Posted in PERSONAL STORY

2018 MY VERY SPECIAL COMRADES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMRADES FINISH 1968

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

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

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

Durban and Pietermaritzburg!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

COMRADES 1975

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2018

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

CAMILLE HERRON

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Crossing the line to win Comrades 2017

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Camille we look forward to seeing you back in June!

 

January 2018

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

CHERYL WINN – A UNIQUE COMRADES ACHIEVEMENT

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

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

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

cheryl winn head & shoulders

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

1978 4th 9:09

1979 DNF

1980 2nd

1981 2nd

1982 1st

1983 4th

1984 5th

 

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

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

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

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

CHERYL WINNING

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

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

CHERYL GETS TROPHY

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DJ:      And the most stress?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

DJ:      I certainly agree with that comment about Bruce.

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

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

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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