Posted in ALL MY BLOGS, COMRADES NEWS

COMRADES IS BACK

After having been without Comrades for the last two years because of the dreaded Covid pandemic, the thought that Comrades is going to be back this year is exciting and I am certain that I am not the only person feeling this way. It’s s just over 190 days to race day and you would be amazed at how fast those 190 days will pass.

I was at the launch of Comrades 2022 this week and it was confirmed that the distance and route for this year will be the same as it was for the 2018 race.   90,2km starting at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and finishing at Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban with the usual 6 cut off’s on the route. The exact cut off points haven’t been announced yet but almost certain they’ll be pretty much the same as they were in 2018 so plan your race on that until we know for sure.

Entries will be capped at 15,000 in terms of National Legislation (and not Comrades rules) and the first window period of entries opens on the 23rd of March and close on the 31st of March.  The first window entry period is for those who successfully entered for the 2020 race which was cancelled.

My guess is that just as we have seen previously, there will be a mad rush of entries in that first window period and if history is anything to go by, entries will be sold out within a day or two and then the complaints will begin by those who missed the deadline.

If you enter, you need to be fully vaccinated and you need to upload your vaccination certificate by the 12th of July.  This doesn’t apply to the need for booster shots.

Comrades has made it clear. No vaccination certificate means no race. I don’t know what the situation is if the reason for not having had a vaccination is valid. Comrades hasn’t made that clear but I’m certain they’ll have to.

The race will have “batch wave starts” and for the first time ever will be timed on a mat-to-mat basis rather than a gun to gun basis as it always has been.

The entry substitution process will be during the whole month of June and the window period to withdraw is the 1st to the 14th of June and the Window period to secure a sub entry is from the 17th to the 30th of June.

Substitution open to all (Local & Foreign) runners and an Admin Fee of 15% of the entry fee will be deducted by the CMA from the withdrawing  athlete. The CMA will then refund the withdrawing athlete 85%    of their entry fee. There will be no money or voucher exchange between athletes.

The usual Substitution Admin Fee of R200 will NOT apply this year and the sub athlete will pay the 2022 entry fee price.

I hope the substitution rule is clear. If you miss the deadline for entries, don’t stop your training because there is always the possibility that you are able to get a substitution entry in June.

An exciting prospect is the special 95th commemorative medal that will go to all finishers as well as the special design T shirt. We haven’t seen either the medal or the T Shirt and we’ll have to wait a while to see those but I’m told the wait will be worthwhile.

I don’t know about anyone else at the launch but I could feel Comrades in the air and I have always been able to smell it as we get closer to the big day. Now I know that at this stage we are nowhere near close to the big day, given the change of race date to the end of August but having missed it for the last two years I can already smell Comrades in the air.

Call me strange if you wish but Comrades 2022 will be the 63rd race I will be attending – my first one in 1956 and since then I have missed only 3 deliberately and I am counting the centenary celebrations at Comrades House in May as a Comrades although there may be some who would argue that. Be that as it may, that day in May at Comrades House felt very much like Comrades but if you want me to take that off my tally, I’ll do so reluctantly.

Anyway, what I was trying to say is that after all those Comrades, where 62 or 63 doesn’t matter a lot, to “smell” Comrades even this far in advance of the race, I would suggest is normal and if you were to ask any of the “old runners” they will understand what I am talking about.

Firstly, I am delighted that I have seen nothing anywhere either as complaints or compliments that the race is now at the end of August and that from now on it will be held in August ever year and well done to Comrades for explaining the reasons so well and so thoroughly.  This does alter training schedules though and in a recent article by Bruce Fordyce, he suggested that “April should become the new January” as far as starting proper Comrades training is concerned.  That said, I am sure that many runners will get it wrong and will either over train or under train and get to the start under prepared.  Listen to what Bruce says, He’s run a couple of these races so he has a fairly good idea of what he’s talking about!!!!!!

I’ve made quite a lot of comment about training programmes and especially race day schedules and I have made the point that the person who knows your body best is you.  Certainly not some person in a magazine who has never met you and this has never been more the case than with the different training dates we face this year and remember that if you are living and training inland in South Africa, the bulk of your main training for the end of August will be in the middle of winter and if you are not able to go out and train when the temperatures warm up, you are going to be training in pretty cold temperatures.

