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

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

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

cheryl winn head & shoulders

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

1978 4th 9:09

1979 DNF

1980 2nd

1981 2nd

1982 1st

1983 4th

1984 5th


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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DJ:      And the most stress?

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


DJ:      I certainly agree with that comment about Bruce.

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

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


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

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


November 2017



I have written this description of the Down Run route as I have seen it after having been done from many years of running the Down Run and also having trained on the course of the Down Run over many years.  The only section which is new to me is the last section from Tollgate to the Moses Mabida Stadium which was run for the first time in 2018.

I have tried to keep the distances as close as possible to official race distances but with ever changing road conditions this is almost impossible but the distances I have shown are very close to the actual official distances and are certainly close enough to enable any reasonably trained runner to complete the race comfortably.


There’s a change to the way you leave Pietermaritzburg this year and this came about in 2018 and you’ll be reverting to the route that runners in the 60’s used to leave at the start of the Down Run.

From the start at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall it’s along Chief Albert Luthuli Street towards Durban then along Alan Paton Avenue where you run past the university and then contraflow onto the N3 national freeway.  From there, you will glide off right onto the Market Road on ramp and then left onto the slip road to CB Downes Road and then follow the traditional Comrades route towards Polly Shortts and onwards to Durban.

Climb fairly gently from the start out of Pietermaritzburg



In the dark although there are street lights. Everybody around you is fired up with adrenalin and the excitement of finally getting to Comrades.

The race leaders start far too fast and as a result pull the entire field with them starting too fast



Steep downhill


Usually totally dark and huge numbers of runners. Many removing the black plastic bags they were wearing for warmth at the start (not actually allowed as these have been banned by the organisers) and discarding them in the road. Danger of tripping.

At the bottom of Polly’s there are speed bumps and the danger of tripping.


BOTTOM OF POLLYS TO UMLAAS ROAD (Highest point between Pmb & Dbn) (About 12kms)

Gentle climb of about 1km from bottom of Polly’s to Ashburton Store.

Then down “Little Polly’s” to the “Tumble Inn”. I remember in days gone by it wasn’t unusual to find locals who had dragged a doubled bed out to the edge of the road to cheer the runners from the comfort of their bed whilst sipping champagne but snuggled up in bed.

From Tumble Inn bridge steady climb all the way to Umlaas Road. The worst part the last 1km before crossing under the Highway at the Lion Park turnoff. After the bridge a gentle climb to Umlaas Road.


Still fairly dark over the entire stretch to the bridge under the Highway. This is where you USUALLY cross the first timing mat and get to the first cut off point so it’s also once you have crossed the first timing mat that family and friends can start tracking you from the Comrades app.

Once again the dark and adrenalin of the runners causes running too fast on the climb from Tumble Inn



Fairly gentle with a nasty but short hill not long after leaving Umlaas Road as you go under the highway.

The first of the fairly big crowds of spectators at Camperdown. Usually a number of toilets available.


Nothing of any consequence other than the nasty little climb mentioned above.




After leaving Camperdown with a very slight and hardly noticeable climb of about 400m there is a dip and then a short but fairly steep climb to a sharp right turn across the bridge that crosses the N3

After the bridge a gentle run alongside the N3 to Cato Ridge. Through the village under the N3 again and a right turn and in this area is the second cut off point.


Potholes coming into Cato Ridge and not seeing them and stepping into one could badly twist an ankle and there are also a speed bump or two.



Climb out of Cato Ridge on a deceptively long although not too steep section. This takes you onto the start of “Harrison Flats” that really is flat until you reach a downhill that takes you to the Inchanga Caravan Park.


Nothing but Harrison Flats is pretty boring and the first time you ask yourself what you’re doing here!  Reassure yourself that you are not that far from Drummond and half way!



A gentle downhill from the caravan park to the bottom of Inchanga. You will recognise the start of Inchanga by a small store on the left of the road with a view of the Valley of 1000 Hills


First bit of tiredness creeping in. Pretending to stop and look at the scenery. Don’t stop to admire the Valley of 1000 Hills! If you travelled the route in the days before the race it hasn’t changed!    And if you haven’t seen it already – here it is so you don’t have to stop to look at it again!



INCHANGA (About 1.5kms)

The first of the really big hills on the Down Run. Two ways to handle the hill. Either get behind a runner of your speed and watch his/her heels whilst they pull you up to the top of Inchanga.

If there is no runner at your speed around you, you can walk 200 paces and run 100 paces and continue on that basis until you reach the top.


