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08 Mar, 2019

Ready for Another Big Year

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Charne is all smiles for 2019.
Coming home strongly in the 2019 Dis-Chem Half Marathon.
Charne's big win the 2016 Comrades Marathon.
Being unveiled as a big signing for the new Murray & Roberts club.

It’s a case of ‘something old, something new’ for former Comrades Marathon champion Charne Bosman this year. The 2016 women’s winner was unveiled as a marquee signing for the new Murray & Roberts Running Club in January, but in the meantime she has gone back to a tried and tested formula of being coached by Lindsey Parry, who helped guide her to her biggest win yet – and she’s feeling confident about her 2019 Comrades form. – BY SEAN FALCONER

One of the biggest smiles in the room at the recent launch of the new Murray & Roberts club belonged to Charne Bosman, and she has continued smiling at the start line, and on the podium, at recent races in Gauteng. “I am thrilled to join the Murray & Roberts team – and black and yellow are definitely my colours!” she says. “I decided at the beginning of this year that it was a new year, so I needed a new beginning, and I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my career.”

“I have nothing but thanks for the Nedbank Running Club, but I felt it was time for a fresh change, and when I saw the incredible support of the new club at the Dis-Chem Half Marathon, I knew I had made a good choice. On the other hand, I decided to go back to being coached by Lindsey, because he helped me do so well in 2015 and 2016. The last two years I did my own thing, but realised that even with all my running experience, having Lindsey in the build-up to races, especially the Comrades, is so beneficial.”

Charne finished second woman overall and first veteran at Dis-Chem, showing that she is already in good racing shape for the 2019 season, with plenty of speed in her legs over shorter distances, but she says her main focus this year will once again be the Comrades. “People say I am 43, but to be honest, I feel stronger than before. I don’t let myself say I am getting older, I stay positive. As you get older, you realise you need to work harder, therefore I’m doing more strength work, cross training and swimming, focusing on my recovery, and I have my coach back to take the stress away. I’m aiming to get to Comrades well prepared, and Lindsey gives me such valuable feedback. If I go too fast in a race, he adapts my training the following week and gives me a little less to do, so we are watching it all carefully.”

Comrades Highlight
Unsurprisingly, Charne lists her 2016 Comrades win as the biggest moment of her career, especially given the way she reeled in a faltering Caroline Wöstmann, who had earlier opened a massive lead – and that in spite of having broken a small toe just under seven weeks before the race when she slipped in the bathroom. “I kept that quiet for a long time, only Lindsey and my family knew, so I didn’t expect to run so well, but it just shows you, anything can happen on race day.”

“I will always remember how down I felt for about four hours after breaking my toe, but then I went onto Google to research treatment and read that hyperbaric chambers can speed up recovery from injury. I found a chamber at the Eugene Marais Hospital, mailed Doctor Gregory Weir the next morning, and he replied that he would help me, for free! I also read that rugby players often play with broken toes, so I spoke to Dr Org Strauss at the Blue Bulls rugby team and asked whether I would do further damage if I kept on running. He said the pinkie toe does very little, so if I can deal with the pain, I can still run.”

That saw Charne take two weeks off running, during which she did 10 sessions in pure oxygen in the hyperbaric chamber, which she says halved her recovery time from the injury. “I also told myself that pain is just temporary, blocked out the pain for two to three hours when I ran, and then iced my toe so that I was ready to go again the next morning. I still can’t believe I got through that and lined up for the race, but if you’re hungry enough for success, you will get to that start line. I’m hungry again this year... just going to mind my toes!”

Even so, Charne admits that she didn’t expect to win, even when she heard from her supporters that Caroline was in trouble. “Lindsey had given me a plan and I stuck to it, but with 10km to go I didn’t think I could close a 10-minute gap. I still had to get through the race myself, so I had to keep running at my pace, and besides, I need to see someone in order to chase them, but when I actually saw the cars and motorbikes around Caroline, that was when I realised the win was on. I knew that when I passed her, I’d have to run as hard as possible. For everyone watching, it was clear that she wasn’t able to respond… but I didn’t know that, so I kept pushing all the way to the finish. It was a great race!”

Career Longevity
Winning Comrades shot Charne into the national limelight, but she had actually been at the forefront of South African women’s running for more than two decades. Amongst her many titles and accolades are three SA Marathon titles and 23 outings in the green and gold of her country (in road and cross country), plus she won the Soweto Marathon twice in consecutive years, as well as three consecutive Two Oceans Half Marathon titles. However, it was the Comrades win that brought her the mast attention. “I don’t think we realise the magnitude of the Comrades in South Africa,” says Charne. “When I won in 2016, some people asked me when I’d started running!”

Of course, there have also been disappointments along the way, and Charne says her biggest regret remains not getting to the Olympics. “2003 was one of my biggest years, with wins in the Peninsula and Soweto Marathons. I then tried to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Marathon, but picked up a stress fracture in my leg. In 2008 I was in the marathon squad, but I wasn’t selected for the final Games team, and in 2012 I messed things up in Rotterdam when I tried again to qualify. My target was 2:36, but I felt great and thought I could go 2:34, so I started too fast and by 22 kilometres I’d blown it. Failing to make the Olympics in 2012 almost ended my running career. I was sad for months after that race, because it was one of my biggest dreams, and I didn’t achieve it.”

