Safety First

Every outdoor activity carries inherent risk, and as runners, we are certainly aware of the dangers presented by technical terrain, rapid weather changes, unclear paths or exposed climbs. Sadly, however, a rolled ankle, heatstroke or a hidden puffadder are not our primary dangers any more. The threat of personal attack is on the rise, and the buzz on every running forum is centred on safety precautions and solutions. – BY KIM STEPHENS

This situation flies in the face of some of our fundamental reasons for running: Freedom, solitude, and the flexibility to enjoy our sport at any time of the day or night. The reality is that we all need to apply some practical thinking to our training patterns, and work as a community to protect each other and our sport.

The first step in empowering our running community is to better understand the risks. The news reports on the most recent attacks on Table Mountain have been sorely lacking in both fact and detail, leaving many of us guessing when it comes to where we should run, and what we should look out for. Fortunately, some brave victims from across South Africa have shared their stories here in an effort to put the missing pieces together. (We must just advise anyone currently working through the trauma of violence or personal attack that there are many triggers within the following stories.)

Beach Attack
The small surfing town of Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape offers an idyllic holiday destination, but it became a runner’s nightmare for visitor Charlotte Noble of Cape Town, a former Comrades gold medallist and now elite age-group trail runner. “I’ve run for 30 years all over this country, and in very remote places abroad, and never felt threatened or had an incident. Then in June last year we went to J-Bay for a family surfing holiday, staying on the beach near Supertubes, and found it a busy town with a lot happening at that time of year,” recounts Charlotte.

“I trotted off on my long run, planning to run to St Francis and call my husband when I got there. I stopped a couple times to take some sunrise pics and have a snack, then at 11km decided that I’d run back and save Andy the drive, and run to St Francis another time. Two kays from the town, on a long stretch of beach with fishermen 800m ahead, I looked up to see a man 50m ahead, walking towards me. Then suddenly to my left running at me was another guy!”

“I’ve always thought if attacked on a beach I’d run into the sea and out-swim any guy, but the sea was rough and so I stopped waist-deep and they fell onto me, dunking my pack with my phone in it. ‘Phone, phone,’ the one kept saying. ‘I’m giving you my phone,’ I replied, trying to get it out the drenched pocket. He then produced a huge knife and proceeded to cut my Salomon racing pack off me, then the two ran off, seemingly arguing about who should get what.”

“I was physically fine, just a scratch wound on my chest from the blade, but psychologically I was stuffed. Initially I was ecstatic to be alive, to get back to my kids and family, but for weeks I was jumpy, and I did not run for days after. My lessons… Don’t run without knowing where poorer areas are in relation to your route, out-and-back routes are problematic because you risk being ambushed, and pepper spray or a taser is useless if attacked by more than one assailant. Also, why carry an expensive phone? Now I’m training up my Ridgeback pup, as I believe trail dogs to be the best deterrent and alarm system.”

Right in the Suburbs
Road runners are not exempt from the threat of attack, which has seen a rapid rise in the number of social running groups springing up on both tar and trail. Cape Town runner Susan O’Connor changed her running approach after an attack on a popular running route. “I was attacked on a beautiful summer’s morning running over the bridge from Bishopscourt to Wynberg at the top of Edinburgh Drive. It was the same route I ran every Sunday at 6:30am if I didn’t have a race on,” she says.

“I used to run on my own to have some peace and quiet in my life and a time to reflect in general, but after the attack I was petrified to run on my own. My training dwindled to nothing, because I hardly ran for the first six months after the attack. I kept on looking over my shoulder when I left the safety of my front door, and I could only manage about 1km down the road. I eventually joined a group of girls who ran in the area and they got me back into the swing of things. The positive side of this was I made new friends.”

“I was furious in the beginning that this person had chosen me that day to attack, but as most of us who survive these attacks and come out in one piece always say, ‘It could have been a lot worse.’ I fought back and realised how strong I actually was in the fight or flight mode. Unfortunately, it is not safe to run on your own, but if you do decide to do so, take mace with you and let somebody know the route you are running. I sometimes run with two little mace containers, one in each hand and I am always ready.”

Negotiation Time
Ian Hendry from Johannesburg is a regular work commuter, either with his running pack or on his bike, and one of his favourite routes is The Spruit. “This day, because I was running, I decided to follow the river under the road bridge and then come up the other side, so as to not have to cross the road. As I was coming up, I saw a man in blue overalls coming towards me, also on his way commuting to work, I assumed. I was on a 70cm wide section of concrete ledge, so I moved to the open side to allow him to pass me on the wall side. I even greeted him with a hearty ‘Good morning!’”

“As we crossed, he grabbed my Camelbak chest-strap with his left hand, pushed me slightly back towards the edge of the ledge and pulled out a knife with his right hand. He put the knife against my throat and told me he wanted money, my cellphone and my Camelbak.” What followed was a surprisingly calm negotiation, as Ian was adamant about keeping his running pack. They settled on him handing over his cellphone and the R30 that was in its cover, and then the man retreated under the bridge.

“On insistence from my boss, I went to see an ICAS psychologist for a few sessions. I thought I was okay, but a number of things surfaced in the sessions. For one, I kept replaying in my mind what I could have done, ranging from smashing his head into the concrete wall, grabbing the knife and jabbing him, pulling him back over the edge into the river, etc. In the end, the way I handled it was the best – my only thought at the time was to negotiate to get out of there!”