Many of the runners around you will be walking aimlessly towards the top. Control your climb up Inchanga and anywhere else you walk and you won’t lose time. It is very easy to be hooked into the aimless walking where runners are together and talking negatively about how stupid they are. In most cases these are the same runners who were carried away in the first 20kms.



Down Inchanga and into Drummond and the official half way lies ahead. Not long after the start of the run down Inchanga you see Drummond. When you reach the bottom of Inchanga the road levels out for a very short while and then you climb up to the official half way.



The most dangerous part of running down Inchanga is the desire to go too fast to get to half way.  Remember that you already have a full marathon in your legs and you don’t want to punish them more than is necessary.

Big crowds are usually in Drummond and as the climb to the half way starts, ignore them.  Head down and find a pair of shoes in front of you to study. One of the biggest dangers here is the desire (tiring legs) to soak up the atmosphere and walk or even stop for a while.



As you leave Drummond you climb a hill that has no real name although many runners have given it a name that can’t be used in polite company!  It’s nasty. It’s really nasty. There is simply no other way to describe it.  Be careful of it as very few people even talk about it. At the top of that climb is Arthur’s Seat and legend has it that Arthur Newton (5 times winner in the twenties) sits in that seat every year on Comrades Day. Here is your opportunity to stop for about a minute to put some flowers you have picked onto Arthur’s Seat and give him a hearty “Morning Arthur” and legend continues that if you do that Arthur will look after you to the finish.


A short “dip” brings you to the Wall of Honour where runners’ names are erected giving the names and race numbers of Comrades runners both past and present, many of whom have gone to that great ultra-marathon in the sky. Don’t stop to read the names on the Wall of Honour. That is just an excuse to waste time.


After the Wall of Honour a flat stretch takes you to the bottom of Alverston Hill.


Without doubt it’s the climb out of Drummond. As I said above – IT’S NASTY. The only other minor danger is spending too much time greeting Arthur or stopping to take in the splendour of the Valley of 1000 Hills. Now is not the time for scenery.


ALVERSTON (About 1km)

Alverston is not actually as bad as people make it out to be.  As you start Alverston, there is a little climb, a slight level and then another little climb to the first corner. After that first right hand turn there’s a steady climb to the top. If it’s too tough to run the whole way do the run and walk to the top. Remember 200 paces run and then 100 paces walk and repeat to the top.


If you take care of that first 200 metres or so the hill is yours. Go at it too hard you are in trouble.



From the top of Alverston all the way through the village of Botha’s Hill it’s fairly undulating.   Not far after the top of Alverston you will see “Phezulu”, a well-known tourist attraction, on your left. About 1km after that is a little climb – again with no name – that wouldn’t be too bad if you didn’t have about 50kms in your legs. After that it’s a gentle downhill to the bottom of Botha’s Hill.


Nothing except that little climb after Phezulu


BOTHA’S HILL (About 1km)

The next real climb on the Down Run. Not that long but your legs are starting to get tired and you may need to do the “walk & run”.


Nothing other than the hill itself and the pretence that you need to stop and gaze over the Valley of 1000 Hills towards Inanda Dam.  You DON’T need to do that!




Fairly steep downhill for about 2kms. Just after the top look out for the pupils from Kearsney College sitting cheering runners. They’re there every year.


Temptation to run too fast down Botha’s can cause trouble further on. In fact too fast down any hill to the finish can generally cause damage to your legs from here on.



When you get to the bottom of Botha’s Hill you will see some shops on your right and you are on a gentle down road – then you hit it!!!!!       It has no name and has been called many not too pleasant names. Nasty nasty climb into Hillcrest. Not too long though.



That little hill with no name into Hillcrest really is very nasty so be careful of it. It’s probably a walk and run hill.



All the way from Hillcrest to Kloof is fairly easy and gentle and almost all slightly downhill although not really noticeable. As you go through Kloof there are lots and lots of spectators who have been there all day. They cheered the leaders and they’ll cheer you. Enjoy the vibe.




KLOOF TO PINETOWN (About 2.5kms)

Kloof behind you and you have 2.5kms down Fields Hill to Pinetown. In the distance you will get your first distant view of Durban and that’s a great encouragement.


You will find runners walking down Fields Hill. Again these are the runners who started too fast. Of course your legs are sore. They are supposed to be. You have done just over 60kms.  Be careful not to run too fast down Field’s Hill. If you looked after the way you started, your legs will be just fine.



Bottom of Field’s Hill and you are into Pinetown and all the way to the bottom of Cowies Hill just three little “bumps” to worry about. The first as you come off Field’s Hill over a rail bridge. The second as you climb up a little rise to the “cross roads” in the centre of Pinetown and the third half way along Josiah Gumede Road (previously the Old Main Road) under a subway. Only about 100metres.




