Phobians Running Club

Phobians Running Club


Phobians is one of the original three running clubs in Pretoria and Modern Athlete went to chat to them to get some insight into the goings-on, highlights and future plans of this 27-year-old running establishment.

Name: Pretoria High Old Boys Club
Nickname: Phobians
Founded: 1982
Address: Hofmeyer Park, Lynwood, Pretoria East
Members: +-200

In conversation with club members, Gerald Kroukamp and Dimitri Kavallineas, one thing that immediately becomes clear is that Phobians is a social club and the ethics of camaraderie are the foundations on which the club is built. “We are not a serious runner’s club,” they joke. “We enjoy the social aspect of running.” Although the social aspect is so clearly apparent, Gerald and Dimitri stress that their more serious athletes are encouraged to mix it with the best.

As with most of the older established clubs, the first point of reference is the Comrades Marathon. Phobians has a record that most professional clubs would kill for, with best finishes at the Comrades when Helen Lucre won the race in 1985, 1986 and 1987, and Val Currin finished second to Frith van der Merwe in 1989 when Frith smashed the record. At this year’s Comrades Marathon, Phobians had 46 athletes take part in the event, with Belinda Hickman Mosdell flying the flag high with an amazing 20th place in a time of 7:45, not bad at all for a ‘social club’.

Pretoria’s popularity as a running region has exploded in recent years. When Phobians was originally formed in 1981 by John Buck, the region only had three running clubs. Phobians’ very first committee meeting was held in October 1981, with 15 runners applying for membership. Today, Phobians has approximately 200 members, not bad considering there are in excess of 100 clubs in the area. It is important to note that having over 100 running clubs in the Pretoria region really dilutes the market, a fact that is begrudgingly acknowledged by Gerald Kroukamp. “These days any three guys can get together and form a club; it’s a bit silly really!”

Phobians has some very healthy rivalries in the region. “We don’t have a mean competitive streak when it comes to our rivalries. We take on our friends in true social fashion with the odd unofficial wager,” explains Dimitri. In terms of local needle, the main protagonists are Irene Running Club, Magnolias and CSIR. The rivalry is demonstrated when the club hosts their popular time-trials on Thursday evenings. In the peak of summer, they have over 100 runners taking part in the running, building an atmosphere unique to Phobians Running Club.

Over the years, the club has produced some amazing characters and Phobians is the proud home of some very unique achievements. The club has in its midst the honorary memberships of Bruce Fordyce and Tom Cottrell. The Club chairman, Gerald Kroukamp, is only one of 18 athletes to have completed the Two Oceans Marathon and the Comrades on 20 occasions! Hilton James (brother of Rowan James – Two Oceans Race Director) completed the North and South Pole Challenges. The South Pole leg was a gruelling 880km, tackling 3 000m elevations and carrying 70kg of equipment en route. The 880km was conquered by a Norwegian team in 21 days. Hilton completed the monster course in 28 days, an achievement of which Phobians is extremely proud.     

Dimitri Kavallineas and Charlie Stewart are two Phobians who, with a unique global group, completed official marathons on all seven continents.

Phobians is affiliated to the Pretoria High School Old Boys’ Club and hosts three main races every year, namely the Deloitte Pretoria Marathon, the Ocean Basket Marcel Van’t Slot Memorial Race and the Chamberlain Capital Classic Half Marathon as well as an officially-timed, weekly 8km club walk-and-run time trial.

The time trial takes place on a set, measured course every Thursday, starting from the clubhouse in Hofmeyer Park, Lynwood. The walkers begin at 17h00, while the runners start at 17h45. This is a club that enjoys camaraderie and friendly rivalries with surrounding clubs, and therefore has many runners from other clubs taking part in their time trial.

One of the biggest qualifying races building up to the Comrades Marathon in Gauteng North is the Deloitte Pretoria Marathon. This race is run on the first Saturday of March, the same day it has been held since its inauguration 36 years ago. This has one of the most scenic, yet testing, routes through Pretoria, with the runners passing the beautiful Herbert Baker building of the Pretoria Boys’ High School. In 1995, it became a two-lapper, enabling the introduction of a half marathon, and more recently a 10km route was added to the event to accommodate all forms of runners.

The Ocean Basket Marcel Van’t Slot Memorial Race is run annually in memory of Marcel, who died tragically while out on a training run in 1994. He was one of the first to join Phobians at the age of 15, and for many years, he and his brother were the only juniors at Phobians. Appropriately, it was Marcel who set out the course for this two-lapper 15km and 5km race.

The third race hosted by Phobians is the Chamberlains Capital Classic held in October, which is comprised of a half marathon, 10km and 5km distances. In typical Phobians character, runners are awarded a R200 voucher from Chamberlain Centurion if they run the race in under three hours, in an authentic Scottish, Irish or Greek kilt.

Being a social running club, there is a very popular month-end social evening held on the last Thursday of the month. Each member receives an entry to the month-end lucky draw, in which prizes vary from running shoes to timing watches. The Bertie and Boerie (Bertie being the little man on their logo) gathering is held after certain races and the eats and drinks are sponsored by the club. A special award is presented annually to the person who produces the best Bertie and Boerie during the course of the year.

