but races like the Two Countries that I wrote about up on the Zimbabwe border is a five hour drive. The longest drive I had in the year was to a race in a little place called Lime Acres in the middle of the Kalahari Desert and that’s about 2 hours beyond Kimberley. That’s about a 7 hour drive but a brilliant race with about 22 runners in the marathon and about 50 in the half marathon and very well organised.
DJ: Have you any idea how far you’ve actually run in 2018?
SM: I don’t keep a log book but I think it’s probably around 4000kms and I normally run 5 or 6 times a week and a marathon at the weekend. My week day runs are normally around 10kms but it all depends on how much time I have but I prefer to rest the day after a marathon and just unwind and spend time with the family.
DJ: With all your running have you managed to stay injury free?
SM: Not all the time. I got very bad ITB early in my running when I was trying to up my mileage for Comrades. And I’ve had tendonitis in my knee but fortunately nothing recently.
DJ: I suppose the fact that you’re running rather than racing helps with prevention of injury? What sort of time are you running a marathon in these days?
SM: The fact that I’m running rather than racing does make a big difference to the injury situation and I’m running marathons between 4 and 4 and a half hours but that depends on how often I stop to take photos!
DJ: What is your aim in terms of the number of marathons that you want to get to?
SM: I don’t really have any sort of thing that I’m aiming for. Initially I was wanting the 100 unique marathons – that’s where you only count a marathon once, so if you have done the same marathon in different years, you only count it as one. Once that was done I thought that 200 marathons would be nice to go for but apart from that no real targets. One thing that appeals to me is to do 365 marathons – a marathon for the same number of days in a year.
DJ: I think I asked you a while ago whether you have considered some sort of “guide” to the lesser known races in South Africa. Thoughts on that?
SM: I have incorporated the idea of travel info into the January marathon article where I have tried to give as much info as possible. At this stage it’s just the article but I may do a static page in my website on a month by month basis.
There you have it, but The Running Mann is not just about himself and how many races he’s run and can run. He’s giving back to the running world in different ways and I mentioned the financial help to runners but he’s also helping race organisers of the lesser known races to become better known and giving the rest of us the opportunity to travel around South Africa with him by articles in his blog.