COMRADES ISN’T HARD :

We’re into March and most Comrades runners should by now be well into their Comrades training and I’ve just read Bruce Fordyce’s latest blog in which he says it’s now time to start training hard for Comrades and I totally agree with him. March used to be when I started the serious stuff in my running days but it’s not the physical training I want to talk about.

I have often been asked by “ordinary runners” – as opposed to the elite or even those running for silver medals – if Comrades is hard and my answer has always been the same.  Comrades isn’t hard. 

By implication, that would mean that Comrades must be easy and I can immediately hear runners and “would be” Comrades runners saying that I must be completely round the bend.  If Comrades wasn’t hard, then everybody would be doing it.

When you consider that in the 92 years we have had Comrades, we have had something like 120,000 different people who have run Comrades (that is something of a guess) and that is only a very small percentage of the total population of the country who could qualify to take part that, so if it is “easy”, why then do so few people actually take part and why have so few people taken part since the race started in 1921?

The answer, I believe, is fairly simple. Getting to the start line of Comrades is hard but Comrades itself, if you’ve prepared properly both physically and mentally, is not hard.

I started off by excluding the elite or professional runners and those running for silver medals etc. because I know nothing about how they feel on Comrades day.  I have never been there so I can’t comment on what it feels like to run Comrades at 5 minutes a km or faster but I can comment on what it feels like when you are running a Bill Rowan or slower because I have run in both those categories and its those runners I’m wanting to “talk” to in this blog.

The first big challenge is to commit to running Comrades, often from having done little or nothing at all in the way of exercise previously in many cases. I know one person who promised himself for 20 years that he would run before he eventually did!

That’s quite a long time to make up your mind!

The problem after you’ve made up your mind to run is that you are still a long way from the Comrades start line and almost immediately second thoughts and doubts start to creep in, and often it’s only the fact that you can’t keep your mouth shut and you’ve told people that you are going to run Comrades that keeps you going. In many cases you elect to shift the goalposts a little from this year to next year’s Comrades in order to give yourself more time. 

The trouble with that is the shift in the goalposts often comes with an easing up on the training and in most cases stopping completely “because my knees are taking too much strain”.  Old rugby injuries you understand!

Where the runner doesn’t move goalposts and the training and racing distances get longer and longer there are other problems that come along.  Pains in places you didn’t know pains could be. Trips to physios and doctors and it’s only the end of March… but we carry on.

We feel better. We have qualified. We’re sometimes even running better times but it’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning because it’s getting darker and colder. Some of our training partners have fallen by the wayside.  Old rugby injuries you understand!

We start hearing horror stories about things called Inchanga, Botha’s Hill and Cowies Hill and there’s talk about cut off times and being pulled off the road if we don’t reach certain places by certain times. Our mind starts to do cartwheels.

We go out and buy ourselves a very expensive watch that works out our speed per kilometre, which by the time we get to the 65km mark on race day is going to drive us completely insane as we work out that we’re running at 3 mins 15 per km!  No! That can’t be right!

The marker boards count down in Comrades but nobody told us that. Now we’re trying to calculate our times with that fancy watch and marker boards that count down and so we try again.

Ah! That’s better! We’re doing 25mins per km.  No! Hang on! Now we’re in very serious trouble.

Bottom line – save yourself the money. You don’t need the fancy watch. Use an ordinary wristwatch. You start at 5:30 in the morning and you need to be at the finish before 5:30 in the evening and at certain cut off points by certain times of the day and the organisers tell you what time of day those are.  Keep things as simple as possible!

So where is this all leading me? 

You may not have noticed but I haven’t said a thing about how you should prepare physically for Comrades.  There are plenty of people around who can do that for you.  Some of them will confuse the hell out of you but I leave you to work out which training schedule works best for you – just don’t jump from one to the other.  

Everything I’ve said has to do with that part of you from the neck up!

That crucial 90% of Comrades from the neck up that needs to be very well prepared to get you through from Pietermaritzburg to Moses Mabida Stadium on the 10th of June.  The legs and the physical training only account for 10% on Comrades day.  We’ve been saying that for more years than I can remember.

I remember being told as a very young Comrades runner 50 years ago that if my legs could get me through 60km, they could get me through 90km.  The other 30km is up to your head but if that hasn’t been prepared properly you are in for a rough day.  We’ve always said the Down Run actually starts as you get into Pinetown!