Many of you will be looking for either a training partner (or group of runners with whom to train) or an individual coach.  I have no problem with that and in fact in my running days I did that all the time but I never changed my training partners. That’s a disaster. Find the right person or group early in the year and stick with that person or group. If you find that you need to change, you should do it early when you still have enough time and not leave it until the last minute.

Shoes, energy supplements and clothing must also be sorted out early in the training year. I have actually seen runners buying new shoes at Expo that they intend wearing in Comrades in the next day or two.  Can you believe it?

If you live in KZN and near the route you will most certainly have trained over at least parts of it.  If you live far from the course, you may only have seen the route profile and that is enough to frighten even the bravest individual. 

Simply put, I don’t believe that you can learn about 90km of tough terrain drawn on an A5 page of paper – but hey, that’s what I think. Go over the route at least once before race day – and remember if this is your first Down Run but you have run and completed Comrades on an Up Run. You are still a novice. The two races are very different.

On the question of race day schedules – my advice is do you own! Nobody knows your body better that you do. Nobody knows what your body can do better than you. How many times have I heard a runner who climbed on the 11 hour “bus” say “I could have done better but I ran slower being in the “Bus”. Sorry about that now”.

If you do your own race day schedule, be conservative and set times you know you can achieve and give yourself a 15 minute “window” to reach a certain point on your schedule.  If you don’t do that and you find yourself even 5 minutes slower, the result is instant panic when you don’t need to panic if you are still in your 15 minute “window”.

The same applies at the other end if you are running too fast. You can easily “blow” your entire race by misjudging your times and going too fast.

The bad news is that in terms of Covid regulations, the field size has had to be capped at 15,000 – down from the 25,000 the last time we had entries open for Comrades a few years ago so I expect that we will have a mad rush for entries. Entries open on the 23rd of March and close on the 31st of March for the first “window” period. This will be for those who entered towards the end of 2019 for the 2020 Comrades that was cancelled but which race organisers said they would carry entries across to 2021 – which was also cancelled so they’ve carried them across again to Comrades 2022.

The problem comes in where the demand for entries from the 2020 race exceeds the cap of 15,000 for the 2022 race. Any over and above the 15,000 simply won’t be accepted and this won’t be a rule of the Comrades organisers but will be a national rule because of Covid.

So the only answer? Get your entry in as soon as you can to avoid the disappointment of a rejected entry.

The second “window” period of entries assuming the 15,000 isn’t reached by the time the 31st of March is reached (and that’s somewhat unlikely I think) is for those who didn’t enter for the 2020 race towards the end of 2019.

The second window period if it’s necessary is from 20th April to 16th May 2022.

Entries will only be accepted via online entries and postal and hand delivered entries will not be accepted.

So those are the early notes on Comrades 2022. Keep watch for further news from Comrades House on what will be happening on the 28th of August and get those running shoes on, get your qualifying marathon done and get your entry in as soon as they open on www.comrades.com and you can make changes to your entry until the 12th of July. The important thing is to get that entry in and get it in as soon as entries open on the 23rd of March.

Remember.  Don’t post your entry or hand deliver it as it won’t be accepted.

18 FEBRUARY 2022

Posted in ALL MY BLOGS, COMRADES PERSONALITIES

BILL PAYN ACCORDING TO BILL PAYN

It’s Wednesday the 24th of May 1922, the day of the second Comrades Marathon, this time an Up Run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.  The start is to be at Toll Gate and it will finish at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg.

The day turned out to be a mild to warm winter’s day and there was a huge increase in the number of runners, up from the 34 who had started in 1921 to 89 in 1922 but over 100 entries!

There were a couple of interesting entries not least of which was Bill Rowan who had won the first Comrades in 1921 and who was, at that stage, living in what was then the Belgian Congo and had travelled to Durban seeking to repeat his win of 1921. There were others who attracted interest as well and two of them were Arthur Newton, a farmer from the Harding area in Southern Natal who subsequently went on to win that year and four times more and who carved a name for himself as one of the great names of ultra-distance running.

Also lining up at the start was Durban schoolmaster, Bill Payn who by that stage had played rugby at the highest level and who decided to tackle this new challenge. Payne had no intention of challenging for the win and was there to challenge himself as so many others have done since then.

A great deal has, over many years been spoken and written about the Comrades in 1922 run by Bill Payn, the schoolmaster from DHS in Durban and I have no doubt that those who have told these stories have added a little bit extra to make his run that much more entertaining and haven’t worried too much if it was totally accurate or not.