COWIES HILL (About 2kms)

At the end of Josiah Gumede Road (previously the Old Main Road) you meet Cowies Hill. Another of the big climbs. Nothing much you can do but it’s not much more than 2km long. Walk and run may be needed. At the top of Cowies, a good view over Pinetown. Don’t stop to look at it. Then it’s down the Durban side of Cowies Hill and virtually into Westville. Bottom of Cowies Hill and you have 15kms to go.

Now for the first time you can start using the distance marker boards. Count them down from 15kms to the finish.


Just Cowies but once again protect those legs by not running too fast on the downhill side of the hill.

cowies hill



You are now onto what used to be the main highway to Durban before the “bypass” was built. Just after the shops in Westville, there is a nasty climb (no name) of about nearly 2kms and then after that it is all virtually downhill until you get to 45th Cutting. The climb up 45th Cutting is fairly tough and may need to be “walk and run”



The climb from Westville on the M13 up 45th Cutting.



The climb to the top of 45th Cutting is tough because your legs are seriously tired now and it’s your head that’s doing all the work from here to get you home.  After you get to the top of 45th Cutting it’s downhill until the highway. A nasty little climb of a couple of hundred metres takes you onto the highway and a gentle downhill until you climb up to go under the Tollgate Bridge. The climb to go under Tollgate Bridge is not long but your legs are tired.





You follow the N3 under the Tollgate Bridge an then take the new fly-over into David Webster Street (M13 to the M4)  which becomes Bram Fischer Road. From there, you turn left into Samora Machel Road and past the old finish venue at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium then on to until that road becomes Masabalala Yengwa Avenue.

You then run contraflow in Masabalala Yengwa Avenue and cross to the north bound lane at Battery Beach Road. You then take the pathway to the left between the bollards, pass the Virgin Active Gym and turn left into the tunnel before Nino’s and onto the field to the Finish Line at the Moses Mabida Stadium and it’s all over!


One of the main reasons for the move to the Moses Mabida Stadium was to align with the requirements of the Events Act as per the Safety at Sports and Recreational Events Act 2010.

Total distance of the Down Run Comrades Marathon is 90,184km.  It’s almost exactly the same as the 2018 Down Run that used the Moses Mabida Stadium as the finish for the first time.


December 2019





What exactly is the Comrades Marathon?  No! I’m not talking about the foot race that Vic Clapham battled against the odds and the authorities to get going in 1921 and at which 34 people eventually lined up and 16 finished on that morning in May 1921.

I’m not talking about the race where a bunch of very fast runners take off from the start once a year to try to get to the finish just short of 90km away in as fast a time as possible.

I’m talking about the real Comrades Marathon.  That special something that has happened for 92 years since 1921 and has attracted thousands of people who come and run either from Durban to Pietermaritzburg or from Pietermaritzburg to Durban depending on the direction the race is being held that particular year.

I’m not only talking about the thousands of people who take part in the challenge the race offers to those who take part in this extraordinary footrace that has been called the “Ultimate Human Race” but those countless thousands who line the route year after year to watch the race so that they can simply say “I watched Comrades again this year” or “I haven’t missed Comrades on TV for the last 20 years” or however long it has been.

In my own case I have been at 59 Comrades Marathons, my first as a boy of 9 at the side of the road in Pinetown for the 1956 race when Gerald Walsh was the winner and there were under 100 runners and with the exception of just three races, I have been at every Comrades since then.  People have long since stopped asking me “Why?” and instead it’s not even a question any longer but instead a statement “I guess you’ll be at Comrades again this year” because they don’t have to ask.  They just know!

Why is it?  It’s a question that I’m not able to answer.  What was it that attracted me to Comrades in 1956 and kept pulling me back year after year until I ran my first one in 1968 and then after I have run my 10 had me going back for more and more and still more as a radio journalist, the stadium announcer and eventually back to where it all started – as a spectator.  Then not satisfied with that I started writing about it in this blog.

I look at the new runners and it makes me extremely pleased to see so many who are taking up the challenge that my beloved strip of tarmac between Durban and Pietermaritzburg has to offer. 

A lot of the older runners will say that it’s a lot easier now that there is a 12 hour time limit but there are still 90 odd kilometres that have to be covered and that is still a long way and the fact that the organisers have given 12 hours now gives more people the chance to do the Ultimate Human Race who might not otherwise have done it and that’s a very good thing I would have thought.

There’s nothing in the rule book after all that says a runner has to use the full 12 hours.  You can still set your own target of whatever time you want and if I were still able to run (which sadly I’m not) I would certainly be doing that and looking to be running the times I was running back then – not that my aged knees would allow it but one can dream can’t one?

