Following on from the in-depth look at the Comrades Marathon Association’s decision not to refund 2020 entrants, this article evaluates the ‘refund / no refund’ decisions of South Africa’s other large marathons and ultras who’ve been forced to cancel their 2020 events during the coronavirus pandemic.
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!”
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…
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.”
This story was confessed to me by a club mate who made a terrible mistake during her first Two Oceans Marathon in 2004. It still haunts her to this day and she doesn’t want other novices to repeat the same grave error of judgement.
She is still acutely embarrassed by her naïve blunder – so much so that she only agreed to share her story under condition of anonymity. Therefore, I have decided to respect her wishes and will refer to the protagonist of this story under the code name BN4991.
Rikki’s mom had lost contact with her favourite cousin-once-removed, Wesley Tiedt, for over 40 years until Facebook intervened and facilitated a happy family reunion in Johannesburg.
The blood ties were quickly rekindled and Rikki immediately formed a strong bond with her new-found family member. She says, “It was clear we were all cut from the same cloth and had the same wacky sense of humour.”
They spent the Christmas of 2017 together on Wes’ farm in St. Francis Bay. Rikki was paging through a photo album when she stumbled across the picture below of Wes running the 1987 Two Oceans Marathon. Photo finishes are commonplace in athletics but this photo was about initiate a major change in Rikki’s life.
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.
I’ve been gathering Two Oceans advice from a number of different athletes of all abilities. There is one common answer across the spectrum – take the first half of the race easy because you’ll pay significant interest charges over the much tougher second half.
Therefore, I wanted to make sure we got some input from the person best qualified to inform us what happens on race day when “a push comes to shove” – and that person is undoubtedly Hilton Murray.
Hilton will be piloting Anita Engelbrecht in a “wheelchair jogger” that they’ve named ‘Blitsie’ for the fourth year in a row at the Two Oceans Marathon. Team Blitsie have traversed the country but there is one hill they fear more than any other – an “absolute killer” that they dread more than Polly Shortts or any of the ‘big five’ hills at Comrades. According to Hilton, getting to the top of Constantia Nek stands out head and shoulders as the most difficult hill in the country when pushing a wheelchair jogger. Continue reading “When a Push Comes to a Shove, Constantia Nek is the Toughest Hill in South Africa”
Darrin Mail never thought he’d be an ultra runner – let alone one who hopes to join the illustrious Blue Number club. Looking back he says, “What was I thinking?” and lays the blame squarely at the feet of his mother-in-law.