“South African men, in particular, are tough, and don’t need to talk to people about these things – we are okay and it’s the women who need to talk about their feelings, or so we are conditioned to think. That’s utter rubbish! I thought I was okay, but I needed to talk to someone. Now, whenever I speak to someone who has been hijacked, had a home robbery or been mugged, I strongly advise that the men see someone,”

Fellow Mountain Users?
A few months ago, Claire-Louise Worby and a friend were accosted on the contour path above Cape Town’s beautiful Newlands Forest, close to the turnstile. “Whilst running along the single track, we came across two men who were dressed in smart and appropriate walking gear. They looked very much like two walkers enjoying the trail. Upon approach, the first man passed us as we stood aside to let them walk past on the single track. We even greeted each other politely as he walked past first myself and then my friend, but when the second man came up, they closed in on us. They calmly said, ‘Ok, we will kill you. Give us what you have.’”

“My friend and I froze as they searched not only our pockets, but our sports bras and our underwear. They groped and grabbed every inch of our bodies. In what I now know as a survival instinct that can happen other than ‘fight or flight’, my friend and I stood frozen. We only had our car keys, and I had my cell phone. I also had mace in my pocket. At one point I had my hand on it, but in better judgement gave it over rather than aggravate one or both of them.”

“When they took the keys and my phone, they insisted we must have more – they wouldn’t accept that my friend didn’t have her phone. The one man was holding me by the back of my running vest as the one who had been searching my friend suggested, ‘Let’s just rape them.’ In a haze, I recall my friend saying to them that they had everything, whilst I peeled myself out of the zip-up running vest that the man was holding and we just ran.”

“I still don’t understand how it all happened, and am grateful we got away safely. On our way down the mountain, we came across other women, running on their own. The first had a running belt with her phone and she called a contact who worked for mountain rescue to alert them. We told the other women to turn around. The SANParks ranger was already there when we got down and was incredibly proactive.”

This devastating experience has taken Claire off the trails she loves, but she hopes to return, in time. When she does, she says it will be with large groups only. She adds that she has found the trauma counselling at the Rondebosch Police Station to be of huge help. And her advice centres on the small, practical choices we can all make: “Don’t run with anything that will attract someone, like headphones. I’m still on the fence about self-defence things like pepper spray, though. Now, when I run on my own on the road, I arm myself with pepper spray, but I think there is a time and place for defending yourself. I know that giving up your personal belongings is far less of a sacrifice then getting into a heavy altercation. In my situation, an aggressive move could have jeopardised my own and my friend’s safety.”

Sidebar: Safety Warning for Table Mountain
The Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) is primarily an open access park and SANParks says that from time to time there is criminal activity in some of the urban edge areas of the Park. In answer to these challenges the TMNP has recruited and deployed Visitor Safety Officers (VSOs) to patrol these popular use zones in the Park, act as a deterrent to criminals, and give safety advice to mountain users. Furthermore, Saskia Marlow, the SANParks Hospitality Services, Film and Events Manager of TMNP says, “We actively encourage people to run in a group, leave their valuables at home and ensure they have let someone know where they are going and when to expect them home.”

Knife Wounds
Another harrowing experience last year occurred when Kent Venish was covering the 8km of road on the way to his much-loved trail playground in Gonubie, near East London, when he mistook his assailant for a late night reveller making his way home in the early light of morning. “In the next second he was on me and pulled me off my feet by my pack, which snapped the plastic clips across my chest. He shouted he wants money, I had none, and it was at this point I saw the knife.”

“They say fight or flight… well, maybe in hindsight I should have ‘flighted.’ Anyhow, I attacked him by closing the distance so he could not use the knife. I parried with my left arm which took three stabs and then locked his arm and proceeded to bend it backwards until it broke. He screamed blue murder and kicked me to the ground, then stumbled off with my bag and kit in it. I got up, shouting at him and started chasing him down, and I had taken a few running steps when I suddenly realised I was breathing through the side of my chest. I had been stabbed in the side of my chest and instantly knew I had a more serious problem than my kit being stolen, so I stopped chasing.”

Kent was rescued by a gentleman on his way to work, who piled him into his car and drove him home, where his wife then took him to hospital. He has fully recovered since then, and vows not to let this incident rob him of his love for trail running, but his wife no longer allows him to run in that particular area!

Roaring Response
Seasoned multi-sport athlete, Kim van Kets has a rather refreshing take on the safety issue. “I have run for 30 years on every beach, jeep track and path I can find, often alone. Not once in all this time have I experienced anything other than kindness, humanity and goodwill from everyone I have met. Until a year ago. I was just finishing my last long run with a heavy pack in preparation for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon and I was running alone on deserted farm roads early in the morning. As I was approaching a crossroads, a guy approached running from the opposite direction and we both turned and started running down the same road. We were moving at a similar pace, so I greeted him, commented on the weather and overtook him.”

“A while later he overtook me and this happened a couple of times. Every time we passed each other I engaged with him. I found him non-threatening, I registered that he had a pleasant face, I felt no fear or anxiety at his presence. After about 2km he pulled off the road, and as I approached him he came towards me and said, ‘Give me your cell phone!’ I thought I must have misheard him, maybe he was asking for the time, so I went right up to him, and only then did I register that he was brandishing a huge rock in my direction.”

“Something happened in my head. I roared at him repeatedly that I would kill him if he took one step closer, and I think I did something similar to the New Zealand Haka. I’m not sure exactly how long this went on for, but I roared so hard that my throat hurt for days. He kept coming at me, and I kept roaring/Haka-ing, and there was eventually a weird Mexican standoff. At some point I also picked up a rock, because I wasn’t sure how long I could maintain the upper hand with just my voice. I sort of registered through my rage that if he was going to crush my skull, he would have done so by now, so I started to back away, still roaring/haka-ing/brandishing, and eventually I turned and started jogging away.”

