Posted in ALL MY BLOGS, COMRADES PERSONALITIES

NICK BESTER – RUNNER TO MANAGER SUPREME :

There can’t be very many people either inside the running world or even outside of it who don’t know the name Nick Bester. It seems Nick has been around forever and those with a good memory will remember that Nick won Comrades in 1991 on the down run but he was always there or there about and has a total of 9 Gold medals to his credit and a 6 further silvers. Then on top of that you will find his name on the Gunga Din team trophy several times. Gunga Din of course the team trophy for the winning team at Comrades.

I was able to pin Nick down between flights during his busy schedule to have a chat to him about the man and his life both as a runner and a manager.

DJ:      It seems that you have been around the running world forever but you were in fact a late starter and almost mid twenties when you started.

NB:     I was 24 when I started running and I started running to try to get fitter for rugby because my dream was to play rugby for the Springboks but after my first race where I finished 6th out a big field of finishers I realised that I had the ability to run and that’s how it all started.

 

DJ:      Over the years you have taken part in various different disciplines and you have won in various different disciplines but you always seem to come back to road running. Is that where your heart lies?

NB:     No, not really. I come back to road running because that’s where I’m needed but my heart lies in multi discipline sports like triathlon, biathlon and that sort of thing. I love those events.

DJ:      You have one Comrades win to your credit but I think it should have been more. You have three second places but the one that I really think that got away from you was 1994 when you were much, much stronger than Alberto Salazar towards the finish and catching him. Was that your closest?

NB:     I think my best was actually the 1997 race that Charl Matteus won. He passed me to take the lead after Tollgate with a couple of Kms to go. I ended up just a couple of minutes behind him at the finish and that’s the race that I think I should have won but it just went wrong for me. The 1994 race with Salazar was a good one but I left it too late before I made my move and it was my heart rate monitor that threw me out but without doubt it was 1997 that was the one that got away from me.

DJ:      What you are doing now is very different from actual running. Are you enjoying yourself?

NB:     I am enjoying myself. I get the opportunity of meeting with athletes, sponsors and administrators and get to see the sport from every angle so it’s interesting and I’m involved with development and that’s very rewarding as it is when our club athletes come through to fill top positions in races and especially major races. I’m also meeting some very good people but at the same time I am still training as I can’t imagine life without being out there working out.

 

DJ:      How do you respond to your critics who say that a lot of your runners in some major races like Comrades for example are not South Africans and shouldn’t actually be competing in the colours of your club and that you recruit them purely for the glory and the money? I have even had a suggestion that the Gunga Din trophy for the winning team in Comrades should be scrapped.

NB:     Athletes are free to run for any club they want to run for and from our point of view the more exposure a sponsor can get from athletes performing well whether they are South African or international, the better it is for the athletes who belong to that club, and I’m talking here specifically about the South African athletes because then the sponsor is encouraged to continue supporting the sport in terms of sponsorship which then benefits the athlete and it enables us to put more into the club for the members of that club and for the athletes who belong to that club. So the international athletes who run for our club and highlight our club at the big events are actually like our “advertising department” to benefit our local athletes.

As far as things like the Gunga Din are concerned, I can’t imagine Comrades without Gunga Din but in any event, those team competitions are only open to South African resident runners so if an international runner in our club colours were to win Comrades he wouldn’t count towards the Gunga Din if he wasn’t resident in South Africa so those arguments don’t actually apply anyway.

 

DJ:      Almost every day we are seeing a higher and higher level of professionalism coming into the sport in South Africa and I think this is simply following world trends but where do see the future of road running. Do you think that there is place for the professional and the amateur to be running in the same events and by the same rules?

NB:     This has been happening for quite a long time now and there is now reason why it shouldn’t continue happening. As long as the race organisers are catering for both the professional and the amateur runners as they are doing at present I don’t see any problem. This is what is happening internationally so no reason at all why it shouldn’t be happening here.

 

DJ:      Where to for Nick Bester in the next 5 or 10 years? Do you see yourself growing and leading the era of professionalism in road running and where would you like to see it in the future?

NB:     I think that road running in South Africa is very healthy right now and you can see this by how fast entries for races are filling for pre entry races and I would like to think that I have played a part in that and would like to continue to do that provided that politics doesn’t get involved in road running because if that happens it’ll signal big problems for the sport as it has for other sports in this country and even for some events where politics has become involved. When or if, that happens then I call it a day.