I’m certainly not by any stretch of the imagination a hero of any sort when it comes to running Comrades but I started 14 of them and I finished all 14 inside the time limit which in those days was 11 hours and not once did it even enter my mind during the worst of my runs to stop and get into a car.

In the 1971 Down Run I started with what we later found out was ITB but at the time we had no idea what the pain at the side of the knee was so I ran. Or at least I tried to run but by the time I got to Pinetown I wasn’t able to run so I had only one thing I could do and getting into a car wasn’t the one thing. Walking to the finish was the only option I had, so I did that and I got home in a touch under 10 hours and I put that down to the fact that I was strong mentally and I always worked on that preparation in all my Comrades.

That day in 1971 if I hadn’t prepared mentally there is simply no way I would have finished and it was only that mental strength, that got me through in what I regard as a fairly respectable time in what I have very recently learnt is regarded as the longest ever Comrades distance-wise.

The longest ever Comrades and I walked from Pinetown, effectively with a leg that wasn’t working but my head was!

If you have put in the distance in your legs and you have done at least one but preferably two or three runs of 60km or maybe a bit more, your legs will see you through on “the day”.

So how do you prepare mentally for Comrades?  There are just a couple of things to do before race day. Those 60km runs in your legs go into your mental “bank account” and count big time on Comrades day when you remember that at the end of those training runs you felt “pretty OK” to face further distance so now your physical is taken care of and you can focus on the mental preparation that literally hundreds of Comrades runners ignore at their peril.

So what do you do to train mentally?

The major thing is to get to know the Comrades route. This is easy if you live in KZN and get to run on it regularly and things like Inchanga, Botha’s Hill and Cowies Hill become regular parts of your training runs.

Not so easy if you live far away and the first time you see the route is on race day or the day before.

I have done a detailed description of the route and it’s available on another chapter of this blog. Study it and get to know it.  Not just a passing glance. Read it several times so that when you get to know the various places where you are.

Then the crucial thing you must do is break up your Comrades into small pieces.  There are usually seven time based cut off points (including the finish) and the longest is usually no more than about 19km or so.  Whatever you do, don’t stand at the start thinking you have to run 90km to Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban.  That will just blow your mind.  

Stand at the start and think that all you are going to do is your 19km run (or whatever the distance is to the first cut-off) and that’s all.

You have all run 19km and much more in training so that’s not an issue at all so your longest run on Comrades day is 19km or so.  The next cut off is about 11km further so that’s your next run.

So that means that your first run on Comrades day is about 19km. Your next run is about 11km and so you go for the rest of the day.  Don’t worry about anything other than the run you’re busy with.  No point in stressing about Inchanga when you’re in Camperdown!   Concentrate on Camperdown when you’re in Camperdown!

So on Comrades day you will end up doing seven little runs.  That’s all it is. Seven little runs! That’s not too much to ask of anyone.

One long run of 90km is a huge job – but seven little runs.  That’s no big deal!

The great thing about these cut off points is that Comrades tells you where they are and then they put up huge big boards about 1km from the cut-off point to let you know it’s up ahead. 

So all you have to do is to learn to identify the landmarks of the cut-off points and then tie them back to the route description I have given you.  Six of them on the route!

This is getting easier and easier all the time!  That’s why I say Comrades isn’t hard.

Do the hard work before the 10th of June and enjoy Comrades day.  That’s what it’s there for.

 

 MARCH 2018

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2018 MY VERY SPECIAL COMRADES

I have written about the fact that I’ll be attending my 60th Comrades in 2018 and I have spoken about it and I have also written and spoken about the fact that it’s the 50th anniversary of my first running of Comrades in 1968.

SELFI have often told the story of how as a 9 year old boy I stood at the side of the road in Pinetown and watched the Comrades Marathon for the first time and was immediately captivated by it and I turned to my father who had taken me to watch the race and said to him “when I’m big I’m going to run this” and I have said over and over that I don’t know why I said this to him or what prompted me to say this. Whatever it was it proved to be something that was to define the path of my life in so many ways over the years since then, both in business and personally.

In 2017 I met one of our top women runners, Ann Ashworth, and I discovered that she has almost the exact same story as mine. Her father took her to watch the race when she was very young, younger than I had been when I saw my first Comrades and obviously many years after my experience, and she stood at the side of the road and as the runners came past she turned to her Dad and said “when I’m big I’m going to run this”. Comrades has had also had huge impact on her life.

