The Circle of Running Life

Perhaps I can be accused of having a starry-eyed love affair with road running, the mistress in my life. It is not dissimilar from the love of a soul mate, the love of one’s very being, that passion which evolves over the years until one attains that pinnacle of that love. In the case of road running, this peak is the Around the World Challenge [RTW Challenge].

Why is this so?

Main picture: Eleven of the thirteen finishers of the Around the World Challenge as at June 2017. Back row: Des Robbins, Paul Selby, Dean McCleland, Peter Darroll. Middle row: Lesley Vermeulen, Ric Marini, Sue Darroll, Frik di Preez. Front row: Kosie van Vuuren, Neels Vermeulen

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Could South Africa learn from Road Running?

Today’s race at the National Botanical Gardens in Pretoria was no exception. Again I was surprised by what I learned except that it was not from a South African but a foreigner who has been in South Africa for only nine months.

One is not accorded a special status in road running. All runners are equal. Unlike the public discourse which is characterised by divisive racism, violent political rhetoric and the politics of rage especially by the EFF, road running does not suffer from these travails.

Main picture: The entrance to the Willows resort in Port Elizabeth. Instead of inserting some arbitrary pictures onto this blog, I have included photographs of Willows Resort near Port Elizabeth because as youngsters we spent many an Easter Holiday there.

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The Rand Athletic Club 10km Race on 15th May 2016

In his heyday, I recall Bruce Fordyce declaring in his non-dilettantish almost boyish way that once the cosmos appeared, winter was nigh and it was time to peak for Comrades. His fragile figure belied his steely determination, his steadfast conviction and his obsessive focus on the minutia of winning the Comrades. Moreover with his urbane charm, he bewitched the South African public and seduced a nation with his self-deprecatory charm.

 On the other hand, for me it was not the sudden emergence of this herbaceous perennial plant which made an impression but rather it was the annual RAC 10km run a week before Comrades. Almost like a cathartic release, it signalled the end of the Comrades taper but more importantly, a heightened awareness of the daunting task shortly at hand.

Main picture: Instead of the usual field of 3000 runners, it was a field in the hundreds which pitched courtesy of the inclement weather Continue reading

Assessment of the Cradle of Humankind 21km race on 27th April 2016

Since the Krugersdorp Road Runners Club relocated their race from Central Krugersdorp to the Kromdraai / Sterkfontein Caves area over a decade ago, this race has definitely been one my favourite races. It is a genuine country run without the traffic flashing past at great speed. The undulating hills interspersed with game farms including a well-known lion farm provide an additional incentive to participate in this race. Again we were not disappointed as a liger was visible.

Main picture: Prior to the start, a hot air balloon silently floated over. All pictures by Margie Asprey Continue reading

The 52km Rhodes Mountain Race – Saturday 12th July 1997

The Rhodes Mountain Race has to be amongst the toughest and most unusual races in South Africa. Restricted to 80 entrants, the one aspect that makes it unique is that this is known for its snow. Run from the hamlet of Rhodes on the Eastern Cape side of the Drakensberg Mountains, at the 32km mark it passes Tiffendal, South Africa’s only ski resort. The selection of the date was deliberately made to co-incide with the likelihood of snow.

On my first attempt, I was not to be disappointed as the snow was at least a metre deep at the top.

This is the story of that odyssey together with John Mostert

Main picture: Between Mavis Bank and Tiffendal. Underfoot it was mushy with melting snow and slippery mud

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Bob and I

Of course I am not referring to the President for Life north of South Africa. Somebody less well-known but for me as a youngster he was “famous.” On three occasions he was runner-up to Bruce Fordyce on the South African version of the rite of passage, the purgatory of the Comrades Marathon. His name is Bob de la Motte. For people of my generation, the Comrades Marathon held a fascination unlike any other sport as South Africa was besotted and enthralled in equal measure by this long distance odyssey. For one day a year, all South Africans would be glued to their TV sets as the runners battled it out over 90 kilometres of the most arduous road race in the world.

Having never met Bob de la Motte how can my Opinion Piece be entitled Bob and I? Having recently read his autobiography – The Runaway Comrade – which is partly biographical and partly a social commentary of the milieu in which South Africa existed at the time, I was struck by so many similarities in our upbringing and life experiences.

Main picture: Bob de la Motte being congratulated by Bruce Fordyce, his nemesis. In any other era, Bob de la Motte’s finishing times would have accorded him a win. What Bob did was to force the indominitable Fordyce to greater feats.

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Trail Run in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy

Trail Runs are not my favourite form of running for two reasons: Invariably I trip and fall and secondly because, unlike road running, one can never get into a steady stride. As such, it is a case of changing gears all the time which is tiring. However it does have some advantages such as viewing some of the stunning places within less than an hour’s drive from Joburg.

This morning’s 15km trail run was held in the Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy just off the R511 to Pretoria. Starting at a drug rehabilitation Centre called Netso Plaas – Just so Farm – the owner must be a Rudyard Kipling fan as Kipling is famous for his Just So stories.

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Meeting the Neighbours or How the Other Half Lives

Road Running certainly exposes one to how the other half of South Africa lives. To be more mathematically correct: how most South Africans live. Last Saturday, the Solomon Mahlangu half marathon ran through Mamelodi and today’s race – on Youth Day – was held in Kagiso in the far West Rand.

When I first started running about 31 years ago, running through the black townships was considered life threatening for whites in light of the “antipathy” with which whites were regarded in the townships. Most whites would boycott such races but by participating in the 1000 Km Challenge as well as the Around the World Challenge, certain of us had no option but to participate in all races including those running through these supposed death traps.
Main picture: The township of Kagiso is surprisingly clean. Very few corrugated iron shacks are to be seen. In fact, the township has uplifted itself over the the past two decades to represent a lower middle class black stratum with mainly well-maintained livable houses maybe not with the opulence of Sandton or Steyn City but certainly comfortable.

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Around the World Challenge: 40 075kms in Official Races

Having recently settled into portly late middle age – that sounds preferable to early old age – I still had one physical challenge outstanding in my life’s inbox to complete: run around the world. Perhaps lack of fitness would be too charitable a description of my physical condition. It was not only the slightly stout demeanour but also my back to consider. It had forced my withdrawal from the Paris Marathon in 2011. With 6000kms still to run, it could even have prevented the achievement of my RTW Goal.

Climbing Mountain Everest was never seriously on my bucket list. Even if I had obtained sponsorship which was highly unlikely, there were the more serious factors such as lack of leave and an irascible wife to contend with. Aside from these considerations, it was utterly inconceivable in that as a South African I would not be able to obtain a visa to 80% of the world, Nepal being one of them, at that time in South Africa’s turbulent history.

Main picture: At the start of the Pick ‘n Pay 21km race at Saheti School together some some of the runners who would accompany me: Ken, Laurie, Nigel, me, Myer, Mike, Amanda and Kurt. They had the heavy work to do: carry the banner for 21,1kms.
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