Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

CHERYL WINN – A UNIQUE COMRADES ACHIEVEMENT

I’ve known Cheryl Winn a very long time and I’m honoured to know the person who has achieved what no other person in Comrades history has achieved.

Cheryl was elected as Comrades Marathon Association Chairperson at the AGM on the 21st of November and with that happening has become the only person ever to have won the race and then gone on to become the Chairperson of either the organising committee of the race as it was in days gone by or Chairperson of the Board of the CMA as it is now.

That, I’m sure you’ll agree, is an amazing achievement.

cheryl winn head & shoulders

I first met Cheryl in 1982 when she was on the Committee of what was then TRRA (Transvaal Road Running Assoc) and she and I went along together to speak to Chris Gibbons at Radio 702 about the establishment of a road running diary on radio once a week on Radio 702 where runners could go for the latest information on a Friday morning on what was going to be happening that weekend in and around the Johannesburg area.

DJ:      Cheryl, that was 702’s introduction to road running and my introduction to radio that neither 702 nor I knew would last something like 25 years with 702 becoming a major player in the road running world in South Africa and a very big thank you for the role you played in that and very few people know that you were involved in that and I’m not even certain you know just how big a role you played in bringing that about.

CW:    It does seem like a hundred years ago and brings back so many fond memories.  Running changed the entire course of my life, introduced me to my husband, numerous lifelong friends, interests and experiences across boundaries I might otherwise never have ventured to cross.  For me it has at all times been a labour of love and I can only profess that my involvement in athletics has given me so much more than I could ever return in two lifetimes. I sincerely regard this latest development at Comrades, not as an achievement, but a humble responsibility I have been entrusted with by my colleagues to lead softly, contribute and pass on the knowledge and experience I have accumulated over many years.

 

DJ:      Fantastic, but let’s go way back and where for you, did your relationship with road running start?  By the time you and I met – and that’s over 35 years ago now – you had already won Comrades in 1982 in what was – I think – the longest Comrades in history and you had two second places in the two years before that but when did you start running?

Did your running start in this country or before you left the United States, your home country and how did it start and at what age and distances?

CW:    In the early 1970’s while at university in the USA, I used to jog with my girlfriends around the campus lake, but that was mainly because the female residences were on one side of the lake and the guys’ residences on the other.  I can’t really say that it was in any manner related to serious athletic endeavour.

Some seven years later, after having married, moved to South Africa and given birth to two sons, I began regular jogging and then running in about in 1977 under the influence of a good family friend Dr Ivan Cohen (who later founded Run/Walk for Life).  I soon hooked up with a loose group of (exclusively male) runners affiliated to Pirates, Wits, Varsity Kudus and Rocky Road Runners, all of whom were focused on one specific goal  – the Comrades Marathon – which for me began a love affair with the race.  At that stage I didn’t know a single other woman runner.

 

DJ:      I can understand the love affair with Comrades – it’s happened to many of us, and certainly to me – but how many did you end up running in total?

CW:    I completed 6 Comrades between the years 1978 and 1984.  1 bronze & 5 silver medals.

1978 4th 9:09

1979 DNF

1980 2nd

1981 2nd

1982 1st

1983 4th

1984 5th

 

DJ:      And when was the realisation that you had the ability to win this thing?

CW:    After finishing my 1st Comrades (1978) in 9:09 on relatively little and extremely unscientific training, the so-called “gurus” in my running group convinced me I could break 7:30, which was unheard of for a woman at the time.  I began training in earnest for the 1979 Comrades Up Run, with the goal of winning and becoming the first woman to earn a silver medal.

Unfortunately I got side-tracked along the way, running and racing at just about every opportunity.  I suppose it was inevitable that I soon picked up a serious achilles tendon injury while running the Boston Marathon.  I eventually started the 1979 Comrades Up Run, but was forced to withdraw at the first opportunity to catch a lift with my second which was at Hillcrest, less than 30km into the race.    

The following year 1980, I achieved my goal of earning a silver medal in a time 0f 7:22, unfortunately 3 minutes behind a young student from Cape Town named Isavel Roche-Kelly who became the first woman in history to break 7:30.  The next year Isavel and I finished in the same order, still the only two women to earn silver, and in 1982 which was the longest race ever, I finally won.  I suppose an interesting trivial statistic is that I earned the 2nd, 4th & 5th silver medals awarded to women.

CHERYL WINNING

DJ:      Do you think it was as difficult back in your running days to fit in all your jobs of being Mom, wife, runner and Comrades winner because you hear a lot of women runners complaining today that they don’t have time.  Do you think things have become tougher for the modern runner, particularly the women runners in 2017 than it was in 1982?

CW:    I think that just about every aspect of life has become complicated and more hectic than it was 30 years ago.  Of course, it was a bit of a juggle at the time, being a mom to two young boys, a wife, and a competitive runner, as well as holding down a full-time job with NIKE and already serving on my club committee and Transvaal Road Running.  But I do think that in general life proceeded at a much slower pace back then. We were young, energetic, and we got on with it.  On the other hand, it has always been my experience that if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.

CHERYL GETS TROPHY

 

DJ:      After your win, was that it?  Did you then retire from active participation in road running and racing and if so what caused that?

CW:    No. After winning in 1982, I did carry on running competitively for a further 3 years, during which time I simultaneously became progressively more and more involved in athletics administration.  In 1986 I gave birth to my 3rd son and the original intention was to return to competitive running, but it just never happened.  By then I was employed fulltime as general secretary of the SA Road Running Association, which required a lot of travelling, I had two strapping teenagers, and a baby and something had to give.  Family commitments obviously came first, so it became an easy decision to relinquish the stress of competition and serious training in favour of the joy and satisfaction I received through my job with SARRA in being part of enabling others to achieve.

 

DJ:      You’ve been involved in admin of road running a very long time.  What drew you to that?

CW:    I suppose it was just another type of challenge, which I found more rewarding because it was less self-focussed.  I enjoyed being part of a vibrant community of passionate, hard-working, dedicated people motivated and inspired by the achievements of others.  I have grown so much as a person through the relationships I have made through running.  It has been both a humbling and exhilarating journey to witness some phenomenal individual  athletic achievements, watch the sport of distance running develop and prosper, participate in the staging of  world class events – numerous SA Championships, the Johannesburg & Soweto Marathons, and of course the greatest of them all – Comrades.  Most of all during my time with SARRA and later ASA, as well as with Comrades, wherever I have travelled I have met the most amazing heroes at grassroots level giving their time and energy to the sport. 

 

DJ:      That said, it must be extremely frustrating at times with all the changes you’ve seen and been through over the years. You’ve seen bodies like TRRA (the Transvaal Road Running Assoc) and SARRA (the South African Road Running Association) go and these were bodies that did a huge amount for road running and there must be times when you’ve wanted to throw in the towel but you didn’t and you’re still there.

Is this a case of you’d rather be on the inside looking out where you can do more than you can on the outside looking in where you perhaps can’t?  If that is the case it must take enormous passion and drive.  What keeps you going?

CW:    I have always been a great believer and dedicated disciple of transformation in sport, so the answer is no, I have never experienced bitterness or regret that the old bodies had to be sacrificed to the cause of unity.  There might have been just a little frustration at times, equally directed at both old and new orders – those who needlessly and selfishly resisted change, as well as those who exploited it for their own misguided purposes.  I believe the not-so-secret ingredients of true leadership are humility, empathy, trust and respect and there are no shortcuts to true transformation – it demands integrity and sacrifice.

 

DJ:      Have you had a break during the time I’ve known you in 1982 or have you been involved every year in the admin side of things since you started?

CW:    The only real break I have had in athletics administration since first serving as Pirates Road Runners Secretary, then Chairperson in the late 1970’s, through involvement in Transvaal Road Running, then South African Road Running, Comrades Marathon and Athletics South Africa was a period between 2007 – 2013.  In 2013 CMA experienced some transformational challenges and I was persuaded to come back.

