Melikhaya’s Marathon Mission

Marathoner Melikhaya Frans is going to stick to Britain’s Sir Mo Farah like a bad rash on Sunday in his quest to earn himself a ticket to the Olympics. – BY Matshelane Mamabolo

The 30-year-old Frans is one of three South Africans who will be participating in the elites-only London Marathon on Sunday 4 October, and plan is to run under 2:11:30 to put himself in line to be among those picked to represent the country at the Games in Tokyo, Japan next year. Gerda Steyn and Elroy Gelant are the other two runners from our shores who will be running the 42.2km race on the looped course of 19.6 laps of St James’s Park in central London.

Chasing Olympic Qualification
Farah will not be competing in his home marathon, which has been billed as a showdown between Kenyan marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, owner of the second-fastest time in history. Instead, Farah will perform pacing duties for the British athletes who are chasing Olympic qualification – and Frans intends making the most of this illustrious pacing service.

“My strategy for the race is to go with the group of British guys who will be running for a sub-2:11,” Frans said before his departure to London “It’s a dream of mine to go to the Olympics. From when I met with my coach, Michael Mbabane, in 2016, we agreed on a Vision 2020 plan.”

That plan saw the Ikhamva Athletics Club runner work his way up to become one of the top marathon runners in the country, with a personal best time of 2:14. However, he failed to realise his Olympic dream last year, ranking sixth overall in the country after things didn’t go to plan at the SA Championships during the Cape Town Marathon.

“In Cape Town, the problem was that the pace-maker was not honest. He raced, and that messed up our plans,” coach Mbabane reflected on Frans’s 11th place finish. Fortunately, the postponement of the Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the man from Port Elizabeth with a second bite at the cherry, and he intends to sink his teeth firmly into it.

“Corona was a blessing in disguise for me,” said Frans, who made his marathon debut in Cape Town three years ago. “London is one of the biggest marathons in the world, and now that I’ll be running against the guys who have the two fastest marathon times in history, I have a chance to qualify for Tokyo.”

First International Marathon
It will be his first marathon outside South Africa, but Frans is not perturbed, and his coach – who will be watching his charge on television – is confident Frans will deliver. “He’s ready to run a good marathon, even though it is his first time out there. He has previously run a half marathon overseas and that will help him. He knows exactly what he has got to do. It’s an open secret that Farah is planning to take the Brits to the halfway mark in 65:13, and that will be easy for Melikhaya to do, because his 21km PB is 61 minutes.”

The plan, the coach explained, is for Frans to stick with the Brits at least until the 32/33km mark, from whence he will probably put foot to the peddle to realise his goal. “There’s essentially only one space in the South African Olympic team to fight for, and we would like for him to get it,” Mbabane said.

Stephen Mokoka’s place is secured following his fifth-place finish at the World Championships in Doha last year, while South African Champion Gelant – who is gunning for a sub 2:07 – is also assured of his selection. Desmond Mokgobu is another one who should be in the squad after his brilliant run in winning the Beppu-Oita Marathon in Japan, and Frans faces stiff competition from Sibusiso Nzima for what could well be the stand-by spot in the team.

“We believe that a 2:10 will give him a chance to get into the team, and even if it does not, it is the kind of time that will open great doors for him. We also want him to run the Eastern Province record,” said Mbabane, adding that Frans had a great training camp where he ran loops of 45km, and thus should not have problems with the race structure.

Support From Fellow Athletes
His coach is also pleased that Gelant is doing the race: “Elroy is Melikhaya’s mentor, and he called us last Saturday to check on him. They will be together in London. We were also happy to receive a call from Stephen Mokoka, who had some words of encouragement for the young man.”

Of course, Frans said his confidence was boosted by that call: “This is exciting for me, a massive opportunity. I am ready.” But is the world ready for what Frans believes will transpire in the ‘main race?’ “I think they are going to break the world record. And in my mind, Bekele will beat Kipchoge. I saw him when he ran Berlin, and I could tell he has it in him.” (Last year, the Ethiopian only narrowly failed to break his Kenyan adversary’s record of 2:01:39 by just two seconds!)

2020 MiWay Wally Hayward Marathon Cancelled

The MiWay Wally Hayward Marathon has been officially cancelled. The event, which was initially scheduled to take place in Centurion on May 1, will not be held at all this year, to assure the safety of the running community. Race Director, Francois Jordaan says the decision to cancel the event was not an easy one to make, however the health and safety of the organising personnel and thousands of participants is top priority.