When I ran my first one and right now that’s the one I want to talk about, I had 11 hours in which to finish it but whether it was the 11 hour time limit as it was then or whether it had been the 12 hour limit as it is now I don’t think it would really have mattered. 

I wanted that medal and I wanted it so badly. I wanted to add my name to those others whose names were there whether they had been amongst the winners like Newton or Hayward, Ballington, Mekler, and Walsh and I knew I had no chance of being amongst them in terms of the times I could run but that didn’t matter or whether my name would be amongst the others whose names were not as well known but were there, listed as finishers and who would be known to only their families and friends but who would be there as a Comrades finisher, I wanted desperately to be one of them. One of those who would be a hero to me.

That is what so many over the years have wanted and that is what so many still want and what the organisers, by extending the time limit, have given to so many more who might not otherwise have been able to experience this.

So you have 12 hours to make this dream come true of running in the Comrades and becoming a finisher and achieving your own personal goal.  It’s only the top few who are in a race. The rest of us are out there on Comrades day taking part in a glorious “happening” that nobody can fully explain in full no matter how hard we try.

You simply can’t explain to anyone why you would want to spend months preparing to spend a full day travelling on foot over very nearly 90km when you know that you are going to be sore and in fact very sore at the end of it and in return you are going to be presented with a very small medal as a material reward. 

What you can’t explain to a person who has never run Comrades is the reward you get in the way of the massive sense of achievement when you finish Comrades and it’s a feeling that never leaves you and a feeling that nobody can ever take away from you. A feeling that stays with you for the rest of your days.

There are just those of us who run Comrades but there is another group who is equally captivated by “The Ultimate Human Race”

That group who get up when it’s still dark and who go out just to watch the race.  Their skottles at the ready to make breakfast and to enjoy themselves at the side of the road. In my running days I simply couldn’t understand these people and why they would want to do this to watch a bunch of people they don’t know running past. 

Then as the years went by and I became a spectator again, I became one of those “breakfast at the side of the road on Comrades morning” people and it’s wonderful.  It just grabs you and you are drawn into the spirit of it all and you find yourself shouting encouragement at people you have never seen before and might never see again and you look at South Africa and what it’s really all about and you wish that all our politicians could be with you to see it too instead of sitting stirring it up in their plush offices that we have paid for with our hard earned taxes.

I witnessed something I haven’t seen for many years at Comrades this year and that was the mother and father of all traffic jams on the N3.  I had forgotten exactly the impact that Comrades spectators have on traffic.  Three lanes of traffic in the direction towards Pietermaritzburg going nowhere!  At a complete standstill and nobody seemed to be getting upset about it!  After all it was Comrades Day!

There is no doubt that Comrades is something very, very special but there is something missing from the lives of many of the newer runners.  Many have very little knowledge of the history of the race.

Comrades has an amazing history and runners really need to know as much as they can about the race.  I see runners struggling to get that prized Bill Rowan Medal yet many have no idea who Bill Rowan was and why the Bill Rowan Medal is awarded if a runner breaks 9 hours!  These are the sorts of things that complete the pride you might feel in having won that Bill Rowan Medal.  I twice ran a time that would have earned me a Bill Rowan Medal but both before the introduction of the medal.  How I wish I could have had those Bill Rowan medals in my collection knowing that symbolically I could have won the first Comrades on two occasions!  That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say learn about the history of the race.

And that’s just one tiny little piece of it. There’s so much more.

When you are out there on Comrades Day, whether as a runner or as a spectator or one of the many helpers who gives so freely of his or her time you need to be aware that you are part of something that is really very special.

Comrades is not just another road race on the calendar!

July 2017



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

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

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

Piet Vorster 20170615_165606

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

win (1)

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


Account Number: 270629130

Standard Bank of SA Ltd

Rondebosch Branch Code: 025009

Ref : Piet Vorster – Comrades Marathon

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

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

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


June 2017




This blog was written from my own experience as a finisher in Comrades in times between 8:29 and 10:43 in a collection of runs over 14 years.  What I am saying here has certainly worked for me to get me home in that time range and without any great degree of discomfort.

In saying that Comrades is 90% from the neck up I am assuming that the reader who is running Comrades has trained physically and properly and has taught his or her legs how to run at least 60Kms on at least one but preferably two or even more occasions in the four month build up to Comrades. If the Comrades runner who is the reader of this blog has done that, then Comrades generally becomes 10% physical provided he or she doesn’t go into Comrades either sick or injured.