I don’t know how many people have a similar story to the two of us but I certainly know many people who have thrown themselves into this race and given so much to it.  People who have their Comrades numbers as their car registration numbers or part of their email addresses for example as I have.  Just a small example but that sort of thing but at the risk of boring you to tears please allow me to tell you my story again.

After having not missed being at a Comrades since watching that race which Gerald Walsh won in 1956, on the 31st of May 1968 as a 21 year old young man I lined up at the start of the Comrades Marathon in Durban as a first time runner and 10 hours and 25 minutes later I crossed the finish line in Pietermaritzburg to earn the first of my 14 Comrades medals.

The strange thing is whilst I’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of my first Comrades, I don’t remember much about that day. I only remember about half a dozen or so bits of what happened during the day. I remember a few things that happened before I trotted down into Drummond and looked at my watch (an ordinary wristwatch) and it was 8 minutes past 11 and thinking that was OK and that if I could repeat that for the second half to Pietermaritzburg I’d be fine in terms of the 11 hours we had in those days.

I remember stopping about 200 metres before I got to Enthembeni School to listen to the radio – no TV sets back then – that a spectator had as Jackie Mekler – in my opinion one of the greatest Comrades runners – came in to the finish for his 5th win, a touch after 12 noon and thinking that I could only hurt for another 5 hours because then it would be 5pm and I would either be at the finish or I would have to stop because I would have run out of time and I had done 6 hours already so I and the pain were over half way.

Then I remember very little more until I reached Polly’s.  Going up Polly’s that first Comrades of mine is crystal clear to this day. I knew how I was going to do that. I had planned that over and over before race day.  200 paces run. 100 paces walk. 200 paces run. 100 paces walk. 200 paces run. 100 paces walk and so on whether I was tired or not that’s what I was going to do and that’s what I did and soon the top was there.

POLLYS 1968The result was that Polly’s, and in fact no hill on Comrades or any other race, was ever a problem because that’s the way I handled them all and I’ve often spoken about controlled walking many times over the years.  It’s as simple as that.

Does it hurt? Of course it hurts but it helps to get the pain over much quicker!  Remember the old adage?  If it didn’t hurt everyone would do it!

Back to that first Comrades and I remember nothing more until I came into the grounds of Collegians Club where we finished in those days. I don’t remember hearing any announcer and I don’t remember if there was one. Then suddenly it was all over and the watches had stopped at 10:25.  

4:25pm on the 31st of May 1968 and I had finished Comrades!

I was alone on the track. No other runners.  Just me.  We weren’t given our medals on the day as happens now. We had to attend a “Medal Parade” a few weeks later where they were presented to us or they were posted if runners couldn’t get to the Medal Parade.  The medals were engraved with our name and time.

COMRADES FINISH 1968

I did 5 hours and 8 minutes for the first half and 5 hours 17 minutes for the second half.  Still very proud of that split although I still have no idea what the distance of each half was.  I didn’t care and I still don’t! 

I had trained for four and a half months from absolute scratch to get there but I was very strong mentally because I had given lots of attention to that side of things as well as the physical side and the way I went up Polly’s was proof of that.

So the 10th of June 2018 I’ll be 71 and I’ll be attending my 60th Comrades and at the same time celebrating the 50th anniversary of that first run in 1968.  I find it hard to believe that its 50 years ago but it is and so much water has flowed under that bridge since then but there are two things that have stayed in the same place.

Durban and Pietermaritzburg!

The start and finish may have been moved around a bit but Durban and Pietermaritzburg are still where they’ve always been! The distance may have changed a bit over different years but the race is always between those two cities and they’re where they’ve always been! 

I have often been asked what distances I ran in my various Comrades.  I have no idea how far any of them were.  The distance made not one scrap of difference to me nor should it to anyone running Comrades.  I’ve asked a couple of winners if they knew what distance they ran and those I asked also didn’t know. I was told to get to the start before 6am and run to the finish before 5pm as it was in those days – so I did!

 

I’ve missed only three races since 1956 and those were deliberate misses which I did after being at 50 races in succession and I did so because I thought that I had probably got Comrades out of my system by then. Those three were 2006, 2007 and 2008 and by the time the 2008 race came round I was going crazy because I wasn’t there and I even took myself overseas so that I didn’t feel it but it didn’t help. I sat in front of a computer all day in the UK and watched as much of the race as I could that was streamed live via the internet so whilst I regard myself as not having been there, I certainly watched as much of it as I could from 10,000kms away!