 

I honestly don’t think I could finish off this chapter on Nick without recounting a personal story that happened after his win in 1991. I had finished my reporting on the race for 702 Talk Radio and was asked by the producer of the Saturday evening Sports Talk show on Radio 702 if I could line Nick up for an interview with John Robbie. I tracked Nick down and he said it would be no problem at all and told me where he was staying – and in those days the winners simply didn’t do that.

I said I would get the studio to call him and he would be first up on the show and all was arranged. At about 5:45pm I had a call from the studio to say that Nick had checked out of his hotel that morning and had I any idea where he was for the interview? I didn’t have a clue as I thought he’d be at his hotel.

6pm and my phone rang again and it was again the studio asking if I had managed to find him because this was our lead story for the show and they had been running a promo for the interview all afternoon. I had no idea where he was.

At about 6:05pm the phone in my hotel room rang and it was Nick. He had indeed checked out of his hotel that morning and decided to travel home to Pretoria, all the while remembering his promise to me and he had eventually reached Harrismith and had found a steakhouse, gone in and explained to the manager what the problem was and had called me from the manager’s office in order to do his promised interview. This in the days before cellphones.

A huge relief for me and the folk in the studio in Johannesburg but I don’t know why I even worried about it. In all the years I have known him Nick has always kept his promises to me.

 

 

Posted in ALL MY BLOGS, COMRADES PERSONALITIES

ASK COACH PARRY :

I think someone with one of the toughest jobs in Comrades, particularly in the modern era where so much is done electronically and where you don’t ever come face to face with the people to whom you are actually engaging, must be that of the Comrades coach, Lindsey Parry who has dozens, or hundreds or thousands of runners, would be runners and medallists all of whom are relying on what he says to get them to that precious medal and if they fail – and sadly many of them will – they will, without hesitation blame the man whose training programme they followed – or whose training programme they claim to have followed.

I say “claim to have followed” because I have met many runners who tell me they are following the Comrades coach’s programme and then tell me how much they veer off it and do their own thing.

I sat down over a very pleasant cup of coffee and had a chat with Lindsey Parry to find out more about what makes him tick in what must alternate between a highly rewarding and a highly frustrating job.

DJ:      Not only are you a coach but you are also an above average runner and from a running family. Tell us a bit about that.

LP:      My Dad (now a proud grandfather) won three gold medals at Comrades between 1971 and 1974 with a best time of 5:52 and whilst I haven’t run that sort of time I have finished five Comrades ranging from 10:36 to 7:11. My marathon PB is 2:45:51 and I am working hard to get that down and I would like to get to 2:42 or even a sub 2:40. I am quietly thinking about Chicago in October to have a go at the 2:40.   In terms of Comrades I would love to be able to get under 7 hours.

DJ:      When did you discover your passion for coaching and when did you first get involved with Comrades?

LP:      I started at Rhodes University at 19 and was running but I suffered a lot with injuries so I gave up running and instead became social convenor of the athletics club at Rhodes. I studied sports science a lot and started working with a guy I met at Rhodes who wanted to run Comrades and eventually got him to Two Oceans, Comrades and the Washie 100 Miler. After varsity I was a licensed Biokineticist in private practice but soon found that I had more coaching clients than I had biokinetics clients so decided that coaching was where I wanted to be. I first got involved with Comrades 10 years ago and in fact 2016 is my “green number” year as official Comrades coach.

 

DJ:      One of your most successful coaching stories is Caroline Wostmann. She started running because she couldn’t lose weight and now she’s Two Oceans and Comrades champion. Tell us your involvement in that.

LP:      I first got involved with Caroline just after she won gold at Comrades in 2014 and it was her ambition to win Comrades. I thought she could do it and the first thing we had to do was to get her marathon time down from the 2:55 so we started off with a very focussed marathon training programme. That was successful and we got her time down to where it is now at 2:44. When we got to that I thought we had a chance at challenging for a win but even I didn’t think it would be as quick as 2016 but she is one very determined lady.

DJ:      It must be very difficult doing training programmes for people you have never met or seen and who are on different levels because it’s almost guaranteed that many of them will say they are following you and then don’t. Then they fail and you are to blame.

LP:      Coaching is full of success stories and not so successful stories so I don’t think too much about it. I know that after 10 years of doing it that it’s the best advice I can give and there are many runners who have been successful if they follow the advice I give.