Eventually, some months later, Charne says she finally got herself running again, but with a new focus. “I decided that my Olympic dream was just not meant to be, but at least I had tried, and that led to my decision to try my first ultra, at the 2012 City to City 50km. I finished second, in spite of not being properly prepared for the distance, and then getting tripped and falling with 7km to go. The following year, I finished third at Two Oceans, in one of the best races of my career. I was lying ninth at Constantia Nek, but then I started catching everyone. I was hammering it over the last few kilometres, and if the race had been just 1km further, I could have passed Tabtitha Tsatsa for second place... which would have meant I would have become the winner when Natalya Volgina was disqualified.”

With that really successful 2013 Two Oceans debut still fresh in her memory, Charne then made her Comrades debut, finishing fifth. Ultra-running clearly suits her, and in the years from 2013 to 2018 she has earned four gold medals at Two Oceans (finishing in positions 2, 5, 4 and 3, with a best of 3:40:16 in that 2013 debut) and five golds at Comrades, with an equally remarkable finishing record of positions 5, 2, 1, 3 and 5, and a best of 6:25:55 in the 2016 Down Run, when she won the race.

Planning for Success
When asked if she would like to go after the win at Two Oceans, to round off her collection of top five positions in the race, she says no, because Comrades is her main focus this year. “It would be nice to win Two Oceans, but this year it’s too close to Comrades. Last year I learnt my lesson when I won the Loskop 50km in 3:22 and broke the course record for veterans, then had my biggest training week at altitude in Graskop the very next week. I hadn’t actually raced too hard at Loskop, but the big week on top of it broke me, and that affected my Comrades.”

“So I will see how Two Oceans goes, but I will have worked out with Lindsey what I need to do, and then I will run a sensible race. If there is something in the last few kays and there is a chance to win it, as Caroline did, then I will go for it, but that is not my main focus. Lindsey always says I need to run certain times, and I am going to listen to him, because I feel this year I have the opportunity to do well at Comrades again.”

That careful planning also includes going back to what worked for her in the past. In the build-up to her 2016 Comrades win, she won the Johnson Crane Marathon and finished fourth at Two Oceans. In 2017, she didn’t finish the Peninsula Marathon, but then took second place at the Om Die Dam 50km. Last year, however, she probably raced too much, winning the Johnson Crane, Bestmed/Tuks and Deloitte marathons, as well as the Sunrise Monster 32km and at Loskop. This year she has already finished second in the Dis-Chem Half, and followed that up with another win in the Johnson Crane Marathon, posting a new course record of 2:44:52, but she says she is actually holding back.

“In 2018 I was trying to do my long training runs in races, and I think that was one of my mistakes, because even if just training, you naturally go five to 10 percent faster. Lindsey says he will join me in some races this year to hold me back, and will keep an eye on me to make sure I stick to what is planned. I still won at Johnson Crane, and may go down to the Cape for the Peninsula Marathon, but I am running according to a strict plan. I learnt a big lesson in 2018, that to do well at Comrades, you can’t race all the other races. You have to train and race smart.”

Looking Ahead
Charne has been running since 1991 and says she instantly fell in love with running the first time she ran with her cousin. It also soon became apparent that she had serious running talent. “When I was 16 years old, I did a VO2max test and they said I scored 69, which meant that I had lots of potential to be a long-distance runner. They also said I was built like a Kenyan, with long legs and a short torso, which gave me still more encouragement.”

Even now at 43, she says she still loves the way running makes her feel. Nevertheless, she has reached that part of a pro runner’s career when one inevitably has to begin thinking of what will come next, when your competitive years at the top are over. “You can’t run competitively forever, so I am already thinking ahead. I studied teaching way back in the day, then only taught for six months before turning pro in 1998, but last year I actually updated my CV for the first time in years because several schools asked me to help them out as a relief teacher.”

“If schools need me again this year, I will be available, as long as it fits into my training schedule, but to be honest, I can’t see myself going back to teaching fulltime. On the other hand, I can see myself as a running coach, helping with children, because I love to work with kids. I’m already coaching junior athletes, and enjoy giving back in that way. Also, Murray & Roberts are supporting the Vorentoe Academy, so if there is an opportunity and they want me to help there, I would love to get involved. I’ve actually just done some coaching courses with ASA, and it made me realise that I actually enjoy studying, so even though it’s been a long time since my varsity days, I may look for something to study after Comrades, like sports marketing. You’re never too old to try something new!”

No matter what the future holds, for now Charne says she is still fully focused on her running. “The older I get, the stronger I seem to get, so I do not see my age as a barrier... but I do listen to my body more now. I know what works for me, and of course, what does not work. Experience has taught me to focus only on what I can control, and that is running my own race. My rivals must do what they need to do, but all that matters to me when I cross the finish line is that I want to know that I gave it everything I have. If I can tell myself I did that, then I will be happy with the result, no matter that my position is.”

IMAGES: Jetline Action Photo & courtesy Murray & Roberts

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