I didn’t plan that the two anniversaries (attending my 60th and the 50th anniversary of my first run) would both fall in 2018 and it was only a few years ago that I realised that they do.

Anyway I hadn’t got it out of my system after the 50 years and 2009 I was back at Comrades and have been every year since and as long as I am able to do so will continue attending.  My next target is the 2021 Comrades. 100 years since the first Comrades when Bill Rowan trotted into Durban to win in 8 hours 59 minutes. That’s only 3 years away so all being well I should make that!

My next target after that is 2025. The 100th race.  I was privileged to have run the 50th one and to have notched up my personal best time so to be at the 100th whilst only as a spectator is an important goal. 

COMRADES 1975

I have been involved in many facets of Comrades. I started as a spectator and then a second in the days before refreshment stations when runners had their own personal seconds. I’ve also served on the Comrades organising committee in what was one of the most rewarding of experiences.

BARRY VARTY GREEN NUMBERI spent 18 years on the road reporting on the race “live” into news and sports bulletins for 702 Talk Radio and for many of those same years on arrival at the finish juggled my phone and a microphone as I also handled the stadium announcing as part of that team. It was also during that time that I was asked to handle the prizegiving one year and had the honour of meeting Madiba.  Something I will never forget.

IMG_20160306_100853I brought many great runners home from that announcers’ tower at the finish and if you were to ask me to single out one or two special moments I would have to say the day in 1989 when Frith van der Merwe ran 5:54 to finish 15th overall and set a woman’s time that I think is going to take a huge effort to beat and Bruce Fordyce’s 9th win in 1990.

I doubt that we’ll ever see 9 wins from a runner again, certainly not in what’s left of my lifetime.  I’m not certain that people fully understand what a feat it is to win Comrades once let alone 9 of them. Ask all those great runners who have failed to win whilst trying to do so and there is a long list I could rattle off of really top class distance runners who tried to win but couldn’t.

I’ve often been asked what the attraction of Comrades is that has drawn me back over and over for 60 years and I really don’t know what it is.  I can easily explain the years when I ran.  I can also easily explain the years when I was working as a journalist or stadium announcer but there are many who would say that the remaining years defy logic and I would be hard pressed to argue that. In fact I would have a bit of a problem arguing why I travel to Durban year after year to attend Comrades as a spectator.

Why I sit at the side of the road on race day cheering on a bunch of runners, most of whom I don’t know and those I do know are so busy fighting their enemy “time” that they don’t want to stop and talk anyway.

I don’t know why I go year after year to Expo to look at the same exhibitors offering almost the same things and why I shake my head along with some of the other “old timers” when we see obvious novices desperate to make sure they finish, prepared to try any product on offer that they think will get them to the finish on race day when all they really need to do is to get out there and run to the finish.

I can’t answer any of those questions and I wouldn’t even attempt to do so. It is one of those mysterious things that one is simply not able to answer.  One of those things that one can try to arrive at some sort of logical answer and still not find one, so long ago I realised that there is no point in trying and that I should simply accept that when I stood at the side of the road as a 9 year old boy in 1956 and watched Comrades for the first time that something magical happened.

There’s no debate that over those 60 years I have met some of the most amazing people, some of whom have become lifelong friends but there’s more to it than just that.  There was something so much more that did so much to shape my destiny and the direction of my life in so many wonderful ways.

That being the case, why try to find an explanation?

February 2018

CAMILLE HERRON

The name Camille Herron wasn’t all that well known in South African Comrades Marathon or road running circles before Comrades 2017 but it certainly is now.  Comrades day 2017 and the American runner led the women’s race from start to finish to come home in 6:27 and to become only the third American winner of Comrades in the history of the race.

It’s not only her performance on Comrades day that has brought her to the attention of South African runners but also what she has done since then with many shaking their heads in disbelief that anyone can do what she has done in so short a period.

No sooner had she won Comrades and she was back in action again when most Comrades runners were still in recovery time but let’s hear it from the lady herself.  I contacted her and she was more than happy to “chat” about her remarkable achievements in just seven months.