 

DJ:      A thorny one. You know that I firmly believe in LSD because it worked for me and I’ve seen it work for hundreds of others over many years. Today though, it seems to have lost favour, particularly with the slower runner. Your views on LSD?

LP:      It’s an important part of Comrades preparation. LSD is about getting your head ready to spend that amount of time on your feet. You can’t train yourself to run for a long time without running for a long time. I feel that runners should, between early March and late April, run at least three runs of 42km PLUS. Those shouldn’t necessarily be in races because I feel people are doing too many races and whilst there is the advantage of the refreshment stations and people around you, the downside is that you always tend to go faster than you should when you run in a race.

 

DJ:      Do you think that the “ordinary runner” is taking part in too many races between January and Comrades if they have Comrades in mind?

LP:      Yes. In my opinion the average runners take part in races too often.   The idea of running easy in a race as a training run is good in principle BUT often leads to athletes pushing too hard too often. My opinion then is that if you stick strictly to a pre race plan that is EASY and can genuinely be considered a training effort, then run as many races as you like but that doesn’t happen too often.

 

DJ:      What are your future hopes and dreams as a coach? As an athlete you have already told us – but as a coach?

LP:      I would love to be able to say that I had coached the winner of both the men’s race and the women’s race at Comrades in the same year and of course to have coached any winner of a medal at the Olympics.

 

DJ:      Do you only coach the so-called elite runners or will you individually coach any runner?

LP:      I will happily individually coach any runner irrespective of their speed and they need only go to my website at www.coachparry.com to get all the details as well as the costs involved for the individual coaching.

 

There is a man with a tough job but one piece of advice that I can give you is simply this. If you are going to follow Lindsey’s training programme there is a pretty good chance he will see you through to that medal you want but only if you follow his programme and don’t chop and change between programmes and put your own programme in between.

No two people have exactly the same outlook when it comes to preparing for Comrades so the important thing is to stick to the advice of just one person and remember that if you just intend finishing around 10 to 11 hours remember that Lindsey has been there so he has a pretty good idea what he’s talking about.

 

 

Posted in ALL MY BLOGS, COMRADES PERSONALITIES

ALAN ROBB – A TRUE GENTLEMAN OF COMRADES :

In my early days of running the men who took part in Comrades – and it was only men who were allowed to run officially back then – were called “gentlemen of the road” and the one person who has always epitomised this and still does is multiple winner, Alan Robb. Humble, quietly spoken and almost shy he is a real gentleman both on and off the road and in all the years I have been privileged to have known Alan I have never seen him any different and so it was a real honour to have been able to sit down and chat to him and to have found out things about him that I previously didn’t know.

DJ.     What was it that attracted you to running and to Comrades in particular and       when was this?

AR.     When I was in school I was a very good swimmer and in particular at backstroke but I started to get tired of the same old thing all the time and started to run cross country in school and discovered that I had a natural ability to run and so I gave up swimming and started running instead and I started winning cross country races. It wasn’t too long before I started seeing all the badges that people had on their tracksuits that they were getting at road races and I was attracted to those so I started running in road races and found that I was performing well there so that’s where my attention started to focus although I didn’t know too much about it.

 

DJ.      And Comrades? When did that first start to call you and tell me about that first run of yours?

AR      I was young. I ran my first Comrades when I was only 20 in 1974 and I knew absolutely nothing about it at all. My parents dropped me at the start and said they would see me at the finish and off they went and I was seconded by my 15 year old sister, Pam and her boyfriend, who were on the back of a “bakkie” driven by my cousin and they knew even less than I did so between us, we were completely clueless. Remember there were no official refreshment stations in those days so it was a case of fighting their way through the traffic. She sat on the back of the bakkie and her boyfriend got off the bakkie and ran alongside the bakkie and handed me a bottle with my drink – it was Coke – and then when I had had enough to drink he hopped back onto the bakkie alongside her as well. There was no planning as to where or how often I would get my drinks. I didn’t know the route or the hills or even the names of the hills or any of the landmarks so we knew nothing. I didn’t know where I was or how far I was from the start or how far I still had to go. I don’t remember that we had distance marker boards or anything like that. I knew nothing. I just ran and somehow I ended up finishing third in that first year just 4 minutes behind the winner Derek Preiss. It was then that I realised that I could possibly perform at Comrades. 1974 was an Up Run which was not all that enjoyable.