I have read many accounts of that somewhat different Comrades Marathons run by Mr Payn that day but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I came across an account of his run as told by Bill Payn himself. At first I didn’t know if it was true and if it was, how accurate it was as it was taken from a book titled “Under the Baobab Tree” the story of DHS written by Jeremy Oddy.

My first job was to try to track Mr Oddy down and to find out if the book is still available.  I searched all the usual places like Amazon but no luck and finally decided that the book is no longer available.  The next problem I had was to see if I could track down the author.  That proved to be a lot easier than I thought and after a couple of years of searching the internet I eventually discovered that Mr Oddy is alive and well and living in Durban just down the road from Durban High School that is such a passion to him. 

A couple of long and very interesting phone calls and I had the permission I needed to reproduce Bill Payn’s story as told by the big man himself (and I believe he was a big man) of how he handled the Comrades Marathon on that mild to warm winter sunshine day of the 24th of May in 1922.

Here is Bill Payn’s story and note how he describes the size of the field that day. There were 89 starters!  I wonder what he would say if he could see the start today?

“I’m not sure how many victims lined up at the starting place at Tollgate that May morning at 5 o’çlock but it was a huge field.  To give some idea of its magnitude it is sufficient to state that my number was 111.  Shall I ever forget that infernal run?  It was not very long before I realised that as I was prey to a consuming thirst I could not refuse any man who offered me any drink along the way.  Long before I got to Hillcrest I was painfully aware that rugby boots were not ideal footwear.  When I got to Hillcrest my feet were giving me so much pain I took off my boots to make an inspection in loco.  Things were pretty gloomy and I was not a little perturbed at the undulation of blisters that had formed.

Some kind person handed me a pot of brilliantine with which I anointed my feet and I then repaired to the hotel and knocked back a huge plate of bacon and eggs washed down by three cups of coffee.  

Pushing on, I arrived at the top of old Botha’s Hill cutting where I found “Zulu” Wade looking a trifle distressed and sitting by the side of the road.  He had a henchman on a motorcycle in attendance on him, and this good fellow was nourishing Wade from a hamper, the piece de resistance was a curried chicken and a huge snowdrift of rice.

We shared it equally, threw the lot down the hatch and then slugged along in happy companionship to Drummond, the half-way house of our Calvary.  Here we bent our steps to a pleasant oasis – the pub – and according to Harold Sulin, I had a dozen beers lined up on the counter. Zulu and I were determined, not so much to celebrate, but to drown our sorrows. But Harold Sulin said “Bill, what are you doing here?  There are only five runners ahead of you.”

I looked at my number 111 and wondered what had happened to the rest of the field.  Zulu’s sorrows, I noticed, had gone down for the third time so he wished me Godspeed and I set out alone for ‘Maritzburg.

Somewhere along Harrison Flats I noticed a frail little woman with pink cheeks, holding a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. “It’s peach brandy” she volunteered, and I gulped down a full tumbler of the brew.  In a second I realised I had swallowed a near lethal dose of the rawest liquid I had ever tasted.  I am still convinced that this charming woman must be given full credit for inventing the first liquid fuel for jet engines.

Fortunately I was facing ‘Maritzburg and I was propelled along my way.  I was too far gone in my cups to ponder whether this assistance was compliant with the laws of amateur marathon running.

When I passed over the Umsindusi Bridge in ‘Maritzburg I was hailed by my wife’s family who were having tea on the verandah.  I joined them in their tea and cakes.  Whilst we were thus happily engaged, two of my “hated rivals” went past and so it was that I ended in 8th position.  In the changing room of the showgrounds, I discovered that the soles of my feet were two huge pads of blood blisters.  My brother-in-law, Wilfred Hogg, with an uncanny insight into my most immediate needs gave me a bottle of champagne for which I was most grateful”.

And so the story of Bill Payn’s Comrades Marathon as told by Bill Payn himself. 

He finished, as he says in 8th position of the 26 finishers and in a time of 10:56. The time limit in 1922 was 12 hours.

The following day when most modern day runners can be found hobbling around the Durban beachfront in varying degrees of stiffness, Bill Payn played rugby in “takkies”.  Comrades veteran, the late Vernon Jones, who knew Bill Payn well said “He was the greatest teacher ever at DHS and had a wonderful influence on countless people. There has never been another Bill Payn.  His funeral created the biggest funeral in Durban’s history. Nothing you can say about him is too much.”

