The Comrades Marathon is a massive physical and mental challenge for the average runner, and just finishing the 89km race is considered a big achievement. But after 2014, thanks to Hilton Murray and the Ten10 Challenge, nobody will ever quite look at the Comrades distance in quite the same way.
When Hilton Murray, Hazel Moller and Carlo Gibson set out from Bedfordview Country Club (BCC) on Friday 23 May, intending to run from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg, doing the Comrades distance each day within 12 hours for nine days, then run the Comrades itself on the tenth day, many said it couldn’t be done, that the human body would not be able to handle that distance. Carlo and Hazel unfortunately did not complete the challenge, but Hilton, an average 47-year-old guy from Bellville Athletic Club in the Cape – he’ll be the first to point out that he is no super-athlete, and is usually under-trained as well – made it all the way, including an 11:46 finish on race day. He does admit that it was tough-going, though.
“The guys who have done six-day circuit races warned me that the third day is the toughest, and I saw what they meant, but at the end of the fifth day, I realised it was doable, because I had gotten into a groove, and I was 99% sure I was going to make it all the way,” says Hilton. “From there each day was a bit easier, even though I would always get to 65km and start slogging to finish within 12 hours. But there is only one Comrades, and the last day was still the most difficult, because of that route!”
Hazel made the headlines last year when she ran back-to-back Washie 100 Milers, which she did to raise funds for PETS (Pets Empowerment in Townships), and the BCC runner is a veteran of hundreds of ultras and multi-day events. Hilton, an accountant by trade but more recently part of the Newton shoe venture started in SA by Zola Pieterse, made contact with her last year when he heard that she ran in Newtons, and the friendship grew from there. When they spoke in January, Hazel said she had an idea for a new challenge, the Ten10, and invited Hilton to run with her. She also found a third runner, Carlo of neighbouring club Jeppe Quondam, when she mentioned the Challenge on a morning run in Johannesburg.
“When Hazel told me her idea, at first I didn’t think it was possible, but after two weeks I thought why not, since I had always wanted to do some personal challenge,” says Hilton. “So I followed a normal Comrades training programme, doing about 90km a week, but Hazel did 200km per week – luckily she only told me that the night before we started the Ten10, otherwise I may have stepped away from it!”
The team planned what Hilton calls a “scenic route,” passing through Oranjeville, Frankfort, Reitz, Warden, Bethlehem, Fouriesburg, Clarens, Harrismith, Estcort and Howick. “We wanted to see the country, so it was not the easiest course, and after three days we found we were having problems covering 90km in 12 hours, so we cut it shorter to 87km,” says Hilton. “That also allowed us to get a bit more rest, after finding guest houses and preparing food each evening.”
The team was seconded by Hazel’s husband Chris, and Hilton’s wife Lizet and brother Marius, and initially all went well, but then Carlo and Hazel both picked up problems. He suffered a recurrence of an old leg injury and had to pull out just as they started day four, then Hazel’s ulcer began bleeding, forcing her out as well after six days. She decided to rest up for race day and went on to finish comfortably in 8:36:00. (Lizet also ran the race, but found that seconding duties had sapped too much of her energy and she decided to bail at 53km when she realised she wasn’t going to make the cut-off.)
That left Hilton to run alone from Harrismith, and he says day nine was emotionally the toughest of them all. “We would have run a loop from Estcort, but at halfway the road got very busy and there was no shoulder to run on, so I decided to rather backtrack for the rest of the distance. The problem was, that morning I had a visit from clubmates at the start, and we took pics running together in the mist, so I didn’t realise it was all downhill. When I got to the last four kays, and it was uphill, I had to work really hard to come in under 12 hours. I made it in 11:56, but I was totally wasted – not exactly tapering before race day!”
FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Like Hazel, Hilton decided to run the challenge for a charity, but his first choice did not work out. “I wear a penguin on my hat because I support SANCCOB, for the penguins, but I decided to rather run for one of the official charity of the Comrades. The Pink Drive is another cause close to my heart, because my wife had cancer a few years ago, and also a work colleague, who has breast cancer and had an operation three weeks before I began the challenge, so I also ran for her.” Carlo decided to also run for the two charities chosen by Hazel and Hilton, and the team decided to set themselves a target of raising R100 000. “We raised R72 000 on the website, but my biggest surprise was the pledge line,” says Hilton. “When I came into the stadium on race day, I was carrying a banner with the SMS number on it for just the last 400m, and we apparently received another R11 000 just from that!”
He adds that he was blown away by the amount of attention the challenge received, both in mainstream media and social media. “I was totally oblivious to all the hype at first, I was just running, eating and sleeping, but after the fifth day I realised something was going on. I was getting over 100 SMS messages and another 100-plus Facebook messages per day, and I simply couldn’t keep up – I would type an answer and get three new messages in the meantime! Even then, I didn’t realise how big it had grown, until I heard people along the route calling my name as I passed, ‘Penguin Man, Hilton Murray, Ten10, go for it.’ A huge thank you must go to Patrick Devine for handling the social media side of things, and to Gerald Yapp for designing and hosting the website.”
LET’S DO IT AGAIN
With the success of the 2014 Ten10 Challenge, the intrepid trio have already committed to repeating the run. “The Ten10 Challenge is going to happen again, and Hazel and Carlo want to try again, but I will only be involved in organising and seconding,” says Hilton, adding that they have big plans for 2015. “It is an excellent platform to raise funds for charity, so we’re thinking of having eight to 10 runners, and we want corporate sponsors to come on board. We think we have established a nice base to work from and are hoping to make this an annual event as part of the run-up to Comrades.”
Hazel adds, “A huge thank you needs to go to the Bedfordview Country Club members who sacrificed their time, effort and money to create the event infrastructure for the Ten10 Challenge. Without their dedication and commitment, my dream to raise money for PETS would not have materialised, and we have already put together a committee to ensure the event is organised and run even more effectively next year, so that we can continue to raise much-needed funds for these charities.”