I had a chat to 2016 women’s winner, Charne Bosman, who agrees with me that the mental side of things is massive and is certainly as high as 80% to 90% come Comrades day, again provided you have done the physical training and you are not sick.


I also asked my good friend and winner of the 1966 Comrades, Tommy Malone what he thought about the importance of the mental preparation is for Comrades and his answer was simple. He said

“A strong mind can carry a weak body but a weak mind gets you nowhere”


So having spoken to both Charne and Tommy I want to talk to readers about the mental training that needs to be done from now – the middle of April – up to Comrades in preparation for the big day – the part of your Comrades that happens from the neck up!

Your mental training is not something that is done over a period of one day.  It is something you need to do for the better part of the remaining time from now until race day.  It’s that important.  Many of your top runners are getting assistance from sports psychologists so important do they regard the mental side of things and those top runners are not only your potential winners so that makes you stop and think!

When I was preparing for my first Comrades way back in the dark ages under the watchful eye of that wonderful old man, the late Ian Jardine, he told me that 90% of my Comrades was going to be from the neck up and that if my legs could run 60km they could run 90km and that the rest was going to be up to my head to get me through. I believed him and I worked towards Comrades on that basis every time I ran.

I have been blessed by having always been very strong mentally when it came to Comrades day and never once did I ever give thought to stopping during the race or not finishing even on the three occasions when I was taking a bit of strain.  It was my mental strength that carried me through on those runs.

So let’s get onto this mental thing I’m talking about and it starts quite a while before Comrades day I discovered.

Very recently, and remember that I last ran Comrades exactly 30 years ago in 1987, I woke up for some reason at around 5am and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was pitch dark outside and I started thinking back to those far off days when I was training for Comrades and here we are in mid-April, the most important of all months for Comrades training.

About 6 or so weeks of serious training to go and at 5 in the morning the alarm goes off and it’s time to get up and get out onto the road on a weekday to do that run. It’s cold if you live in places like Pietermaritzburg or Gauteng. It’s still dark and very often those weekday runs are done alone and you have just about had enough – but you are too far in to call it a day and pull out of the whole thing. Too fit to give up now but yet you still have around six more weeks of this to go.

The weekends are not the problem whether you are doing a long run with your mates or an organised club run or race. That’s different. It’s those mid-week runs. Can’t not do them. They are simply too important to miss and if you’re amongst the working class it’s a 5am start to get onto the road.

This is where the head has to begin to do its work and we are still the better part of 6 weeks of serious training away from Comrades! It would be so easy to just turn over and sleep for another hour, especially if you are not meeting anybody to run with but you know deep down that if you do that today, it could happen tomorrow and if it happens again tomorrow it could also happen the next day and the next and all the work you have put in since January will slowly start to disappear out the window so after this argument with yourself you get up, get dressed and get out onto the road into the dark and cold.

Once out on the road the guilt hits you big time that you almost cheated yourself out of your run this morning and so this internal war rages on for the last 6 or so weeks on those cold dark mornings when, all alone, you force yourself to get out there.

So now you’ve in all likelihood taught your legs to run at least 50 plus kms so come Comrades day and by fighting yourself to get out of bed on those cold dark mornings you have also started to sort out the mental side of things – but it doesn’t end there. In fact that’s just the beginning.

Those fortunate folk who live in and around Durban and Pietermaritzburg or anywhere in between will almost certainly have done some training on the route but if you are from anywhere else and you are perhaps one of the huge number of novices this year who have never even seen the route you need to start doing some more training of that part of you that makes up the 90% required on Comrades day to carry you through and you need to start that training NOW!

But how do you do that? You start by studying the route. Over and over. Get to know the landmarks. Get to know the various points where you need to be at what times and get to know them well and break up your race according to those landmarks so that your head can handle chunks of distances you have run before. With this, Comrades has actually helped you and most people haven’t even realised it.

In all my Comrades I never ran more than about 20Km at any one time. I never concerned myself with anything beyond the 20Km with which I was busy at any one time and when I had completed that bit, it was gone forever and I didn’t worry about it again. I then focused on the next “chunk” however long it might have been, but it too, was never very long.

In other words your first “chunk” can be to the first cut off point in Pinetown and Comrades have kindly told you what the latest time is you have to be there. Don’t worry about running time. Worry about what time of day it must be.

You have to be there at 10 past 8 at the latest and it’s about 19Km. You’ve run that distance in 2:40 before and probably many times so that’s not a problem so train your brain to understand that it’s the longest run of the day and even if it takes you 9 minutes to get across the start line it’s not a problem.