“I was lucky, but so was he. I don’t know what would have happened if he had tried to hurt me, but I think he would have come off second best. I don’t think he was a hardened criminal, and I actually felt rather a lot of compassion for him afterwards. I think he was quite young, not more than 18. I bumped into my husband about 2km down the road and we went to look for him, because I had a strong sense that he needed someone to tell him that he had crossed a line that day, and that he needed some guidance. I didn’t find him, though, and I regret that. Anyway, from now on he will hopefully realise that not all middle-aged ladies are necessarily easy targets.”

“I also realised after the incident that having a pepper spray or taser in your bag is a total waste of time. If you have a weapon, it must be in your hand. Also, cross the road, smile and wave. Don’t engage or go up to someone. I have not changed my running habits at all, but I do have a plan now in case I need it, and it involves speed, aggression and surprise.”

Criminal Gang
Running within the safety of well-organised events is a great way to experience new routes and venues, with marshals and fellow runners to maintain your security, but when not running in an organised event, group runs remain a key first line of defence. One runner who swears by the power of having a running crew is Kerry Red (above centre, making victory sign) from Cape Town, who was attacked in March 2017. “It was a pretty typical Monday morning, I woke up, put on my running shoes and headed out on my usual pre-work morning run from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay and back. I had been doing this same run most mornings for more than three years without incident.”

“From Muizenberg to St James, I ran along what is known as ‘The Catwalk,’ a great pathway between the train tracks and the ocean. I love running there. I noticed a guy with a bicycle who I had seen earlier, on my way to Kalk Bay, and I got a bad feeling about him, but there were other people about. There was a girl on the bench tying her shoe, and there was another runner up ahead, about to disappear on the path, so I thought it must be safe. As I passed the guy, and then the girl, a man with a hoodie stepped out from the tunnel that runs underneath the train tracks to the road. I tried to pass but he blocked me and in that split second I knew.”

“I immediately started to scream as loud as possible, so much so that I didn’t have a voice for a week! He pulled a gun out and held it to my stomach, and with the other hand he started grabbing at me. I fought back, all the while screaming, and but when I looked to the side, I noticed that the ‘lookout’ and the girl tying her shoe were involved in this as well. Eventually he had me pinned down on my haunches against the wall, but I was still fighting back and screaming as loud as I possibly could.”

“The thing that saved me was that two people close by heard me screaming. They shouted back from the tunnel, then came to investigate the screaming and witnessed the scene. This startled my attacker and gave me the slightest gap to get away. I climbed over the train tracks and started running in the direction of the Muizenberg Police Station, which was about 1.5km away, and it felt like the longest, toughest run of my life. My legs felt like lead. I got to the police station and eventually, after much pleading, managed to get them to come with me, as I suspected the attackers would’ve still been in the area. It’s a massive relief that we managed to catch them and get the gun, which was fully loaded and ready for use!”

“It is a complete miracle that I walked away unharmed, and I thank God for that. In the words of the policeman taking my statement, ‘Lady, do you know how lucky you are to be alive?’ It turned out that the three already had warrants out on them for other crimes, but it took a full year for the court case to take place, with me constantly having to follow-up with the police. They are so understaffed and service such a large area that it felt like a losing battle at times.”

“After the incident, and a range of every kind of emotion one can imagine in the days after – I did go for trauma counselling – I went on to the community Facebook page to alert the locals of what had happened and requested that if anyone had experienced something similar, to please go to the police station, as their attackers may have been the same guys that attacked me. It’s so important to report these things, I cannot emphasise that enough.”

“As I hit the post button, I noticed the post directly under mine. Incredibly, it read ‘We are a newly formed group of trail runners in the area. If you are keen to join us for a run, get in touch.’ Well, this was just heaven sent! Up until that point I had been running on my own on the road, as I didn’t really have any other options, but after my incident, the amount of loved ones begging me to quit running, or saying ‘please don’t run on your own,’ was overwhelming.”

“I had actually strapped on my shoes and gone for a run the day after my attack, because I do not want to live in fear, but I got into contact with the Muizenberg Trail Dawgs and joined the group, and it has been so incredible. We have all become great friends and the group has grown so much over the past year and a half. I am, in some strange way, so very grateful that everything happened the way that it did, as something so awesome came out of such a horrible incident. We’ve built such strong friendships as a result, and a group of the ‘Dawgs’ even accompanied me to court when I was asked to testify. They have been such a great support.”

Take Back Control
In spite of all these frightening stories, it is not all doom and gloom in the world of running, it is simply time for us to work on making it better. So what can we do? For starters, there are a few proactive, protective items and devices you could consider carrying, such as Mace, the world’s most popular brand of pepper spray (available through various retailers, including Cape Union Mart), or a pocket-size stun gun (available through Takealot). You could also purchase a Run Angel wristband from We Run (, which emits an ear-piercing alarm when you push the button, and pairs with smartphones via a free app to send out alerts in the event of an emergency.

Furthermore, companies like Cape Town-based ACT Personal Safety offer courses to improve situational awareness and proactive strategies for hostile confrontations. “We also advise pre-planning and a thorough understanding of the risks and preventative measures before deciding on self-defence devices or strategies,” says Kelee Arrowsmith of ACT, adding that running groups or organisations should avoid over-sharing their crime-prevention strategies, which only serves to pre-warn the criminals.

It is worth remembering that if we all stay away from our favourite running playgrounds for fear of our safety, we only serve to make them more isolated, dangerous zones. In short, the wisest advice seems to be to get out there in your numbers, take back the spaces that make us all feel most alive, and keep running!

