Inspiring OMTOM Stories
On the 6th of April 1985 two men completed their 10th Two Oceans Marathon voyage in just under four hours to cap their Blue Number run with a silver medal. Louis Massyn, clocking in at 3:57:30, received Blue Number 35 and less than a minute later Tony Abrahamson, 3:58:18, lined up behind him to collect Blue Number 36.
That was 34 years ago – a year in which Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, Michael Jordan was named NBA “Rookie of the Year”, a 17-year old Boris Becker won Wimbledon for the first time and Marty McFly went Back to the Future. It was a long time ago but neither of these proud 1985 Blue Number recipients has missed a Two Oceans Marathon since then.
Together, they have a combined grand total time of 211 hours 25 minutes and 54 seconds on the Two Oceans route (that’s about 17.5 days). Although Louis has a faster PB (3:41:15 to Tony’s 3:52:12) and six silver medals (to Tony’s four), Tony ‘s average time of 4:55:01 betters Louis’ average of 4:59:07.
They have a friendly rivalry going. Tony admits that every year his goal is, “a bit impish, but seeing that each year Louis or I set the time record for that number of completed Oceans, I try to make it hard for Louis or anyone in subsequent years afterwards to beat the record.”
As for their Blue Number run, Tony reflects, “I never realised that I was so close behind Louis in the 1985 race, otherwise I may have made a special effort to get No 35 – but I’m happy with my No 36.”
The great news is that these two running legends will be back at it again on the 20th of April and are looking forward to an incredible 44th voyage around the Cape Peninsula at the 50th running of the Two Oceans Marathon.
Both acknowledge the role their wives, Audrey and Rita (who Louis calls his ‘Poepies’), have played in supporting their running goals. Although there are many similarities in the running exploits of these two gentlemen, there are also some big differences.
Tony ran his first Two Oceans in 1971 (the second running of the event) and followed this up with a debut Comrades which he classified as “an horrendous experience” – so much so that he vowed never to run another marathon again. We’ve all heard that one before and, after a ‘gap year’ in 1972, Tony was back at the start line of Oceans and Comrades in 1973. However, he did miss four further Oceans voyages in the 70s as while working up-country and studying overseas.
On the other hand, Louis caught the ultra-bug and never shook the infection. Having made a trip down to the Cape from Odendaalsrus (in the northern Free State) visiting family, he stumbled upon the 1976 edition of the Two Oceans Marathon and Easter was never the same in the Massyn household ever again – this year will be Louis’ 44th consecutive Two Oceans voyage.
Louis has also run a record 46 Comrades (one he holds jointly with Barry Holland) – which are also consecutive and he is the only human to have run the two largest ultra marathons on the planet 40 times. Louis’ entry into ultra running was a genuine religious awakening: after hearing Bishop Amoore of the Bloemfontein Diocese deliver a ‘Comrades’ sermon at the Holy Cross Church in Odendaalsrus, Louis decided to enter Comrades 1973 and crossed the finish line in Durban a few months later.
By some amazing coincidence – or perhaps divine providence – the holder of Two Oceans Blue Number 1 is Hugh Amoore, the son of Bishop Amoore. Hugh Amoore is also one of the original ‘Varsity Old Boys’ having run the first 9 Two Oceans Marathons for UCT before claiming the first blue number at Two Oceans with a 3:51:42 finish in VOB colours in 1979.
In terms of runs done, Tony’s Comrades career is much shorter (and some would say a lot more sensible). He earned his Comrades Green Number with his 10th finish in 1995 having taken his time – 25 years – to get there. Tony ran the last of his silver Two Oceans in 1995 (sneaking in with a 3:59:43) and thought he would waltz in for a silver Comrades medal as well. “I learned the Fordyce lesson that one can run the Oceans hard or the Comrades hard in any particular year, but not both, and I missed what I thought was an easy silver goal – finishing in 8:10. It was a hard decision but in the 24 years since my last Comrades I have been glad to have preserved myself and am sure this is the reason why I can still run respectable times.”
Tony’s move to a monogamous relationship with Two Oceans seems to have paid dividends. His longevity as a genuine ‘silver bullet’ on the Cape Town roads is backed up by the stats – whereas Louis has been content to settle for sub-7 hour Blue medal finishes over the last six years, Tony regularly secures sub-5 hour finishes to earn a Sainsbury medal (and is aiming for another in 2019).
The Sainsbury medal was introduced in 2006 to honour the incredible husband and wife team of Chet and Annemarie Sainsbury (race director and race secretary respectively for over 20 years) – together they formed the nucleus of a formidable team that grew Two Oceans into the magnificent event it is today.
A Sainsbury medal is a special achievement – but it means even more to Tony who was a close personal friend and training partner of Chet (who passed away from cancer in 2016). Tony remembers how “Mr. Two Oceans”, Chet Sainsbury, was always looking to try something new and would test his ideas during group training runs. Most of the ideas got refined and polished over these long runs after which they would be subtly introduced to make every Two Oceans better than the last.
However, occasionally the Cape winter intervened to thwart Chet’s best laid plans. Tony reminisces, “When the route followed Riverside Road down to the M3 crossing at Paradise Motors he (Chet) tried to mitigate the huge traffic congestion caused by runners crossing the busy arterial. We thought it a great plan of his to drop the runners into the canal and route them through a big culvert under the road, emerging in the park on the other side. Sadly, that year we had heavy downpours the night before the race and the scaffolding was washed away by the fast-flowing river.”
