I offered Comrades runners trust-based loans: This is what happened

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The Scenario

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…

The spirit of Comrades.

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How a 70-year-old man with a bad back won the Comrades Ladies’ Race (The story of #483)

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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 Jack finishing his first Comrades in 1968.

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…

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Fuelling the Comrades Gold Rush (The story of Charles Mkhonto)

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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)”

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Running Alone by Jackie Mekler (A book review)

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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.”

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Loskop Marathon (The one with a late start & a fast finish)

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[Marathon #214 / 11th Loskop Ultra Marathon / 6 April 2019]

It is rather perturbing to wake up at the feet of Dawn* for one of your favourite ultra marathons and find that there is a 4am text message saying, “URGENT NOTICE: Due to public violence en-route both race starts will be delayed by AT LEAST an HOUR – Police are evaluating the situation. Next update 5:00”. Continue reading “Loskop Marathon (The one with a late start & a fast finish)”

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Real Gijimas Ultra (Every village needs an idiot)

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[Marathon #213 / Unique Marathon #122 / 31 March 2019]

The Real Gijimas Ultra Marathon traverses 50 kilometres of rural Eastern Cape countryside through countless villages between Zwelitsha and Mdantsane. Every village needs an idiot and the following candidates applied for the vacant VIPs (Village Idiot Positions) on the last weekend of March: Bulela Sidloyi, Ernest de la Querro, Jacques Coetzer, Jeremy Knox, Nkul’leko Ntuli, Richard Birch, Stuart Mann and Zolani Twani.

You see, for each of the above applicants, the Real Gijimas Ultra would be their second 50k of the weekend as all of us had completed the Bruintjieshoogte Ultra Marathon the previous day. Continue reading “Real Gijimas Ultra (Every village needs an idiot)”

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

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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.”

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Novice Two Oceans Marathon Mistakes: When you’ve #RunAsOne, don’t finish as two!

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Cautionary OMTOM Stories: BN4991

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.

Dare (partially) accepted.

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30-year old photo of long-lost family member gets Two Oceans Half Marathon novice to the start

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Inspiring OMTOM Stories: Rikki Hibbert

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.

Wesley Tiedt (left) on his way to a 5:58:14 finish at Two Oceans Marathon 1987. No time to walk up Constantia Nek as the cut-off time was 6-hours in those days.

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The Admirals of Two Oceans: Tony Abrahamson & Louis Massyn

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Inspiring OMTOM Stories

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.

A friendly rivalry – Louis and Tony in the Blue Number tent after their 41st voyage.

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