 

DJ:      I know you’ve been involved in many different aspects of the admin side of things from the secretarial to media to where you are now as newly appointed Chair of Comrades.  What has given you the most satisfaction to date, excluding the Chairperson position which is brand new.

CW:    First and foremost, it has been the lifelong friendships and the collaborative, incredible, mutually respectful and collegial relationships I have experienced at all levels.  I have been blessed to have worked with literally hundreds of passionate, selfless, diligent, presidents, chairmen, secretaries, administrators, organisers, officials, coaches and enthusiastic volunteers all over South Africa and it has enriched my life and my personal character immensely. 

The second most satisfaction I have experienced is to have borne personal witness to some of the most outstanding and record-breaking athletic achievements, such as:

1984 – to have witnessed Ernest Seleke becoming the first South African to break the 2:10 barrier for the marathon in Port Elizabeth in 2:09:41.

1986 – just two years later to have witnessed Zithulele Sinqe and Willie Mtolo shatter Seleke’s record running 2:08:04 and 2:08:10 respectively (also in Port Elizabeth) which at the time placed them in the top 10 all-time fastest marathons in the world.

1987 – the SA half marathon championships in East London in my mind goes down as one of the greatest achievements in South African sporting history when Matthews Temane pipped Zithulele Sinqe by 1 meter to shatter the world half marathon record in a time of 60:11, with Sinqe credited with the same time.  Being there that day was the most electric sporting experience of my life.

Over the years there have been numerous other outstanding performances I have witnessed – such as Frith van der Merwe’s phenomenal Comrades 5:54:43 in 1989, Elana Meyer’s 46:57 15km African record in Cape Town 1991, Sam Tshabalala beating my good friend Willie Mtolo to become the first black winner of the Comrades Marathon also in 1989 and watching my other good friend from my earliest days of running, Bruce Fordyce, claim his 9th Comrades title.  

And then, there are the ordinary runners – to this day, I never get through a whole Comrades Marathon day without being moved to tears by their sheer bravery, determination, passion, perseverance, joy and how much the race means to them.

 

DJ:      And the most stress?

CW:    To be honest, it is in my nature to strive to focus on the positive, but if I have to give an answer as to most stress I would have to say definitely the effects, the consequences and to this day the legacy of apartheid.

It broke my heart at the time to see athletes of the calibre of Temane, Sinqe, Mtolo, Xolile Yawa and others denied the international acclaim and recognition they rightfully deserved.  It still breaks my heart that there is talent out there that goes undiscovered, while some of us bicker over the design of a t-shirt. 

It breaks my heart that our modern-day Comrades winners do not enjoy the recognition and associated benefits that Comrades winners did 20 and 30 years ago.

And most of all it breaks my heart that a whole “class” of runners may be being left behind because of lack of access to technology.  These are the sort of issues that I dwell on when I can’t sleep at night. These, plus the huge cultural chasms we struggle to breach amid lack of trust, empathy and respect for one another.

 

DJ:      A bit of a fun question that I have asked many people who used to run “way back” is, If it were possible for you to run just one more Comrades in the modern era as it is now with 18,000 runners, would you like to be able to do so?

CW:    I would certainly love to experience being on the start line, where the atmosphere is electric and the air is full of anticipation and possibility, and the camaraderie out on the road.  However, I’m not so sure I would like to find myself at the bottom of Polly Shortts on an Up Run.  I am too old for this.

 

DJ:      You have a pretty good knowledge of Comrades.  I have a thing in the men’s race I call my Super Comrades so now would be a good time to have the same thing for the women’s race as it’s been going 42 years.  If it were possible to take all the women winners and line them up together in one Super Comrades who would be your top 5. If I remember correctly I think we’ve now had 25 different women’s winners.  You can put them in any order and you are welcome to include yourself if you wish.

CW:    To my mind there are an obvious top 4 –

  1. Frith van der Merwe
  2. Elena Nurgalieva
  3. Ann Trason
  4. Maria Bak.
  5. is a difficult call. Eleanor Greenwood and Caroline Wostmann both have had amazing one-offs, which they haven’t yet replicated.  I suppose the other half of the twins – Olesya has to fit in there somewhere with 2 wins and 10 top 10 finishes, but I’m going to be patriotic and go with Farwa Mentoor for 10 top 10 finishes in a row between 2002 and 2011, during most of which she also finished as the 1st South African.  During that period she was the only South African who was competitive against the Russians.

 

DJ:      Interesting that you leave out the third of the only three women to have broken six hours! 

Do you ever get out and do any sort of running these days?  Even the odd parkrun?

CW:    I have had two operations on my left foot and have developed a chronic lung disease, so no I am not able to run at all.  I do however exercise daily – either gym, brisk walking, or both.  Incidentally, I don’t think enough credit has gone to Bruce Fordyce for his introduction of the Park Runs which have instigated a 2nd road running boom in this country.

 

DJ:      I certainly agree with that comment about Bruce.

Finally, how much longer are we going to see you involved in Comrades or are you getting close to calling it a day after your term in the chair is up – or do you have more that you still have to offer after that?

CW:    I really am reaching the end of the road and have faithfully promised my family that this is my last term on the CMA Board, however I would like to remain involved with the CMA Official Charities, which is an aspect which is particularly close to my heart.

IMG_20171123_093512

Our newly elected CMA Chairperson Cheryl Winn, the only person in Comrades history to have won the race and then gone on to hold the position of the chairperson.  She has served this race and road running in South Africa in the most amazing ways over many years.

I think we’ll still see her around for a lot more years – but hey- that’s just my view!

 

November 2017

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES – MICK WINN HALL OF HONOUR

The Comrades Marathon Association honoured its Founding Chairperson by naming the hall at Comrades Marathon House in Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg after him. The Mick Winn Hall of Honour was officially opened by CMA Chairperson, Sifiso Nzuza on Wednesday, 2 August 2017.

87 year old Thomas Michael Winn, a retired pharmacist has been associated with the Comrades Marathon for well over 50 years. He completed 12 Comrades Marathons between 1964 & 1975 with a best time of 6:34 and a worst time of 10:52. He is a life member of Collegians Harriers and was the founding Chairperson of the Comrades Marathon Association in 1981. 

Winn served on the CMA organizing /executive committee for 15 years commencing in 1971 and for 12 years as Chairperson from 1974 – 1986, during which time the race grew from just under 1000 to just over 10,000 participants. 

Under his leadership, Comrades became the first major sporting event in South Africa open to men and women of all races.  He was associated with and/or personally responsible for many of the innovations which characterize the race as we know it today – including the abolition of personal seconding and introduction of refreshment stations, the theme song – Chariots of Fire, commercial sponsorship, live television coverage, the introduction of the Expo concept, and the decision to purchase Comrades Marathon House and initiate the Comrades Marathon Museum – both ideas he brought back after a trip to the New York Marathon.

After retiring as CMA Executive Chairperson in 1986, he continued his association with the event by serving on the CMA Board of Trustees consecutively for the next 20 years, during which time his chief area of responsibility was for the CMA charity portfolio from 1995 – 2006, initially associated with Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund 1995 – 1997, before introducing the concept of Amabeadibeadi, which became universally recognized as CMA’s own official multi-charity initiative.

Winn has long been regarded as an “elder statesman” at Comrades, and has on many an occasion been called upon to impart his leadership, wisdom and vision, particularly with regard to disputes and/or issues relating to transformation.  In 2014 he was elected as chairperson of the newly formed CMA Elders committee, a fellowship and advisory body comprising past leaders of CMA which was formulated to preserve and retain access to the collective wisdom and institutional knowledge relating to the history, traditions and ethics of CMA. 

Apart from his involvement with Comrades, Winn also contributed decades of his life to athletics administration at club, provincial and national level in South Africa.  He served for 12 years as Chairperson of the South African Road Running Association, during which time road running as a sport grew and prospered and South African road running athletes achieved world class competition and performances despite international isolation.  In fact, the sport of road running and its athletes developed and flourished during this period as never before or since. 

