It is not just the record breakers in Road Running, such as Bruce Fordyce, who are the heroes. Heroes come in a multiplicity of shapes, forms and even abilities. One does not want to detract from the winners’ performance, but these unsung heroes are what breathe life into a sport.
Recognition in sport is normally only accorded to the winners. They are lauded and receive the accolades, prizes and sponsorships. Many others also need to be recognised for their achievements. One such program that aims to do just that, is the 1000km Challenge.
Why was this event initially set up by Jenny & Paul Selby? It was a method of recognising the non-elite runner who would, without fail, every weekend come hail, rain or sunshine put on their running shoes and participate in a race. No fanfare or praise is expected. It is undertaken for the love of the sport.
In this “event” – the 1000km Challenge – the average runner is awarded different medals based upon the total kilometres run per annum in official races as follows:
- Bronze – greater than 1000kms
- Silver – greater than 1620kms
- Gold – greater than 2404kms
Middling runners like myself were able to obtain some form of reward for their support of the official races. Personally I have obtained 19 silvers – mostly slightly less than 2000kms – and 4 bronzes. Without such an incentive many runners would have found the hours required for such high mileages not worth the effort. In addition many would have exited the sport when they reached a plateau in their running performance.
I confess that I nearly did so until a lanky hovial runner by the name of Ashley Wood introduced me to this insane challenge.
While I am busy making confessions, can I quickly make a second one? When Ashley informed me of the kilometres required to be run for each category, I was flabbergasted. For somebody who was running no more than 20kms per week, 1000 kms seemed like a bridge too far, an achievement beyond my ken. Yet the following year, I attained 1444.9 kms.
“Dean, Dean, The Mean Machine”, as Lukas, with the luxuriant walrus-type moustache, would call me, was borne.
So too was another veteran born: Allan Kushner. Known by the sobriquet “Kushie” to all and sundry, Allan was a jovial non-athletic runner who achieved great heights in the early years of this event. Even though his mileage was ultimately eclipsed by the mega mileage junkies such as Colin Sydney, Brian Collings and Ric Marini, Kushies’ achievements are vividly remembered by the early participants of the Challenge.
Let us celebrate the achievements of Kushie who more recent runners, such as Mike Brand, would possibly not even have heard of.
At the height of his Challenge years, Kushie achieved the following distances:
- 1990/91 1,689,2km Silver
- 1991/92 2,733,5km Gold
- 1992/93 1,883,2km Silver
- 1993/94 3,806,7km Gold
During the in 1993/94 Challenge Year, even if there had been races every single weekend, which there were not, that mileage would have equated to an average of 73 kms per week.
But what I will always remember was hearing about the titanic struggle during that year. In spite of Colin Sydney being a faster, stronger and more capable runner than himself, Kushie would give Colin a run for his money. Having been the “bridesmaid” twice, Colin would make sure that he triumphed that year. Every weekend Colin and Kushie would run the longest race anywhere in South Africa, even if it meant 3 back to back marathons over the weekend.
The speculation at every race was about who was leading in the challenge. As they both were running the same races, they were neck and neck. Nothing separated them. As neither would comment on their actual mileage completed, it was anybody’s guess as to the gap between them. But whatever it was, it was marginal.
The deciding factor would have to be something arbitrary like an injury or a car breaking down en route to a race. But who would it be?
Speculation was rife. Both parties were taking the challenge in their stride or so it seemed. Then the inevitable happened. Somebody was injured. Kushie experienced Achilles’ problems during the Battlefield’s Ultra marathon. Having sacrificed so much to remain in the lead, he was not about to capitulate.
But the writing was on the wall.
Despite this setback, Kushie persevered. He hobbled and hopped the shorter races in the vain hope of remaining in the hunt. His indomitable spirit refused to buckle. Maybe such antics would suffice during the shorter races but during a 100km race in Botswana, the die was cast. Kushie was forced to bail at 70kms.
Colin then completed the Wally Hayward. To further increase his lead, and with the support of rich sponsors such as Mike Dean, Colin entered the Paris 24hr circuit race, completing 190kms 3 days before the commencement of Comrades. With Comrades also in the bag, Colin was the clear winner.
Just to give one a sense of what it takes to run such mega-mileages, here are Kushie’s statistics for that Challenge Year:
- Total races run that year = 137
- Total distance covered 3, 806, 4 kms
- His goal was 4,000.
- Total of 26 standard marathons and 14 ultra-marathons as follows.
o 1 June 93 to 31 Dec – 9 marathons and 5 ultras.
o 1 Jan 94 to April 94 – 17 marathons and 9 ultras.
- 1st to 1,000km was achieved in 13 races 1,012 km.
- The 5 ultras were
o City to City,
o Mont Aux Sources,
o Washie 2/7,
o Golden Reef 13/8 22:40:08,
o Auto & General (Graskop-Nelspruit) 27/8 in 23:19:15
o The last two were only 14 days apart
All that I can do is to salute Kushie for his achievement. His grit and determination should be celebrated. His performance should be acknowledged as no less stunning than that of a Bruce Fordyce. But will this accomplishment be known except within a select circle of runners: probably not.
Road running also producers heroes of a different ilk: those who through illness or disability should not be tackling the rigours of road running. Most of these stories are never paraded or boasted about by these runners. Rather almost as a badge of honour they remain taciturn about their disability. Instead with brave fortitude they will soldier on.
One such person I met during today’s [7th September 2014] Gauteng 21km Challenge from the Cecil Payne Stadium in Roodepoort to Ellis Park in Joburg.
Perchance I had started the race with Mike Brand. Like an elixir with his zest for life, which is contagious, I too was soon infected. As if all runners are personal friends, he would gaily chat to each and every one in turn.
On a long incline up Main Reef Road, he caught up with a woman who was battling. After some interrogation, he established that she was running despite having a defibrillator fitted. Apparently Tsholo started experiencing arrhythmia about a year ago. Being a nurse she realised that it was serious and elected to have this device fitted. Whenever her heart beat exceeds 200 beats per minute, electric shocks are applied to her heart until it is stabilised.
It was not the fact that Tsholo was running with a defibrillator attached to her that fascinated me but rather what she wanted from life. After suffering from a heart attack last year, Tsholo was booked into the Mill Park Hospital. After two weeks she wanted her life back. So she discharged herself and went back to work as a Manager in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Wilgeheuwel Hospital in Roodepoort.
Furthermore, she elected not just to brood around the house but would start running again even if it meant that initially she would take 3 hours to complete a half marathon.
In my mind here was somebody who would not accept her fate and vegetate at home wallowing in her misery. Instead she took a firm decision to get her life back on track which she has done. Her rehabilitation is not yet complete based upon how she was battling on the uphills, but it is that indomitable spirit and her resolute attitude which I admire about her. If she perseveres, as I have no doubt that she will, she would have beaten her personal woes.
I will probably never ever see Tsholo in my life again, but I raise my glass as a toast and salute her as a worthy runner and fellow human being.
Two vastly different stories but both are what I refer to as Running’s Everyday Heroes.