Posted in UNOFFICIAL HISTORY

BEATEN BY A WAR AND A PANDEMIC

Only two things have beaten Comrades since it started in 1921. A war and a pandemic.

World War ll saw Comrades stop from 1941 to 1945 and the global pandemic we came to know as Covid – 19 brought Comrades to a halt in 2020 and with it the hopes and dreams of over 27,000 runners.

The last Comrades before World War ll in 1940 went down in the record books because most runners didn’t think it was going to take place and as a result very few continued training and because a lot of the men who were expected to enter had withdrawn and left to join their units at training camps at various centres around the country the field was left to just 23 who set off on the Up Run that year.

Those who did run are said to have eased back on their Comrades training as they were not sure whether Comrades would take place or not and it was only Allen Boyce already with three gold medals and two of them for second place in both 1938 and 1939 in his collection who took the decision that he was going to give his training his full attention in case Comrades did in fact happen.

Allen Boyce won in 1940 by a staggering 1 hour and 50 minutes a gap unlikely to ever be beaten in the future but that was the end of Comrades until 1946 because of World War ll and since then there has not been much that has threatened to disrupt the race.

We had already had the launch of the 95th Comrades scheduled for the 14th of June 2020, the slogan of which was to be “Iphupho Lami – Dare to Dream” and the field had been increased to allow a massive 27,500 runners to take part, the biggest number ever and the excitement was there both locally and from runners overseas.

Entries had sold out in two and a half days which was something unheard of and the organisers got themselves ready to start preparing for everything and then at the beginning of 2020 a city in China called Wuhan, hardly known to the average South African shot to prominence and we started to hear more and more about it on the news. There was clearly nothing much to worry about because the Americans weren’t too worried it seemed and then we started to hear alarming stories coming out of Italy and then Spain and then the rest of Europe about something that was being called Covid-19 or corona virus and it didn’t take long and it was being called a “global pandemic”.

South Africa is part of the “globe” surely but still nothing was happening here or anywhere else in Africa it seemed – then it started.

By March the Americans and the Brits were taking very real notice of what this “pandemic” seemed to be doing but still nothing too much in the southern tip of Africa but we started to hear things and then towards the end of March, we were all glued to our television sets as our president told us just how serious this pandemic was and what had to be done to slow it down even though it wasn’t doing too much damage at that stage and South Africa found itself in “lockdown” so that we could prepare for what was coming, a new experience for us all.

The regulations were stringent. Restaurants had to close as did theatres and other places of entertainment but we then heard that sports events were being affected by the “lockdown” and our national cricket and rugby teams had to cancel overseas tours and we couldn’t leave our homes or exercise in groups and running was affected so what about Comrades we all asked?

The Comrades organisers put out a media release saying that they were going ahead with the planning but unfortunately the media release was incorrectly read by many of the important people and in a flash we had cabinet ministers and suchlike people coming on TV saying Comrades would not be happening without the permission of the controlling body of athletics in South Africa.

The problem was that at no stage did Comrades say that THE RACE would go ahead as planned but rather that the ORGANISING would go ahead. When one considers that it takes virtually a full year to organise this event it then all makes sense but for a short while a lot of unhappiness all round until the confusion was resolved.

Eventually in mid-April a further media release, this time from the controlling body of athletics came out saying that Comrades would be postponed to a future date still to be announced and that – other than announcing a complete cancellation – was all that could be done at that stage. That made sense because we had no idea what this virus was going to do.

It was beyond the control of the Comrades organisers but not all runners saw it that way and many took to social media saying that the Comrades Marathon Association owed it to runners to tell them what was going to be happening. The fact that they couldn’t do this didn’t matter, some people thought that Comrades organisers were duty bound to tell runners something that was impossible for them to do.

The other thing that happened was that the organisers said that if it did take place the latest it could take place was the end of September but that was also not acceptable to all and runners then started deciding on dates for the race and some were quoted in the media giving the “perfect date” with reasons when it should be held, the dates which didn’t agree with those thought by the organisers.

The country however remained in lockdown and slowly – ever so slowly – restrictions started to be eased but we all remained very frustrated, not so much because we had no answer about Comrades but because some of us fall into the so-called “high risk category” of over 70 years of age and “experts” in the field of viruses started to suggest that those of us in that category should perhaps remain in lockdown until the end of September!

Then eventually on the 14th of May the joint media release came from Comrades and ASA telling us that Comrades 2020 was cancelled and was definitely not taking place this year so all the confusion, all the uncertainty and all the anger could finally be laid to rest.

So for the second time in the very long history of this incredible event, it is being cancelled for a reason beyond the control of the organisers but it is still the organisers who will take the anger and abuse levelled at them by many runners and by many members of the public.

Those of us who love this race – and I am certainly one of them – are very disappointed about the cancellation but we need to understand that this is not the fault of the organisers nor of the athletics body nor the government and that it’s been said over and over that just as it was a World War that stopped Comrades once before, so has a war, this time against an invisible enemy, done exactly the same thing again and just as the race came through the last war that stopped it and it survived, so it will do so again this time.

May 2020

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

TEAM ASHWORTH COACHING

When entries opened for Comrades 2020 there was a crazy rush like we’ve never seen before and a complete sell-out of entries in under 3 days so now begins the hardest part of it all for the runners and that’s to get to that start-line in Pietermaritzburg on the 14th of June later this year.

For many – and there are a huge number of novices – this is going to be a new experience and sadly, many will get things completely wrong come Comrades day and they’ll have a long hot day out on the road and that could have been avoided had they trained correctly – but how does one do this?

Ask 5 different coaches or would-be coaches and you’ll probably get 5 different answers. One will tell you to do this and another will tell you to do that. One of the biggest secrets when you get yourself a coach is that these people generally know what they are doing (although I have come across a couple who don’t have a clue) so that being the case, when you think you’ve found the right coach, whatever you do – stick with that coach.

Jumping around from coach to coach is a disaster and won’t help you at all in the same way that taking advice from a dozen different people will have the same disastrous effect.

With more and more runners wanting to be able to tell the world that their running is improving, the demand for coaches to help runners get to that point, is increasing and no longer is it just the top or elite runners who are enlisting the services of a coach but the “ordinary” runner who is wanting to improve his or her time and doesn’t know how to go about this, is turning to coaches for help.

One of the latest coaches at the disposal of runners is “Team Ashworth Coaching”.   The name Ashworth is not an unknown one in the world of South African running and Ann Ashworth, winner on the 2018 Comrades is half the “Ashworth” part of this new coaching team.

Team Ashworth

Whilst Ann has been involved in coaching the runners in her club “Team Massmart” since the establishment of the club some two years ago, we’ve seen a huge improvement from many of the ladies who run for Massmart and that’s where Ann will continue to focus, it is husband, David, who has given up his job as a teacher to coach fulltime.

David has been coaching for a couple of years on a low key basis and has had success with some of those he’s coached but his credentials need to be known. A green number runner at Comrades (he got his green number in 2019) with a best Comrades time of 6:24 in 2018 and a best marathon time of 2:31, David certainly knows what he’s talking about.

David Ashworth gets his Green Number from the late Jackie Mekler

 

I sat down with David Ashworth to find out more about the new “Team Ashworth Coaching”.

DJ:      Whilst you call yourselves “Team Ashworth Coaching”, as I understand it, you’ll be doing most of the coaching of runners needing a coach whilst Ann continues to focus mainly on the ladies of “Team Massmart” and her career as an advocate with very little in the way of general coaching?

DA:     Because Ann is very involved in her work as an advocate and administration of Team Massmart, I have taken over as the official coach of Team Massmart, coaching a number of the ladies there. I am fortunate to be working with an amazing team of elite ladies such as Lizzy Ramadamitja, the first black South African female to achieve a gold medal in 9 years at last year’s Two Oceans Marathon.

Ann & David at the finish line of Comrades and both under 6:30

 

DJ:      Will she be involved with the elite ladies at Massmart?

 

DA:     There are basically three categories of athletes at Massmart. You’ve got the “Elites” the “Sub-Elites” and the “Development” athletes who can’t afford to get into running seriously and those are coached at no cost to them. That’s where Ann gives back to running in a big way. She doesn’t go out and get athletes who are already performing or poach from existing clubs, but instead, goes out and finds talented athletes who do not have the means to take their running to the next level. Ann recently took on 10 ordinary athletes who do not have the means or support to reach their dream of running the Comrades marathon.

 

 DJ:      What qualifies you as a coach? There are some that I know of who simply set themselves up and don’t actually know what they are doing despite telling the world that they do.

 

 DA:     I’ve learnt from a number of top coaches over the years and I’ve learnt a lot of different coaching styles from them, people like Andrew Bosch, Lungile Bikwani, John Hamlett, Lindsey Parry and Neville Beeton and then as far as the academic side of it is concerned, I’ve done ASA Level 1 coaching, Sports Science Institute: Training essentials and programme design for endurance running, Sports Science Institute: Cycling Science – The essentials of cycling physiology and coaching,

Also, as part of my B.Ed Degree studies, I sub-majored in Physical Education. This included training, coaching, and physiology,

and I’ve done a lot of research and a lot of reading on coaching and coaching methods so I’ve covered a fair amount of coaching training.

 

DJ:      From the things you’ve picked up from these various coaches and courses, have you developed your own coaching methods and do you stick with that for all your athletes?

DA:     There isn’t one coaching method for everyone so it follows then that, it differs for every athlete. Training must fit into the lifestyle of that particular runner. Some athletes do better on high mileage whilst others do better on low mileage so we have to factor this in when designing a programme. An athlete should stick with one coach for some time so that as a team, they can find out what works and what does not work for them. Simply put, there’s no “one size fits all” and each athlete gets a unique plan.

 

DJ:      Let’s assume I come to you with a marathon time of 4 hours, or a Comrades time of 10:15 so I am really towards the back of the field and I would really like to improve on that. Firstly would you take that sort of person and secondly, what do you think a runner of that calibre could get to? I would think that a sub 3 hour marathon is pretty much out of the question as is a silver at Comrades. How do you establish a person’s limit?

 

 

DA:     To answer your first question; I assist athletes who have only started running, all the way up to elite level. Second, you’ve got to be realistic about what that person wants to achieve and you can only do that over a period of time. There isn’t a set pattern for everybody so it’s a case of looking carefully at individual performances and guiding that person to their reach their goal. A coach should not place a limit on an athlete, however, realistic goal setting in collaboration with the athlete to reign in an over-enthusiastic expectation is sometimes necessary. A 4-hour marathoner can achieve a sub-3 time. Many factors must be considered: age, weight, how long they have been running, and so much more will all contribute to their potential ability.