Under the period of his leadership the infrastructure of the sport was developed extensively.  Winn personally waged epic battles against the old SAAAU for the rights and recognition of road runners, including the awarding of national colours, previously reserved exclusively for track athletes. 

He was one of the main initiators and played an instrumental role in the transformation process in athletics, having joined other major sporting administrators in travelling to Harare, during the apartheid years, to engage in breakthrough unity talks with alternative sporting structures from within South Africa.

In his professional life, Winn was in business in Pietermaritzburg for 45 years and is a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of SA.  He was also active in his community and service organisations, served on the Chamber of Commerce Executive for several years and as a member of various service organizations.  He was awarded Civic Honours by the City of Pietermaritzburg in 1988.  He has a wife, 1 daughter, 3 sons, 2 step-sons and 14 grandchildren, 1 great grandson and another one soon to arrive, as well as an aged Rottweiler, a fat cat and another very pampered cat.

CMA Chairperson, Sifiso Nzuza said, “We are deeply honoured to officially open the Mick Winn Hall of Honour at Comrades House today. Mr Winn has contributed immensely to the Comrades Marathon Association and it is in this vein that we thank him for his input with this meaningful acknowledgement.”

CMA Heritage & Traditions Chairperson, Jeff Minnaar said, “I am honoured to be part of this meaningful exercise for someone who has been a mentor to me for nearly half a century. His knowledge and experience of the sport of road-running and the Comrades Marathon in general is phenomenal.”

2 August 2017

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

PIET VORSTER – ALMOST DIDN’T START TO COMRADES CHAMP

Ask me which are the highlight years of my Comrades involvement years and there are many but one of them will be 1979 for a variety of reasons not least of which is that I was on the Comrades organising committee when it was still organised by a sub-committee of Collegians Harriers and made up of just 5 of us and it was also the first time in 30 years that we had a Comrades winner from Pietermaritzburg.  The last time that had happened was when Reg Allison won in 1949.

The interesting thing is that this was in fact the first ever win by a Collegians Harriers runner as the club was originally known as Maritzburg Harriers Athletic Club. During 1950 the club became a sub-section of Collegians Club and only then the name changed to Collegians Harriers so when Reg Allison won Comrades in 1949, Collegians Harriers didn’t actually exist.

Piet Vorster went into the record books as that first Collegians Harrier and many would say against all odds but was that really the case?  Those of us in Collegians Harriers firmly maintain that it wasn’t against the odds. After many years I caught up with Piet and we went back to those far off years when this all happened.

Piet Vorster 20170615_165606

DJ:      Before we get to Comrades 1979, how many had you run before that and how had you gone in those?

PV:     I ran my first one in 1971 whilst still at university in Pretoria and then it was on and off until I got to 1978 and finished in 4th place in the year that Alan Robb ran that brilliant sub 5:30 and I realised then that I should really take Comrades seriously. The year before that though, in 1977 I had finished 24th and that was the first bit of encouragement I had.

In total I ran 14 Comrades over a 24 year period.

           

DJ:      I’ve seen one author who has written that it took you 7 years to win Comrades.  What did he mean by that because it doesn’t sound like it to me? 

PV:     I have absolutely no idea because until my 24th place in 1977 and my 4th place in 1978 I hadn’t really taken Comrades that seriously and it was only after those two and in particular the 1978 4th place that I realised that I had the potential to win Comrades. So that I took 7 years to win Comrades I don’t know about, unless he’s saying that it was 7 years from the time of my first one to my win, but even that isn’t right because it was 8 years and in my early years of Comrades the thought of gold let alone winning didn’t even cross my mind.

 

DJ:      That same author also said that your build-up to Comrades in 1979  hadn’t been all that impressive but I remember differently that you had some good pre-Comrades runs and that you had a convincing win in the Arthur Newton 56km at the end of April. 

More importantly I remember that a bunch of us from Collegians Harriers went up to Blythedale Beach for the weekend for the Stanger to Mandini race on the North Coast that was very popular back then and we were sitting around in one of the chalets talking about Comrades and who we thought was going to win and your wife very quietly nodded in your direction and said “there’s this year’s winner of Comrades”. 

Do you remember that and had you already decided that you were going for it that year because after that comment I certainly had no doubt at all who was going to win.

 

PV:     I don’t remember that weekend and as a result I don’t remember that comment from my wife.

Again I don’t understand the unimpressive build-up to Comrades. I was very happy with my build-up to Comrades and I remember that Arthur Newton win and was very happy with that and in fact very happy with the way all my training had gone until the upset right at the end.

 

DJ:      If we fast forward to race morning and the upset you mention. It’s widely reported that you almost didn’t start because of a painful Achilles tendon you had picked up a couple of weeks before and you had a jog around the block before the start with no pain and you decided to start.  Is that basically what happened?

PV:     No, but partly correct. It wasn’t actually a jog around the block at the start, but what happened was that about three weeks earlier, a group of us were on what was probably our last long run of about 40Km and I felt the discomfort in the tendon so between then and Comrades I gave it lots of rest but on Comrades morning I still wasn’t sure so I went for a run to test it.

I did a run of about 4km on Field’s Hill where I was staying with my brother who was also my second and I could feel it wasn’t quite right and when I got back to my brother’s house, I said to my brother that I wasn’t going to run. My brother insisted that I should at least start and I could always withdraw if necessary but I had come too far and trained too hard, not to start so I went to the start and from there I lined up and started.

 

DJ:      So now the race starts and Johnny Halberstadt takes off like a man possessed. What was going through your mind because he went through Drummond in record pace and you were 2nd at that stage.

PV:     I was 5 minutes behind him going up Botha’s and my seconds told me that I was closing the gap on Johnny. I was running comfortably and my plan was to carry on at the pace at which I had trained and that was what I was aiming to do. I knew that if I could maintain the pace I was doing I would be fine. I wasn’t chasing Halberstadt. I was running at the pace at which I had trained and was maintaining that and I was on schedule and the Achilles was forgotten.

 

DJ:      In the stretch between Cato Ridge and Camperdown you saw Halberstadt for the first time since the start and you were still strong. That must have given you a huge boost.Piet comrades

PV:     It definitely did despite the fact that I had been getting the messages on what he was doing for the previous 10kms but when I actually saw him then I knew that I had got him.

 

DJ:      I don’t think any of us will forget that TV footage of you looking down at him lying in the grass as you went past him. Did you know it was all over then or were you concerned he would or could come back at you?

PV:     I knew it was all over. I knew he couldn’t come back at me. I was strong and relaxed and running at my own pace and I got nothing from my seconds to alert me that I should be worried about anything. Polly’s lay ahead of me and I took that without any problem at all.

 

DJ:      The first Pietermaritzburg man in 30 years to win Comrades and the finish was in Pietermaritzburg and that was home.  I was in the finish pen that year when you came in and I know how I felt but I can’t begin to think what you must have felt like.  Do you still remember it all these years later?

win (1)

PV:     Strangely, I didn’t feel anything different from any other Comrades finish – at that stage – when I crossed the finish line. What I had done only started to sink in some time afterwards and the following day and in the days after that and then I was very grateful that it all worked out for me that day.

 

DJ:      A win and a record and just two seconds short of becoming the first man to break 5:45 for the Up Run but very little recognition is given to you for your win these days.  Does that disappoint you – even a little bit?

PV:     No – not at all. I got all the recognition I deserved after my win. If you win Comrades you’ve won it and that’s something you live with for the rest of your life and it never leaves you. One thing that struck me as very strange after the race is that some media, both television and some written media, referred to me as a virtual unknown who had won and that after I had finished 4th in Comrades the previous year!

                                  1011981_10155110677350720_7981837090333988621_n

                This photograph taken after the race with 2nd placed Johnny Halberstadt on the left, Piet in the middle and Bruce Fordyce who finished in 3rd place on the right.