A recent race highlight that stands out for Tony was the 2017 edition where he ran with his son Mark, a London-based management consultant. It was Tony’s 42nd voyage and Mark, who spends more time management consulting than running, managed to stick with his dad until the marathon mark – after which Tony put on the burners for another Sainsbury medal (and hopefully had Mark’s tog bag and post-race refreshments ready for him when he trundled in 22 minutes later).
Look out for Blue Numbers 35 and 36 on Saturday – and if you’re lucky enough to spot either of these icons on the road take a moment to say hello, ask some Two Oceans questions and get some Two Oceans advice. No other runner knows the route better, no other runner has spent more time navigating the Cape Peninsula over Easter, and no other runner has completed more Two Oceans voyages – Tony and Louis are the admirals of Two Oceans and theirs is a record that may never be broken.
I was fortunate enough to bump into Louis during last year’s Two Oceans (at the climb into Sun Valley where he was nurturing former international rugby referee Jonathan Kaplan to his 31-year Blue Number journey) and have also had some great ‘chats on the road’ with Louis at the Mielie Marathon in Welkom and the Meerkat Marathon in Kimberley this year. I had a chat to Tony in the beer queue at the Blue Number tent after Two Oceans a couple of years ago. They are both brilliant people and if you are fortunate enough to run alongside them at Two Oceans you’ll pick up knowledge and insight that’s worth writing down and sharing with your grandkids.
Tony Abrahamson’s Two Oceans Advice (Blue Number 36 / 43 medals – 4 Silver, 5 Sainsbury, 32 Bronze, 2 Blue)
2019 Goal: Sainsbury. It’s a hard ask these days but my theory is that as long as I am still coming in 2hrs under the cut-off, I am unlikely to miss it this year or in the next few years.
Advice for other Sainsbury medal hopefuls: The schedule is all important, I write key milestones on my arm with a marker pen (permanent so it doesn’t rub off). I aim to average 5min/km from the start to halfway to put time into the bank, then easy up each of the two 4k Chappies and Constantia Nek sections running at 6min/km average. For the rest I try to keep at 5min/km average, except for the last 10k which can be in 5:30min/km.
Advice for novices: Best to just really enjoy the first voyage, so take it easy and don’t worry about making an impossible time. Especially on the hills. It’s a long way to struggle when the wheels come off at the marathon mark. And it’s fun to run and chatter with others – something that you can’t do when you have a serious goal.
Advice for those wanting to run over 40 Two Oceans: I’m lucky with my genes – but apart from that I have always kept training km to the minimum – in 1984, the year that I achieved PBs for Oceans and Comrades I averaged only 73km/week. And then after the big races I do very light running and inspirational trail running through the winter to rebuild and refresh. And just as important as the physical is the mental – keeping interested and excited about running. Lifelong friends and setting hard but achievable goals are essential and I use Oceans as a focus for all my running.
Pre-race routines: I do my best not to come into contact with anyone who has any sort of bug – handshakes and lift buttons are a no no. Pre-race I carbo-load on Wednesday/Thursday with a high carb formula drink such as Biogen Carbogen instead of the more traditional pasta, hot cross buns and potatoes. Early in the morning I walk over to John Brimble’s place in Weltevreden and gather with some runner friends over a cup of tea – then we walk the one and a half km to the start together. Lovely tradition and calms the apprehension over what is to come.
Best part of the race: The first best part is the wait in the starting pen where I try to arrive at least 30 minutes before the gun. Reflecting on the training campaign that makes it possible to be there and being thankful that all pistons are firing smoothly. Then the surge followed by the fish horn and moving with the mass. The second best part is reaching the top of Little Chappies – but this only applies when the big half-way assessment suggests that all is going to plan. It’s a lovely flat part with wonderful vistas.
Worst part of the race: There is no worst part! But probably the most difficult mentally is from the cemetery at 40k to the start of the big climb.
Special Two Oceans memory: Roo my running dog – she was an English Foxhound who was my inseparable running mate in the 70s and 80s. She was quite famous at the time and my claim to fame then was that of being Roo’s owner. Altogether she completed 5 Oceans voyages including three runs in a silver time.
Top tip: Nutrition in Oceans (as for other distances over 42k) is about making sure that the glucose levels are maintained to the end – this ensures that in the latter part of the race when fatigue sets in there is enough energy to keep going and, just as important, that one stays clear-headed and focussed on finishing the race. I consume energy gels every half-hour and also take on whatever sugar drink is offered at tables.
Louis Massyn’s Two Oceans Advice (Blue Number 35 / 43 medals – 6 Silver, 31 Bronze, 6 Blue)
2019 Goal: I would love to run under 6 hours – but will settle for the Blue Medal.
Advice for other Blue medal hopefuls: Don’t get carried away over flat first 15km and parts of the route.
Novice advice: Enjoy the awesome scenery running from Muizenberg towards Fishhoek – as well as over Chapman’s Peak, here one must stop, have a look and enjoy the view!
Advice for those wanting to run over 40 Two Oceans: Listen to your body!
Pre-race routines: Oceans for me is an special event each year – same as Comrades – I avoid any alcohol for three weeks prior to race. I also avoid certain foods like pork and try to stay and eat healthy.
Best part of the race: The finish – looking forward to a beer! Ha ha!
Worst part of the race: Running up Constantia Nek – the last 1km goes on forever.
Special Two Oceans memories:
- The start of my first Oceans (1976) on the rugby field at Villagers Rugby Club – there was a bottleneck at the gate getting out onto the road. The following year we started outside the gate.
- Starting and finishing in the pouring rain one year when the Villagers Rugby Club Grounds got completely flooded.
- Missing a silver medal by 4 seconds (in 1988).
- The evening Prize Giving Function from 1976 – 1980.
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