The Athlete’s Champion: Ann Ashworth Attacks ASA Apathy

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On the 10th of June 2018 Ann Ashworth fulfilled a lifelong dream and won the Comrades Marathon. Two weeks later she became a champion.

Champions have to make sacrifices. Ann knows all about sacrifices – she made plenty before she got to the start line in Pietermaritzburg. Sadly, her latest sacrifice was an easy one to make – turning down the chance to represent her country at the 2018 100k World Championships in Croatia.

To her club mates she is known as the Iron Lady. An advocate by day, but an ultra-runner by morning and evening, this Iron Lady has legs that are wired for long distance running and a mind that is wired for justice.

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Doing Your First Adventure Race The Week Before Comrades? I Blame Phuti

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[Adventure Race #1 / 2 June 2018]

Rule #1 of Comrades is “Don’t try anything new on race day.” No one says anything about the week before Comrades but they probably should. I found myself in a dilemma. The ultra-runner’s version of Catch-22: It would be really stupid to do your first adventure race the week before Comrades; but running Comrades is really stupid in the first place.

I was all set for my 9th Comrades. I wasn’t planning to conclude my Comrades taper with my first adventure race. I was planning to be a sensible ultra marathon runner. That’s the honest truth! Life was simple until Phuti got involved.

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Gaborone Marathon (The Most Expensive Run I’ve Ever Done)

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[MARATHON #189 / UNIQUE MARATHON #103 / 13 May 2018]

With the South African marathon running scene on Comrades hiatus from 1 May until the end of July, I had to look further afield to find a marathon to keep my “marathon-a-week” training program going. Luckily one of our sub-Saharan neighbours obliged with the Diacore Gaborone Marathon on 13 May.

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Heroes Deserve Medals: The Tale of Xolani Luvuno (#15620)

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Letter of the Law vs the Spirit of the Law: An Open Letter to the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA)

There were some great performances at Comrades 2018. Bongumusa Mthembu won his third Comrades and became the first South African since Bruce Fordyce (the undisputed the King of Comrades) to claim back to back victories. Likewise, in the women’s race, Ann Ashworth had the race of her life – she started as an outsider but dominated a strong field for a convincing victory.

These were great performances. However, the one that will be remembered is that of a runner who finished way down the field amongst the last of the bronze medallists. This was the year that a one-legged cancer survivor on crutches hopped the longest Comrades in 23 years. The year that a former convict gained redemption. The year that a recovering drug addict who lived under a bridge for several years redefined what is possible. On June 10, Xolani Luvuno astonished and inspired a nation – and the 2018 edition of Comrades will be remembered as Xolani’s year. Continue reading “Heroes Deserve Medals: The Tale of Xolani Luvuno (#15620)”

JM Busha Peace Marathon (A Tale From The Tavern)

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[MARATHON #188 / UNIQUE MARATHON #102 / 1 May 2018]

A Running Mann Walks Into A Bar & Says, “Barman, I Want To Run One Last Marathon Before Comrades”

The first of May is Workers’ Day in South Africa – somewhat ironic considering it falls smack back in the middle of our annual period of protracted wage negotiations and national strikes. For the Comrades runner, May signals the culmination of many months of hard work and training – with 1 May being the last day one can qualify or improve your seeding for the largest ultra on the planet. The local running calendar revolves around Comrades – and South African marathon organisers also down tools after Workers’ Day, shutting the local running scene down until the end of July.

I’m not one to rest on my laurels (in fact I’m a “Yanny” person and can’t even hear “Laurel”!) – although it had only been a couple of days since the Outeniqua Marathon and we’d just arrived back from our Garden Route trip, I knew I had to squeeze in one last marathon to beat the post-holiday blues and get through the barren marathonless winter months.

The sun rises over Randfontein.

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Outeniqua Marathon (The One I Almost Missed)

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[MARATHON #187 / UNIQUE Marathon #101 / 28 April 2018]

I run a lot of marathons around the country. When local runners see the Gauteng license plates pinned to one’s vest they often ask, “Did you come here especially to run the marathon?” – and are suitably impressed (and often somewhat surprised) when you confirm that is indeed the case. When you run a marathon on the Garden Route, local runners ask a similar question from a slightly different perspective, enquiring “Are you here on holiday?”

You see, when you live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, your assumptions change and you know that even the most addicted marathon runner isn’t going to just ‘hit and run’ – it’s much more likely that they are going to ‘hit, run your marathon and stay for a few days’.

Running through the Garden of Eden: About to cross the Silver River on a road that’s a national monument.

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Marathon Addict? Guilty As Charged! (My 100th Unique Marathon At Bruintjieshoogte)

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[MARATHON #186 / UNIQUE Marathon #100 / 21 April 2018]

Prudent South African runners only plan their running year BC (before Comrades). When you’re running Comrades in June, it is presumptuous to plan anything for the second half of the year. Having ended 2017 with 89 unique marathons, I realised that I could reach my goal of 100 unique marathons in 2018 BC via a combination of three factors: good health, extensive travel and a very understanding wife.

Everything went perfectly to plan: After 13 consecutive marathon running weekends all around the country (with just three repeat races: Om Die Dam, Two Oceans and Jackie Gibson), it was now time to conclude the 100 unique marathons goal. When picking a milestone marathon, many people would pick a large, flashy and prestigious marathon – but there’s a big risk of getting “Phantom Menanced” and the hype not living up to expectations.

Summiting a termite mound in preparation for summiting the Bruinjieshoogte pass.

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Jackie Gibson Marathon (Where The Hills Have No Name)

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[MARATHON #185 / 3rd Jackie Gibson / 15 April 2018]

People are very liberal dishing out advice when you’re 21. When I was 21, I migrated upcountry from a small cliquey, seaside village called Cape Town to the metropolis of Johannesburg – and received plenty of unsolicited advice. Most of it I either completely ignored or quickly forgot. However, the one piece of advice I took to heart and still apply 20 years later (probably because of the gravity with which it was delivered) was, “Stick to the north of Johannesburg. You can’t go wrong in the north of Johannesburg. But whatever you do – stay clear of the south!”

Two decades is a long time to survive in Johannesburg – overall I have come through relatively unscathed, I’ve only had one car stolen and have avoided most of the pitfalls one associates with life on the highveld (like being hijacked, mugged or becoming a Lions supporter). I attribute much of the success of this survival strategy to heeding the above advice – and, other than for weddings and marathons, I have avoided the south of Johannesburg like KPMG avoids due diligence. Just like in Game of Thrones, people of the north need to limit the amount of time they spend in the south if they want to survive!

If you survive two-laps of the steepest hills Joburg south can throw at you, this is the great medal you’ll earn.

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