If you have done your homework properly you will know that it’s about 19Km to the first cut off and that’s all. You shouldn’t be worrying about it on the day. All you need to worry about is where that point is and what time of day you need to be there. When you get there forget about what you’ve done and focus on your next run.  Pinetown to Winston Park.  That’s not far either.  Don’t worry about anything else.  When people around you are talking about Inchanga and Polly’s – let them but don’t join the conversation.  It has nothing to do with you.  It isn’t part of your run from Pinetown to Winston Park.  Field’s Hill is at that time.

See how much of this is from the neck up?   If you don’t get this right that 9 minutes to get across the start line is going to be playing on your mind all of the 87Km that you shouldn’t be thinking about anyway!

Don’t whatever you do, stand at the start in Durban and think to yourself that you have 87Km to cover. That will just do your head in.  It’s more than the best of us can handle!

And remember that Comrades have kindly stuck up huge boards telling you where the cut offs are and you can get those off their website and that’s what you spend the day doing.  Here’s an example of what the boards look like.


Run a collection of 7 short runs (not races) from cut off to cut off for the day. You simply have to train your brain to know where they are and to recognise them and to know when you have to be there.

What you’ll probably find when you do your schedule (or pacing chart as some prefer to call it) and use it and no other because you have done it to suit you and give yourself a 15 minute time range to get to each cut off point. In other words say that you want to be at the first one between that time and that time (those times 15 minutes apart).

Remember it’s time of day and not overall running time that interests you.  The reason for that is that you don’t want to have to start adding and subtracting when you are starting to get tired later on.  The number of people I see wearing watches that can almost make scrambled eggs on toast is mind blowing. What for?

By the time you have done the better part of 65Km you need everything your brain has to offer to help you to get to the end and not to start trying to work out how many minutes per Km you did for the last 7.2753Kms!  Who cares?  I promise you that by the time you get to 65Km you are certainly not going to care.

So how do you learn where these landmarks are?  Simple.  Comrades tell you firstly on their website where they are and then “on the day” they put up huge big boards that you can’t miss so you know that you are at the end of one little run and time to start your next little run and time to forget about everything you have already done.

Go to my blog entitled “Up Run Route Description” and it’s all there in as much detail as I have been able to provide as well as any known dangers for the section you are looking at.  Incidentally Comrades are going to be publishing my route description in the Comrades brochure you get at Comrades Expo and which has been endorsed by 4 time winner Alan Robb.  Unfortunately for those who don’t see this blog it’s going to be a little like cramming for the finals but you have an advantage. Use it and your day will be a lot easier.

So there you have it.  The work between now and Comrades is to “train the brain” to get it to do 90% of the work on Comrades day.

Fight it when it tells you to ignore the alarm on those cold dark mornings.  Those runs have to be done no matter how hard they might be to do.  You have put in the work since January to get to where you are now. Don’t waste it now.

Study the route over and over and find out where the cut off points are and how far it is between them and at what time (time of day) you have to be there. You’ll thank me for this after the race when you realise you didn’t have to try to work out Kms per minute.

Then go out and enjoy the fact that you only have to run about 7 little runs during the day and that the longest is just under 20Km and the shortest is shorter than your average club time trial.

Now how easy is that, but you have to do the mental training and you have to start doing it now!


April 2017




I suppose with the title of this blog I’ll have coaches up and down the country in a terrible state wondering what exactly I’m trying to do by getting into their territory but they needn’t worry at all because I’ve said before, I am not a coach so I won’t say anything about coaching other than just one thing and it’s this. When you decide on a coach, and it doesn’t matter who it is, please stick with the training program offered by that coach and don’t whatever you do jump around from coach to coach because that is a recipe for disaster and probable failure come the big day.

What I’m wanting to do in this blog is to give a few little tips that helped me on the day and leading up to the day when I was running and had nothing at all to do with the way I trained and if you think they may have some merit, please feel free to try them but please do so well before Comrades – as in two months before Comrades – and if they work for you keep doing them until they become part of your normal routine.

Some of them you can only do a day or so before Comrades as in my first suggestion so let’s see what we have.

My thanks to Comrades Marathon for the use of the photographs taken from the Comrades website and as always for their help with my blogs.


Before we even get to the start line, we have to go to Expo. This is basically a no option exercise if we are registered to collect our numbers in Durban. It’s exciting with an amazing atmosphere and you can feel and smell Comrades. There are things to see. People to meet. Celebs to bump into and a massive number of products that the manufacturers will tell you will help you get to the finish easier.


Don’t be tempted. Your main purpose for going to Expo is to get your registration done and to have a quick walk around (try to make it a maximum of an hour) and a quick look and to get out of there and to get off your feet and to go and rest.


