When it comes to trail running in South Africa, one of the most consistent performers is Bernard Rukadza, a softly-spoken Zimbabwean who has lived in Cape Town since 2008 and lets his legs and feet do most of his talking.
Earlier this year, Bernard teamed up with top SA trailer AJ Calitz to win the three-day ProNutro AfricanX Trailrun, was on course to win the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge until a sprained ankle cut his speed down and forced him to settle for second place, then claimed his fifth consecutive series win in the Spur Cape Winter Trail Series, followed by another win alongside
AJ in the three-day Southern Cross Trail Run. And these accolades were just the latest in a long line of wins and podium finishes he has wracked up since turning to trail running.
What makes his achievements so incredible is the fact that his training mostly consists of running 15km to work each morning and 15km back home again in the evenings, five days a week, in the company of fellow Zimbabwean Tsungai Mwanengeni, a top veteran runner in the Cape on both road and trail. They and their families live near to each other in Delft, near Cape Town Airport, and both work in Tyger Valley in the Northern Suburbs, so the ‘daily commute’ is the ideal time to get in their training.
“I know the other top guys are training more than me, because in the morning they may be doing two hours, and another two hours in the afternoon or evening, so if I want to be hanging with the lead bunch, then I need to do more to keep up with them in races,” says Bernard. “So every day we do 30km, and once, maybe twice a week we run to Tygerberg Nature Reserve or another nearby mountain first, to make it 25km for the run home and a total of 40km for the day. That is why we are not afraid to race long distances, because for us it is like a daily run
ROAD TO TRAIL
Bernard (33) started running in school, but didn’t take it seriously until after school. His older brother is also an athlete, and Bernard saw that others were making a living from running, so he decided to give it a try himself, and then moved to SA to run professionally. His initial focus was on the road, but that changed in 2009. “Eddie Lambert of Team Contego introduced me to trail running in 2009, and it was just for fun, I didn’t take it too seriously. I was not even running with the right equipment, I was using road shoes, but then I started winning races, and I won the Winter Series for the first time in 2010, so I started taking it more seriously,” says Bernard. He was signed up as part of the Contego elite squad in 2010, which saw him kitted out with proper trail gear, courtesy of the team’s technical sponsor, New Balance, and he subsequently also picked up product sponsorships from Nativa and Racefood.
Bernard still competes on the road as well, running for RCS Gugulethu, and has a 2:24 marathon PB and 1:06 half marathon best. The longest he has done is the 56km Old Mutual Two Oceans, which he ran in 2010, “but it was too long and I didn’t have enough training for it. It seems pointless for me to run those long ones right now, because I cannot train enough to finish in the top 10. One day I want to be in the top 10 of the Two Oceans and other big marathons, like Gauteng Marathon, and I want to run Comrades when I am older and stronger, but for now I am focusing on trail. Next I want to run trail overseas, because some of the guys I started running with here in SA are now focused on running internationally. But mostly I just want to run, because running means life to me. When I’m running I am enjoying myself and I like running more than anything else.”