Julian Draai turns heads at the Hillcrest Marathon


If you’ve run the Hillcrest Marathon over the last decade, no doubt you would have seen the curious site of a distinguished gentleman sitting down to a fully-laden romantic breakfast for one. He paints a refined picture as one heads back into Hillcrest at the end of the first lap, leisurely working his way through an elaborate banquet whilst watching the runners steadily traipse past.

Since the Hillcrest Marathon is run around the same time as Valentine’s Day, the most popular question our lonesome hero gets asked is, “Where is your Valentine?” to which he wryly replies, “I’m still waiting – but get stood up every year!”.

That’s what he told me when I ran my first Hillcrest Marathon in February. However, after posting the picture below on social media, it turns out that there is a lot more to this story – and the joke is actually on us, the runners.

The distinguished gentleman is Julian Draai. He is one of the great characters of Kwazulu Natal running and this is his story – probably best described as one very long, elaborate running joke.

Julian is an accomplished runner who counts his silver medals at Comrades, Arthur Creswell ‘Bergville’ and Cavanagh ultra marathons as the finest moments of his running career. Not wanting to be an ice-breaker, he started running in 1979 after realizing that his passion for ice-skating was at risk after putting on weight.

It took Julian 11 years to fully transition from ice to tar, running his first sub-3 hour marathon in 1990. Over the next five years Julian was in the shape of his life, routinely knocking off sub-3 marathons all around Kwazulu Natal. However, one race eluded him – Hillcrest.

In his heyday, Julian knocked-off sub-3 marathons all around Kwazulu Natal but one race eluded him – the Hillcrest Marathon.

No matter what he did or how hard he trained, Hillcrest defeated him every year and the best time he could muster was a 3:10. Over the last few kilometres of his final futile attempt at cracking three hours in Hillcrest, a disconsolate Julian noticed a freshly cut tree stump at the side of the road and he thought, “That would make a great table!”

Instead of ‘throwing in the towel’, Julian threw on the tablecloth. The following year he transformed the tree stump into an elegant dining table, complete with silver cutlery and fine china. Although the sub-3 goal proved out of reach, Julian finally got the result he was looking for at Hillcrest, “The early days were interesting because every runner I knew hurled abuse at me – condemning me for relaxing to a full breakfast with champagne and orange juice.”

Although the stump is now gone, Julian positions himself at the top of the nastiest climb on the route every year in what has become a lovely tradition for the Hillcrest runners. He keeps an extra chair handy in case anyone wants a quick break or bite to eat, “Over the years, people have sat down on that extra chair and had several swigs of the Champagne. They also help themselves to the grapes and toast which I don’t mind.”

Julian told me he’s currently on the Banting diet to get back to his former trim race-pace physique. Accordingly, he doesn’t mind sharing fruit or carbs but does seem a little sensitive when people go after his protein.

Julian is happy to share his fruit and carbs – but stay away from his meat!

Although Julian has no plans at another sub-3 attempt at Hillcrest, he does have good reason to trim down – so that he can fit into his wedding suit. Although he portrays himself as a lonely heart during the Hillcrest Marathon, he is in fact very happily engaged to Allison Rose.

Every rose needs a thorn – for Allison Rose it’s Julian Draai.

And if you thought he makes an effort for the marathon runners, Julian goes the extra mile on Valentine’s Day for his Rose, upping his game to ultra marathon level by bringing out the full silver service and crystal glasses.

While he goes marathon distance for the Hillcrest runners, Julian goes ultra distance for his Rose on Valentine’s Day.

Although Hillcrest is the only race that benefits from a full breakfast, when he lived in Lothian Road (which also happens at the top of a hill on a popular local training route), Julian would set up a ‘Coke table’ just outside his house for any passing runners to replenish themselves during their grueling hill run.

As for the impact Julian has on Hillcrest runners, here’s a sampling of social media comments:

And as for the official answer to the “Where is your Valentine?” question. In Julian’s own words, “Truth is, the runners are my Valentine because their open display of affection for The Champagne Breakfast table gets them through a hard part of the race (and that gives me great satisfaction).”

The good news is that this running romantic plans to keep his Valentine’s date with the Hillcrest Marathon – so look out for him next year. And instead of asking “Where is your Valentine?” take a seat, sample some grapes (raw or fermented) and get some great advice (running or relationship) from the Hillcrest headturner.

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5 Replies to “Julian Draai turns heads at the Hillcrest Marathon”

  1. Always good to get the story behind the main story. Very often more interesting than the main event.
    Keep them coming.

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