DJ:      2017 has been an amazing year for you with a couple of world records, a couple of US records and of course the Comrades Marathon title under your belt and I don’t think there can be too many people who can claim to have done that in the same year – in fact in the second half of the same year but what for you has been the highlight of your year?

CH:     Nothing I have done so far or could do in the future can top the thrill and honour of winning Comrades! It’s the ultimate race to win- to become only the 3rd American win it makes me feel very grateful and humbled by what my body can do! I actually had a hard time getting motivated to train again after Comrades—what do you do after reaching your #1 life goal?! I had to start writing down the rest of my goals. What’s followed since then is the realization that there is more to achieve beyond winning Comrades, although nothing can quite match it.

 

DJ:      Comrades has been a long term plan for you and in you said somewhere that started thinking about Comrades as long ago as 1995. Tell me how that all started for you and how sitting far away in the United States you came to learn about this race over almost 90km in South Africa?

CH:     Yes, I’m very fortunate that my first running book my Dad got me in Jr. High (1995) was Lore of Running by Timothy Noakes. My young brain couldn’t fully comprehend all the science in the book, but I loved reading the stories about the Comrades Marathon and the heroes of the race like Bruce Fordyce and Arthur Newton. It was hard for me to wrap my head around running that far. It was the only ultra I had heard of until recently. I knew I wanted to run it some day, but I couldn’t have imagined I’d have the talent to win it!

 

DJ:      The Two Oceans also featured somewhere in your introduction to South Africa.  Was that before your first visit to Comrades and how did that come about and has that been successful?

CH:     I first heard about Two Oceans from the elite coordinator for the NYC Marathon, David Monti, back in 2011. I had been racing back-to-back marathons with short recovery time between the races. He planted the seed for me to consider stepping up to ultras and look at Two Oceans. It ended up being my first ultra in 2013. I under-performed a bit by finishing 10th (moved up in place because of a Russian caught doping). I didn’t know how hard to push myself stepping up in distance. Everyone was talking about Comrades while I was over there, so I first tried it in 2014.

 

DJ:      You had a couple of visits to Comrades before it eventually all came together for you with the 2017 race and without any competition to worry about you seemed to have a fairly comfortable race from start to finish.  Was it a comfortable race or did it just look that way?

CH:     When I stepped it up to 100K in 2015, I was in a league of my own when I won the World title in 7:08 and came back 6 weeks later to break Ann Trason’s World Record for 50 miles on a hilly course in the rain/wind (5:38). I wanted to come back to Comrades and give the Course Records a shot. However, since then I’ve had some freak accidents tearing both hammies. Then in mid-March I accidentally tore my MCL at a trail race. I thought my dream was dashed once again! I had to take 2 weeks off and then had 8 weeks to train for Comrades- we made every day count.

I got back to 80% health and fitness. Judging by the heart-rate based pace (80% of HR max) I was going at 2 weeks before the race I knew I had a shot to contend for the win. I was very confident I could focus on this effort, run my own race, and be up front. I ran within myself on the first major climb and was anticipating trying to drop the pace once the course flattened after 40K. Between the exceptional heat and my hammy getting tight it made it tough to increase the pace to go after the course record. Having a large gap, I knew I could take my time at the aid stations to rehydrate (including enjoying some beer!). I continued to focus on pushing at 80% effort. I never felt exceptionally fatigued- it was mainly my tight hammy that weighed on my mind. Once I crested the Polly Shortt’s Hill, I knew I was going to win! It was exciting!!!

Crossing the line to win Comrades 2017

DJ:      Getting back to what you’ve done since Comrades.  What you have done is something that is pretty much unknown to the average Comrades or South African runner.

Four weeks after Comrades it was the Western States 100 and whilst that didn’t go according to plan you were still there.  Then a few months later and you were back and you broke the Women’s world 100 mile record at the Tunnel Hill 100 miler finishing ahead of all the men in that race and you took over an hour off the previous women’s world record.

Then another month later we find you in Arizona for Desert Solstice at the beginning of December and there on a 400 metre track you broke the US 50 mile record, the world 12 hour track record and the US 100km track record at the same event. 

That is an amazing performance. How much did that take out of you?

