My great friend Derick Marcisz never ceases to remind me that his lifetime marathon personal best (p.b.) is exactly one second faster than mine. In March 1983 I ran 2 hours 17 minutes and 18 seconds at the Buffs Marathon in East London. A few months earlier Derick recorded 2 hours 17 minutes and 17 seconds at the old Transvaal Marathon Championships. He has reminded me of that one second for over 40 years.
I’m not a superstitious person. I’ll walk under a ladder, and I’ll stroke a black cat that crosses my path. I hardly notice Friday 13th and I would happily sit in seat in seat 13 on a plane if there was one. I eat the chicken on a wishbone, and I always forget to make a wish.
But I would never dare forget to greet Arthur Newton as I run past Arthur’s seat in the Comrades marathon.
“Jissie dis ver” (Jeez it’s far) Zola Budd muttered under her breath as we ran shoulder to shoulder down the Berea. We were grinding our way through the last few kilometres of the 2012 Comrades marathon and both of us were hanging on desperately and counting down the last few kilometres to the finish at Kingsmead stadium.
“Vasbyt Zola” I replied, “ons is amper daar.” (Hang on Zola, we’re nearly there)
I can still hear the late Don Oliver’s calming words delivered in his charming cockney accent.
“Don’t you worry Comrades novices you’re going to be alright. You’ve got Don Oliver’s pacing chart and his wise words to guide you home.”
How I miss him. For nearly 40 years Don, and fellow Rocky Road Runners coach Dennis “tombstones” Tabakin advised novices at monthly training panel discussions. I was often an invited guest speaker at these evening talks, and I was privileged to watch these two experts help hundreds of novices take their first tentative steps on their Comrades journeys. Then months later Don and Dennis would help them complete those journeys. The Rocky Novice panel talks were so popular that every talk was jam-packed, and even experienced runners and Comrades veterans attended.
Illustration by Daniel Yagman
“The reason you beat me in the ‘Comrades Marathon’, Bruce”, Hoseah Tjale once remarked, “Is that I start cramping with 10 kilometres to go in the race and you start cramping with 5 kilometres to go. While I’m fighting cramps in those critical few kilometres, you run away from me.”
Glued into one of my old scrapbooks are some faded dog-eared newspaper articles of the 1978 Comrades marathon. That year I ran my second Comrades Marathon and my first down run. To be honest I kept these articles because my 14th place finish meant my name appeared in those newspapers that published the first 20 finishers. Fame at last! One photograph in that scrapbook, however, always catches my eye. It’s a faded black and white photo of Alan Robb’s head poking out from above a shower door. Clearly, he is enjoying a shower in Durban’s famous Kingsmead stadium. Alan’s running vest is also captured in the photo. It dangles from a towel rack with Alan’s Comrades number, 1704 still pinned to it.
Last Sunday’s epic 42nd running of the London Marathon reminded me that I once ran the London Marathon with Gordon Ramsay. Yes “Hell’s kitchens/Kitchen Nightmares/The F word” Gordon Ramsay.
For any astonished non-believing sceptics reading this article who doubt Ramsay’s ability to run a marathon, allow me to startle you further. Gordon Ramsay has completed 3 Comrades marathons between the years 2000 and 2004. His best time is 10:31 (up). For good measure he is also an Iron Man medallist. In language spiced with profanities he rated the Comrades as the toughest @#$& race he has ever run.
It’s such a pity that South Africa’s two premier ultramarathons are run just a few weeks apart. It’s like those poor people whose birthdays fall on Christmas day or New Year. It’s simply too much excitement in too short a time. Comrades Marathon runners are compelled to choose. One of the events must take precedence. If their goal is to run a successful Comrades they must make Two Oceans the supporting act for Comrades. Two Oceans ambitions must be cast aside, and the focus must be the Comrades marathon. For Two Oceans fans it means discarding the Comrades. It’s a little like choosing the Rolling Stones as the supporting act for The Beatles. Neither should be the supporting act for the other, It’s Interesting that many Cape based runners call closed season after they’ve earned their Two Oceans medals. For many of them the Comrades is a bridge too far.
It was the morning before the Comrades marathon in 2019 and I was gazing out of the 15th floor window of my room in a Durban beach front hotel when I witnessed an astonishing sight.
No, it wasn’t the brightly billowing spinnakers of 100 international racing yachts nor was it the conning tower of a nuclear submarine surfacing off the bluff.
Perched on a tall wooden scaffold near the summit of Cowie’s Hill on August 28th, an eagle-eyed camera will be filming the progress of thousands of Comrades marathon runners as they battle their way towards the finish of the race in Durban. It’s a particularly sadistic location for a camera because it will catch the runners at their weakest moments. They will have run over 70 kilometres of hills as they struggle up “Cowies”, including the bone jarring descents of Botha’s Hill, and Field’s Hill, and then they will have toiled through the sweaty humidity of Pinetown. Most will have boasted to loved ones, friends and family that they Read more “BECAUSE IT’S A DOWN RUN WE GO UP !”