The Tony Viljoen Masters Marathon in East London was started in the late 1970s as a way to encourage athletes to continue participating in athletics events after they’d “past their prime”. In East London, “past your prime” is considered “over 35” – and the inaugural race in 1978 had a strict “no under-35s” restriction.
Four decades later and the rules have been relaxed to allow youngsters to run the race socially. However, this is a marathon that specifically caters to the older generation and prizes are only awarded for those born before 1984. These are awarded in five-year brackets from 35-39 all the way through to the oldest finisher.
This year it stopped at 75-79 in the ladies’ section of the race with the 75-year-old Paula Richardson finishing in 5:20. In the men’s field, the incredible 84-year-old Caspar Greeff pushed the finish categories all the way to the 80-84 division with a 5:30 finish. In doing so he became the oldest ever finisher of the race and probably set the record as the oldest South African to complete a marathon*.
* I’ve checked with those in the know and no one could identify any older marathon finishers in South Africa. Riël Hauman, the demure and normally sedate statistician, added “Caspar is a freak!”
The Comrades Marathon is a lot like a nasty big brother that sadistically bullies, torments and tortures his weaker siblings. As one of those weaker siblings, I’ve received more than my fair share of merciless moers, violent lammies and vicious donkey klaps at the annual family reunion between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. I feel this entitles me to have an opinion and say what I like about Comrades – and occasionally I repay my serial brutalisation with a playful retort or gentle jab of my own (before running away, slowly). That is the God-given right of a ‘family’ member*.
* For example, one of the article ideas on my backlog is ’10 Things I Hate about Comrades’ but the list of things has grown so long it may in fact form the content of my first full-length book.
However, when someone outside the ‘family’ callously condescends your brutal big brother, all past grievances are forgotten, all past sins are forgiven, and all the scars and bruises from past battles become prized signs of affection. When someone outside the circle of trust insults a member of one’s household, the correct response is to immediately – and without hesitation – take up arms (or in the case of Comrades, legs) to defend the family honour. That is exactly what happened recently when the insolent, ill-informed and ignorant American ultra runner Jim Walmsley condescended Comrades with a reckless remark. Continue reading “Drug Running at Comrades (and discrediting American ignorance)”
It is the middle of October 2018 and entries have just opened for next year’s Comrades Marathon. The entries are disappearing at an unprecedented rate. Runners, particularly those from lower income groups, raise concerns that all 25,000 entries will be sold before they get paid at the end of the month and have the funds to enter.
After seeing several social media posts from anxious athletes, I decided to do a small good deed aligned with the spirit of Comrades: Offer an interest free, trust-based loan to five Comrades runners. I’d pay for their entry and they can pay me back when they have the money to do so. This is the story of what happened…
There is no human alive who loves the Comrades Marathon more than Dave Jack. He’s had had a six-decade long love affair with the race – and his unbridled passion shows no sign of abating anytime soon. Dave’s run it 14 times, done live reports on the event for Radio 702 for 18 years driving alongside the race leaders, stadium announcing and prize-giving MCing for over a decade. He’s served on the Comrade Organising Committee (the forerunner to the Comrades Marathon Association) and is one of the very few people to have earned a ‘running’ Green Number (for 10 finishes) and well as a ‘serving’ Green Name (for 10 years or more in service of the race).
Dave told me, “I’ve done everything there is to do at Comrades except win the race!” Well, actually that’s not quite true – and that is why I am writing this article. But the story of how Dave Jack won the 2018 ladies race takes some explaining and requires a detailed backstory – so here goes…
On a cool spring morning in September 2016, Dani Smith pulled into the Engen Service Station in Woodmead. He was looking forward to filling up quickly and getting back home after visiting his local garden nursery. Dani Smith is a Comrades runner – and was easy to identify as such because, like most of his ilk, he proudly wore his Comrades race shirt as standard weekend attire. Continue reading “Fuelling the Comrades Gold Rush (The story of Charles Mkhonto)”
At the age of nine, Jackie Mekler was placed in an orphanage. This marked the end of his happy childhood – and the orphanage was where he remained until getting expelled at the age of 16. Jackie Mekler was a caged bird who hated the rules, regulations and discipline within the institution. On the 26th of December 1945, a diminutive 13-year-old boy bunked out of the orphanage to go for his first run. As his mop of bright ginger hair bobbed up and down Valley Street in Johannesburg, Jackie Mekler had finally found the means to escape the constrictions, constraints and controls that had been thrust upon him. “My frustration led me to explore ways of loosening the shackles of confinement. The best and easiest way was to start running.”
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.
On my social media profiles, I profess to be a “Trainee Feminist”. As the lone male in our household (even our cats are girls) I might joke that this is merely a survival tactic but, having been blessed with two daughters, it is actually a genuine attempt at improving myself and the world into which my daughters grow up.
I recently wrote an article on the oldest road race in Johannesburg, the Jackie Gibson Marathon. The race also has a half marathon named after another South African running legend, Allan Ferguson. I thought I’d done a pretty good job conveying the personality of the marathon – as well as highlighting the impressive achievements of both gentlemen which resulted in them getting honoured with race naming rights (Allan Ferguson actually has two road races named after him – as far as I know the only person in the world to be so honoured).
You know you’re famous when people can just use a first name* and everyone knows exactly who you are. This is certainly true for each of these five female running stars (even outside of running circles): Frith, Zola, Elana, Blanche and Sonja – surname not required!
* The opposite of being ‘individually first name famous’ is to be ‘collectively surname infamous’. The Kardashians are a good example of this.