Sidebar: Have your ICE Numbers Ready
It is vital to have the correct emergency numbers saved to your phone. In so doing, you can get help that much quicker if attacked and injured, and you position yourself as a potential rescuer. Research the numbers for your specific area, but here are a few general numbers to begin with.
• Flying Squad (national) – 10111
• Ambulance (national) – 10177

Cape Town
• Cape Town City Emergency – 021 480 7700
• Table Mountain Rescue – 021 937 0300
• SANParks Visitor Safety – 086 110 6417

Central Gauteng
• Johannesburg Central – 011 375 5911
• Roodepoort – 011 375 5911
• Sandton – 011 375 5911

• Durban Metro Police – 031 306 4422
• Durban Metro Ambulance – 031 307 7744

Ready for Another Big Year

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

WIN a Trip to the Great Wall of China Marathon!

If your dream is to run an international marathon, we have great news for you! Huawei is running a stunning competition for a trip for two to the Great Wall Marathon in China on 18 May.

This wonderful prize is sponsored by Huawei Technologies South Africa, to celebrate its devices being Discovery Vitality approved. It’s a tough marathon, make no mistake, but just being able to take in all that history, and those views, will make every step worth it!

The winners will receive:
• Roundtrip flights for two – Including airport taxes.
• Transfers from airport/hotel/airport.
• Travel Insurance.
• VISA assistance and payment for VISA’s.
• Sightseeing in Beijing and surrounds.
• Evening Celebration Party after the race.
• Lunches and dinners not specified above.

Now the important part, how do you enter? It’s simple, CLICK THIS LINK!

But if you still need help we have you covered, check out our infographic below which shows you step by step how to enter! If you own a Huawei Device or are a Discovery Vitality member you earn yourself a bonus entry!

Takealot Berge & Dale Hits the Streets Soon

The Silverstar Casino is set to provide a sparkling finish to the Takealot Berge & Dale cycling road race when it takes over as the new race venue this month.

The 20th edition of the popular event in Krugersdorp on Gauteng’s West Rand will be held on February 23, with the feature race over 108km and a second option of 60km. Hosted by ASG Events, the race annually attracts around 4 000 riders and the closing date for entries is February 13.

ASG chief executive officer Erick Oosthuizen said they were excited about the new partnership and believed Silverstar would add massive value to the start and finish of the race. “The venue is built to host many people, which means they have the infrastructure for an occasion such as this,” he said. “This includes sufficient refreshment facilities, secure parking, restaurants and, naturally, a casino if you’re feeling lucky.

“In addition it is a well-known, well-respected and superbly maintained venue that will make the riders and families feel at home.” After being approached by ASG Events last year, Silverstar Casino events manager Nadia Godridge said they were thrilled to become the start and finish venue partner for the Berge en Dale. “Sporting events are very much a part of our offering at Silverstar,” she said, “whether we are screening games on our outdoor screen or providing a start and finish venue. “Our visitors are huge sports fans, particularly when it comes to home-grown sport, so the association with this cycle race echoes our shared passion for local sport.”

With a big entry, the race organisers are keen to create a memorable atmosphere at the finish and Godridge said they were confident they could deliver this. “At Silverstar, gees [spirit] is our middle name and we are renowned for being a warm, welcoming and family-friendly option.

“The Square at Silverstar has been the bedrock of many happy family memories as the favourite entertainment destination on the West Rand.” She added competitors would find the start and finish venues conveniently located in the top open parking area, which also met the logistical requirements of the race organisers.

Once the cycling was done, Godridge said, riders and their supporters could revel in “the electric atmosphere of The Square. “They will be able to enjoy all the activities we offer regularly over weekends, including children’s play areas, live music and our Local Market, plus many food vendors and restaurants.

“Silverstar places great emphasis on entertainment for the whole family, no matter what age, and we have a wide range of facilities, from movies to the latest arcade games and fast-food outlets, to achieve that.”


Hillcrest Hits 40 with Threshhold

The Threshhold Hillcrest Marathon & Half Marathon celebrates its 40th anniversary on 10 February with a new title sponsor, but the same great race that has become a firm favourite amongst KZN runners.

It was 1978… On Robben Island, Nelson Mandela celebrated his 60th birthday, unaware that in 17 years’ he was destined to become SA’s first black president. Meanwhile, we filled cinemas to watch Superman and Grease. Dallas kept us riveted to TV screens, which had only been in the country for two years. Our own Margaret Gardiner was crowned Miss Universe, and pop royalty Queen were chanting ‘We Will Rock You’ – on vinyl records, of course.

And in KZN’s sleepy town of Hillcrest, with less than 5000 residents, the fledgling Hillcrest Villagers Athletics Club with all of 25 members staged its first club race on 5th February 1978. Roughly 500 entrants took on the 24km from Hillcrest’s rugby fields through the barely developed countryside to Forest Hills and back, and the race was won by DAC’s John Cafetero in a time of 1:24:32.

40 years later and it’s all very different today. In 2019 we’ll probably download the blockbuster Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody to watch on our smart TV’s, which grew out of their clumsy bunny ears decades ago. CD’s came and went. Now we stream music performed by artists who weren’t even born in 1978. We just recently had a second Miss Universe in Demi-Leigh Nel-Pieters. And Hillcrest is a thriving suburb which, along with Kloof and Gillitts, is now home to about 20,000 residents.

Modern, Vibrant Club
As for Hillcrest Villagers Athletics Club, it is now 350 members strong and one of KZN’s most vibrant multi-disciplined running clubs. But that club race, now called the Threshhold Hillcrest Marathon, has stood the test of time. Although the route changed some years back, February 2019 will see the 40th running of the race, and for the past 30 years, this race has also been the first local marathon qualifier for the Two Oceans and Comrades ultra-marathons.