Bill Payn played rugby in 52 matches for Natal and twice for the Springboks. In addition he represented Natal at cricket against the MCC, boxed for Natal against Oxford and Cambridge in 1923 and won the Natal Senior Heavyweight title, played Baseball for Natal against Transvaal in 1930 and got his Natal colours for shot put in athletics.

A report of his death in the Daily News was headlined “A WONDERFUL PILGRIMAGE ON EARTH HAS ENDED”

APRIL 2021

Posted in ALL MY BLOGS, PERSONAL STORY

WHO I AM

People might wonder what gives me the right to write about or talk about the Comrades Marathon, that amazing event that takes place in June every year, although 2020 saw it cancelled because of a global pandemic, only the second time in the history of the race that this has happened, the first time from 1941 to 1945 because of World War 2.   Allow me to briefly explain my credentials. I was introduced to the Comrades Marathon early on the morning of the 31st of May 1956 when my dad woke me and asked me whether I wanted to go with him to watch “The Marathon”. I had absolutely no idea what that was but that’s what locals called this wonderful event that is run in alternate directions between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in the province of Kwa Zulu- Natal in South Africa at the end of May every year and has been run every year since 1921.
I was only 9 years old and a little bleary eyed when I dragged myself along to stand at the side of the road in Pinetown where I grew up and which is part of the route to wait for this race, little knowing how my life was about to change that day. In 1956 there were a little under 100 runners on the “Up Run” that started in Durban and made its way to Pietermaritzburg some 89kms (about 55 miles) away over some very punishing terrain and as I stood and watched the runners make their way through Pinetown I was captivated and without hesitation I said to my father that when I was “big” I was going to run the race! I had to wait until 1968 before I had the opportunity to run it for the first time. That was the 31st of May 1956 and since then I have been at every Comrades Marathon except just three of them and of course the cancelled race in 2020. Why did I miss those three Comrades? I thought after I had been at 50 of them in succession that I had probably got Comrades out of my system so I deliberately missed two of them and had dreadful withdrawal. The third year I decided to travel to the UK to avoid the withdrawal but then sat in front of a computer and watched the live streaming on the internet so whilst I wasn’t actually at the race, I was “sort of” there. During the second half of 1999 I went in search of any runner who had been to more Comrades that I had and after a lot of searching I came across just one and that was Brian Swart, who is well known in the Comrades world of Pietermaritzburg and who has in fact put together the Comrades history in the Comrades website. He has attended 4 more than I have.  If there are any other people who have attended Comrades more times I would love to hear from them. My credentials as far as Comrades are concerned are that I have run 14 of them. I have been a helper to friends of mine who have run when I was not running. I have served on the organising committee, I have worked for a radio station reporting “live” into sports and news bulletins for 18 years. I have worked as stadium announcer for over 10 years and in the years in between I have enjoyed simply being a spectator watching the race from the side of the road or from the VIP lounge at the finish.  I have travelled with international runners on the tour busses in the days prior to race day taking these foreign visiting runners over the route, and in 2018 I was part of the seconding team of the winning woman, Ann Ashworth, (although I played a small part given the speed she was running at!) so not much I haven’t done and I have loved every aspect of my involvement. I have had the privilege of having met many of the winners and personalities over the years and Comrades has given me substantially more than I could ever have dreamed I could have had when I stood at the side of the road on the 31st of May 1956. How many more Comrades do I intend attending? The answer to that question is fairly simple. As long as I am still alive and able to be there, I will do all I can to be at “the marathon”, the name given to this wonderful event by locals in days gone by. Over the last couple of years I have tried to capture something of the magic I have felt in a series of blogs and I hope I have been able to do this and I hope that those of you who read these and who visit this website can experience even a little of the “magic” I feel for that strip of tarmac between Kwa Zulu-Natal’s two cities.
Posted in ALL MY BLOGS, COMRADES MEDAL PARADE

COMRADES MEDAL PARADE

The history of the medals awarded in Comrades is an interesting one. Until 1972, only 6 gold medals were awarded and all other finishers earned a silver medal, not just a silver medal but a silver medal that was engraved on the back with the name and time of the winner of that medal but as the number of runners taking part in the race grew, so too did the medal requirements. When the change came in 1972, organisers increased the number of gold medals to 10 but there have been more changes since then  to keep up with changes in the race.