DJ:      Clearly someone hadn’t done their homework!  After that win. Did you come back again and give it another full go because we were starting to go into the Fordyce era and even Alan Robb could only manage one more win against him. Did you retire from competitive Comrades running soon after that?  I know you moved to the Cape but did you carry on running Comrades from there or did you call it a day?

 

PV:     No, I didn’t retire from Comrades. I got two more gold medals in years shortly after that but I didn’t run in 1980 simply through a lack of commitment but I had a 3rd place in the Dusi Canoe Marathon behind the late Graeme Pope-Ellis and second placed Andre Hawarden in 1980.

I also didn’t run in 1981 but then came back in 1982 and had a full go on the Down Run and finished 6th for a gold medal and then 7th in 1983 then after that, it was a case of as and when I felt like it until 1996 and that was my 14th and last one.

 

The story then of the man who set the record in 1979 of 5:45:02 and beat Johnny Halberstadt who finished 2nd and Bruce Fordyce who was 3rd and the man who was the first Pietermaritzburg winner in 30 years and the man who, on Comrades morning decided not to run because of a slight niggle to his Achilles Tendon until told to at least start by his brother who was also his second and the rest – as they say – is history!

Sadly Piet contracted Motor Neuron Disease a couple of years ago and today is wheelchair bound.  At Comrades 2017 he was a guest of honour and one of the past winners who was presented with his Winner’s Blazer at the prizegiving, something that Comrades introduced a few years ago and Piet made the trip to Pietermaritzburg for the awarding of that blazer.

Piet also was given the job of awarding green numbers to certain of the runners who had won their numbers and as a result had joined the Green Number Club along with Piet and many others of us who have qualified by running Comrades 10 times.

IMG-20170622-WA0000

Research is ongoing into MND and as we are right now there is no cure and the research is obviously very expensive and should there be any readers of this blog who wish to make donations in Piet’s Vorster’s name to assist with this research this can be done by electronic transfer to:

MNDA of SA,

Account Number: 270629130

Standard Bank of SA Ltd

Rondebosch Branch Code: 025009

Ref : Piet Vorster – Comrades Marathon

Swift Code (essential for International Transfers): SBZAZAJJ 02500911.

Please make sure to notify the Secretary by email as they want to know where donations have come from. The email address is mndaofsa@global.co.za and it is very important to them that they know where donations have come from.  Obviously anonymous donations will also be gratefully received but it is important that the reference is shown for all donations.

 MNDA will gratefully accept donations of any amount as this is a question people always ask.  Every little bit counts.

 

June 2017

 

 

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES MEDICAL BOSS – DR JEREMY BOULTER


Virtually every runner in Comrades is aware of the medical facilities offered by the organisers and they know about the Medical Tent at the finish and most know that it is the biggest temporary medical facility in a the world outside of a war, disaster or conflict zone. 

Most runners also know that it’s that it’s the one place they don’t want to visit on Comrades day. The one place they don’t want to go anywhere near when they finish their gruelling journey over the almost 90km between Kwa Zulu-Natal’s two cities and especially they don’t want to be brought into the facility by ambulance from the road before they even reach the finish.

In fact they would prefer it if they leave the end of Comrades with no knowledge at all of what the inside of the Medical Tent looks like.

The Comrades medical facilities, as much as the runners would prefer to avoid going anywhere near them, form a very important part of the world’s greatest ultra road race and without the facilities offered there would be tragedy. It’s really that simple.

The man who has been responsible for overseeing in medical facilities for many years is Dr Jeremy Boulter who has been part of the medical team for the last 38 years – 2017 will be his 39th year, and that is some going.

I had the opportunity to chat to Jeremy and I asked him about his involvement in Comrades and more specifically with the medical facilities and I started off by asking him how it all started and whether he had in fact been a runner.

jeremy-boulter

DJ:      How did you first get involved in the medical tent facilities to begin with way back in 1979 and had you in fact been a runner and sort of drifted into the job in the medical facility because you were a doctor?

JB       No, I had never been a distance runner. At tea time one morning in May 1979, when I was an Intern at Edendale Hospital, Dr. John Godlonton asked me if I would like to help him in the medical tent at the finish of Comrades. My reply was “yes, what do I have to do?” “Oh, just put up a couple of drips on dehydrated runners” was his reply. So began an association with The Ultimate Human Race which has lasted 38 years.

 

DJ:      It was a fairly small operation back then when you compare it to what we have now. What did you have to cater for the runners at the end of the seventies?          

JB:      Let’s go back to the very beginning.

In 1976 Dr. John Godlonton, a Paediatrician at Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, heard of an acquaintance who had been admitted to hospital in a state of dehydration and Renal Failure after running the Comrades. He realised that if the runner had received fluid via a drip immediately after the race, he would almost certainly have avoided being admitted to hospital. He approached the then organising committee with a proposal to set up a Medical facility at the finish to treat those runners in need of fluid after the race. This was accepted, and so the Comrades Medical Facility was born.

In 1977 Dr.John, as he was to become known by all associated with the race organisation, set up “shop” in the change rooms at the finish at the Jan Smuts stadium, now known as the Harry Gwala stadium. As far as I know, he worked alone that year, and treated about 5 runners with intra-venous fluid.

Details are a bit sketchy, partly because of the passage of time, but mainly because the medical tent, and the number of patients we had, was so unremarkable, especially when compared to the present. The tent was a 3x3m army mess tent, of the type where there was a gap between sides and roof. We had 4 camping stretchers, one trestle table for supplies, and another for belongings and refreshments.

John was present all day, but the rest of us worked in pairs in 2 hour shifts. There were six of us, all young doctors working at Edendale Hospital.

I worked two shifts and treated one patient! Our medical equipment consisted of a blood pressure cuff and drips. The intra-venous fluids were “donated” by the Edendale Hospital pharmacy. All patients who came into the tent were treated with intra-venous fluids, as the thinking in those days was that they had to dehydrated, we had not heard of over-hydration then. John’s wife, Mary was our “caterer”. She arrived with a basket containing a flask of hot water for tea or coffee, and some rolls for lunch!

To my knowledge, having a Medical Tent at the finish of a race was unique to Comrades at the time. Now it is a requirement stipulated in the rules, as laid down by ASA, at all athletics events.

 

DJ:      Then with the retirement of the Dr John who was in charge before you, you then took over the running of the entire operation in 1996 and you have watched it grow dramatically over the years you have been in charge and it’s been in your time that the fields have consistently been over 12,000 which has meant bigger staff needed by you and you were in charge in the millennium year with the biggest ever field at around 20,000.

comrades-bollywood-ho-down-020

JB:       Over the years the tent grew in size as the number of Comrades runners grew, and thus patients, increased. We moved from somewhere in the centre of the field to the side, adjacent to the track just before the final straight. We were able to sit outside our tent and watch the runners coming past us. It became a game amongst the doctors to watch these athletes as they struggled past in varying states of exhaustion, to predict who would be coming to visit us in the Tent. We were seldom wrong! Then we were moved to an area behind the stadium, as we had become too big and took up too much space inside it.

Sometime in those early years, our “Medical I.T.” section was born. This was a system to inform the public which runners were in our tent. It consisted of a blackboard at the entrance to the tent, on which the patients’ race numbers were written in chalk. When discharged, the number was simply rubbed out. A far cry from our current set up, where we have laptops linked to the information tent and the main Comrades data base!

We have also introduced a mini laboratory into the tent. This enables us to have vital blood parameters of our patients, such as blood Sodium levels, available within a few minutes, which have a direct bearing on the treatment.

 

DJ:      How do you know the numbers you need in terms of specialists and doctors, nurses, etc. You told me previously that you have a three bed ICU section in the medical ten. Is that just a guess and a hope that it’ll be enough or do you look at different requirements on the Up Run versus the Down Run?