“It’s undoubtedly one of the most popular races on the KZN calendar and the 3000 entries go quickly,” says club chairman Marc Allen. “Runners like to test their legs early in the year and take some pressure off by achieving their qualifying times for Two Oceans and Comrades early. It’s a relatively fast run, too. Last year’s winning times were 2:31:57 for Tsholwane Jane in the men’s marathon and 3:04:36 by Lisa Collett in the women’s race. The route plays a big part in its attraction, because it’s a very scenic two-lap course through a tree-lined, shaded route into Winston Park, and the crowd support is always good.”

“We still have a few of the original members from 1978 in the club and it’s fascinating to hear their stories. The Club’s 42 years old this year, so it’s older than myself and many of the members, but all of us really feel that sense of tradition keenly, so to be putting on the race for the 40th time, and with a new headline sponsor in Threshhold, is very exciting. We’re pulling out all the stops to ensure this year is extra memorable.”

The Ideal Supplement
Threshhold, which is a natural supplement that’s clinically proven to provide support and protection for joints, cartilage and ligaments as well as relief of pain and inflammation, comes on board as headline sponsor after co-sponsoring the event in 2018. Made from the world’s best researched and purest form of MSM (OptiMSM), Threshhold is particularly beneficial to runners who often experience joint and muscle strain or injury with inflammation, especially as the season progresses. Used daily, Threshhold helps to prevent injury and strain plus enhances performance by acting as an antioxidant, stimulating muscle and tissue repair, and shortening post-exercise recovery time. In the event of injury or strain, Threshhold is also an effective natural anti-inflammatory that helps repair connective tissue damage.

If that doesn’t already make Threshhold seem the perfect running partner for the Hillcrest Marathon, this may: MSM was first discovered by Harvard-educated Dr Stanley Jacob of the Oregon Health & Life Sciences University in the US in… you guessed it, 1978!

Murray & Roberts Club Launches with Comrades Champ Signing

The multinational engineering and construction group, Murray & Roberts, launched its running club on Thursday 10 January at the Group’s headquarters in Bedfordview, Johannesburg. At the same time as unveiling the club’s elite and semi-elite squads as well as the new club colours for the 2019 athletic season, the club also announced the signing of multiple Comrades Marathon gold medallist, Charne Bosman. The 2016 women’s champion will be aiming for another fine performance in the world’s oldest ultra race this year, and says, “I am thrilled to join the Murray & Roberts team – black and yellow are definitely my colours!”

The club was originally announced during the Murray & Roberts Jack Cheetham and Letsema Awards in Johannesburg in November 2018. Group Chief Executive, Henry Laas, comments: “We are very excited to officially launch the Murray & Roberts Running Club. We are able to clearly identify with the athletes and the excellence they achieve through their physical and mental training. Seeing these athletes compete in Murray & Roberts colours is symbolic of the Group’s philosophy of Engineered Excellence.”

Murray & Roberts has also taken ownership of the Vorentoe Running Academy, which forms part of the running club’s development squad. This Auckland Park-based team of young, talented runners, has produced multiple champions over the last few years.

Club Chairman and five-time Comrades Marathon finisher, Ed Jardim, says: “There is so much potential in this academy for the club to nurture and develop. We have a deep desire to fulfil our corporate citizenship ambitions to achieve exceptional outcomes, not just for the academy but also for South Africa, and eventually on the roads and the athletic tracks of the world.”

National Club Manager, Dana Coetzee, a double Comrades Green Number holder, adds: “It is a privilege to be associated with the Murray & Roberts Running Club. We are in the fortunate position of having world class athletes in our team, as well as a group of young development runners.”

The first event for the elite, semi-elite and club runners will be at the Dis-Chem Half Marathon, which takes place close to Murray & Roberts headquarters in Bedfordview.

“Running is a sport that is practiced by a diverse and wide-ranging community, and through our support, we are looking forward to contributing to the development of running in South Africa. As a club, we focus on all of running and its facets, whether it is track, cross country or road running. The black and yellow club will provide an opportunity for us to see Engineered Excellence in action,” Laas concludes.

Men: Rufus Photo, Renier Grobler, Benedict Moeng, Philani Buthelezi, Sikhumbuzo Seme, Vuyisile Tshoba, Thulane Magagula (veteran), Chris Cherry, Thabo Nkuna, Raymond Phaladi, Jeffrey Gwebu, Mthobisi Baloyi, Kabelo Melamu, Dylan van der Merwe, Anda Lubelwana, Lutendo Mapoto, Timothy Munzhelele
Women: Rene Kalmer, Christine Kalmer, Charne Bosman (veteran), Caroline Cherry, Jenna Challenor, Yolande Maclean (veteran), Salome Cooper (veteran), Kesa Molotsane, Danette Smith, Mary Khourie, Nolene Conrad, Mia Morrison, Ulrica Stander (veteran), Lesego Hlako, Janie Grundling, Stella Marais, Keneilwe Sesing, Calvin Malatji

Kallie Burger, Lyle Timm, Jaco Brummer (veteran), Harmans Mokgadi (veteran), Mosongo Mokoatsi (veteran), Siegfriedt Heydenrych, Fusi Nhlapo (veteran), Graeme McCallum (master), Stephen Caelers, Motlatsi Sesing, Samuel Mashishi, Eloi de Oliveira (grand master), Nic de Beer (veteran), Evan Coetzee, Byron Jones, Gustav Roos, Ryan Gibson, Rory Scheffer
Women: Julanie Basson (veteran), Anel Terblanche, Kyla van Graan, Leilani Scheffer, Anet Coetzee, Andrea Steyn, Judy Bird (master), Carly Kent (veteran), Val Watson (grand master), Lesley Train Austin (veteran), Belinda Waghorn (veteran), Karen Brough (master), Grace de Oliveira (master), Simone Verster, Mitsie van der Westhuizen (veteran), Kerry-Ann Marshall, Jacqueline Kellerman (veteran), Shanley Koekemoer (junior), Carina Viljoen

About Murray & Roberts
Murray & Roberts is a leading engineering and construction services group of companies. It has delivered infrastructure projects throughout South and Southern Africa for more than 119 years, and is today recognised as a multinational engineering and construction group.