 

 DJ:      I remember that when I ran my best Comrades in 1975, it was 8:29 and to this day I firmly believe that 8 hours was my limit. What would you have done to get me – perhaps – to 8 the hours that I so desperately wanted but never achieved?

 

 DA:     I would have looked at your existing training programme to establish what, if any, periodization there was. I would look at how you progressively build up the mileage and see what Comrades-specific training sessions were incorporated (keep in mind that the ‘up’ and the ‘down’ runs are completely different races). I’d also look at your recovery – the key to a successful training strategy is having sufficient rest and recovery.

 

 DJ:      So I want to run Comrades this year. I have already qualified at Kaapsehoop and I did 3:55 which is Batch D at the start and that’s not too bad but I do want to get to Batch C where I would really like to be and out of the masses at the start? Do you work on my speed or my strength and endurance to get me to Batch C?

 

DA:     I would focus on both speed and endurance. I would also prefer to do the qualifying marathon on a flat course rather than a downhill course like Kaapsehoop. I think it’s not great to use a downhill route for a fast time because of the damage you do to your muscles and joints. I would also exercise caution against putting too much emphasis on racing too close to Comrades. You may find that you run a pretty good time in a situation where you are relaxed and not trying to run so hard.

 

DJ:      It’s no secret that I am a big exponent of LSD (Long Slow Distance) and whilst I may not have been the fastest runner back then I always had plenty of reserve for that dreaded second half and I firmly believe that came from my LSD. You views on LSD?

 

DA:     LSD should be present in every runner’s training. The latest research by Dr. Stephen Seiler reveals that polarized training carries huge benefits in one’s training. Polarized training is similar to 80/20 training in which 80% of running is done at extremely low effort and only 20% at maximal. It won’t make you a slow runner as people are lead to believe. What it does is it saves you from being fatigued on the fast and hard training sessions.

The basic concept has been followed by the Kenyans, cross-country skiers, rowers etc. It’s VERY difficult for the average runner to train this way. The ‘easy’ runs that most follow are not easy enough and have a huge negative effect on the body. They’re not fast enough to get the benefit of a speed session, but are too slow for a quality session. It is a kind of no-man’s land. So, to answer your question… I know that most get it completely wrong.

 

DJ:      Explain what you mean by that because you seem to have two differing views on the subject where you say “It’s VERY difficult for the average runner to train this way. The ‘easy’ runs that most follow are not easy enough and have a huge negative effect on the body. It’s not fast enough and is too slow for a quality session” so what is the best speed at which to train and do you work on that with your runners?

 

DA:     What I mean by that is that it’s very easy to run too fast when we’re supposed to be running easy. When you look at the way your body is responding in terms of where your heart rate is compared to where your heart rate should be. You should be running at a speed where you could be running the whole day at that speed. All heart rate zones and paces are based off percentages of the runner’s threshold values, which are tested at regular intervals.

 

 

So there you have it if you’re looking for a coach to help you get to the finish on “the big day” in mid-June in the best possible shape, take a look at the Team Ashworth Coaching website at www.teamashworth.co.za and you’ll get all the information you need as well as different coaching options and costs.

Train well – and see you in Durban and don’t forget the other part of your training where you focus on getting to know the route for the Down Run. That’s essential. You’ll find that on COMRADES DOWN RUN ROUTE 2020   

 

 

           

JANUARY 2020

Posted in PERSONAL OPINION

LSD – COME BACK ALL IS FORGIVEN

In recent years, whilst the top runners have stuck with the concept of Long Slow Distance (LSD) – and slow is releative to your race speed – as part of their training for races especially like Comrades, however, the idea of spending hours out on the road for the “ordinary” runner, the runner who is going to get home between 9 and 12 hours simply doesn’t appeal and even at peak Comrades training time you’ll find many of the “ordinary” runners taking part in half marathon races rather than LSD and those who claim to do LSD are running 20 -25km and claiming that’s LSD.

The result is that LSD training has lost a lot of ground in recent years.  I was talking to a coach very recently who said that LSD should be present in every runner’s training whether fast or slow.  He went on to say that the latest research into polarised training (also known as 80/20 training) is that 80% is at extremely slow pace and 20% at maximal. It can’t make you slower  as was the original thinking. What it does is it saves you from being tired on the fast stuff all the time – these are the words of a coach and not my words and I stress once again that I am not a coach.

He went on to say that the “easy” runs that most follow are not easy enough and have a negative effect so to the average runner the message is clear. Get out there for Long Slow Distance and you’ll feel the difference.  OK! So you don’t get a medal at the end of it but it makes life so much easier in the longer term.

I’m delighted to see that almost every coach I hear talking and many clubs that organise club runs, are putting in long runs which are generally gentle and enjoyable and are not intended to be races.  

When I last wrote about LSD, I spoke to a couple of top runners. Bruce Fordyce said that a long slow training run should be about an hour slower than would been a race over the same distance.

Bruce Fordyce in one of his 9 wins

This doesn’t really work too well if you are a 4:30 marathon person. An hour longer and it’s going to be a long day but I would think this would work well for anyone who is a 3:30 marathon runner and faster.

2018 women’s winner Ann Ashworth, when I asked her about long slow training runs felt that it can be measured if the running is at “conversation speed”. 

Ann Ashworth on her way to her 2018 win.

This means that whilst you are out there on the road with others on a training run, you should be able to hold a comfortable conversation with your fellow runners.  If you can’t do that then you are in effect running at race speed.  This also works well if you are genuinely running at training pace and not race pace – some might say that in their opinion it’s the same thing.

So that takes care of the “slow” part of LSD but how far is the “long” part of  Long Slow distance?  I think this depends to a very large degree on what you’re training for.  If it’s a half marathon and that’s your limit there isn’t really any LSD involved in your training.  If you read the autobiography of that great Comrades man, the late Jackie Mekler, his idea of a long training run (and it probably wasn’t that slow as he was a top runner) was to go out on a Sunday morning and do the better part of 100km training runs.  

Jackie Mekler wearing his famous race number 9

I had the privilege of running many times with Dave Bagshaw in long slow runs and on those runs, Dave did run slowly and quite a few of those runs were with the Ian Jardine group I mention later and we did around 4 hours for our 32kms every week..  If you’re not sure who Dave Bagshaw is, he was the second man after Arthur Newton 40 years earlier, to win three Comrades in three successive years and most of that was on LSD.

Dave Bagshaw coming in to win his first Comrades in 1969

Incidentally, after Dave Bagshaw did his “hat trick” of wins only three more male runners have achieved that and just three female runners have done it.  You’ll find the details in my article titled COMRADES – “THE HAT TRICK CLUB”

If Comrades is what you have in mind, take the advice of your coach (if you have one) or of your club.  What generally happens is that many people start to look at qualifying for Comrades in November with races like the Kaapsehoop Marathon which many will tell you is not tough or the Soweto Marathon which,  whilst it is without doubt a great experience to take in the streets of South Africa’s biggest “township” is a very tough (and hot) race so be prepared. Almost certain that it’s unlikely to be your fastest marathon time.

Many people will tell you that Comrades training starts proper in March although many will have been running regularly at distances of 30kms before then but in March the distances slowly start to increase as you head towards April and that’s the big distance month.  I remember that the year I ran my best Comrades (it was only 8:29 which is not spectacular if you normally run silver or faster) during April I did about three runs of 50km or more and ended it up with a very long run over the first weekend of May.

I’ve heard some runners saying that they regard 15 or 20kms as LSD.  It really isn’t  because by April your long mid-week runs are often that distance.  

Another mistake that many “would be” Comrades runners make is that during that crucial month of April they are running in half marathons as their long training runs.  If you’re running 20kms to get to the start of the half marathon and then the half marathon, that’s probably great but the half marathon itself is not going to be what you need on the second Sunday in June.  Remember that on that day you have 90kms to do and even if by some kind of miracle your legs are happy with short run training (even if it’s a race), there’s a good chance that somewhere around 60kms your head will start to tell your legs that its had enough.

If that happens, you’re in for a very long and probably painful last 30kms and 30kms after you’ve already done 60, is fairly heavy going

Some people enjoy the “camaraderie” in a race but try  spending the better part of anything up to 6 or 7 hours with a group of good mates whilst out on a long training run. It’s amazingly good fun and makes running very enjoyable.  I have many very fond memories of the days when I ran 32km every Sunday with the famous blind runner of the 1950s and 1960s, Ian Jardine and his group on part of the Comrades route.  We started at the top of Botha’s Hill and ran to what is now Inchanga Caravan Park and back and that was until the beginning of March when after that it was increased week by week. 

LSD became part of my life for many years and I ran my best of 8:29 using the same method of training and my distances grew each Sunday as I felt myself getting stronger and stronger.

I mentioned training over the Comrades route as often as I could for my first 8 Comrades but I was fortunate to have lived near the route and got to know it extremely well and I also think that’s important and for that reason, I publish my detailed route description every year in the hopes that it will assist those who don’t have the good fortune to be able to train on the route itself.

In my first Comrades in 1968, I eventually reached the finish in 10:25 in around position 320 – something of a change from the position you would find yourself in today with a time of 10:25! 

Coming in to finish my first Comrades in 10:25. Alone on the track!

One of the things of which I am still proud today were my splits for that first Comrades and I put that down firmly to LSD. First half 5:10 and second half 5:15. Whilst 10:25 can’t be regarded as a spectacular time by any stretch of the imagination, when I look at the way some runners today who battle to get to the finish in 12 hours really struggle, that 10:25 was OK.

Incidentally even my best run when I did my 8:29, my splits were pretty even because I had the strength to maintain my speed and for that I thank my LSD training.  I have always believed that is the key to Comrades. Get stronger both physically and mentally and that’s what I firmly believe LSD will do for you but you must do it properly.

One thing that is very difficult though, is to try to do LSD on your own.  I ran many long runs of up to 50kms on my own and it’s not easy.  I found that having friends around me and even if we heard the same jokes every weekend and laughed at those jokes every weekend, it was that, that made my running so very enjoyable.

Then of course, there’s the other aspect of it.  It’s a lot cheaper to do a long training run with friends using either shops or service stations to buy your drinks (or if you are fortunate enough to get your life partner to get out of bed and do the seconding) than it is to run in races every weekend that some people do.

Over the last couple of years, a few women runners I know have said that from a security point of view they would rather be in a race with lots of people around them than on a training run with just a few others.  I fully understand their concern and it’s for that reason that I say “hats off” to those clubs that are organising long and seconded  training runs over weekends.  It’s a huge job to do that and if your club is one of those doing that, support them. They deserve the accolades. 

Get to understand the importance and the role of LSD and then go and thoroughly enjoy yourself doing them.