Here is the list of medals awarded on Comrades day.

GOLD MEDAL
This medal is awarded to the first 10 men across the finish line at the end of Comrades.  As the women taking part are regarded to be running in a separate race they too qualify to win a gold medal should they finish in the top 10 amongst the women.

WALLY HAYWARD MEDAL (half gold & half silver)
This medal, named after 5 time winner Wally Hayward is awarded to those male runners who finish outside the gold medals, but under 6 hours i.e. Position 11 to sub 6 hours. This was introduced in 2007.

ISAVEL ROCHE-KELLY MEDAL (half gold & half silver)
The women’s equivalent of the Wally Hayward Medal will be earned by those women finishing from position 11, which is outside the gold medals and running sub 7 hours 30 minutes. Introduced in 2019. This means that women will no longer earn a Comrades silver medal.

SILVER MEDAL
With the change to the number of gold medals awarded from 1972, the organisers also decided that there should be a time based incentive to earn a silver medal so the 7 hour 30 cut off to win a silver was introduced.

BILL ROWAN MEDAL (half silver & half bronze)
The first Comrades Marathon in 1921 was won by Bill Rowan and it was the first Down Run with the 16 finishers of the 34 starters finishing at the Durban City Hall. Rowan won in a time of 8 hours and 59 minutes so anyone breaking 9 hours in Comrades is awarded this medal being symbolic of the time taken to win the first Comrades.

THE ROBERT MTSHALI MEDAL (titanium – pewter colour)
Runners who have missed the Bill Rowan Medal for breaking 9 hours can earn the Robert Mtshali Medal if they finish between 9 and 10 hours.
Robert Mtshali was the first unofficial Black runner in Comrades and he finished the 1935 race in 9 hours 30 minutes. Again a symbolic medal of the time Mtshali ran and introduced in 2019.

BRONZE MEDAL
The Bronze Medal was introduced in 1972 has no specific name and is won by any runner finishing between 10 and 11 hours.

VIC CLAPHAM MEDAL (copper)
When the time limit for the race was extended to 12 hours, a new medal was introduced for runners who finished between 11 and 12 hours. The copper Vic Clapham Medal was introduced in memory of the man who started it all way back in 1921.

BACK 2 BACK MEDAL (nickel & bronze combination)
In 2005 the Back 2 Back medal was introduced and awarded to runners who had completed their second Comrades in the year after their first run. It can’t be won by anyone who doesn’t run their first two Comrades in successive years.

Posted in 10 tips for the 9 - 12 hour runner, ALL MY BLOGS, COMRADES ADVICE

10 TIPS FOR THE 9-12 HOUR RUNNER

  1. It’s not just the distance on the road that you need in training. You also need to know the route. The detailed description of the route is posted to this website around November each year
  1. Carefully plan how you want to run your day. One of the best ways is to draw up your time schedule of where you want to be at what time of day knowing at you must be at the finish before 17h30. What about breaking your Comrades into 7 Little Runs rather than having to face one huge challenge of almost 90 kms.
  1. Comrades gives you 12 hours as a maximum to get from the start to the finish so it’s up to you to manage yourself to make correct use of that or whatever other time you’re aiming for. You can’t manage time. You can only manage yourself to use that time correctly.
  1. There’s a knack to the walking you are probably going to have to do on Comrades day. Remember that aimless walking wastes time so when you need to walk, just walk 100 paces at a brisk pace, then run 200 paces. Walk 100 paces then run 200 paces and carry on until you have finished your need to walk.
  1. Whatever you do, don’t waste time at refreshment stations. Take your drink and walk briskly through the station. Remember that if you waste just 1 minute at half the refreshment stations on the road, you will have lost over 20 minutes from your day
  1. Don’t waste time by stopping during the day unless you absolutely have to – and most times you don’t have to. Remember that every step you take in the direction of the finish is one less step that you have to take.
  1. Unless there is no possible way to avoid it, don’t get into a rescue bus. The pain of doing that stays with you a lot longer than the pain of getting from the start to the finish.
  1. Look after yourself over the first 25km – both Up & Down Run.  If you don’t pace yourself properly there, you stand a good chance of messing up your entire race.
  1. Remember that Comrades is 90% from the neck up. Just when you think you can’t carry on, remember that in most cases you can.
  1. Enjoy your day. That’s why you’re there and here’s what awaits you.
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.