The Group achieves this by focusing its expertise and capacity on delivering sustainable project engineering, procurement, construction, commissioning, operations and maintenance solutions. The Group delivers its capabilities into three global primary market sectors: Oil & gas; metals & minerals, and power & water.

Murray & Roberts is headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is listed on the JSE Limited. For more information about Murray & Roberts, please visit

Tougieda’s Triumph

As she made the final turn at the 2018 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, Tougieda Allie felt a sudden sense of relief and joy that made her burst into tears as soon as she reached that blue-carpeted finish line. A tough year followed by a tough race… but she had made it through both. – BY PJ MOSES

The sight of that blue carpet at the finish of the Cape Town Marathon was one of the sweetest sights Tougieda Allie has ever seen in her running career. “I could not hold back the emotions, and when my feet touched that blue carpet, I felt like I was running on clouds. It is hard to explain to anybody else, but the past year has been very rough for me and my family, with many personal obstacles that made things increasingly difficult for me as a mother, and that moment of personal triumph at the end of a tough race just meant so much to me.”

Even though this veteran runner of many races, including the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, has many medals in her collection and many years of running experience, it took all of her determination and a strong will to get from the start to the finish of this marathon. “Besides the personal issues weighing on my mind in the lead-up to and during the race, I also had to deal with a pain in my side that made it hard to train for two weeks before the marathon. I decided to self-medicate the pain, just in case I went to the doctor and he gave me antibiotics that would then mean that I could not run the race. I didn’t want to take the chance, and just made sure that my head and chest were in a good state. Whatever the pain was, I could deal with that after the marathon.”

She thus took things slow and easy during the race, just staying in front of the backmarkers, and even though she would eventually run one of her slowest marathon times, she wasn’t worried about that. “It was more important to me this time to concentrate on finishing, and in the end everything went according to plan. I finished with ten minutes to spare before the cut-off.” Then, with the job done, she let all that emotion come tumbling out.

Runs in the Family
Tougieda admits that running was far from her mind for much of her life, even though she stayed active with regular hikes with her two kids and extended family. However, she had one specific friend who kept telling her to give running a try, and kept inviting her to join the weekly training runs held by the Itheko Athletic Club. Finally, in 2011, Tougieda decided to try it, just to shut her friend up, because she says she didn’t like being nagged about it all the time.

“I didn’t really like the idea of running, and I had always thought that there was something wrong with people who were runners, but after that first training session with Itheko I was hooked, and decided to go every week. Soon I ran my first race at the Metropolitan 10km in Bellville. I didn’t know anything about the route, and if I knew beforehand how hilly it was, then maybe I would not have run it!”

These days her family has a rich running culture and she has many relatives who are members of running clubs all over Cape Town. “We love being part of the running community and leading a healthy lifestyle. My daughter and her kids also recently joined Itheko AC, and it makes my heart burst with pride when I see them enjoying the adventures we undertake as a running family. I haven’t yet convinced my son to start running, but I hope he joins us soon and brings his family along to make our circle even bigger.”

Me-time and Medals
This mother and grandmother from Hanover Park runs as much as she possibly can, and says the most important thing that running gives her is what she calls “Me-time,” which she relishes. “I find that I love the feeling of being in my own head while I am running and reflecting on my life and the choices before me. I also make time to recite words from the Quran and this calms me.”

There is still one medal that is missing from Tougieda’s collection, one which she would dearly love to get her hands on. “The Comrades Marathon is always on my mind as a runner, and I always say that I have actually done a full Comrades, just over two years. The first time I decided to bail at about 57km because I was seeing stars, the second time I went through halfway when the wheels came off. Being a Muslim, I have had to put the race on the back-burner because it fell inside the window of our fast, but I am hoping to go back in 2020 to tackle the race again. That is the biggest tick I want on my bucket list, and I am determined to successfully complete that race, no matter what!”

Efficiency Improves Performance

Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Usain Bolt and Eluid Kipchoge… four of the world’s greatest athletes, each with an identifying characteristic that makes them stand out from the crowd. Of course, these are not the only athletes that will align with the message of this article, but they are amongst the most successful in their events. – By Norrie Williamson

Lewis, who won nine Olympic and eight World Championship gold medals, was dominant in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay events from 1979 to 1996. Any follower of the sport would easily recognise his running style with straight, out-stretched hands working like knives. He was followed by Johnson, whose stiff upright running posture, and short staccato steps with high cadence defied the conventional wisdom that favoured long, high-knee strides. Johnson proved his point, however, with four Olympic and eight World Championship golds, and in 1996 he became the only athlete to win gold in both the 200m and 400m at an Olympics. His style was all about short, fast, swift ‘drives’ backward to push the body forward.