 

October 2019

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

DAD, I’M READY. WATCH ME FROM ABOVE

“Dad I’m ready. Watch me from above. Watch me from up there”.

COMRADES STARTLINE 2019 AS JENNA LOOKS UPWARDS

 

These are the dramatic words spoken by Jenna Challenor seconds before the start of the 2019 Comrades and a moment captured in this photograph.

Always a self-confessed “Daddy’s Girl” Jenna lost her father tragically late last year and as he was her hero, she looked up to the skies on Comrades morning and said these words with a smile on her face.

She certainly was ready and first time out at Comrades, Jenna took home the gold medal for finishing in 6th place on the 10th of June 2019.

I had the chance to sit with Jenna and to try to find out a little bit more about her.

Jenna Challenor      

 

DJ:      Are you a Durban girl born and bred?

JC:      Yes. Born and bred, I love Durban and have lived here my whole life. I was very privileged to go to Durban Girls’ College and had the absolute best time at school. I’d go back there any day 😉 and am so grateful to my Dad for all he did to send me to this prestigious school. I actually had my 20 year school reunion there a few weeks ago and – wow – since I was there, there has been a lot of development and I must admit I felt a little hard done by – hahaha! They have an amazing new aquatic centre, a beautiful gym above it, and a full size astro turf to name a few upgrades. We had awesome facilities back then too and were very spoilt but nothing like the facilities there now.

 

DJ:     Were you involved in a lot of sporting activities when you were at school or did that only come later?

JC:      I was a sporting all-rounder at school and having two older brothers with whom I had to keep up, made me very competitive. I did everything they did, from judo to gymnastics, ballet, swimming, hockey, running, you name it I did it. I was even put in a bin and used as their cricket wickets often and I was just happy to be involved- haha! I was competitive on the beach in life saving. I loved it, it was the absolute best way to grow up in Durban, learning about the ocean, whilst doing sport with your friends, on the beach.

 

DJ:      Am I getting it wrong but didn’t you represent South Africa at lifesaving?

JC:      Yes, I did lifesaving “nippers” when I was young and then juniors and seniors. I represented Durban Surf at World Champs in 1998 in New Zealand and that’s when I met my husband, we were in the same team (lucky me). I was 16 then and Durban Surf won the World Champs that year. When I was growing up I regarded myself more as sporting all-rounder. I played provincial hockey, I ran provincially at both athletics and cross country but I never focussed on one sport. I was in the swimming team too, did some diving, and a little netball too. I never had a coach for running so I just did what I thought should be done and ran on fitness I got from other sports. A coach only came much later in life.

 

DJ:      With all these sports there must have been one that you preferred above the others

JC:      It was definitely running but I did also loved hockey. In KZN there’s not a lot of opportunity for track athletics so it was cross country mainly. My passion was definitely there, I wasn’t a track athlete.

I was also very fortunate that my parents never put any pressure on me or tried to push me in one direction. They were supportive and happy for me to do whatever sports I wanted to do and I think that with two older brothers, I learnt to push myself hard to keep up. I thank them for never being easy on me and for their torturous ways – they made me tough.

 

DJ:      A question you perhaps won’t like, but with all your sporting success, how was the classroom and results there.

 JC:      I was by no means super academic but I did alright in the classroom. I was never an academic or “A” student but I worked hard and had pleasing results as a “B” student and I was happy with that.

 

DJ:      After school you went and studied to become a teacher didn’t you?

JC:      Yes, I got a B.Ed foundation phase degree. I was offered a scholarship to go and run in America when I was in matric but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to make running my life so we didn’t pursue that and I decided that I would rather stay here and study and see what lay ahead. I did the usual varsity thing. After school, I didn’t concentrate too much on running. I did a bit of social running and I took a break from competitive running. It was only after the birth of my first daughter that I decided to get back into competitive running.

 

DJ:      You must have taken a break from running during your pregnancies?

JC:      NO, actually not. I ran during all of my pregnancies right up to the day I was in labour, although I was VERY careful using a heart rate monitor and I didn’t race. My soul focus was a healthy baby and just keeping sane with a bit of running. A funny story; When I went into labour and went to hospital for the birth of my first daughter I wasn’t quite ready so the doctor said I should walk around the parking lot. My immediate reaction was “Oh! You are kidding me” so I went down to North Beach and ran 7kms along the promenade and then went back to the hospital in the hopes that the run would speed things up! It didn’t, 36 hours of labour and eventually an emergency C-section, but I got a beautiful healthy baby girl. The best day of my life.

 

DJ:      So how long were you out of running whilst all the babies were arriving?

JC:      I absolutely loved the “new born” stage with my children and didn’t rush that stage to run. They grow up so fast. I got back into running after, Nicolette, my first baby, only to decide 15 months later that I wanted another one. After Rylee, my second, I started running seriously again and I think this is where I was noticed for the first time since school. 15 months later I did want another   baby, but my husband was hearing none of it, hence the big gap to my third, Tao. I had to beg for her for 4 years but I did get my way eventually – hehe! One positive, the big gap did give me more time to get my competitive running established.

 

DJ:      In the middle of all this sport there was also a period of photography. Tell me about that.

 JC:      When I was teaching I started photography as a hobby at the pre-school where my kids were. It was mainly self-taught with some professional guidance from Brett Florence. My focus was family photography and new-born shoots and I built a photographic studio at home. Teaching, photography, running and two children became too much so I decided to resign from teaching and do my photography which gave me the flexibility to run more and make sure I was there for my children.

THE VERY CLOSE CHALLENOR FAMILY ON THE TRACK

 

DJ:      How long have you been a professional runner?

JC:      Well, I guess with working I was considered a semi-professional runner but I would say it was after my third daughter was born in 2012. She is 7 now so I have been a professional athlete for 7 years. Soon after she was born I was back into my running seriously and the time was right to start running professionally.

 

DJ:      So you were over 30 when you started running professionally. That’s a bit late isn’t it?

JC:      Well yes, before that I was semi- professional as I was still teaching and doing photography. With three births it was a bit stop-start. After my third in 2012, it was “babies done, time to run” and I really put my head down and decided I wanted to give it a full go and that’s when I guess I turned pro. I tended to do things the other way round in life. I had my daughters very young and now I’m running professionally. It is a juggling act as a mum but it’s also so awesome because I am a young mom and they are now able to train with me and share in my passion, they are my biggest fans along with my incredible husband who dreams my dreams as big as I do. He is the reason I am able to run as a mom of three children.

A huge part of what inspires me to run now, is the ability to inspire women, especially moms, to do things for themselves and to show them that sport doesn’t have to stop after having children. If I can do it with 3 children so can they, I believe a little ME time doing what I love makes me a better mom.

 

DJ:      With everything you’re involved in, where do you find the time for your own training?

JC:      Where there is a will there is always a way, everyone has their things. I train around my children. My first session is always at 4:30 in the morning. I then get the girls ready for school, drop them off and go to my second session, well – after a cup of coffee of course! That’s about 2 hours. I start fetching children at 12.30. Tao is first then we go to her extra murals (either gymnastics, ballet or swimming). At 2pm I fetch the other two from school , take them home to eat lunch then I will drop them wherever they need to be (running, hockey, swimming ,matches etc.) and I will do my third session while they train, before I fetch them again. It works but I have a strict schedule and can’t fit much more into my day and by 7pm I am shattered. My husband helps a lot and my mom in law where she can, so I am very blessed.

 

DJ:      From the point of view of your own running, do you coach yourself or do you have a coach?

JC:      Yes I do have a coach but he prefers to be low key, all the same I’m honoured to call Ernie Gruhn my coach, my friend and a person who believes in me and pushes me to be the best that I can be. He is a very special person to me and my family.

Jenna with her coach Ernie Gruhn

I started training with Ernie just before World Half marathon champs in 2014 and it was one of the best decisions of my running career. He has taught me the value of consistency and has given me belief in my abilities and myself.

 

DJ:      I’ve read someplace that a lot of your Comrades inspiration has come from Bruce Fordyce with encouragement from him.

BRUCE AND JENNABruce Fordyce and Jenna

JC:      Yes, Bruce is a really good friend and I have had a lot of encouragement from him. He has nagged me to run Comrades for many years but I didn’t really know when the right time was so I worked my way up through the distances until a started looking at ultras. I also only ran my first marathon in 2014 when my last born daughter turned two. I have run 5 marathons in total and raced 3.

I still run so passionately and competitively because I believe our children are influenced by what they are exposed to and I want to show my children life through sport, how amazing it is and to teach them to be grateful for their health and mobility and never to take it for granted. I always tell them that sport takes you places, opens doors, creates opportunities and makes you so many friends.  

My girls have already experienced doors opening through sport with their sports bursaries to Epworth High School in Pietermaritzburg, a school we simply couldn’t afford to send them to without the bursaries and that is credit to them and what they have put into their sports.  I also want them to do ALL sports right now and to choose the sports they like the most and not just run because I do.

Of my three daughters, it’s the middle one who is absolutely besotted with running, she’s is 12 now and doing very nicely but I follow a LESS IS MORE philosophy with her while she is so young. My oldest also loves sport, she is a very good swimmer and her passion is surf life-saving like her dad. They both also enjoy hockey, paddling, biathlon and triathlon. Rylee wants to be a professional athlete like mom one day, Nix says she definitely doesn’t want to, it’s far too much hard work – classic, I love their honesty.

 Sport definitely has the power to change people- I love how, in a race or on a run no matter what religion or race we are, we are all equal, all friends, supporting each other doing what we love with so much passion.

 

 DJ:      Apart from people like Bruce has any other runner inspired you?

 JC:      Yes. Without doubt it’s been Helen Lucre, she helped me a bit when I was younger and I always loved hearing about her running and Comrades days. Sadly though I don’t think that Helen has had as much recognition as she perhaps should have had. The trouble is that people don’t seem to know much about Helen because of the fact that she was at the top in the mid-1980s when road running and even Comrades didn’t have the exposure it has today. She was a really good runner and a very humble athlete who won Comrades three years in a row as well as many other races.

 

 DJ:      Over the last couple of years you have emerged as a better than average ultra-distance runner and it was probably in Two Oceans in 2017 that people first started to take notice of you as an ultra-runner when you finished 2nd.

Jenna takes 2nd place at 2017 Two Oceans

JC:      It’s definitely the longer races that I’m enjoying now. I feel like I’ve waited my whole life to run ultras, I couldn’t do it when my daughters were younger, I felt it wasn’t fair on them or me but they are older now so now I can.

All I wanted from Comrades this year was to simply love it and I did just that. I loved every step of the way – ok, except perhaps the last 2kms which were hard. I love running so much, to me it’s more than just winning. If I run a race and finish 4th/5th or 6th like I did at Comrades this year, but I enjoy it, have fun and feel good, it’s a win for me and it’s the reason I RUN. Comrades was next level, I LOVED the crowds, they were ABSOLUTELY awesome and it’s an incredible feeling to race in my hometown. I literally smiled and waved to friends from start to finish.

