Tales from the Timbavati Traverse: Johno Meintjes becomes a Real Runner


I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to run the Timbavati Traverse, a 45 kilometres single-day event through the unfenced Timbavati Private Game Reserve. I’ve got a mega-article coming out soon about the event. In an attempt to trim the core article down to epic length, I’ve decided to publish this snippet as a separate story.

The Timbavati Traverse is an event rather than a race. This year the field was expanded from 20 to 60 entrants with a 21km walk and two 45km running busses: bus number one was the fast bus and bus number two was the slow fun bus. I was a happy passenger in bus number two.

Getting the know the rest of bus number two while watching a crash of rhino (photo Chad Cocking Photography).

The event has the feel of a relaxed club run (albeit in a very exotic location). With superb support tables every five to seven kilometres and frequent stops to observe the wildlife (which for us included elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and a leopard), there was plenty of time to get to know the other runners over our trek through the Timbavati. I was surprised that about half of our group were running their first marathon – what better way to lose your marathon virginity than navigating the untamed bush? However, I did commiserate with our novices that this was as good as it gets as it was unlikely they’d ever run a future marathon that would beat running with the beasts.

One of the novice marathon runners was Johno Meintjes, founder of JEFF Fitness (who were also one of the event’s sponsors). Johno and one of the JEFF instructors, former Sharks rugby player Louis Hazelhurst, were easily distinguishable from the other runners as they were living their brand by wearing eye-catching JEFF socks (which looked like belly of a lilac-breasted roller).

Too early for a beer? There was plenty to eat and drink at the Timbavati Traverse.

There are a few silver linings from the Covid pandemic and the Timbavati Traverse, started because ranger Grant Murphy did not want his Comrades training to go to waste, is one of them. Johno’s online profile states that he’s a “powerhouse of positivity” and the was able to use this trait to become another of Covid’s success stories.

A powerhouse of positivity, Johno Meintjes’ JEFF profile.

Johno earned his stripes as a sports conditioning coach for several of our national sides including rugby, cricket and hockey. After seeing people wandering aimlessly around the gym, he started JEFF (which stands for Johno’s E-Fitness Faculty) to provide a structured online fitness, nutrition and mindset program to help gym users get the most of their memberships and training sessions. Johno quickly grew his customer base to 1,000 signed-up users but then Covid hit and the gyms closed.

JEFF Fitness was locked down but not knocked down. It takes more than a virus to thwart a “powerhouse of positivity”! Johno figured that if hard lockdown was going to keep the people out of the gym, he would move the gym into the home. Together with his wife, Juls, he decided to use Facebook’s live streaming service to conduct online workouts with tins, towels and other household items replacing the regular gym apparatus.

When I chatted to Johno after the event, he smiled as he reminisced about those first online workouts, “It was a complete disaster from day one – the kids invaded the workout space while we were live, lamps got knocked over, nappies needed changing and my wife kept shouting at me! But this was what everyone was going through and people could relate.”

Facebook Live workouts: A game the whole family can play.

Morning workouts with the Meintjes certainly resonated with many other families. The first workout had 80 live viewers, the second 300 and by day four there were 2,000 families around the world joining the Meintjes household for a live lockdown workout. It’s fair to say that JEFF went viral during the pandemic. Live viewership had stabilised at around 3,000 per workout when Johno had the idea to take things to the next level and end hard lockdown with “South Africa’s Biggest Workout”.

He managed to get in touch with the Discovery Vitality program who jumped at the opportunity to partner and promote the Biggest Workout concept. A massive viewership of 27,000 families participated in what was not just South Africa’s but the world’s Biggest Workout – and from that platform JEFF Fitness now has over 100,000 active members across 73 countries.

One of the key features of his membership base is that many members had never exercised before Covid. JEFF was also able to create incredible engagement with 60% of members interacting with the platform on a daily basis. Johno has also used the success of the JEFF program to help raise about R5 million for various charities and his marathon training included running online in a rhino onesie to raise money for the anti-poaching charities and community projects supported by the Timbavati Traverse.

Johno included online rhino onesie runs as part of his race prep and charity drive.

However, despite all his commercial success, Johno will be remembered as the man who put the number two into bus number two at the 2022 Timbavati Traverse. We were merrily trotting along, oblivious that we’d lost one of the herd, when a radio message came from the sweeping bicycle for us to stop as a runner needed an “urgent toilet break”.

There was a new midden in town and a few minutes later Johno emerged from the bushes after his down to earth experience. He was smiling like the Chesire cat and proudly went into graphic detail about “How everything just erupted like a volcano.”

My definition for what constitutes a ‘real runner’ is not how far, fast or which races you’ve run but the simple ability to talk about your bowel movements without embarrassment. I welcomed Johno to the ‘real runners club’ and we continued on our way.

Johno pulls out his second biggest smile of the day to receive his finishers trophy. He finished his first marathon at the Timbavati Traverse but became a real runner a few hours beforehand (photo Chad Cocking Photography).

Detailed report on the 2022 Timbavati Traverse to follow soon…

Links to follow: Jeff Fitness / Johno on InstagramJEFF Together on Facebook

Keep a lookout for the 2023 Timbavati Traverse entries opening soon.

You can also support the Timbavati’s anti-poaching efforts and community upliftment programs by donating on their givengain page or via direct deposit: Account: FNB (First National Bank); Account Number: 62613138032; Branch Code: 270652; Branch Name: HOEDSPRUIT

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