In Your Father’s Footsteps (When You Can Hike But You Can’t Run)


Inspiring Two Oceans Stories: Karen Brough

When running is in your blood, you can hide – and hike, cycle and swim – but you’ll eventually have to run.

Karen Brough has hiked all over the world. She’s completed the Annapurna Trail in the Himalayas, walked the El Camino from France, trekked across the Pyrenean Mountains to Santiago in Spain (900kms in 20 days) and climbed Kilimanjaro just for the views.

Karen has also cycled thousands of kilometres on her bike – her greatest achievement in this space was raising over a million rand for charity by doing a series of long distance peddles from Johannesburg to Maputo, Johannesburg to Cape Town and Johannesburg to East London.

She’s “always been a very active person” but none of her regular endurance exploits ever broke out into a run – until recently. At the age of 56 Karen set her sights on completing the IronMan – and accidentally fell into running, “I have always wanted to do a full IronMan. I could swim and cycle with ease, but soon realised my dream would never come true if I couldn’t run a marathon.”

It took 56 years for Karen Brough, a wife, mother and grandmother, to start running – but once she finally laced-up, the running bug bit hard and IronMan has taken a back seat with marathon running quickly replacing it as the focus in her life. Karen joined the Born2Run club and her running career began with the 32km RAC Tough One in November 2016.

Running has taken podium position in Karen’s life – and the podium is a place she regularly finds herself.

In 1972 a young man called Caspar Greeff moved up to Johannesburg from Cape Town and was rather perturbed to find that his favourite recreational activity, “rambling around the (Cape) mountains to keep fit”, was not an option in a town full of mine dumps. Like Karen he realised that ‘if you can’t hike you might as well run’ and founded a running club with a couple of friends – that running club was Rand Athletic Club (RAC) who hosted the same Tough One that served as Karen’s entry into the world of distance running.

Caspar Greeff is something of a living legend in the South Africa running scene. He ran his first Comrades at the age of 34 and ended up with 38 finishes (concluding with a 10:13:57 on the 2011 ‘Up’ run as a 74 year-old). He’s also the only person to have run a silver Comrades in his 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s (his last silver was a 7:26:11 on the 1995 ‘Down’ run).

Likewise, Caspar also has (note the present tense) a distinguished Two Oceans career which started with a silver medal (3:57:58) in 1976, includes 28 ultra finishes, category wins in the masters (over 50), grandmasters (over 60) and great grandmasters (over 70 – his time here was 4:58:44). He is now steadily clocking up half marathon finishes and is looking for his fifth Two Oceans half marathon finish in 2019 – this 85-year-old running icon is by some way the oldest competitor in any of this year’s Two Oceans events.

Whilst this detailed diversion into the illustrious running career of Caspar Greeff is interesting, you might be wondering what it has to do with the story of Karen Brough other than the tenuous link to hiking. Here’s your answer: back in 1972 when Caspar Greeff founded RAC he had a teenage daughter called Karen. It doesn’t matter whether you are a mountain-hiker or a Skywalker – when your father passes on genes likes these, it’s impossible to escape your destiny!

Karen relaxes with her dad, Caspar Greeff, after the Cango Marathon in Oudtshoorn.

It’s took 56 years for Karen to finally succumb to the power of the force and follow in her dad’s footsteps. She completed her debut marathon in an impressive time of 3h39 and quickly followed that up with another two marathons under the 3h30 mark. Her maiden Two Oceans voyage was conquered in 4h56 to earn a Sainsbury medal.

Karen tried to make up for lost time and admits that she “overdid it”. The old cautionary adage of “too much, too soon” applies no matter what age you start running – and Karen learnt this the hard way when she returned from a painful run at the Dublin Marathon and was diagnosed with a pelvic stress fracture.

However, there was a silver lining to this cloud. Karen downgraded her 2018 Two Oceans entry to run the half marathon with her dad, which she describes as “one of the most incredible experiences of my running career.” She gained a new-found appreciation of her father’s ‘living legend status’ in the running world and said, “We enjoyed each other’s company and seeing how well known and loved my father is in the running community was a very proud moment for me.  Crossing the finish line with my 84-year old father was amazing!”

Karen and her dad share a special moment before her first Two Oceans – she describes the half marathon they ran together the following year as ‘one of the most incredible experiences of my running career.’

After spending several months as “an injured, frustrated and sometimes grumpy runner”, Karen worked on her half marathon times getting them down to close to the 90-minute mark and was chosen to represent Central Gauteng at the South Africa championships where she achieved a bronze medal as the third fastest in her age category. The year got better with a great Berlin Marathon at the end of 2018 and, off the back of her impressive half marathon times, was asked to join the newly formed elite Murray & Roberts running club.

Karen celebrates being asked to join the elite Murray & Roberts running club with a couple of cupcakes.

Karen’s short-term goals are to earn a six-star world marathon majors medal. She’ll be doing London Marathon a week after Two Oceans and also has the Chicago and New York lined up later this year. But right now, the focus is on her second Two Oceans Ultra Marathon – and hopefully another Sainsbury medal to show off to the grandkids.

Karen does however have some serious life-time running aspirations – aspirations that few others would even dream about. When asked about these ambitions, Karen just casts her gaze a short way up the family tree to her dad, Caspar Greeff, the oldest entrant at the Two Oceans – she might be a grandmother herself but her goals are simple, “When I grow up, I want to be just like him.”

You’re never too old for ice-cream – or to realise you want to be just like your dad!
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