Jenna comes home 6th in COMRADES 2019. Note the rose she’s holding

 

DJ:      Tell me about the Olympics. A few years ago you qualified to run the Olympic Marathon but injury stopped that from happening and now the rules have been changed in terms of the times you would need to run to qualify. Right now, you’re about 7 minutes short of the new qualifying time. Are those 7 minutes too big an ask now?

JC:      It’s every athlete’s dream to run the Olympics and I was really sad that I didn’t have the opportunity to run in the Olympics because realistically it’s probably the only opportunity I would have had. I dream big but I’m not unrealistic, if Olympics came to me I would take it with open hands but I’m not focussing only on Tokyo next year, and to be honest, I think it’s just too far for me to take 7 minutes off my time and I feel at my age its too late to focus on marathons now.

 

DJ:      Is there going to be a big focus on Comrades next year. Are you planning to run again?

 JC:      I don’t think I’m going to change what I’ve been doing. I’ve been having so much fun and I’m just so grateful to be running again after my stress fracture don’t think I’m going to change what I’ve been doing. I’m just so grateful to be running again after my stress fracture last year and yes I’d love to try the Down Run. It’s a totally different race being a Down Run and longer than the Up Run but I definitely want to line up for it, all going well. It’s a long way away still. I don’t want all my eggs in one basket. I will race other races too.

 

 That then is Jenna Challenor. Wife, mother and runner and 6th in Comrades and a gold medal in her first Comrades run in 2019 and a gold medal in both 2017 and 2019 at Two Oceans.

I think we can expect more medals in that gold colour from this lady!

 ******************************************

 A FINAL WORD by Jenna

A little girl. A big dream. A COMRADES ROSE            

For as long as I can remember I have said I WILL RUN Comrades and I will get that red rose (given to the first 10 men and first 10 women just before the finish line). The day before a race Brett often gets me roses, this time he arrived home and said “I didn’t buy you roses, go out and get your own tomorrow!

 10 September 2019

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

THE LADIES OF COMRADES

SINCERE THANKS TO THE COMRADES MARATHON ASSOCIATION FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHS

 

 

It was in 1975 during the running of the Golden Jubilee Comrades that women were permitted to run officially for the first time and since then we’ve seen some fantastic performances.

Before we move forward from 1975, let’s first go back to the days when women were not permitted to run officially but some ran as unofficial competitors. One small thing though before we move onto the stories, you will notice that the heading of this article refers to “ladies”.   Many years ago when I was still a radio reporter covering road races around South Africa and a couple in Europe, I referred to the “ladies” and I was severely taken to task and told in no uncertain terms by a race official (can’t remember who it was) who said to me that there were no ladies in any road races and that they were women.

Women were running and I should stop referring to anything other than women. I did have a major problem with that as I had been using the term “ladies” for quite a few years and even in this article I keep swapping between “women” and “ladies

The first woman to finish Comrades – in an unofficial run – was Frances Hayward in 1923. It was the third running of Comrades and the second Down Run. She took 11:35:28 seconds to do the distance and she managed an unofficial 28th position of the 30 men who finished. “After the race, Miss Hayward said:  

Frances Hayward – first woman to run Comrades – 1923

 

“Now that I’ve done it, I think it’s too much for women.  I think it’s the last 10 miles (16km) that kill” 

It seems that nothing much has changed since then in terms of those last 16km!

The difference then is that the route between Pietermaritzburg and Durban was almost all dirt road!

1928 saw the time limit lowered to 11 hours (it had previously been 12 hours) and it stayed at 11 hours for many years only changing for the first time in 2000 to 12 hours.  It then went back to 11 hours for two years but was soon changed again to 12 hours where it remains today.

It was almost 10 years before we saw a woman completing Comrades in both directions when Geraldine Watson was the first woman to do this.  She won the Down Run in 1931 and then the Up Run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg 1932 and was then back again for the Down Run in 1933 when she ran her best time of 9:31. I can’t find any record that she ran again after 1933.  

Geraldine Watson. The first woman to run 3 consecutive Comrades – 1931-1933

 

For many years The Geraldine Watson Trophy was awarded to the last runner home in the time limit.

After Geraldine Watson it was a fairly long time before we saw women running again as they were still unofficial. I remember Maureen Holland, with whom I did a fair amount of running in the late 60s and early 70s, being the first woman home in three consecutive years but not recognised because she was still unofficial.

Interesting that for quite a while she was reflected in the results on the Comrades website but her name has since been removed as all her runs were prior to women being allowed to run officially.

In 1975, Comrades organisers approached the controlling body of athletics in South Africa to have the race open to all people irrespective of race or sex. I was a member of Collegians Harriers at the time and Collegians were the custodians od Comrades before the formation of the CMA and the heated arguments at the Harriers AGM about whether the approach to the controlling body should be made. Eventually sanity prevailed and permission for the race to be open was given.

Two women started although the first woman home that year was declared to be unofficial after a problem with her entry. That year, novices had to qualify in a marathon in under 3 hours 30 and there was something wrong with the qualifying. Whether she didn’t qualify or not I don’t remember. Elizabeth Cavanagh finished in 10:08:00 and goes down in the record books as the first official women’s winner.

BETTY CAVANAGH FINISHING IN 1975

 

From 1976 to 1978 it was Lettie van Zyl who won three in succession.  In 1977, she broke the Up Run time set two years before and then set a best time (record) for the Down Run in 1978, the year incidentally, that Alan Robb became the first runner to finish Comrades in under 5 hours 30 minutes.

lettie van zylLETTIE VAN ZYL – winner 1976-1978

 

Two years later in 1980 on the Down Run and we had started to see bigger fields, it was Isavel Roche-Kelly after whom the women’s medal introduced in 2019 is named who set a new best women’s down run time of 07:18:00 and in doing that was the first woman to earn a silver medal (no gold medal for the winner at that time) for finishing in a time under 7hr 30min.

isavel roche-kellyISAVEL ROCHE-KELLY

 

Isavel won again in 1981, this time in 6:44:35, the first woman under 7 hours. Sadly Isavel was killed in a cycling accident in Ireland soon after this.

The interesting winner of the ladies race in 1982, was Cheryl Winn, the last lady to get a silver for winning and who many years later went on to become the Chairperson of the Comrades Marathon Association, the first time that the winner of either the men’s race or the women’s race achieved the distinction of being elected as Chair of Comrades.

                                                                    CHERYL WINNING                                    CHERYL WINN COMING IN TO WIN 1982                                                                      

 

It was Lindsey Weight who was first home in both 1983 and 1984. In 1983 (an Up Run) she ran 7:12:56 and in 1984 it was 6:46:35 to set a new Down Run best time.

LINDSEY WEIGHT (2)LINDSEY WEIGHT WINNING 1984

 

1985 saw the next of the multi winners of the lady’s race when Helen Lucre won in 6:53:24, beating the winner of the two previous races, Lindsey Weight who had to be content with 2nd place. Helen went on to win the next two races in 1986 in 6:55:01 and 1987 in 6:48:42, the second lady to win three in a row after Lettie Van Zyl did it a decade previously.

HELEN LUCRE IN FULL CRY ON HER WAY TO A WIN

 

In 1988 we saw Frith van der Merwe home first in 6:32:56, a new best time but the best was yet to come for Frith because in 1989 history was made for the ladies when Frith ran the first sub six-hour women’s Down Run in a record time of 05:54:43 to finish in 15th position overall. That time still stands as the best Down Run by a woman 40 years later. Frith went on to win three times in total but they weren’t in successive years.

FrithVanDerMerwe_1989ComradesVictory-768x253 (2)FRITH VAN DER MERWE AFTER HER 1989 WIN

 

In 1991 Frith was again on the winner’s podium for the last time when she came home in 6:08:19, the second fastest Down Run time by a woman after her own run two years earlier. In 1997, Ann Trason, the America runner was the second woman to go under 6 hours on the Down Run with her 5:58:25.

Only three women have run under 6 hours on the Down Run, the third one being Tatyana Zhirkova, the Russian runner in a time of 5:58:50. That was in 2005 and there have been no women under 6 hours on the Down Run since then. The first woman to go under 6 hours on the Up Run was still 14 years away but more on that later.

The 1990s saw the first of the Russian women winners when Valentina Liakhova won in 06:41:23 in the Up Run of 1994.

It was the Russian twins, Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva, however, who captured the imagination of the running world and the public and still today people ask if “the twins” are running. Elena won a total of 8 Comrades while her sister managed 1st place in 2007 and 2009 but several 2nd place finishes behind her sister.

THE NURGALIEVA TWINSTHE NURGALIEVA TWINS

 

 

By the time we got to the “Twenty-teens” we started to see South African women dominating Comrades once again after a spate of foreign, mainly Russian, winners in the 1990s and early “noughties”.

The first of the “good” Up Run times by a South African was in 2015 when Caroline Wostmann ran 6:12:22 to win comfortably although that was almost exactly three minutes slower than the best Up Run time set by Elena Nurgalieva. It was 9 years before Elena’s time for the Up Run was improved by Caroline from the 6:09:24 the Russian had run in 2006.

CAROLINECAROLINE WOSTMANN – WINNER IN 2015

 

Caroline once again looked set for the win to make it two in a row in 2016 but just a few kilometres from the finish, the cramps that had been bothering her all day started to make their presence really felt and at one stage her legs gave in completely and she ended up on all fours in the road just a few kilometres from home.

This gave the lady in second place, Charne Bosman the opportunity to pass Caroline to take the win in 6:25:55, so two South African lady winners in two years.  Charne, incidentally has been a women’s gold medallist every year that she’s run the race since her first Comrades in 2013. 

CHARNE BOSMAN – 2016 WINNER

 

 

In 2017 it was the American distance runner, Camille Heron who won in 6:27:35, not an especially fast time given that the previous Up Run in 2015 had been 6:12 but Camille had led the race from start to finish and was some 4 minutes ahead of second placed Alexandra Morozova, the Russian runner.

camille finishCAMILLE HERON – 2017 WINNER

 

 

In 2018 it was the turn of Ann Ashworth who was home first in 35th position overall in a time of 6:10:04 and that was on the longer Down Run route with a new finish at the Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban. This time it was close to 91km and the third longest Comrades in the history of the race.

ANN ON THE ROADANN ASHWORTH NEARING THE FINISH IN 2018

 

 

Some 5 minutes behind Ann in second place was Gerda Steyn who had been the pre-race favourite in many circles for the 2018 Comrades but nobody had taken much notice of Ann in the build up to Comrades when she deliberately kept a low profile.