Jordaan says, “Following many discussions with various stakeholders, we feel it is time to end the uncertainty and make the tough call to cancel the 2020 MiWay Wally Hayward Marathon. Although no-one can predict the future and the longevity of the Coronavirus or lockdown restrictions, we expect our government to remain cautious and conservative in its mitigation measures. We believe large sporting events will likely be off-limits for some time to come.”

The race, one of the largest in the country, attracts over 13,000 entries and includes a 42.2km Comrades Marathon qualifier, a 21.1km half marathon, a 10km race, a 5km fun run and a 1km kiddies’ dash. It is supported by over 800 volunteers, including staff, points men, and water station helpers.

The Head of Marketing and Brand at MiWay, Nthabiseng Moloi says, “While the cancellation may be disappointing, the health and safety of participants, sponsors, suppliers, supporters and members of the public is of utmost importance.  We know that South Africans from all walks of life will continue to make use of the daily three-hour exercise window to keep training, to make next year’s event a record-breaking celebration of health and wellness.”

Registered participants’ entry fees will be transferred to the 2021 event at no additional cost. Participants also have the option of requesting a refund or donating their entry fees to the event’s selected charities. Jordaan confirmed that all registered participants will be emailed with further details.

NOTE: MiWay Insurance Limited (‘MiWay’) is a direct short-term insurer and a financial services company, offering customers a range of short-term insurance products including motor, household, homeowners, business insurance as well as liability cover. MiWay is a licensed insurer & FSP 33970. Ts & Cs apply.

Finding Solace on the Trails

Only two people have earned national colours in both cycling and running. One is Graeme McCullum, the other is Jock Green, a man who went from the ultra-competitive world of international road cycling to the solitude of the ultra-trail runner. His most recent exploit, finishing eighth in the brutal Leadville 100 Miler in Colorado in the USA, running through the heart of the Rocky Mountains, shows just how well he has made the transition. – BY MANFRED SEIDLER


When talking sport and you mention the name Jock Green, many people will start talking about Jock the cyclist. And why shouldn’t they? After all, he was a multiple SA Champion, represented South Africa on numerous occasions, and raced with the best in the world on the hallowed roads of Europe. “It was an incredible time for me,” says Jock. “To travel around Europe, racing with the best was really special.”

Jock usually fulfilled the role of a domestique – a workhorse, if you would – for a number of teams. He started his career on the European circuit in 1998 with AIG, competing in the Tour of Britain and in the Tour de Langkawi. What followed over the next decade were Tours in China, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, Scotland, Denmark, Slovenia and numerous times in the Giro Del Capo. Jock raced for AIG, HSBC, Barloworld and Konica Minolta during his career, and in between those tours he also donned the Green and Gold of South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the Africa Championships, amongst other races. Jock was also made captain of the SA cycling team, a big honour for one of the hardest working cyclists on the circuit.

All this competitive riding was hard work, he says, but at the same time exciting, and a wonderful opportunity to travel. “I did enjoy that time, but cycling is hard and my role was to work for others. I was never the leader, always the workhorse. But I did get to see the world and some incredible places.”

Hitting the Trails

When his pro cycling career came to an end, Jock decided to turn to trail running, having enjoyed an introduction to running through doing some duathlon events, where he would ride and run. Living out at ‘Harties’ – the Hartbeesport Dam – Jock has an abundance of trails on his doorstep, so it was only natural he would find himself exploring the area and start to love running the trails. Thus he soon began spending hour running around the Dam area, and it is rumoured he has run every trail in the Magaliesberg at least three times over.

As he explains, he thrives on challenges, and he was looking for something different to what cycling had to offer. “I was immediately attracted to the trails, because road running is too busy and just wasn’t for me. What I liked about cycling was the team element, but now I was looking for something a bit more solitary, and trail running appealed to me. There is something about being out there on your own, challenging yourself, with virtually no back-up.”

In typical Jock fashion, once he had made up his mind to do something, he went and did his homework. “Once I decided to go for trail running, I thought to myself, who is the best trail runner in SA at present. Well, that was easy, it was Ryan Sandes, so I found out who coached him, which turned out to be Ian Waddel. I approached Ian and he said yes. That was eight years ago, and we have been together ever since. One of the first conversations we had was that I wanted to run the Leadville 100 Miler in the USA. Ian took me on the long journey to get there.”

Jock has now been running trails for nine years, and says he still feels like he is learning, but one thing he has learnt is that the short, fast stuff is not for him – just as was the case in his cycling days. “You were the greatest cyclist in South Africa if you won the Cape Town Cycle Tour, or the 947 Cycle Tour, but the real cycling happened in Europe, where the first 100km were just warm-ups for the next 100km. Often when South Africans hit Europe, they wondered why they could not compete. For me in trail running, it is the same, and that’s why I prefer the ultra distances.” Also, while Jock does not enjoy road running that much, he did run the Comrades Marathon in 2016. He now jokingly refers to himself as a “real runner,” but mostly he stays away from the roads.