JB: The staffing of the tent has grown year by year as the size of the field has increased. We treat between 2 and 4% of the field, so I know roughly how many patients we’re likely to have and so how many beds and doctors we will need. We currently have about 40-45 Interns, 20 Medical Officers, 8-10 Specialists and about 20 nurses working in the tent, as well as the mini-lab and admin staff.

The ICU size is essentially governed by availability of space and essential equipment. Is it enough? It has to be!!! Whether up or down, our preparation is the same, and there is not really any difference in patient numbers or the type of problems we see.

 

DJ:      Are you responsible for the medical staff who are out on the road as well and are you in touch with them? So in other words if there’s a runner who is in trouble and is picked up by one of the ambulances do they contact you for instruction based on what they find?

JB:      Yes, I am responsible for everything Medical to do with Comrades. We have a medical JOC adjacent to the tent, which is in control of, and in contact with, all the ambulances, rapid response cars and personnel out on the route. I can communicate via radio or cell phone with them if necessary.

 

DJ:      Is there a team making the decisions when you have a seriously ill runner or does that all fall on your shoulders alone as to whether this case is hospital or worse – ICU or not and that one can be treated in the facilities you have and discharged.

JB:      Yes. The specialists are each allocated an area of the tent for which they are in charge, and they make all necessary decisions for their section. Obviously if there is a complicated case, then other specialists and I will be involved in the consultation and decision making.

 

DJ:      I’m going to put you a bit on the spot now. How much of what you see in the medical tent do you think is caused by inadequate training where the runner has simply not done enough?

JB:      I think the level of training plays a part in the “state of exhaustion” of our patients, but not so much in the “medical problems”. Let me explain. Everyone is going to be really tired and sore after running 87km! The degree of suffering will be directly related to the amount of training and fitness of the runner. However, the serious cases we see are almost invariably due to runners taking part when they are unwell, or have been ill shortly before the race, have been inadequately hydrated or [probably the most serious] have taken medication [eg analgesics and anti-inflammatories] during the run.

 

DJ:      Where in the field in terms of time, do most of your customers to the medical tent come from?

comrades-bollywood-ho-down-030

JB:      80% of the field finishes in the last 2 hours, and that’s when we get hectic! We quite often get runners coming into the tent up to 2 hours after the final gun!

comrades-bollywood-ho-down-025

So there you have it. Should you have the misfortune of ending up in the medical tent you can rest easy knowing that you are in good hands with Dr Jeremy Boulter and his team of around 85 trained medical staff ranging from specialists to nursing sisters with an ICU section and ambulances out on the road.

My biggest wish is that on the 4th of June you don’t get to meet any of these really nice people.

 

February 2017.

 

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

HELEN LUCRE 1-2-3 TIMES A LADY COMRADES CHAMPION :

I first met Helen Lucre shortly after she arrived in South Africa in 1980 when she and I found ourselves, of all places, in Pretoria, we both arrived at Harlequin Harriers as our running home. Helen had decided that she wanted to do some running in her new home in South Africa and what better place to start than with a bunch of guys who were able to go out and run 30kms a week or two after running this thing she had heard about called Comrades which she had listened to on the radio a few weeks before.

If the people at “Quins” could do that then they had to be the people who would best suit her to join. And that is how our very long friendship started.

When I chatted to Helen I asked her whether she had done any running in her home country of New Zealand?

HL:     No. Not really. I played a fair amount of sport. I had been travelling for about 3 or 4 years and I had met a couple of guys when I was skiing in Austria who were runners and they suggested that I should come to South Africa with them, which I did and that’s how I ended up getting into running as a sport.

I had always been quite fit and played a lot of basketball and drifted towards Quins to get fit. I started by running the time trial and then I heard about Comrades. I started to build up slowly and then towards the end of the year I had the confidence to try to run a club long Sunday run and by the time we go to early 1981 I was ready to try a marathon to qualify.

I was provided copious amounts of wisdom from all the guys at Quins/Phobians, in retrospect, some good, and some questionable…. The fun side was that if they saw a gap to tease you it was quickly taken. I can recall them telling one poor novice, the worst thing to eat was tomatoes when training for comrades, not sure where that came from other than the fact they knew he loved tomatoes. For a while with input from many, running seemed far more complicated than putting one foot in front of the other!

 

DJ:      So did you run your first Comrades in 1981?

HL:     Yes I did. I had listened to Comrades on the radio in 1980 and Isavel Roche-Kelly had won and I remember working out that she had run at around 5 minutes per Km and “naively thinking” “I could do that” so I went about qualifying and ran my first Comrades in 1981 and ran my first two out of Pretoria. My first one was wonderful. Everything went right but my second one wasn’t as so comfortable so I started to think this running was not for me. I had run a few Cross Country races and some of the people I had met suggested to stop all the “long stuff” and run shorter events, So I gave up Comrades. In 1983 and 1984 I focused on shorter events, winning Two Oceans, City to City, Joburg Marathon setting records in these events. Then towards the end of 1984 I moved to Durban.

Helen in Comrades

DJ:      You started winning some of the serious stuff like Two Oceans and City to City and set course records before you went to Durban but what was it that changed in terms of your approach to Comrades when you moved?

HL:     I think I got a lot more confident after my success over shorter distances. In February 1985 I ran a 2:47 at Hillcrest Marathon which was then the 5th fastest marathon time in South Africa. It was over a very tough route on a very hot day so I was very happy with that.

 

 

DJ:      Were you a believer in LSD as part of your training?

HL:     I never considered myself a seriously elite runner. I didn’t mind racing every week especially the short distances, never thinking “I shouldn’t be doing this” so I did a mix of long and short. Living pretty much on the Comrades route, I did those long 35km runs at the weekend as well as a tri weekly morning run up Cowies Hill. There was a strong middle distance track league in Durban so I would often arrive to race the “trackies” over 3000 meters. It was all great fun.

 

DJ:      Who did you consider to be your biggest competition in Comrades in those years when you were winning Comrades

HL:     Lindsey Weight because she had won the two years before my first win, the media and everyone boosted up the “rivalry”. After the first win I thought it would be good to aim for a “hat trick” of wins which I achieved. On my fourth win, attempt I was up against the very talented Frith van de Merwe who took the race to another level. I was fit for the following year, but my interest in Comrades was waning, this was confirmed by accepting a beer at 45th cutting from the Varsity students, sacrificing time and positions. So that was my last Comrades for several years, I went back to Marathons and shorter races.

 

DJ:      When you dropped out of competitive running you stayed involved in administration. Weren’t you involved in getting what is now the SPAR 10Km Ladies races going?

HL:     You might remember that Clicks started a Ladies Race in Cape Town, we encouraged them to also have an event in Durban which my club, Durban Athletic Club became the organisers. I had the attitude if women wanted to benefit more from sport in general, don’t sit back and complain, do something to change it. To encourage more participation and boost numbers for the ladies race I started a ladies running clinic for novices, first session over 100 arrived. The goal was to take part and complete the 10km distance. The race grew from there, after Clicks pulled out SPAR picked it up and the event has continued to grow.

 

DJ:      It must feel good knowing that you were instrumental in being involved in the start of something that has been so successful.

 HL:     Yes, it does and what I love is when someone who I think is a stranger, will come up to me and thank me for the encouragement and support I gave them over 25 years ago, they will share how it helped them in life and that is why they still walking and exercising today.

 

DJ:      And also served on the KZN provincial body as well as the Comrades Body?

HL:     Yes, I was very involved in administration, it was during the ‘sports unification” process. I gave two or so years, but let me say I was a bit naïve and withdrew from administration.

 

DJ:      When did your broadcasting start and has that been only Comrades?

HL:     SABC often ask me to help with commentary on road races, specifically Comrades and Two Oceans. It is way to keep involved and aware of what is happening in the sport. Through the process I have learnt a lot about media broadcasting, which has been interesting. This year I commentated with Ellie Greenwood, the winner in 2014 who was side-lined through injury. She is very knowledgeable and brought a very enjoyable element to the day’s commentary.