Gerda’s turn to make history was still to come and she didn’t have to wait too long.

It came in 2019 when she was the first woman to get home on the Up Run in under 6 hours, running a 5:58:53 and finishing in 17th place overall. She ran a near perfect race to take that win. I had the opportunity to chat to Gerda after the race and you could be forgiven for thinking she hadn’t run at all. That’s how fit she was and an indication of what a brilliant run she had.

gerda winsGERDA STEYN WINNING COMRADES 2019 IN UNDER 6 HOURS

 

 

It’s not only the ladies themselves where the interest lies because the Comrades medals won by women has an interesting history too.

When women first ran officially from 1975 they could only earn a bronze medal but that had all changed by the time Frith van der Merwe ran that brilliant Down Run in 1989.

From 1979 to 1982 a Silver Medal was awarded to the 1st Woman (the last winner to get silver was Cheryl Winn in 1982) then in 1983 a gold medal was introduced for the first lady home but it wasn’t until 1988 that gold medals were given to the first 3 women and in 1995 this was increased to the first 5 Women and eventually in 1998 gold medals went to the first 10 women home to match the number of gold medals earned by the men.

The Isavel Roche-Kelly medal was introduced in 2019 for any women who finished outside the top 10 but broke seven and a half hours. This in effect means that no woman can win a silver medal any longer with the very special medal now recognising the feats of the women.

There has twice been the debate as to whether a woman could earn a gold medal that would usually go to a man if she happened to finish in the top 10 overall. The first time this debate raged was in 1989 when Frith van der Merwe finished in 15th position overall and then again in 2019 when Gerda Steyn ran herself into the history books with her sub 6 on the Up Run and 17th position overall.

Whilst I use the word “overall” it’s actually incorrect as technically, Comrades is made up of two separate races, the men’s race and the women’s race which for the sake of convenience are run at the same time.

Most of the big city marathons around the world have two distinctly separate races but the time limit for Comrades and the hours of daylight on race day, makes that virtually impossible and possibly dangerous because of traffic, hence the two races being run together.

One very promising thing with the ladies is the improvement we’ve seen and are continuing to see in women’s running in South Africa, firstly that South African women are once again winning Comrades but also in the times being run, not only in Comrades but in standard marathons as well.

I have little doubt that the time will come when we see women in the top 10 overall at Comrades and I can only hope that the race organisers will have made it completely clear if that happens that there are two separate races and that 10 gold medals will go to the first 10 men even if more than one woman happens to beat one or more men and finishes in the overall top 10, but also gold medals to the top 10 women in their race.

 

1 August 2019

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES MARATHON 1969

The following is a report on the 1969 Comrades Marathon which was written by Dave Bagshaw who was running his first Comrades.  The report was written for the newsletter of his club, Savages in Durban.  

One interesting thing about this report is that after Dave wrote it, he hasn’t looked at it again until about two weeks ago when I asked him for a copy.

At this stage, Dave Bagshaw is one of only 5 men who have been able to win Comrades in three successive years. On two of his three runs he broke the record (best time) and on the third one as just 2 minutes outside his own record.

************************************************************************************

I arrived at the starting point in front of Pietermaritzburg City Hall about fifteen minutes before the start of the race.  I felt nervous.  I suppose over seven hundred other runners felt the same way.  For each of us this race was the culmination of months of training and now we were face to face with the big test.

For my own part I was very apprehensive.  Even though many friends had expressed confidence in my ability to do well I doubted that I could last fifty-four miles with men like Dave Box, Jackie Mekler, Manie Kuhn and Gordon Baker.  All these and many others had years of distance running behind them.  In contrast I’d only run my first marathon nine months before.

Nevertheless I had confidence that I would survive the distance.  Even though my training had been lighter than that of most of the stronger runners it suited me and had paid off in my other marathon races.

My early morning preparation for the race had been a little confused.  I intended rising at 3.30 a.m. but after a rather restless interrupted sleep for most of the night I slept soundly towards the end and did not wake until 4.30 a.m.  After loosening up exercises and a visit to the bathroom, I ate a light breakfast without much enthusiasm.  Then off to the start.

It was a cool morning and the odour of liniment hung heavy on the air in front of the city hall.  The bustling crowd was enormous and I had difficulty locating my seconds but eventually found them.  Last minute instructions were exchanged and I went out onto the road to stand in the front rank.  No problem here.   In a race this distance people have no illusions about the need for a fast start unless they have hopes of finishing well up so the faster runners are pushed to the front.

Shortly before 6.00 a.m. the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg presented Gordon Baker with the baton containing the message for the Mayor of Durban.  Then Max Trimborn gave his famous cock-crow, the gun fired, and the race had begun.

There was no sudden rush at the start.  This was to be a test of strength and stamina not so much of speed and a few seconds lost at the start were unimportant.  However the field soon opened out and, leaving the city via the main street, John Tarrant was leading followed by a group including Box, Mekler, Baker, Bill Brown (8th last year), Roland Davey, Olaf Vorster, Eric Renken and myself.

Tarrant was setting a good pace and had a lead of fifty or sixty yards after the first mile.  I was at a loss as to what to do because I seemed to be running slowly.  For a moment I was tempted to move off after Tarrant then I glanced at Mekler, the most experienced runner in the race, apparently unconcerned by the fact that Tarrant was ahead.  No one else seemed interested in chasing John so I decided to follow the approach of my more experienced fellows and let him go.  By the time we left the street lights of Pietermaritzburg behind we could not even see him on the road ahead of us.

I found it necessary to run at the front of the leading group to avoid tripping people in front with my long stride.  My confidence increased on finding I could keep up with the leaders easily.

After seven miles I discarded the jersey in which I had started the race.  It was still cool and I remember hoping the overcast sky would shelter us from the sun all day.

The leading group maintained a steady pace down Polly Shorts and up the long climb to Umlaas Road.  At Camperdown (14.7 miles), reached in 1 hour 37 minutes, Box, Mekler, Baker, Davey, Brown, Vorster and I were still together, Davis and Renken just behind and Tarrant four minutes ahead.  Even hearing the size of Tarrant’s lead did not seem to perturb anyone.  Everyone seemed to have settled into a rhythm and there was obviously going to be no excitement or radical changes in front positions for some while.  At this point Manie Kuhn (1967 winner) was a minute behind.  A slow starter, Kuhn usually moved up to the front in the middle of the race.

The 11 and a half miles from Camperdown to Drummond were uneventful until we reached the foot of Inchanga.  I still felt comfortable and worked to vary the pace a little and lose some of the group.  Box obviously had the same idea.  Together we led up the one and a half mile climb and by the time we were over the top and beginning the steep descent into Drummond we had achieved our objective.

At Drummond (26.2 miles) in 2.51 hours, Box, Mekler, Baker, Vorster and I were left together.  Still no sign of Kuhn whom I expected to catch us about here (in actual fact he was 4 minutes behind).

Beginning the climb out of Drummond I noticed the others dropping, Mekler seemed unhappy (I learned later he changed his shoes which were giving him trouble) and Baker and Vorster seemed to decide the pace was too fast.  I hoped they were wrong.  I felt good, running very relaxed and took my first sponge to freshen myself up.

Two miles out of Drummond we caught Tarrant.  He was really struggling (suffering from stomach trouble) and dropped back to finish 28th in 6 hours 55 minutes 46 seconds.

Box and I were now out in front alone.  Both of us seemed to be running easily and the stiff climb up Alverstone presented no problem.  However shortly after Dave Box seemed to be losing ground on me.  We had been running side by side and suddenly I found myself alone – with Dave 10 yards back.  I was striding well and so, with twenty miles to go, I decided not to wait but to keep running my own pace regardless. 

Many were the warnings I’d been given by old Comraders about the seven miles from Drummond to Hillcrest.  “Don’t worry about losing a few minutes on those hills” was the advice, and here I was running out ahead of the field.  I knew many of those just behind would think I was committing suicide running so fast.

I really began striding out.  It had got warmer and I was drinking frequently but conditions were still favourable.

In Pinetown, with thirteen miles to go (4.24) I had a six minute lead over Dave Box (4.30) who was followed by Rencken (4.31) Davis, Baker (4.32) Davey and Mekler (4.33).  Encouraged by the fact that I had such a big lead, and the large crowd in Pinetown, I climbed Cowies Hill striding powerfully.

I felt fairly confident I could win but felt no elation at the prospect.  An error of judgment even then could have cost me the race.  I was more concerned over the fate of the team trophy, the Gunga Din Shield.  I knew we, Savages, were first, second and sixth, but what of our fourth scorer? Germiston had Mekler and Davis well up.  I had to stay ahead.

From Pinetown to Durban the run was uneventful except for one incident.  After a short distance on a dirt road we had to climb three steps up to the main road again.  This after 49 miles hard running.  I couldn’t make it, fell forward and went up on all fours.  Then back to running rhythm again.

The streets were crowded the last five miles and I was told I’d be well inside Gomersall’s course record.  My seconds were working hard now.  I was still running smoothly but I wanted drinks, sponges and salt tablets more frequently now it was getting hotter.

The crowds were thicker closer to the DLI grounds where we were to finish.  The baton containing the message to the mayor was thrust into my hand as I ran up to the tape. 

BAGSHAW COMING IN TO THE FINISH OF THE 1969 COMRADES

 

Then it was over I could stop running.

By the time Dave Box finished, twelve minutes later, I felt recovered.  Elation at my victory kept the full effects of fatigue at bay for several hours.

Dave finished, suffering from large blisters on both feet.  Four minutes later Jackie Mekler came in.  Shortly after Drummond stomach trouble had slowed him down and he’d dropped to eleventh, seventh in Pinetown, he moved through well to take third place.  In my opinion his was a magnificent effort.  To have a bad run and yet put up such a good performance further enhances his reputation as a great runner and competitor.

I was fortunate.  I had the sort of run that every runner dreams about – trouble free, no bad patch, no struggling, no blisters, just a gradual tiring towards the end.

Throughout the afternoon streams of runners arrived in Durban.  In all 587 out of 703 starters completed the course within the time limit of eleven hours.

For the first time in the history of the race two runners from the same club finished inside six hours and Savages became the first club ever to win the Gunga Din Shield for the fifth year in succession.

 

Dave Bagshaw 1969

YOU CAN GET TO DAVE BAGSHAW’S LIFE STORY BY CLICKING HERE.

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES THREE IN A ROW WINNER – DAVE BAGSHAW

It’s the 31st of May 1969 and the Comrades Marathon winner has just crossed the finish line in Durban to win his first Comrades in a time of 5h 45m 35s and he’s just set a new best time (record) for the Down Run.  It’s the young Savages runner, Dave Bagshaw.

