He’s one of South Africa’s most iconic sportsmen, thanks to that glorious Rugby World Cup win on home soil in 1995, when Madiba handed him the trophy while wearing a replica Springbok jersey. Since retiring from rugby, former Bok captain Francois Pienaar has turned his talents to promoting sports events, including the recent Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, and through it all, he still finds time for a regular run. – BY SEAN FALCONER
MA: Francois, you must be really excited with how things turned out with the new race in Cape Town.
It’s a dream come true. We worked very hard on this, and Janet Welham and her team did a magnificent job over the last year putting it together. When I met Elana Meyer, I said let’s do this, and we then engaged with Western Province Athletics and the City of Cape Town, and they were really open to the suggestion. We surpassed all our benchmarks, such as we wanted X amount of people to run the race, and that gives us a platform to build on, because in our dream the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon should be an international event. On the global scale, there are 10 million runners who run marathons each year, and we just need to give them an excuse to come run one in Cape Town.
MA: I believe you have a 10-year deal in place, so you must have a really long-term vision for the event?
That’s what we’ve done in sport in general. We’re involved in university sports with Varsity Sports and that’s also a 10-year relationship. These things take time to build and we need to invest heavily in the beginning to build it to a platform that can become sustainable. I have always asked myself why do we not have a top marathon in SA, and the only reason is that we haven’t promoted it properly and haven’t structured it properly, because if you look at running in South Africa, it’s the second-biggest sport by registered participant and the biggest from a social, getting fit perspective.
MA: You ran the 10km this year, but any plans to run the Cape Town Marathon yourself in the future? After all, you’ve run the London Marathon, and you looked fairly comfortable finishing the 2004 Two Oceans ultra in 6:37…
I was actually hoping to run the marathon myself this year, but I picked up a few injuries in my preparation. I started a bit late, and you know, I’m a big guy, I need a lot of time on the road. I also have to take cognisance that my knees are not as strong as they used to be… Marathons are not easy, but it’s something that people aspire to do, so it’s not that I will or won’t do it, it will just depend on what focus I have then.
MA: If you’ll forgive a personal question, are the problems with your knees due to rugby injuries catching up with you?
Yes, invariably these old rugby injuries do remind us that once we played quite a tough game, but I don’t complain – when we played the game we loved it. And my problems are not as bad as some other guys.
MA: You must have a very busy workload, what with all the ventures and activities you’re involved in, so how do you fit running into your schedule, and what’s an average run for you?
I call it a ‘strog,’ a combination of a stroll and a jog, and it varies from 5km to 10km. I try not to do more than 10km, and I try to pick up the speed in it rather than go further. I have to squeeze out some time in my diary for running, but it’s something that I actually needed to do, because I’d become lazy, in the sense that you can always neglect yourself and just focus on pressing issues. But I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to get fitter again, and I’ve actually lost 4kg since doing that, so watch this space.