Without question the most impactful track athlete of recent times has been Bolt, with eight Olympic and 11 World Championship gold medals. Once again, his style was distinct, with his 6 foot 5 inch frame honed to move in the most efficient fashion. Slow motion footage of the Jamaican in full flight shows him almost floating above the ground, with his legs out-stretched and ‘cycling’ between a spike powered pull from ahead to a longer drive behind, and feet seeming to just touch the ground to maintain momentum. Bolt was said to have had scoliosis of the spine in his early years, but worked on that to reduce the imbalances, and his more symmetrical style led to faster times.

But these are all short distance events, where hundredths, if not thousandths of a second can split gold from silver, and years are spent honing style. Meanwhile, the myth still exists that changing style is either a mistake, or unachievable, for distance runners. The reality is that in the early years of running, taking minutes off the world record distances was relatively easy, which meant improvements could be achieved through physiological improvement.

Thus the marathon World Record dropped by 10 minutes in the decade from 1950 to 1960. However, it dropped just 28 seconds between 1970 and 1980, and despite it being a highly competitive and financially rewarding era, only two minutes were shaved off the record in the 11 years from 2003 to 2014. Then last month Kipchoge slashed 78 seconds from the record in Berlin, taking it down to 2:01:39.

The point is that in distance running there are diminishing returns from physiological training, whereas the two greatest areas of potential are belief/psychology and efficiency. When Kipchoge ran 2:00:23 in the contrived environment of the Nike Sub-2 Project in Italy, he proved to himself that his body could handle going under two hours. It is simply about getting the correct conditions on the correct day. But it also highlighted the importance of efficiency of style, and if you do an internet search of historical footage of Kipchoge, you will see the evolution of a running style that has been honed to a close-arm action, forefoot striking and backward driving cycle that now maintains good body position throughout a two-hour 42km effort.

Thus a slow motion view of his style in Berlin shares the same principles of Bolt’s running, except there is little forward strike. The foot touches the ground just slightly ahead of the centre of gravity and the high knee, then drives back to propel the body forward. The high ‘bum-kicking’ fold of the leg makes for a short lever, which can then turn over at a high cadence to allow for the next propulsive stride. The arms drive behind but are kept close, fast and aligned to shoulder and chest (perhaps the most obvious progression of his style) to minimise any over-striding. Finally, the position is all held together by the strength of core and enhanced by the shoe design which promotes a forward lean and rearward drive.

Efficiency is now a massively decisive factor in long distance running, just as it was in the progression of sprint distances, and middle distances. Put into perspective, Kipchoge’s marathon improvement equates to a two-second improvement over 1500m, or eight seconds over 5000m, where fine-tuning efficiency has been proven to pay dividends. The take-home message here is that improvement is achievable by every runner, but it’s not going to be honed by simply stacking up the distance in training. Improvement will be through efficiency, first by dropping distance and then reducing imbalances, building core strength and developing a more efficient style with improvements in proprioception, cadence and greater ground contact force per stride.

About the Author
Norrie has represented Scotland, Great Britain and South Africa in ultra-distance running and triathlon, and he is an IAAF-accredited coach and course measurer. You can read more from him at

IMAGE: Courtesy Berlin Marathon

Climbing for the Cause

The gruelling Rhino Peak Challenge Trail Run is guaranteed to test the endurance of even the fittest athletes, but in spite of extreme weather conditions and not being used to such events, Mrs South Africa 2018 Nicole Capper conquered another ‘Rare Heights’ challenge – and it’s just her latest running exploit to raise funds for worthy causes. – BY SEAN FALCONER

When it came to prize-giving at this year’s Rhino Peak Challenge in the Southern Drakensberg on World Rhino Day, 22 September, there was only going to be one winner of the ‘Person Who Gave the Most to the Mountain’ prize, Nicole Capper. The reigning Tammy Taylor Mrs South Africa had pushed on through sleet, hail, gusting winds, rain and freezing temperatures to summit the iconic Rhino Peak and return to the start 81 minutes under her goal time of eight hours, and thus she helped raise over R350,000 for various conservation projects to protect endangered species around South Africa.

The event saw 10 elite athletes and 10 people of interest take on the climb, and Nicole says “Being invited to participate in this event as an influencer was such a privilege, and I am humbled to have been included. When Sibusiso Vilane suggested I participate, I jumped at the chance to not only get behind a cause I identify with, but it was an opportunity for us to run together ahead of the Everest Marathon, which we are doing together in 2019,” she says. (They were also both part of a fundraising group that climbed Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year.)

“I knew I wouldn’t be the fastest, or the most technically proficient, and when it hailed three times and the icy wind was driving the rain into my face while I made my way up some of the steepest gullies I’ve ever seen, I knew I was out of my league. But when people have rallied behind you to raise funds and awareness for such an important cause, there’s a purpose greater than pain or discomfort. Thank you to every single person who pledged towards this Rhino Peak Challenge. It was one of my most rewarding and empowering experiences, because the mountains have a way of touching your soul and sending you home a little different to how you arrived.”

Platform to Influence
Besides being the reigning Mrs South Africa, Nicole (33) is a pharmacist, businesswoman, model, speaker, presenter, ambassador for Rare Diseases SA and an advocate for women’s rights. She is also mother of two children, Joshua (7) and Tatum (3). She says it was her passion for health and preventative medicine that prompted her to enter the Mrs South Africa competition, in order to use the platform to educate and create awareness around health and rare diseases, because her daughter was diagnosed with the rare disease, Cystic Fibrosis, at just six weeks old.

As a Rare Activist and the founder of Rare Heights, Nicole uses her fitness to raise funds and awareness for those without full health, by participating in sporting events and outdoor adventures all over the world. “I want to be a figurative ‘breath of life’ for those who struggle every day with rare diseases. For me, being Mrs South Africa is about so much more than notching up Instagram likes – it’s about having a purpose, and making a real difference.”