Mention the name Dave Bagshaw however, to the modern day Comrades runner and you’ll probably get a blank stare in return but yet I think he was one of the really great Comrades runners with three consecutive wins to his name in 1969, 1970 & 1971.

Twice he set best times (record), first in his novice year in 1969 on the Down Run and then again in his second year in 1970 when he ran 5h 51m 27s for the Up Run.  In 1971, Dave missed breaking his own record by less than two minutes on what is generally regarded as the longest ever Comrades at 92km.

With his “Hat Trick” of wins he became only the second man after Arthur Newton in the 1920’s – and that was 40 years earlier – to achieve three wins in successive years

 Since his wins, only 3 others have managed a Hat Trick of Comrades wins in successive years, so now only 5 men in total have managed to achieve it in the 93 Comrades that have been held at this stage, and that’s the reason why I would put him in my list of really great Comrades runners. 

The 4 in addition to Dave, who have managed the “Hat Trick” of wins in successive years are Arthur Newton with 4 wins in succession in the 1920’s, Alan Robb in the second half of the 1970’s, Bruce Fordyce with his 8 wins in succession in the 1980’s and Zimbabwe’s Stephen Muzhingi won 2009, 2010 and 2011.

  BAGSHAW 5DAVE BAGSHAW, BRUCE FORDYCE & ALAN ROBB, 3 OF THE 5 RUNNERS TO ACHIEVE A HAT TRICK OF WINS

 

I was privileged to have known Dave and to have been able to run with him many times when he joined the late Ian Jardine’s group (with whom I ran for about 4 years) almost every Sunday morning to run over part of the Comrades route starting at the top of Botha’s Hill to what is now Inchanga Caravan Park, and back.  A total Sunday run, summer and winter, of 32kms.

I haven’t seen or spoken to him for many years and very recently I managed, with the help of Bruce Fordyce, to get Dave’s email address, so I wrote to him and got his response, in which he reminisced briefly about his running days and the people with whom he ran during his all too short a stay in South Africa. 

This year is 50 years since he won his first Comrades so what better time to “chat” to him than now?

I asked Dave a couple of things that I hope will give the reader a better knowledge of one of the great runners of the Comrades Marathon.

 

 

DJ:    I know you’re from the UK originally but where did you grow up and do your schooling?

 DB:    I was born and raised in Sheffield, and attended grammar school from September 1955, age 11. Earlier that year I had spent four weeks in hospital suffering from a blood disease, and the hospital doctors informed my parents I should not do any sports because of the danger of severe bruising and bleeding. Fortunately our family doctor had the view that I should be allowed to do whatever boys my age might want. Twelve months later I had a week in hospital with the same problem, and two days after discharge ran the school cross country race for my age group finishing 21 out of 130. 

 

 

DJ:    Have you had an interest in sport from a young age and when did running come into your life?

DB:    I had always enjoyed running but was unsuccessful as a child, the longest race being 100 yards at primary school. Once at secondary school, I raced cross country, quarter mile, half mile, and mile track races competing for school and club in county championships.

 

 

 DJ:     When did you discover your ability to run the longer distances?  Was that only after you came to South Africa?

DB:      While in London at University (1961 -1964) I ran for the University and continued club running after graduation running 5 and 10 mile races, and a 20 mile race in 1966, finishing sixth in 1 hour 49 minutes. Later that year the Polytechnic Marathon proved too much and poor pace judgement left me exhausted, sitting at the side of the road after 15 miles, when a kind lady pulled up and gave me a lift in her Rolls Royce to the finish.  I had met Jackie Mekler briefly, and later Tommy Malone and Manie Kuhn in 1966 when they ran the London to Brighton, seconding Manie in a race won by Bernard Gomersall. So I knew a little about Comrades before I came to SA.

 

 

DJ:      Your stay in South Africa was relatively short. Was that always the intention to be here for a short time?

DB:     I worked as a volunteer lecturer at a college in Northern Nigeria from January to December 1967 arriving in Durban just before Christmas to visit my wife’s relations. After our voluntary service we had asked for tickets to fly to Durban rather than back to the UK, intending to stay a few months and then return home via East Africa. I met Manie again, joined the running fraternity with Savages, got a job and stayed much longer than we had originally intended

 


DJ:       Had you heard about the road running “scene” in South Africa before you came to live here?

DB:      Yes and I loved the friendliness, support, comradeship I experienced on arrival. I was made so welcome and on joining Savages I remember my wife sewing the SAVAGES name onto my vest by the dashboard light as we were driven to Stanger for my first race in the club colours.

 

 

 DJ:      I have often told people that I had the privilege of running with you on those Sunday morning training runs with Ian Jardine’s group. Those runs were very slow but yet you sometimes joined them.  What was your training strategy in your Comrades build up because it seems that LSD (long slow distance) was part of it? 

DB:      My first few races showed improvement after relatively little running whilst in the heat of Nigeria, but I was constantly getting injured, resting and recovering, racing again, injured again, another recovery, another race and yet another injury. It was suggested I train slowly for a few weeks, take things easy, to maintain strength and fitness while putting little stress on my body. Running with Ian’s group was what I needed. At first it seemed very slow but the friendly chat and humorous conversation made it enjoyable and introduced me to a more relaxed training routine than I had experienced in England. After that I rarely suffered any injury.

 

 

DJ:       It’s 50 years since you won your first Comrades and I remember talking to you at the start that morning and you were very calm despite the fact that less than 6 hours later you will have won and set the record. Despite the calm exterior, do you remember what was going on in your thinking?

DB.      In the 1969 Comrades, most people didn’t think I had the strength or the experience, to be successful. At the start I felt at ease even though I had been awake most of the night with excitement. As usual I felt lacking in energy, hardly able to warm up, but knew I would be fine once we were running. No race plan, but going to play it by ear, and not be overawed by the reputations of others.  As I joined the line-up I found myself pushed to the front rank, and patiently waited for Max Trimborn’s cock crow and the gun.

BAGSHAW 1DAVE BAGSHAW WITH HIS FAMILIAR RUNNING ACTION DURING COMRADES

 

 

DJ:     You were up against some seriously strong competition in your first Comrades with people like Jackie Mekler who already had 5 wins, Manie Kuhn, the defending Down Run champion, Dave Box, a former 100 mile World record holder, Gordon Baker, who had a whole lot of gold medals in his collection. ….and here you were a novice to Comrades

DB:    A novice yes. But I had seconded Bernard Gomersall in 1968, Manie in the 1966 Brighton, and raced Manie, Dave, and Gordon over shorter distances. Most people didn’t give me chance, and I heard a spectator near the Lion Park, seeing me at the front of the group, say “What does Dave think he’s doing? Does he think he can win this?” but I was feeling quite comfortable.

 

 

DJ:     You and the others in the lead pack went out hard from the start but one by one the other big names fell back. By the time you got to Pinetown it looked pretty certain you would win. Did you have that feeling despite the fact that you still had the better part of 20 kms to go? What had happened earlier in the race to lead to that?

DB:    After Drummond, Dave Box and I were running together and as we approached Alverston I noticed that I was a couple of yards ahead, so slowed so we were running side by side again. Then that small gap appeared again so I decided to run at my own comfortable pace, be unconcerned and let others wonder or worry whether they could catch me. Somewhere near the Botha’s Hill Hotel Vernon Jones and his family were watching. His wife and daughter enthusiastically shouted encouragement, while Vernon was very quiet. I found out later that he believed I had blown my chances by taking the lead so early and had been told not to say anything that might put me off.

 

 

BAGSHAW 2  WITH HIS SECOND DURING COMRADES

DJ:   You were always very strong mentally and if I remember correctly, you used that successfully against competitors in races. I remember you telling me how you beat John Tarrant (known as the Ghost Runner in South Africa) in the London to Brighton purely by a mental approach.  Do you remember that year and how you did that, especially with Tarrant?

DB:   In the London to Brighton in 1969 John Tarrant led early on and opened a gap approaching a minute. He set a fast pace and I knew that if he was allowed to settle down and relax he could be difficult to catch, so I didn’t let his lead increase. His second (his brother I think) was informing him of his lead, every mile or two and when it wasn’t getting bigger he increased his pace a little. As he went faster so did I, steadily reducing the gap between us until I caught him and tried to pass. I caught him at 20 miles (1 Hour 56mins 21secs).   He speeded up, I dropped behind then tried again and again he wouldn’t let me pass. This happened several times, and eventually we were running side by side for a mile or two until he yielded the lead, fell back and soon dropped out.  A few weeks later he set a new world 100 mile record.

 

 

DJ:    At one time you held both the Up and Down records and you are one of only a handful of runners with 3 consecutive wins. Did you have a preferred run if you had to choose between Up and Down? 

DB:      Perhaps I had a slight preference for the Down Run for the larger crowds towards Durban, but I appreciated the hills on the Up Run as a challenge and opportunity. When Mick Orton left me just after Drummond in 1972 he gained less than six minutes over the second half of the race. A large gap and I was well beaten yet I think few could have limited the lead as much over that distance.

 

 

BAGSHAW 4COMING HOME TO WIN THE 1971 COMRADES

DJ:     Who was your toughest competition in Comrades and I’ve already mentioned people like Mekler, Kuhn, Box, Baker and Davey…..?

DB:     Dave Box was tough and I always knew he was going to be there if I faltered. And of course Mick Orton.  My time in 1972, was the third fastest Up Run but a long way behind him. (Ed. Note:  Dave finished 5 minutes behind Orton that day and the two faster times to which he refers were Orton’s time in 1972 and Dave’s own time in 1970)

 

 

DJ:     You went back to live in the UK before the 1973 Comrades, but if I remember, you did come back to run again. When was that and how seriously did you take any Comrades after moving to the UK?

DB:    I came back in 1975 for the 50th race after doing relatively little training for two years, running a few road relays, the odd marathon, and two Brighton’s finishing third and sixth when untrained for ultras. I was determined to run well, hoped to be competitive and offer a serious challenge.  Things were going well when I ran a 2.26 marathon on a very hilly course.  Shortly after, in April 1975, I had a fall, all my weight on my right knee severely damaging the patella. Treatment five days a week followed, very limited training, and the consultant instructing that I could start but must not take painkillers and to drop out if I suffered much pain. My hopes shattered, I ran, finished in 7.00 in 82nd place and had a different Comrades experience, enjoying the camaraderie, encouragement and support of those not competing for the gold medals.  When I returned with my silver medal, the medics expressed astonishment as they hadn’t expected me to make it beyond three miles.

 

 

DJ:      You are still running albeit a lot slower than your days here.  Have you never really stopped running after leaving South Africa and if not, did you remain competitive when you returned to the UK.