Looking ahead
The future of Phobians Running Club is best described by the phrase ‘if it ain’t broken…’
“We are extremely happy with the current size of and spirit within the club. There are no restructuring or expansion plans on the horizon,” explains Kroukamp. “We are always looking to attract younger members to the club. We have a good feeder system via Pretoria Boys’ High. However, the sport of running is battling to deliver the same appeal as other sporting codes.”

Phobians is, without a doubt, a special running family, a tight-knit unit that knows how to have a good time and enjoy their running. Their door is always open to anyone interested in starting out in the sport and the invitation is open to all other clubs to come and grab a boerie and a beer at the end of a good day on the road.

Fearless Phobians

Fred’s running started at school. He excelled in the 880 yards and the mile run and was a very keen Boy Scout (he received the Queen’s Scout Award in Standard 8). Fred loved camping, cycling and hiking and spending time out in the veld, enjoying nature and working on being fit and healthy. He was a very keen competitor, but most of all, loved to compete with himself, challenging himself to reach greater and greater heights.

He started his working career in the Weather Bureau, as an access point to the Antarctic and consequently spent a year on Marion Island (1965) and a year in the Antarctic as a leader of the meteorological team (the ninth South African Expedition to the Antarctic) in 1968. He remembers it as a privilege and an exceptionally rewarding experience as an adventurer. This rare opportunity afforded him the chance to take in the beauty and extraordinary features that the Antarctic had on offer. His journey included such magnificent features as: the Aurora Australus, midnight sun, sub-zero temperatures (the lowest being -47.6? Celsius), storms with wind speeds exceeding 60mph, the Emperor and Ad?lie penguins, killer whales, sea elephants, seals, the skua bird, a journey through the Roaring Forties and the pack ice in the RSA, huskies pulling a sled over the ice, travelling via snow toboggan or muskeg tractor, exploring the inside of a huge crevice and a team of 16 young men enthusiastic to explore the Antarctic. 

Between 1969 and 1991, Fred occasionally jogged for short spells to keep fit and did the odd hike in the Drakensberg or Eastern Transvaal to counter the effects of stress at work. However, at the age of 49, he started running again and did his first Comrades in 10:30, with only about four months of jogging as preparation. It was not long before he started winning gold and silver medals for half, full and ultra marathons, for his age category. His best Comrades time was 8:44 at the age of 51.

Unfortunately, Fred had a nasty accident shortly after his fifth Comrades (he fell off a seven metre high construction site), resulting in three compacted and one fractured vertebra. He had to take a break from running but spent a lot of time in the gym, determined to make a comeback, and ten years later, he returned to competitive running.

Fred ran another two Comrades after recovering from his injuries. He completed his sixth Comrades in a time of 9:56. That year (2006), he also did the SkyRun, an adventure run of over 120km from Lady Grey to Tiffendell, the ski resort, along the picturesque ridge of the Drakensberg.

Clement has now made a temporary switch to walking as, according to his doctor, his knees need the rest. He has done extremely well and has already won several gold medals but Fred intends to tackle the Comrades again next year and anticipates eventually getting his Comrades green number.

Belinda was the 20th lady to finish Comrades this year, a huge surprise for her as she claimed she would run only one Comrades. Now, she has been inspired to do more.

My husband is my inspiration for running. “We train together and he was my biggest mentor, coach and fan in the months leading up to Comrades,” she says. Although she has been running for ten years, her career began when she accidentally discovered she could run faster than the guys at work, much to their dismay.

Belinda has been running for Phobians for almost two years, and extols its virtues with passion. “It is a great club with great people. The club is well run by the current committee and we get so much from the club as members. This year they gave all those running Two Oceans tracksuits and every month, we have a special do at the league races where a feast of food and drink is set up after the run.” She says that the atmosphere of encouragement and the friendly advice she receives is a great help on the road.

Belinda has fond memories of this year’s Comrades, calling it a magnificent race. “It was with great trepidation that I lined up on the 24th of May at the start. I had barely managed 1 200km of training since January and I was very, very scared! I knew I could get to 60km comfortably but after that was anyone’s guess. My husband, being a nine-times Comrades runner knew where I needed him to be on the route, and that played a huge role mentally for me on the day.”

Mosdell would dearly love to equal her husband’s best time of 1:19 for the 21.1km, a very steep goal. The ultra and marathon distances are her passion and she has won a few marathons. “I do remember running the Deloitte Marathon a couple of years ago and finishing behind Frith v/d Merwe in 3:08. She is my all time running heroine so it really made the race very special.”

One of her fondest, and perhaps funniest, memories was at the Tom Jenkins 21km. “A guy fell in next to me on the last 3km. One of the spectators on the side of the road shouted out to me that I was the first lady and the guy who was running with me looked at me in amazement, sped up a few paces ahead of me and started shouting to all the other runners in front of us, “First lady coming through, first lady coming through!” The embarrassment when everyone turned around to look at me was huge but what could I do, except put my head down and make sure that I won the race for my unknown, but very supportive companion!”