You don’t want to try anything you have never tried before. The last new thing you tried should have been at least six weeks before Comrades.

Other runners will tell you about “magic potions” they have discovered a week or so before the race that are “guaranteed to get you to the finish at least an hour faster than you planned. THEY WON’T – SO DON’T TRY THEM.

You don’t want to try any new magic “muti” that is on offer at Expo. By all means take them and use them in your training for NEXT year but not for this year. Don’t buy new shoes at Expo and wear them the next day at Comrades. People do this believe it or not. You should know by mid-April which shoes (and any other clothes) you’ll be wearing on the big day.


Finally the big day arrives, you get to the start and you are convinced that you are the only person there who hasn’t done enough training. Every other runner is so incredibly confident. Jumping around shouting to their mates, singing, dancing and generally having a great time.

Eventually the cock crow and the gun and you slowly start to move forward and you look at your watch and by the time you cross the start line it’s already 7 minutes since the gun fired. Got to make that up – and fast. Everybody around you is taking off like a bullet to do the same.

DON’T DO IT. You’ll make up that 7 minutes easily and long before you get to half way and those who tear off will be broken before they reach halfway.


They forget that the first 25km is tough. It’s very, very tough. You climb out of Durban in a steady climb all the way to Kloof which is at the top of Field’s Hill just the other side of Pinetown and many of those who tried to make up those 7 minutes will be broken by the time they get there.

Not you though. You left the start at the nice gentle pace without any panic because you knew exactly what you have to do because you’re only running 20km anyway and you’ve done that plenty of times before.


It’s crucial that you study the route and get to know it really well and then break it up into chunks of no more than say, the first 20km from the start and then after that 10km chunks to the top of Polly’s and then the last bit of only 7Km.

Then learn where those landmarks are so that on race day you know that the first 20km is not an issue because you’ve done that dozens of times. When you get there, then chuck that away. It’s done. It’s gone. The next 10km is all you have to worry about. Nothing beyond that. You can run that. You have done it plenty of times. You can do it so why not today?

Forget about trying to work them out from your watch. By 2pm that’ll do your head in but landmarks won’t. Oh, here’s Umlaas Road. I recognize that. It’s the highest point between Durban and ‘Maritzburg and it’s only 2 o’clock – cool!

Don’t even worry about anything beyond that. When you get there, throw that away and then the next 10km and so you go and you don’t run anything further than that first 20km during the entire day and how many times have you run 20km in training?



Virtually everyone in Comrades walks during the course of the day but the secret is not whether you walk or when you walk but HOW you walk. Make no mistake, Comrades is a hard day’s work (with apologies to the Beatles) and you will be very tired and you will be very sore and if you are frightened of being either sore or tired then it’s perhaps best if you don’t bother.

That said if you accept that you are going to be tired and sore then you may as well go the “whole hog” and work really hard. In other words when you walk, don’t aimlessly saunter along the road. That wastes very valuable time. Walk with purpose and determination and hurt properly.

Of course it’ll hurt to do that – but it’ll also save you the better part of 30 minutes or even more. Walk like that on hills, through refreshment stations and in fact anywhere you have to walk.

There comes a point where you can’t hurt any worse!

This is part of the mental part of Comrades and remember that 90% of Comrades is mental work. This is the mental work they talk about!


I have often been criticized for telling people to take their drinks at a refreshment station and keep walking and don’t waste time by stopping to drink. I am told that the drink – especially if it is in a paper cup will splash up your nose if you try and drink whilst running.


Not if you drink it through a straw it won’t. I used to carry a 15cm plastic tube held under my watch strap at one end and by an elastic band at the other end. Get to a refreshment station, pick up the drinking cup, squeeze the top almost shut, insert your drinking tube and drink while running! NO splash back up your nose and probably about a minute saved. Only a minute! Yes but a minute at 20 refreshment stations is 20 minutes at the end!


I have spent the last several Comrades as a spectator at the side of the road at Botha’s Hill which is more or less the 39km mark on the Up Run and more or less the 50km mark on the Down Run and I am amazed by how many runners are in need of something to stop chafing when they get to us whether it’s Up or Down and it really is so easy to stop and you don’t want to be trying to stop the chafing once it’s already started.

Firstly let me say that in this case I am speaking to the men as I have no experience at all in stopping chafing for women runners.

Men generally chafe in three places. The back of the armpits, the nipples and the crotch.

Ordinary Vaseline applied generously to the armpits and crotch before the start takes care of those two areas and what I found worked very well for the nipples was waterproof plaster cut into a small piece the size of the nipple and applied to the nipple. Be careful not to get it onto the skin around the nipple as the sweat will cause the plaster to come off.