“Before this Rhino Peak Challenge I had never participated in a fundraising climb or run for endangered species, but I am passionate about our heritage in this beautiful country, and I use the outdoors as my training ground for my rare heights training, so it’s only right that I help draw attention to this incredible initiative. We are a land of ordinary people who dare to do extraordinary things. Our strength lies in standing together and celebrating each other’s successes, picking one another up when we fall, and daring to do great things in the face of great adversity. My Rhino Peak Challenge experience was all this and more.”

Chasing More Peaks
At the time of going to print, Nicole was already busy with her next Rare Heights challenge, the Nine Peaks, aiming to break the mixed team record for the fastest non-stop summiting of the highest peak in each of SA’s provinces. “The mixed team record stands at six days and 15 hours, including travelling between peaks, and we reckon the best possible time we could do is just over four days,” says Nicole, and from there she will go straight into a campaign of a different sort, an art exhibition at Melrose Art Gallery called Uprising, showcasing the human spirit.

Nicole’s training regime includes Crossfit five times a week and several 5km to 10km runs. She believes that although the physical challenge of the Rhino Peak Challenge pushed her to her limit, battles like these are fought more in the mind. “I want to be an inspiration to my children, an ordinary mother who is able to overcome challenges and achieve extraordinary feats. I had to overcome my fear of heights, so I want them to recognise that if I can be brave, can fight and accomplish things I never believed imaginable, then one day they too can overcome obstacles they didn’t think possible.”

IMAGES: Jetline Action Pic & Xavier Briel

50 is the New 30

Age is obviously not a limiting factor for 51-year-old triathlete Douglas Burger. At the recent Freshpak Fitness Festival he not only won the biathlon overall, but also won his age category in the triathlon just a few hours later. – BY SEAN FALCONER

When the Freshpak Fitness Festival took place for the 32nd time in Clanwilliam at the end of September, a number of multisport athletes once again used the day-long programme of events to participate and compete in various disciplines, starting with the open water swim in the morning, either the duathlon or biathlon at midday, followed by the triathlon in the mid-afternoon. One of these super-athletes was Douglas Burger of Cape Town.

“I just did the 1.5km swim for a warm-up and to get a nice open water swim in, and then I had to manage my food intake, before the biathlon,” says Douglas. “Next I lined up for the biathlon at 12:30, which I chose over the duathlon because running is not my strongest discipline, so I didn’t want to do two runs before the tri. I had planned to hold back and save my energy for the tri, but we were racing alongside the duathlon entrants, so I realised at the turn point of the cycle leg that I was in the lead when I didn’t see any other blue numbers – and in spite of being stung by a bee on the bike.”

Next up was the triathlon at 3pm, and Douglas says his legs still felt good for another race. “I just knew I needed to get going as soon as possible, before my system began shutting down after the previous event, so I kept moving around. Once we started, the swim felt good, but I knew my age group rival Ludwig Lillie was ahead of me. I caught him just after the bike leg turn, then put the hammer down to open a gap before the run, because he is a stronger runner, but I managed to stay ahead on the run and the job was done!”

Born and raised in Vredendal in the Northern Cape, Douglas is married to Monika and they have two sons, Hector and Stephan. After school he studied marketing and sales management at Cape Technikon, and today is co-owner and sales manager of Prime Cleaning Suppliers, a business with branches all over SA that he helped launch in 1996 with business partner Trevor Longmore.

In his younger days, Douglas played rugby and did athletics at school, then moved on to road cycling after school. “Where I grew up, cycling was to get from A to B, not a sport, so I only took up competitive cycling in my first year after school, and have now done 26 or 27 Cape Town Cycle Tours, including 17 sub-three finishes.” After his National Service he took up mountain biking, going on to do the Cape Epic twice in 2013 and again this year, when called in as a last-minute replacement due to former Springbok rider Moolman Welgemoed’s partner having to pull out. “I had only started training in mid-May after hurting my ribs in a crash, so I had to work hard to keep up, as he had been training for two years for the Epic! Still, we finished ninth in the 40-49 age category. If I had raced in my 50-plus category, I would have placed third.”

It was while he was in the Defence Force that Douglas started doing triathlons, just to get out of camp on the weekends, and in later years he got the whole family involved in the sport: “I decided it would be lovely for all the cousins to do events together, but I was the only one that stuck with it.” To date Douglas has done one full Ironman and five half Ironman/70.3 races, including the Barcelona 70.3 earlier this year, which he used as his qualifier for the recent 70.3 World Champs in Port Elizabeth.

“I knew I was going to Europe for business, so chose to race in Barcelona because the event forms part of the Tri Club International Champs. I raced for my ATC club, which finished third in our category, and secured my qualifier at the same time.” Then at World Champs he recorded the fastest SA bike split in his age category (2:26:16), followed by an impressive 1:34:08 half marathon run!

However, Thanks to his mountain biking background, Douglas says his favourite event remains the XTERRA off-road triathlons, where he has been crowned SA Champ in his age group seven times. He also went to the XTERRA World Champs in Maui, Hawaii in 2012, where he placed seventh in his category, and says, “My next goal is the Cross Tri World Champs!”

When asked about his age possibly holding him back, Douglas is quick to respond that it’s all in the mind. “For me, the important thing is more a mental than physical aspect. We can all train X amount of hours, but without mental strength you cannot win races. When I am on the start line, I don’t see myself as a 51-year-old, I see myself as guy who can beat the guy next to me. I don’t enter races just to participate, I go to race everyone. That’s how I’m wired.”

IMAGES: Fanus Oosthuizen/Oakpics