 

DJ:      You’ve been pretty successful in business as well. Tell me a little about that.

HL:     I’ve been in IT and HR and married both skill sets going on my own in 2004 starting my own IT recruitment and HR consultancy. My running discipline has helped and to date it has gone pretty well.    

 

DJ:      And to keep fit now. No more running?

HL:     I love the sea and have got into swimming. We have a surf swim group and conditions permitting that is where I head. I jog 2-3 times a week, taking advantage of low tides and running on the beach whenever I can.

 

DJ:      Finally, is there a little part of you that sometimes says “I wish I could run just one more Comrades”.

HL:     Nope, I really have no desire to run another Comrades. The only way I would even consider it was if I could raise R1m+ for charity or cause that I felt strongly about, but even then I would have to think about it very carefully.

 

There we have it. The girl we used to call the Wagga Wagga Whirlwind in those far off days at Harlequin Harriers when we thought the girl with the funny accent was from Australia before we knew she was a Kiwi.

 

 

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

BERNARD GOMERSALL COMRADES CHAMPION 1965 :

I have been privileged in the many years I have been associated with Comrades to have met most of the winners from the sixties, seventies, eighties (not difficult there with Bruce) and the nineties but missing from my list of winners I have met is 1965 winner, Bernard Gomersall who came home in record time in the wettest race in Comrades history.

Bernard is one of the elder statesmen of Comrades and is 84 on the 23rd of August which puts him second in line behind Jackie Mekler as the oldest surviving Comrades winner.

He was last in South Africa for Comrades in 2015 but one thing is certain is that when he is next here, I am going to move heaven and earth to meet him.

One man who does know Bernard very well, is my good friend, Tommy Malone who has raced against Bernard in the London to Brighton but never in Comrades and I asked Tommy if he would be good enough to contact Bernard and to get his story for me for themarathon.co

Tommy didn’t hesitate and for that I thank him.BERNARD GOMERSALL COMRADES CHAMPION 1965.docx

 Here’s Bernard’s story:

In my youth I was mad about sport, mainly football. I did try other games like cricket, rugby, tennis. I always wanted to be successful at some sport and the only thing that stopped me playing football for England was my lack of ability. I was useless but I didn’t know it.

I did very little running up to the age of 17. I had qualified as a soccer referee and joined the local athletic club, Harehills Harriers to help me with my fitness on the football field.

I joined in some of the events (mainly track and cross-country) but once again I was rubbish but one day going to a track event in Leeds, the tram I was travelling on was held-up to allow a road-race to pass. When I saw some of the runners go passed I thought that I could do better than that, so I joined the road section of the club and started to improve.

My first attempt at the marathon was in 1958 in Hull and I managed to do 2:44 for 6th place.

That same year Mike Kirkwood a friend of mine from Hull won the London-to-Brighton and thought that if he could win that race I was capable of running it. I had no thoughts then of ever winning the race.

In my first attempt at the Brighton in 1959 I set out to run about 7:25 for a 2nd class standard medal I managed to do 6:15 for a first class standard A medal.

It was a start.

I first heard about the Comrades in 1960 when a lad from Leeds, Dennis Stevenson, came to the club. He had lived in New Zealand and came back to Leeds via South Africa where he had run in the Comrades and finished 6th in 1958. He told me about the steep hills and the tremendous atmosphere generated by the roadside crowds. It sounded wonderful but I knew I would never ever get to see it – or so I thought.

When I was invited in October 1964 by the road-runners club to compete in the Comrades, I had a British winter to face. But this was no different to any other year. We had to train in these conditions if we wanted to have a successful summer. I trained in the cold morning and nights, before and after work, seven days a week. Long runs at the weekend and a fair amount of track work during the week.

It would not have been possible to achieve all of the results without the unselfish support of my dear wife Ruth who looked after me and our four year old daughter Bernadette. As all top marathon runners know it is the wife who makes you a top runner.

When I came to the Comrades in 1965 I must confess that I was very ignorant about any of my opponents.  I had run in the 1959 Brighton when Fritz Madel won and again in 1960 when Jackie Mekler won but I was just another runner and I never got to meet them. So I went into the race knowing very little about anybody.

The celebrations of the 1965 Comrades started at 10.30 pm the night before. I had just got into bed and was about to go to sleep when I was disturbed by a noise on my bedroom roof, It was RAIN and it lasted to the following evening after the race.

I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the rain-drops on the roof. I was further encouraged on race morning by the sight of Jackie Mekler sheltering near the Pietermaritzburg city hall with a look of complete misery on his face. Everybody was complaining about the cold. I asked “What Cold”?

During the race (after about twenty miles) I removed the light sweater I was wearing leaving just the white British vest which I found warm enough, I think this finished off the opposition.

I approached the race in ’65 just the same as in England because I had the same conditions. People accused me of bringing my own weather with me.  They thought it was unfair!!!  I think it still goes down as the wettest Comrades in history!gomersall comrades 1965

I was seconded by well known Comrades personality Derek Palframan who did a splendid job on the day

It may sound very “Big Headed” but on that day nobody would have beaten me. It was my day, thanks mainly to the weather. Also I felt has though I had “feathers in my shoes”.

I came back for the 1968 Comrades but that was a different story altogether. Due to some change in circumstances I was not able to devote as much time to my preparation for the race as I had in 1965.  Then, of course , there was the weather.

It was hot by my standards. I fried losing 17lbs during the race. I was well beaten on the day and finished in 7th place just outside the gold medals (there were just six in those days)GOMERSALL COMRADES 1968

I was not as happy at the finish that time and was assisted by race official Bob Calder.

The London to Brighton was my event. It held priority over everything else I did.

My preparation for the race started three weeks after the completion of the last one and I spent eleven months working for it. No other race was important and all my the thoughts were for the race in September. GOMERSALL BRIGHTON 3

My record of four consecutive wins has not been beaten. Bruce won three on the trot and a Steven Moore from London has won it four times but it took him ten years to do it.

When thinking of the toughest opponents in the Brighton, three names come to mind. The first was Ted Corbitt of New York. He was a great athlete and an even greater gentleman. In the 1964 race he chased me all the way to the finish and was only 58 seconds behind at the end.

The other two were in the 1966 race Manie Kuhn and your good self, Tommy.. Between you, you managed to scare me almost to death. I was so afraid of the two great athletes behind me. How I managed to stay in front that day I will never know. It was the best race I ever ran in.

GOMERSALL & KUHN IN BRIGHTON

This photo in the London to Brighton shows 1967 Comrades winner Manie Kuhn wearing race number 45 in our lead group.  Manie finished second that year. Over my right shoulder you can see John Tarrant who gained “fame” as the “ghost runner” when he came to South Africa to attempt to win Comrades and was not permitted to run officially by British athletics.

Although I had a very successful running career my best memories are of the many lifetime friends I made. I think that these a more precious than all the medals and trophies,

Today’s Comrades is so different to the event I took part in. It is so big. During my recent visits to the race I have been overwhelmed. I have enjoyed every minute. The three day expo, the meetings, the dinners but I don’t think I would like to be competing these days with so many runners, all the crush and the waiting at the start. It’s what each of us is used to and I always preferred small fields.

On 25th July 2014 I moved to the USA after living 82 years in the UK, to live with my daughter and it was the best decision I could have made. After losing my dear Ruth (we were married for 55 years) I was devastated. I was on my own with no relatives nearby. My daughter with her husband, Kevin, and two daughters Beverley and Theresa had moved back to the States in 2000. The two girls were born there in the late 80s. They were now firmly settled. She offered me a home which I eventually accepted. It took three years of paper work to obtain my entry visa, but I now have my green card and I have settled down nicely to life here.