That takes care of the chafing even in the rain.

A lot of runners these days are wearing cycling type pants under their running shorts to stop chafing but I am not able to comment on whether that works or not as I have never used them.

Strangely though, as soon as I started wearing a T shirt under my vest the chafing at the back of my armpits stopped.


There are hills in Comrades. In fact there are quite a lot of them. Some of them have names and some of them don’t but whether they have names or whether they don’t on the 4th of June you are going to have to have to get up all those hills and you are going to possibly do a fair amount of walking as you go up those hills. Remember what I said about managing your walking as you climb those hills and it will make life very much easier but many years ago as I was getting ready for my first Comrades, I was approaching a hill and a seasoned runner said to me “Take care of the bottom of a hill and the top will take care of itself”


I have never forgotten those words and it is the way I climbed every hill in every Comrades and every other run and race I ever ran after that. It’s a simple statement.

Think about it. It really does work and it works well.

“Take care of the bottom of a hill and the top will take care of itself” BUT then manage your walking if you’re going to be walking on that hill.


It’s not an uncommon sight in Comrades to see a runner lying down at one of the physio stations or alongside a family member getting his or her legs rubbed in an effort to ease the pain to make the rest of the trip easier.

In most instances those leg rubs will do nothing other than waste valuable time. Possibly as much as 15 to 20 minutes and imagine if you stop three or four times during Comrades for one of these rubs that won’t help you. That’s an hour that you have wasted. Gone.

There are some genuine cases where muscles are in spasm and a physio is needed to ease those but in the vast majority of cases the rub is nothing more than muscles that are sore from the work you are asking them to do by running a fairly long distance so before you stop for a rub make sure that the stop is one that can genuinely be helped by a physio or whether it will be the waste of 15 or 20 very valuable minutes.


I’m going to share with you a little trick I learnt from my running days that might work for you but it might not. A word of warning though. Whatever you do, don’t try this for the first time on Comrades day. Try it long beforehand. If it works for you that’s great. If it doesn’t work then throw it away as a waste of time.

It certainly worked for me.

I found that the early mornings were uncomfortably cool, cold even, so as a result I always started off wearing a plain T shirt (unbranded – this is important or you are breaking the rules) UNDER my club vest. I did all my long training runs in a T shirt so this was comfortable for me and at the same time it kept me warmer in the cool early morning. Then on top of that my club vest helped a bit to warm me as well.

The T shirt I wore at Comrades I started wearing in April so that by the time we got to Comrades I was perfectly comfortable in it. I didn’t buy it a few days before race day and wear it.

As it started to get warmer my T shirt started to get wetter and now it started to play another role. It started to hold water and started to cool me down. Again this didn’t bother me because I was used to wearing it on my long training runs and I was used to running in a fairly wet T shirt. The advantage during Comrades was that I kept my T shirt wet and the hotter the Comrades, the wetter I would deliberately keep my T shirt and as a result the less I felt the heat. The only slightly uncomfortable time was around 3pm when it started to cool down and my T shirt was still wet but that didn’t last too long. The advantages far outweighed that slightly uncomfortable half hour.


Usually in your “goodie bag” at Expo you are given some sort of headgear. Either a peak or a cap of some sort which bears the Comrades logo and possibly a sponsor logo. If these are not what you are used to wearing, don’t wear them. Get yourself an unbranded (it must be unbranded or you are breaking the rules) hat NOW that is comfortable and get used to it and wear that.

In my very early Comrades, I hadn’t yet learnt the value of keeping my head cool but in later years after some experimenting I found that the thing that worked best for me was the fisherman’s type “bucket hat” which could easily double up as a sponge if need be. Again I kept my hat wet and my head cool.

I also used this in even later years to carry an actual sponge. A piece of Velcro sewn onto the side of the hat and another piece of material to wrap around my sponge with a piece of Velcro that held that and also held it onto my hat so I didn’t have to bother with carrying it. I attach a photo of what I am talking about and I hope it’s clear enough to see what I am talking about.



I hope these few tips that I have picked up over my years at Comrades may be of some use to some of you and even if one or two of you benefit I will be pleased. As I said though, if any of them, such as the T shirt under your vest is something you might try, please do it now and not on Comrades day for the first time.

Some of them may sound really silly but as I have said many times before, Comrades is not about how fast you can run on the day. It’s about how much time you don’t waste on the road on the day.


March 2017






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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


February 2017.



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Helen in Comrades

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

 Here’s Bernard’s story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


September 2016


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

Photo Rowyn James for souv mag

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

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


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

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


rowyn and wally

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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



29 July 2016