DB       I continued running a little after a long period of recuperation, and turned to canoeing and skiing. In the early 80’s I ran a few half marathons and marathons, two London Marathons, before a knee operation, and the increasing occurrence of my blood disease proved too limiting. I still run, little and slowly, and enjoy a hill session every Saturday with people over forty years younger, doing fewer, slower, shorter reps.

 


DJ:      And finally, I remember a funny story about a fitting for a suit you went to buy after that first Comrades and the tailor suggesting that you should do some exercise to build yourself up because he was having some trouble finding a suit with the right fit.  Tell me about that. 

DB:   The tailor had commented on my slim build and needed to alter the trousers to fit. The conversation went something like this:

            “You should have run the Comrades”

            “I did”            

            “Did you finish?”

            “Yes.”

            “What time did you do.?”  

            “5.45”

            “You must have won” 

            “I did”

He was astonished and embarrassed and I was offered a free tie.

 

That then is Dave Bagshaw, a man I put into my list of really great Comrades runners and incidentally, one of the nicest people you could hope to meet.  The man who wore race number 303 – aren’t those bullets?  The way this man ran Comrades certainly looked like it!

READ DAVE’S RACE REPORT THAT HE WROTE FOR SAVAGES ATHLETIC CLUB AFTER HIS FIRST WIN in 1969.  CLICK HERE.

 

31 May 2019

 

Posted in UNOFFICIAL HISTORY

COMRADES – MODEST TO MEGA

One dictionary definition of the word modest states “Moderate or limited in size” and whilst Comrades had started in 1921 and was very modest, it had many exciting tussles by those runners winning in those early days and we had the first three of the five time winners in Arthur Newton, Hardy Ballington and Wally Hayward all by the early fifties as well as the slowest winning time set by Bill Rowan in 8:59 when he won the first Comrades in 1921.

bill rowan (2)

We’ve seen a couple of very close finishes. Phil Masterton-Smith beat Noel Burree by 2 seconds in 1931 and Manie Kuhn beat Tommy Malone (who had won in 1966), by just one second in 1967. The biggest winning margin was set by Allen Boyce by almost 2 hours in 1940 but it was really only in 1959 that the transformation to what we have today slowly started.

It was in 1959 that entries went to 100 for the first time and spectators at the finish to around 200.  It was also around that time that we started to see spectator interest from parts of South Africa other than the Durban and Pietermaritzburg areas of this “thing” held annually. 

Runners had been travelling to Natal to take part in Comrades from the early days and there had been non Natal winners (Bill Rowan was the first one) but interest was fairly low.  The same spectators in small numbers came out every year to watch what was simply called “The Marathon” by locals.

It was the sixties when the changes really started to happen and by the end of that decade entries were up to 1000 although it was fairly lonely running at times.

COMRADES 1968

I don’t remember exactly where this photograph was taken but it was during my first Comrades in 1968 and not too many other runners around me.

It was also in the sixties that we saw the first foreign runners in the form of a team of four Englishmen running for the Road Runners Club in England up against a South African team.  The fairly small band of Comrades supporters had always regarded Comrades as a South African owned event so it was a major dent to the ego when Englishman John Smith won the race.

JOHN SMITH 1962

He led the rest of his English team to four of them in the top five with Jackie Mekler, the sole South African in the top five. Jackie himself told me years later that he misjudged that race very badly and ran like a novice and by that time he already had a couple of wins to his credit!

It wasn’t until the early seventies that interest from the UK was seen again when a team from Tipton Harriers arrived and against all odds, Mick Orton won the race beating Savages favourite Dave Bagshaw who had won the previous three races.

DAVE BAGSHAW

Bagshaw was a superb runner and his wins in 1969, 1970 and 1971 during which he set a course “record” twice showed just how good a runner he was.

Orton was back again in 1973 to defend his title but failed dismally in his attempt to repeat his win, so Comrades became the property of South Africa again when Dave Levick was first home. Levick, from UCT, was also the first university student to win Comrades.

Orton, incidentally had something like an 11 minute lead going through Pinetown with about 20km left to run. He was caught and passed by Gordon Baker and with just a few Kms left it looked as though Baker was going to get that elusive win. He was in the lead and could virtually “smell” home but it was Levick who came through to win, leaving Gordon Baker with yet another gold medal to his collection. In 9 Comrades, Baker had 8 gold medals but was never able to achieve his dream of a winner’s medal.

Orton, after his 11 minute lead with about 20km to go, finished in 5th place.

The 50th Comrades in 1975 was certainly the year that changed everything.

The first thing that troubled the organisers was whether the “old road” could handle more than 1500 runners. It was (and still is) narrow and with seconds’ vehicles on the road, it was a major problem. Organisers limited the field to 1500 with the requirement that novices had to qualify with a marathon time of 3:30 or better. Interesting that we all thought we would have to qualify in under three and a half hours so most of us ran our best marathons at that time.  I ran my three best times when I thought I would have to qualify in under 3:30.

That wasn’t the only thing that happened in 1975. Organisers approached the SAAAU, the controlling body of athletics in South Africa at the time and after numerous discussions, the powers that be allowed Comrades to be open to all races instead of only white males between 18 and 65 as had been the case previously and also to women.

The one thing very few of us could understand and it still remains a mystery to me, is why black runners were required to wear ethnic tags denoting “Zulu” or “Xhosa”, etc.  An embarrassment to everybody.

Comrades survived the seventies and the second half of the decade saw the race dominated by Alan Robb who was the first person to finish the Down Run in under 5:30.

ALAN ROBB 1978 FINISH

All the while the entries grew and at the end of the seventies the roads really were too busy, but there were no further limit on the number of runners, so only one other thing could be done.

Get rid of vehicles from the road and so we saw the introduction of refreshment stations and after a few years a total ban on motor vehicles except those with special permission to be there such as the media.

By this time TV was becoming firmly entrenched in South Africa and in the second half of the seventies, the SABC staged a race in central Johannesburg that was screened live and the numbers of runners started to explode as the sport sparked the imagination of “ordinary people” who took to the roads. 

Then came the eighties and the Fordyce era and Bruce’s persona did a huge amount to swell the fields even more but as we were still in isolation the runners were all South African.

FORDYCE

The early nineties saw the start of the political change in the country and in 1993, the German runner, Charly Doll took advantage, came to Comrades and won it.  1994 and American, Alberto Salazar did the same thing. 

NICK IN COMRADES

After that for a few years South Africans claimed the race back with wins by Shaun Mieklejohn in 1995 and Charl Matteus in 1997 but then came the late nineties and the wave of runners from Eastern Europe and particularly Russia dominated.

By the time 2000 arrived, Comrades had moved another step forward with the appointment of a woman, the late Alison West as Chairperson and marketing got under way for the 2000 Comrades.  The finish was moved to Scottsville racecourse in Pietermaritzburg to accommodate the numbers expected and numbers there were.  

24,000 people entered “The Millennium Run” and at the same time the time limit for the race was increased to 12 hours to allow as many people as possible to finish and earn that precious medal.  Russia’s Vladimir Kotov won the 2000 event and the Russian dominance continued for years.

The race has continued to grow and for the 2019 race there have been 25,000 entrants. The entries sold out in 6 days, such is the popularity of Comrades now.  The 12 hour time limit has given the “ordinary” runner who could never have dreamt of running and finishing Comrades in the 11 hour time limit as it was previously, the opportunity to be part of it.

I’ve seen all but three Comrades Marathons since 1956 and I have watched the race grow and the changes taking place as we moved into the modern era of online entries, the Expo and highly professional refreshment stations providing virtually anything and everything a runner might want. That’s a far cry from the early days when runners had their own seconds and when those seconds were stuck in traffic jams which has always been the case on Comrades day.

I remember in my first Comrades in 1968, my second arranging to meet me in Westville for my first drink – if he could get there, but if not it would have to be in Pinetown.  20Kms to my first drink but I didn’t think anything of it. That’s the way things were then.

So Comrades has gone from a very modest race in 1921 with just 16 finishers of the 34 who started to what we have today where we expect around 19,000 or even 20,000 to start this year.

We have seen the time for the first Comrades which was a Down Run, won in 8 hours 59 minutes to the fastest time for the Down Run set in 2016 by David Gatebe in 5:18:19 and that’s going to take some beating.

DAVID GATEBE

That’s an indication of the way the race has changed and grown.

The medical facilities at Comrades have gone from none in the early days to the biggest temporary medical facility in the world outside of a war, disaster or conflict zone and with radio contact between ambulances on the road and the finish medical facility. The medical facility at the finish has around 45 Interns, 20 or more medical doctors, over 10 specialists and over 20 nurses working in the tent and that’s apart from the medical staff on the road.

Old Mutual Underprivileged Runners Project 2017

Comrades has certainly gone from “Modest to Mega” but was it better back then when things were a lot more “personal” because of the size of the fields or is it better now?  The answer to that is easy.

Yes it is – and the reason I answer that way is because each Comrades is unique. Each with its own stories of the heroes and heroines who win and the “gladiators” who finish a lot further back.

We look forward eagerly to the 2021 race which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Comrades in 1921, but that’s not the only thing we have to look forward to.  2025 will be the 100th running of this amazing “happening” (the race wasn’t run during the Second World War) that we call the Comrades Marathon. 

A “happening” because for the vast majority of the runners it isn’t a race against anyone else. They race against themselves and the clock and it matters not where anyone else finishes. The average runner leaves the racing to the fantastic runners up at the front. Those who re-write the history books every year.

For the rest of the field, it is an event that is much more than just another road race. In many instances it’s a life changing experience that can’t be explained to anyone who has never run it.

For the last 5 years Comrades has been in the hands of its Race Director Rowyn James who has done a fine job with this very special event.

Photo Rowyn James for souv mag

The advantage that Rowyn has is that he is a 15 time finisher of the race himself and he knows what the runners want from every facet of Comrades.

They train for months and complete hundreds of kilometres in training and in races just so that they can go home with that precious medal.

20151130_163928

That’s the “happening” that’s gone from “Modest to Mega in the last 100 years.

 

 

February 2019

Posted in PERSONAL OPINION

COMRADES – THE GREAT LEVELLER :

A little over 50 years ago, shortly before I ran my first Comrades, I read an article in a Durban newspaper entitled “Comrades – The Great Leveller” and over the years since then, I have often thought about that article as various things have happened during this race.  I have seen race leaders with a substantial lead just 20km from the finish end up just scraping into the gold medals or not finishing at all and I wonder how many people, both runners and spectators have ever thought about the subject of that article?

A couple of years ago, Comrades themselves used the theme “It Will Humble You” and I wrote something at the time in which I expressed my thoughts about how this event can in fact humble one.