 

September 2016

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

ROWYN JAMES – COMRADES RACE DIRECTOR :

One man who seems to have an endless supply of energy and is on the go non-stop is Comrades Race Director, Rowyn James and I managed to catch up with him on one of his flying visits to Johannesburg and sit him down long enough between sponsor meetings to find out a little about the man who drives Comrades and who is largely responsible for making it all come together every year. I started off by asking him when his relationship with Comrades had started.

Photo Rowyn James for souv mag

DJ:      A lot of people are under the impression that your relationship with Comrades started two years ago when you were appointed Race Director but that’s not right because it started way before that because you have run the race 15 times and have a green number. When did your love of this race start and how did it start?

RJ:      It started in 1984. My grandfather was caretaker of a building in Pietermaritzburg opposite the start and we used to gather there yearly to watch the start but I had actually started running fun runs in 1981 when my dad noted that I had an athletic talent at school athletic meets.  I eventually ran my first Comrades in 1987 and ran all 15 consecutively until 2002.   I have Green number 1024.

 

DJ:      Can you give me something that really stands out for you from your Comrades running days?

RJ:      Two things that will stay with me always. I was the second youngest person to ever get a green number (at age 28) because I was able to start at age 18 in those days and I was presented with my green number by Wally

Hayward.

rowyn and wally

DJ:      In terms of your work career you have a long history of being involved in the sports industry? Is that where you always wanted to be and was the job you have now always what you were aiming at as you travelled your career path?

RJ:      I was born and bred in Irene, attended Irene Primary School and then matriculated at St Albans College in Pretoria, then 2 years national service in Port Elizabeth and after that Standard Bank for a while. I then studied BA business admin at Pretoria University and then in 1994 worked for the late Andrew Greyling in his specialist running sports shop until 1997.  In January 1998 I joined Nike SA until December 2007 as Sports Marketing Manager with a specific focus on the road running category.

Then in January 2008 I was appointed as Race Director of Two Oceans in Cape Town and I held that position until May 2013. I then took a sabbatical after leaving Two Oceans and during December 2013 I was approached by Comrades to consider the position of Race Director of Comrades and I joined Comrades in March 2014.

 

DJ:      You have a wife and your job requires that you spend a fair amount of time away from home because of the demands of the modern Comrades. How do you manage to balance your time particularly in the first five months of the year leading to the race itself?

RJ:      My wife is a Grade 1 school teacher and all my jobs have required that I do a lot of travelling and I am very fortunate in that she is very understanding and supportive around that.

 

DJ:      As time passes various things have to change to make Comrades an attractive offering in the world ultra calendar.  I’m sure that people will smile and nod in approval but away from the meetings that decide the changes it’s a very different thing in many cases. Do you find that and how do you deal with it or do you just shrug it off.

RJ:      My career operates with two analogies – DTIP…. “Don’t take it personally” and ” “If you have a perfect event, you have a problem”.   Once something has had the approval of the deciding body or the board or committee then I simply adopt the attitude that it’s not something that I should allow to affect me personally. It’s a business decision and it’s been taken and if it is completely wrong it can always be changed or reversed if need be if it’s shown to have been the incorrect decision.

I want to ensure that the runner has a life changing experience with Comrades. It’s about the athlete and the event. I have been extremely fortunate to experience “both sides of the fence“ so to speak, so I know what the athlete requires and what they in turn experience on race day.

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DJ:      Do you watch and listen closely to what the runners are saying all the time to continually provide the best product to your customer – the runner.  If so an example?

RJ:      Yes always. I prefer to keep a low profile (it’s not about me) but will always mingle with the crowd and listen to what is being said. An example is the way we loaded the seeding batches this year came from somebody at a club meeting who came up with the suggestion of the way we do it at present and we listened and implemented it. We will always listen to good suggestions.

 

DJ:      You have a very good team but you are still very hands on with a lot of things and I think of even little things like distance marking of the roads as just one example where you get involved with the team.

RJ:       My work philosophies are TEAMWORK and attention to detail (ATD) but I work closely with the various portfolio teams and whilst I am very much steering the ship I am also supporting and involving myself with the crew and stepping off the ship last.  I find that the various teams appreciate the input, involvement and support whatever that might be.  I believe in getting stuck into the tasks and engine rooms with them.

 IMG_20160729_165304

DJ:      It must be a great feeling as happened this year, to get to the end of a race  and that there was no drug cheating and also to get the results through that the  race was clean as it was for the first 10 men and first 10 women and that generally there were no major problems.

RJ:     It is a great feeling and satisfying but by the same token it’s sad that we should have to celebrate something that should be normal.  In a perfect world there wouldn’t be cheating.

  

DJ:      The launch of Comrades 2017 is due in a couple of weeks. Are we in for any surprises of any sort?

RJ:      Yes, some exciting surprises, changes and innovations are coming but I’m not going to tell you what they are.   You’re going to have to wait until the launch on the 18th of August.  Change is ultimately what keeps the Comrades brand fresh and relevant.IMG-20160317-WA0011

 

DJ:      Any other innovations you would like to see coming in over the next few  years and any you can talk about?

RJ:      One I can tell you is that we’re moving the race date to the second Sunday in June from 2018 onwards because of the clash with the Royal show and problems with accommodation and essential support services in Pietermaritzburg.

Another thing we’re looking at in the future is the possibility is reducing the qualifying time back to 4:45 for a marathon. But that hasn’t been decided and confirmed yet. 

 

DJ:    Finally, it doesn’t take 9 years very long to pass and you just need to blink a       couple of times and those 9 years will have passed and 100th Comrades will be with us.  You may say you’re not but I’m sure that there is a little section inside your Race Director’s head that is already thinking about it.      Am I right?

RJ:    Yes you are. Still just a tiny blinking light in the distance.  Nothing definite but ideas running around and one thought is to see an entry of 30,000  runners but I don’t know if Pietermaritzburg could handle a finish of so many so thought needed there.

Remember too that any novice who finished this year and who carries on every year will be in line to earn their green number at the end of the 100th Comrades          

The other thing we have before that of course is the 100 year anniversary in 2021 since the first Comrades was run in 1921 so that’s going to be another special one.

 

One thing I can tell you is that it was fascinating sitting chatting to Rowyn and I was really sorry when our time was up as I could have spent hours more talking to him about this “thing” that is certainly my passion and which I have no doubt at all is also his passion and I have a pretty good idea that as long as he is around   my passion will be in good hands.

I’m really looking forward to the launch of Comrades 2017 that takes place on the 18th of August in Johannesburg and all being well I will be able to write a chapter on what will be happening at next year’s race for themarathon.co

 

 

29 July 2016

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

SHAUN MEIKLEJOHN – THE QUIET COMRADES HERO :

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.2016-07-05-PHOTO

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?

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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 …

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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.

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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!

July 2016

 

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

CHARNE BOSMAN – COMRADES 2016 WOMEN’S CHAMPION :

I hadn’t met Charne Bosman before she won Comrades 2016 but I contacted her nonetheless and asked her whether we could meet for a cup of coffee and a chat for a chapter of The Marathon and she readily agreed.

 When we met I found a charming, down to earth very friendly young lady bubbling over with excitement at what she had achieved just a week before, and why not? She had won the women’s race in the world’s Ultimate Human Race, The Comrades Marathon, and only 23 other women have done that before her since women were first allowed to compete officially in Comrades in 1975 – 41 years ago.

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I started off by asking her if she had always been a Pretoria girl. 

CB:     No, I was born in Malmesbury and when I was still quite young we moved to East London and then when I was 16 the family moved to Pretoria and I have been here ever since. I currently live in Centurion.

 

DJ:      So when did the athletics bug bite? 

CB:     Shortly after we moved to Pretoria I started running with my niece (a provincial runner) and then I developed an interest in track running with a focus on 1500m and 3000m and especially in Cross country and within 6 months of moving to Pretoria I had my Provincial colours for Cross country and it just carried on from there between track and cross country and shorter road races up to 10Km.

 

DJ:   Throughout your career you seem to have slowly moved the distances up as you have got older without trying to do shorter distance racing at too old an age.