CH:     For me and probably most South Africans the year sort of revolves around Comrades as the ultimate goal! However, there are more races and goals to go after the rest of the year! I have to credit Ann Trason and many others who showed the way and pushed the limits of how quickly we can recover and how far and fast we can go. She won Comrade and Western States twice in the same yr. I had already pushed my own limits this way as a marathoner. To be doing it now in ultras is a fun test! Comrades is still a far ways off right now, so I still have a lot of time to re-focus on building towards it again. I’m well-trained and I don’t think the longer races take as much out of me as the shorter, faster races that ~tear up your muscles. It also gets easier to recover the more you race. I haven’t felt as beat up after Desert Solstice as I felt after the Tunnel Hill 100. I certainly won’t race this much or as extreme leading up to Comrades! I think the longer races and trail races build physical and mental strength. I can progress towards speed and being more recovered leading up to June.

 

DJ:      As you know I follow you on Twitter and after the Desert Solstice was all over you tweeted that after you broke the 100km record you felt a “bear on your back” and had to force yourself to go on for the 12 hour world record but you did.  Where did that strength come from?

CH:     For Desert Solstice I have to credit my husband for giving me a pep talk to get back out there! I have a strong mental will to reach my goals—getting that long-standing 12 hr World Record held by Ann Trason was something I felt I had to do. Once I got going again I was on a mission! I get mental strength from my training and thinking about all the things I’ve overcome as a runner and in life. Even watching the TV coverage of Comrades and hearing the commentators doubt that I could keep it up leading from the start, there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to win. I was very confident in the effort I was giving and knowing what I’m capable of—this self belief holds true for any race. Being able to persevere and push through the low points has always been something I’m good at. Both of my parents were great athletes. I believe I got it from them to stay calm and composed under pressure, being both a basketball player and stage performance (dance, piano, band). I used to push myself at basketball in extreme heat until I’d black out- hearing stories from Dad this is what I thought I had to do to get better! I’d eat something and then come back out to play. It’s the culmination of these life experiences that helps me mentally and physically break through, stay positive, and continue to find mental inspiration.

DJ:      Are you not concerned that you are perhaps doing too much and that you are asking too much of your body and yourself?

CH:     I’ve had enough serious injuries to know that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed! I have to make it happen now while I still have my health and speed to do it. I’ve had a very long career already as a prolific marathoner and racer to know my limits and also how to recover quickly. I’m healthier when I’m training and racing consistently. I’m 35 now and I only have a small window to continue to chase the ultra speed records. I’m actually not racing as much as I used to (even if it appears I am racing a lot!). I’m focusing now on being at my best and more rested for the bigger and brighter goals like winning Comrades and continuing to break World Records. People like Ann Trason show us you can pursue even more epic feats, like winning Comrades and Western States in the same year.

 

DJ:      We know you’re coming back to Comrades 2018 and you’ve hinted that you are looking at the record and if that happens you would be only the fourth woman to go under 6 hours on the Down Run.  What are your plans between now and the 10th of June 2018 – Comrades day?

Will you be doing any more racing before then or will you be concentrating on building up to Comrades and at the same time recovering from a very tough second half of 2017?

CH:     I’m really feeling great right now and want to continue to keep the momentum going. Staying healthy is our #1 priority, so I work diligently with my healthcare team! I’d love to give the 24 hr World Record a shot this winter. I also need to qualify for Western States at a trail race. Otherwise in April-June I will be focused on preparing for Comrades and being sharp and rested to go after the win and course record. Ann Trason is one of the few women to have broken 6 hrs, so to be surpassing her records from 50-100 miles gives me the confidence I can do it!

 

DJ:      Finally. Tell me about the beer. Everybody asks about the beer you drink whilst you are running and I think you had two during Comrades and I have had people saying to me that perhaps they should try it.  Does it help you or is it just a refreshing drink on the road because you enjoy it?

CH:     When you’re running a gruelling, long race like Comrades I think it helps to have something you enjoy eating or drinking at some point later in the race! I figured out the beer thing by accident at a trail race over a yr ago—it helped me overcome a bonking point in the race. We now have incorporated it into part of my race plan—at least for me it helps settle my stomach and give some mental clarity (in moderation of course!). I look forward to it every time. I enjoyed Jack Black’s Brewers Lager at Comrades.

 

Perhaps you now know a little more about the lady who won Comrades 2017 and since she and I had this little “chat” she has made her intentions for 2018 clear and over the first weekend of the year she won the Bandera 100km and Trail Run in Texas, one of the toughest trail runs and one of the oldest.

Camille we look forward to seeing you back in June!

 

January 2018

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

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!

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                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

 

 

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