I was challenged by someone who said that a road race and especially Comrades, can’t humble anyone but yet the very person who challenged me has been humbled by Comrades and when I sit down and think about it, I know of many more people who have been humbled by Comrades.

I am just one of those who has been humbled by this race on more than one occasion but the biggest lesson I got was in 1976 when I was going for my best time. I had trained for it and I knew I could do it but just a few minutes over 3 hours into the race I ran into trouble in the form of cramp.

Prior to that I had never suffered from cramp (as opposed to sore and stiff muscles) while running and this was my 9th Comrades so there was absolutely no reason for it to have happened that day – but it did and I ended up running just over two hours slower than I had planned, and my second half was slower than the winner that year (it was Alan Robb who won in 5:40:39) took to run the entire race.

ALAN ROBB 1978 FINISH

If that is not being humbled I don’t know what is and I know of many runners who can tell you stories of how they “came undone” in Comrades and ended up either not finishing or having serious problems on the road and finishing a lot slower than they had planned. 

I could rattle off a long list of names but I won’t because it doesn’t take a lot of thought to go back through the history of Comrades and to find many of the people who have suffered the indignity of being humbled by this road race.

Comrades is bigger than any of us when that gun is fired to start the race.

So back to where I started when I said that Comrades can be regarded as the great leveller but what exactly does that mean?

Well, as I see it, and this can be seen almost every year when Comrades organisers take the number of people who have entered and publish the jobs and professions of the runners and how many people fall into each category and you’ll find some of the entrants are company directors or well-known surgeons or some other equally elevated profession many of which come with a reasonably high social status.

At the other end of the scale, you find manual labourers, waiters and, sadly, unemployed people but the big thing is that when that gun fires to start Comrades, every one of those people are equal and their position in life and the amount of money they have and their fame mean absolutely nothing.

On the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the top surgeon in the country, if he’s running, could find himself spending many hours running alongside, talking to and bonding with the lowest paid person in the race and what they are in life and the status they might have means nothing at all. Not a thing and in many cases it’s probably unlikely that they’ll even bother to ask each other about their status in life. They have far more important things to think about on Comrades day.

CAMPERDOWN

They are all exactly the same as they struggle together up the hills in Comrades and as they share their thoughts about the race and stop together at a refreshment station for that well deserved drink.

It doesn’t end there though. It is completely possible that the labourer and his boss could start together but it is also completely possible that the labourer finishes a good few hours ahead of his boss. Whatever position the boss might hold in the company compared to that of the labourer means nothing – absolutely nothing – on that road when Comrades is held.

So basically what I am getting at, is that it matters not what position or so-called social status you may hold in life or how much money you might have in the bank and how fancy a house you might live in and how expensive a car you might drive, all those things mean nothing.  On Comrades day everybody is equal where all your wealth and status, or perceived lack of it, count for nothing. 

All that matters is that you all get to the finish and the fancy house in which you live and the fancy car you drive and your big salary aren’t going to help you to get to the finish ahead of the runner who has none of those things.

Go to the finish or even sit at the side of the road to watch the race and watch the runners and nobody asks them how much or how little they earn when they offer to help each other to reach their goal. Those runners are simply “comrades” together on that day.

Imagine what a wonderful place South Africa would be if everybody in the country behaved towards each other in the same way as they do on Comrades day. 

I don’t think it matters whether you’re a gold medallist or whether you scrape home just before the 12 hour gun, on Comrades day I believe everyone is equal and I think it can best be summed up by Caroline Wostmann who won the women’s race in 2015 and had that awful run in 2016 and although she finished second, something that many people would be happy to do, she said   “When I crossed the finish line I learnt that winning is not about coming first but rather about challenging yourself to the limit, pushing the boundaries and walking away from the experience a better, stronger person.”

Every runner has the same distance to cover, the same hills to climb, the same refreshment stations to use and the same stiff and sore legs.  It matters not one bit who or what you are on Comrades day or what colour skin you might have because every single person in that race (and I’m not talking about athletic ability here) is exactly the same. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that Comrades is the great leveller.

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

RESPECT COMRADES. IT’S FUN BUT NO JOKE :

So your Comrades entry for 2019 is in and you’ve had confirmation from the organisers that they’ve received it – so now what? 

Easy.  All you now have to do is to run a qualifier before the beginning of May and pitch up at the start of Comrades on the 9th of June, but is it really that simple?

With the right approach, I think it is, and I honestly think that the right approach is not hard to achieve.

During the last couple of years I’ve asked myself the question, more than once, whether my relationship with the Comrades Marathon is a passion or an obsession.  I don’t really know what the answer is because the two words are pretty closely related except that one of them conjures up thoughts that are not quite as nice as the other but look at the dictionary and you will find that the word “emotion” features in both definitions so I guess it doesn’t matter too much which it is.

Suffice to say that I have a pretty deep feeling about that strip of tarmac between KZN’s two cities and I am not able to explain it but ridicule the race or don’t treat it with the respect it deserves and I won’t treat you with the sympathy you would perhaps like if you run it and come horribly “unstuck” during the race. This isn’t something new. I’ve felt this way going back as long as I can remember to my very early days to when I first started running Comrades.

Go into Comrades with no respect for the race, come undone and suffer badly and it’s your problem and you’ll get no sympathy from me and I was sitting thinking about the way I feel about people who take part in the race and who, especially in their first run, don’t take it seriously.  It doesn’t often happen to people who have run it more than once. Those people have learnt that Comrades deserves respect and they give it the respect it deserves.

I have often heard novices say they are really scared and my reaction is always that they shouldn’t be scared of Comrades but if they are properly prepared both physically and mentally for Comrades they need to respect it but not fear it. To my mind there’s a very big difference.

I have never feared Comrades but I have certainly respected it.  I have run it 14 times, finished it within the time limit all 14 times and respected it every time and I believe that’s how I was able – even when I suffered badly – to finish the race and to go home with my Comrades medal every time a ran.

Some people regard it as something of a giggle when they enter and right up to the start and even into the race and perhaps even as far as the first 30km or so and until they start to hurt just that little bit when the first of the hills starts to “talk” to them and there is a tiny change of opinion. Comrades has put people into hospital and ICU with such things as renal failure and which sadly in some cases has even claimed the lives of runners who have gone into Comrades perhaps not as prepared as they should be because they think they know better.

In days gone by when we were asked where Comrades started the answer was always “at the 60km mark because anyone can run that. It’s the rest of it that’s the problem” and that’s always been and still is the case.  I was driving between Durban and Pietermaritzburg recently and when I got to Cato Ridge I had visions of my own Comrades days of getting there and remembering what it felt like to be there and that sometimes that feeling of despair knowing there was still over 25km to go and that I was tired but at the same time I was fit and had trained for this.

I heard recently about one entrant who had a longest run of a qualifying marathon in a time of around 4:14 which she considered made her a fast runner and as a result she intended starting Comrades fairly fast. She had no intention of studying the route or listening to anyone talking about the dangers of the first 25km of the Up Run or the first 20km of the Down Run because she felt she didn’t need to do this.  She also saw no need to run any other long runs in preparation for Comrades. She had done a 42Km run and done it quickly!   Somebody should have mentioned to her that a 4:14 marathon isn’t exactly quick and that it’s pretty average and slightly slower that 6 minutes per km!

Unless she is Supergirl in disguise, that particular lady was going to be in for a very long and painful day on Comrades day if she is able to make it past the 60km mark which seemed doubtful.  I had a problem feeling sorry for her. That sort of arrogance didn’t deserve any sort of sympathy.  The problem however is that she could have become a negative statistic that Comrades really doesn’t need. I have no idea whether she finished that year or not.

I have often heard people say “If Comrades was easy then everyone would do it” but not everyone does it because it’s not easy.  Speak to cyclists and many will tell you that they stick to cycling because it’s easier than running.  I am an avid Twitter follower and there was a Tweet I really enjoyed by someone I don’t know that appeared that read

“Running is stupidly hard.  It’s worth doing once in a while to remind oneself how good an idea the bicycle is”

He said it – not me!

I know one young lady who, a couple of years ago claimed to be very fit and I think she was, so she entered for, and completed, the Iron Man in Port Elizabeth.   I’m told that this event is very tough and you are quite something if you can complete it.

About six weeks later she took part in Comrades. She ended up in ICU in hospital for 4 days with renal failure.  No problem with Iron Man. Comrades put her into ICU.

Comrades is not a joke and it should never be treated as a joke.  I have seen some very sick people at the finish of Comrades.

The Comrades doctor told me that the majority of the people treated in the medical tent at the finish of the race suffer from exhaustion as a result of under training yet we see runners year after year treating this race as something of a joke.

 

The wakeup call on Comrades day I would imagine, is when you realise that after your qualifier distance, you are only at around half way, and you have the same distance to do again and then a little bit more all on the same day.  Sure you need to be mentally strong but if you are physically weak for distance running from not training properly, then your mental strength has nothing with which to work.

In 2016, the Comrades banner was “Comrades – It Will Humble You” and there are thousands of us who have been humbled by this race and who have prepared properly and it’s still happened.

I clearly remember the 1976 Comrades and I was probably fitter than I had ever been.  I had run my best ever in 1975 and I was aiming to do even better in 1976. It was a Down Run and I was on schedule at Cato Ridge at around the 30km mark but by the far end of Harrison Flats, just a few kilometres further I felt a niggle in the muscle at the top of my right knee that definitely shouldn’t have been there.

I wasn’t too worried about it, but by the time I got to Drummond I had decided to adjust my finish time by an hour that would still give me a comfortable 9 hours although the muscle was getting worse.

Alan Robb won his first Comrades that year and I ran the second half quite a bit slower than Alan had run the entire race because of that muscle at the top of my knee and that in the year I was aiming for my best ever Comrades.

I understand fully what the 2016 Comrades banner read “Comrades – It Will Humble You”.  It certainly humbled me in 1976.  I was over two hours slower than the time I knew I could run and the time I had set out to run all because of a muscle at the top of my knee.

The question I ask myself then is how am I supposed to feel about these people who have no respect for this thing which is something that for me is such a passion and for which I and so many others who have run that road many times have such respect?

If you’re reading this and you’re going to be running your first Comrades this year and fear is starting to build up as you read, please don’t let fear be there. I have said to many runners and particularly to many novice runners that they shouldn’t fear Comrades but they should certainly respect it.  That they should respect it whether it’s their first Comrades, their 10th Comrades or their 20th.

I have taken people to see Comrades as spectators.  People who have never seen the race before and the reaction has been amazing but usually along the lines of “how do they do it”?

It doesn’t matter how many times one has run it, one should always respect it because Comrades is bigger than any of us and it deserves our respect.

 

November 2018