Is that a fair comment? So when did you get National colours for the first time and how many times have you had National colours?

 

CB:   That is what I have done. I always thought that there was no point in trying to compete against people much younger when you are no longer able to do so, so I moved my distances up as I got older to half marathon then marathon and eventually to ultra but ultra wasn’t actually planned at the time. I first got National colours for Road relay at the age of 20 and I have been fortunate to have had National colours 23 times.

 

DJ: When you say that your move to ultra running wasn’t really planned at the time, what do you mean by that and when was it?

CB:     I moved to Ultra running when I was 37.     I desperately wanted to make the   South African team for the Olympics in 2012 for the marathon but narrowly missed it.   I was very down in the dumps about that and very nearly gave up athletics altogether thinking that there was nothing left and it was my husband, Carel who suggested that I should think about a move to Ultra distance so in 2013 I went to Two Oceans and did my first Ultra and was pleasantly surprised to find myself finishing in second place.

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I then decided that Comrades was worth a “go” so I entered and finished in 5th place in 2013.   I actually came onto the track in 4th and lost 4th place on the track and finished in 5th.   2014 I came back to Comrades and didn’t finish because of ill health and then last year in 2015 I managed a second place to Caroline and so my ultra career had started.

I still run shorter races but I don’t take them seriously at all. If I happen to do well in them it is pure bonus. For example I won the Johnson Crane at the beginning of the year but the time was slow as I wasn’t going out to race hard.    I ran Two Oceans this year but didn’t feel great on the day and ended up in 4th place. 4min behind the leader.

 

DJ:      One thing I don’t understand and perhaps you can explain. There are two of you who are top runners.  You and Caroline.        You have the same coach in Lindsey Parry yet your strategy towards races in the 5 months before Comrades differs significantly. Who decides that strategy?

CB:    We jointly do. We obviously discuss our ideas with Lindsey and listen to what he thinks. We will then go to the race with a very specific plan that we try to execute the best we can.     lindsey and charne

We will sometimes race against one another in build-up races as we both stay in Pretoria.

 

DJ:      In early April you had a mishap at home when you slipped and broke your little toe.  It must have been very sore but you said nothing and I’m sure that Lindsey knew about it but he also said nothing so the media knew nothing about it either. Tell me about that.

 CB:     It was very sore and my foot was swollen a day or two after it happened to the point where I couldn’t get a shoe on. I knew that if I didn’t do something that Comrades was gone as I was going to be out too long whilst my toe healed so I did what everyone does. I went and asked Dr Google!

 I found out about HYPERBARIC OXYGEN THERAPY (suggest you Google it if you’re interested) and with the treatments I had I ended I up being out for only two weeks. I broke my toe on the 8th of April and I was back on the road on the 24th. I was very fortunate.

 

DJ:      And the toe didn’t bother you at all on Comrades day?

CB:     Nothing.

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DJ:      Now that we’ve mentioned Comrades Day, tell me about your day.

CB:     My day was good. Everything went according to plan and I was happy and content to sit where I was and I came into Durban happy to be in second place and I had no idea at all that Caroline was in trouble until I saw the lights of the lead vehicles in front of me and getting closer all the time and then I started wondering what was happening. When I eventually saw her I couldn’t actually believe it and I caught her and passed her but I didn’t say anything at all to her and at the back of my mind I realised that perhaps I could win this thing but also that Caroline is very strong and could come back at me and then there was the memory of being passed on the track to lose 4th place two years ago so all these emotions were going on.

DJ:      Eventually the emotions must have been replaced by reality that you were going to win when you came in sight of the finish tape.  Are you able to explain what it felt like?

 CB:     Amazing! Just amazing! I crossed the line and one of the first people to get to me was Nick Bester the Manager of the Nedbank team and the first thing he said to me was “Are you crying?”. And I replied simply “Yes”.

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DJ:      So now what happens? Comrades is over but everybody wants a piece of you for interviews and I’m sure you are not back on the road yet.

CB:     No, I’m not.   A rest for a week or two and then short races and quality stuff to the end of the year  and then come January we start concentrating on building the quality longer runs and looking ahead to what I’m going to be doing until the 4th of June next year.IMGP0226

 

 

And there you have it. The story of a young lady who has come a very long way and travelled many kilometres to get to that finish line of Comrades – The Ultimate Human Race, ahead of the rest of the women in the field on the day of the race.

We wish you well Charne. You certainly deserve it!

 

 

 6 JUNE 2016

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

AMIT B. SHETH – COMRADES THE INSPIRATION

One of the amazing things that I have discovered about doing what I do as far as Comrades is concerned is that that I have made some amazing new friends and some of them I have never even met.

One such person is Amit B Sheth who travels from India every year to run Comrades and who has a blog which is worth reading and which you’ll find at amitdaretorun.blogspot.com

He also wrote a book which has been a best seller in India and which is available on Kindle entitled “Dare to Run” about his early Comrades story.

 

Here is Amit’s story about Comrades 2016.

 

AMIT B SHETH – A DAY OF DAYS

 AMIT SHETH

So on the 29th of May, as I lay in bed at night, sore and in pain, I wrote about my Comrades 2016 experience.  I wrote it and went to sleep. Later the next day I posted it on Facebook and sent it to my close friends.

What I had written about was primarily the post Comrades experience where I shivered due to cold IV drip in the medical tent Getting nausea, cramps, dehydration, aches and pains are all part of running Comrades. At Comrades these aches and pains are taken to an extreme.  

But sometimes to someone who isn’t into running this all sound pretty awful.   It seems to them, like it was a traumatic awful experience.  

A non-runner who enters the Comrades medical tent for the first time could be appalled.    He will think that some natural disaster has stuck and something terrible is going on.

On reading my post, someone from India, asked me, “Was this your first finish and will you come back again because you had such an awful day?”

I’m not sure which part of my post led him to the conclusion that I had an awful day.   After all, I have in the past failed to finish Comrades and not thought of that as having an awful day and here I was at the end of the day with my 5th Comrades medal around my neck. 

What part of that looked like awful? It wasn’t an awful day at all.    It was just how Comrades day is.

The winner of last year’s Comrades had cramps and was limping much like me.  She was in pain and at some point staggering on the road.  I know she will not describe her day as awful.

Two years ago the indomitable Russian twins crossed the finish line and collapsed on the green.  They landed up taking some IV.  I know they won’t describe that day as awful.

Comrades is hard for me and I guess it is for most people. It is hard for those who win and it is hard for those who don’t. So it was a day just like a Comrades day is supposed to be. 

And yes, for me, it was excruciatingly hard and I had to dig and dig and dig inside me to find strength to keep moving forward.
I managed.

  AMIT SHETH RUNNING

I think if I can live my life, pushing ahead, one small step at a time, relentlessly, mine will be a well lived life. 

I was in the field.  I was struggling and fighting the clock. I was so completely alive to the passage of time.

There were times when I saw the hill rise in front of me and it made my heart sink.  I wondered, “How in the world would I be able to soldier up that hill? How much time will I lose going up that monster?”

My legs didn’t have the strength to run up those hills so I decided that I won’t look in the distance. I lowered my cap and kept my eyes just 5 meters in front of me. 

I looked at the legs of people in front and if they were running I ran. If they were walking, I passed them and tried to find feet which were running and followed those instead.

Did I have an awful day?

No!!! On the contrary.

What more can one ask for in life other than to be part of the world’s greatest gathering of crazy people?

And come to think of it, one can ask, “Who is crazy and who is normal ? ” I’ve come to the conclusion that the more times you run Comrades, the more normal you are. 

The more times you fight your limitations in life (whatever they may be) the more normal you are. I cannot imagine life without having had this experience. 

When I’m dying and if I get the time to look back at my life, I will think with great fondness upon these days. I will look back and know that I was privileged to be on that road and in the company of my heroes and heroines.   

It makes my life, a well lived life.

It wasn’t an awful day. 

It was a Day of Days