 

DJ.        Were you a lot better prepared the following year for your second run?

AR.      I thought I was but I realised shortly afterwards that I was probably just a little too arrogant and as badly or even worse off. In 1975 we had another Up Run because of the Comrades Golden Jubilee and I still didn’t know a lot about Comrades and that year I finished 5th after actually being in the lead at one stage. I took the lead around the top of Field’s Hill and led to around Harrison Flats and then “blew” and that was the better part of 30km out. I had two friends seconding me and I now thought I knew the route but I ended up slower than I ran when I had my sister seconding me in my first year because of the way I ran it.

DJ.     Then came your first win in 1976. You must surely have put in a lot of work in preparation for that and with a completely different approach?

AR.    It was also my first Down Run and it’s no secret that I much prefer the Down Run and I put in a lot of speed work and hill work and changed my training a lot and I had a better knowledge of the route and my seconds were also by that time seconding me in all my races so they knew what they were doing and even a marshalling error in Westville didn’t stop me from winning and I had a very big lead and went on to win comfortably. The following year we were back for the Up Run in 1977 and I was able to win that again despite it being Up and then came what was probably my best ever in 1978 when I was the first person to go under 5:30 to win and I had been running at around 3 mins 45 secs per km to do that and very proud of that. It took quite a long time for that speed per km to be bettered.

DJ.    You were on a serious roll and expected to make it four in a row in 1979 but that didn’t happen despite being the firm favourite to win you finished 5th.

AR.   Hindsight is the only exact science and had it been today I would probably not have run but I had had the flu a couple of weeks before and I thought I was completely over it but I was completely flat on race day and shouldn’t have run. Only a miracle would have got me home first that day and the gold medal was miracle enough. I made amends in 1980 by coming back for my fourth win on the Down Run that year though.

 

DJ.    If you look at the leading gold medal count I think you stand at the top of the list. How many do you have and who is behind you in the gold medal standings?

AR.    I’ve been fortunate to have been able to have won 12 gold medals over the years and that is more than anyone else so I am very proud of that. Bruce Fordyce is in second place on 11 Golds and Jackie Mekler and Shaun Meiklejohn in third place with 10 Gold medals each.

 

DJ.    And then in terms on total medals. You must be near the top of the list of total medals with your 42?

AR.    I am but there are chaps who have more than I have. Dave Rogers is in top spot on 45 and then a couple of other guys on 43 before you get to my 42 but quite honestly the number doesn’t really matter too much to me.

 

DJ.     I have asked others this question so I am going to ask you too. There have been 48 men winners of Comrades in the 90 Comrades we have had at this stage. If it were possible to have a “Super Comrades” of just those 48 winners who would you think would be in the top five and let’s assume that Alan Robb would be one of them, who would your other four be?

AR.    That’s always a very difficult question but I would have to go with Bruce at the top of my list and then the other three would be Wally Hayward, Jackie Mekler and Vladimir Kotov.

 

DJ.     You have run 42 Comrades in succession and that’s simply amazing. What is it that keep you going back year after year and how many more do you think you have in your legs? You have gone from being up there in the gold medals year after year to now being firmly amongst the bronze but still you go back. Why?

AR.     If I can keep finding the motivation to train I will keep running and the time doesn’t really matter too much at all. I have a few aches and pains in my knees these days and that might stop me from doing too many more but I love everything about the race. I love the tradition. I find it quite amusing when the newer runner looks at me as though I’m crazy when I greet Arthur Newton when I get to “Arthur’s Seat” every year. The history. The day. The crowds. The other runners. Everything about it and even if – when – I stop running I will go back every year for as long as I can.

 

DJ       And in those 42 years you have had your very own nutrition plan in Comrades that you have never changed since that very first one way back in 1974. Tell us about that.

AR      I have. I call it the 4Cs.   Coke, chocolate, chips or crisps and Castle Stout. The Coke and chocolate on the road and the chips and Stout at the finish as the recovery and it has always worked for me. I have always preferred Kit Kat as the chocolate and my preferred crisps flavour are cheese and onion for no reason other than I enjoy the taste.   The Castle Stout is like “mother’s milk” for me!

 

That’s Alan Robb. If you come across him he’s never too busy to talk to you and to offer some friendly advice. That’s just the way he is.