Overcoming Demons

When asked about his upbringing, Jock talks candidly about how difficult his youth was. His father left when he was two years old, his grandparents were alcoholics, and his brother became a drug addict. Jock did well in school sports, though, using a combination of athleticism and natural talent to excel at various disciplines, but being a working single parent, his mother had little time to watch him compete. That meant he had to rely on his own self-belief and an inner drive to do well. “Nobody inspired me. And nobody told me to train, or study, or even to get up in the mornings. Because no one was there,” he says.

This inner drive, and a constant need to prove himself, saw Jock become Head Boy at the private school he attended. He also admits that he is a compulsive perfectionist, which contributed to his striving for sporting glory. “I am incredibly driven. I am the guy who wants his shirts ironed just so. The creases have to be perfect, and the sleeves in my cupboard lined up.”

That same drive also took him all the way to racing some of the best cyclists in the world. While the roads of Europe allowed him to unleash the demons of his difficult past, it is the tranquility of the trails that now gives him peace. Within reason, of course, because Jock is still the same fierce competitor he always was. “I am now 45, and if I was younger I would be looking for wins. Make no mistake, I do want to be on the podiums of the trail races I run, but for me it is more about improving on my previous results and times.”

Green and Gold Again

Having already run a number of trail races, the then 40-year-old Jock really announced his arrival on the elite trail scene in South Africa in October 2014. The breakthrough came when he finished third overall in the Ultra-Trail Cape Town (UTCT) 100km, and a month later he again finished on the podium in the 100km Sky Run. This saw him earn his SA colours in trail running as he was selected for the 2015 IAU World Ultra Trail Championships in Annecy, France.

Having already donned national colours in cycling on a number of occasions, even captaining the SA team, he now became one of only two athletes ever to have achieved national team selection in both cycling and running. “That was a huge honour for me. I always felt immense pride when I was asked to represent my country in cycling, so to be asked to do so in trail running too was very special, especially as I had only been on the trails for around four years.”

The World Champs event in Annecy at the end of May covered a brutal 85km route with 5200m of ascent, with Jock finishing 59th after 10:16:36 of hard running. He then went one better at the UTCT at the beginning of October, coming home in second place, and just 23 days later was once again in SA colours as part of a national team sent to gain experience of overseas racing at the 78km Grand Trail des Templiers event in France. Here Jock finished 32nd in this huge, competitive race, and would perhaps have done still better if not for having raced UTCT that same month. A big racing year was then rounded off with fifth place in the Sky Run in November

Learning from Experience

In 2016, Jock once again followed a heavy racing schedule, with his appearance at CTUT bringing him a sixth place finish as well as a fifth place in the Sky Run. He withdrew from the 2017 Ultra-Trail Drakensburg (UTD), but was back in 2018 to win it, and also took third place in the Karkloof 100 Miler, but Jock was beginning to realise that he needed a new approach to racing. In top level cycling, riders commonly do huge mileage in training each week and race often, but running is less forgiving on the body, and thus Jock has had to learn over the years that he cannot race as much as he did in the peloton.

“I have had to start to be more selective in my races. I want to win every race I enter – I am that competitive – but I now pick my races better. I won’t race a 100km every weekend now.” That last comment was admittedly said a bit tongue-in-cheek, as there simply are not that many ultra trail races week in, week out, on the South African running calendar, but Jock’s point is well made. “I have also had to adapt my running. I would be very aggressive in the early stages of a race and would pay the price later. I am now a lot more conservative in my approach. I know that at some stage I will hit a bad patch, and have learnt to let the other runners go when that happens, trusting in my ability to get through the patch and catch them later.”

This new approach to racing is also applied in his training, says Jock. “I am a workhorse. The more, the better, so Ian has had his work cut out to actually hold me back. If the session is 30km, I will want to do 40km, and so on, so Ian really has had to hold me back. It has not always been easy, but we are getting there.”

A dream Come True

Nowadays Jock focuses on one big race a year and gears his training to build up to it, and he says that his focus has shifted to his bucket list races. “When I started in trail running, there were two races in the USA I always wanted to run, the Western States 100 Miler in California and the Leadville 100 Miler in Colorado.” He says the desire to run Western States came from being inspired by Ryan Sandes, who won the race in 2017.

However, Western States is considered to be one of the ultimate trail races in the world, so getting an entry requires not only running qualification races, but also going through a lottery system. “I tried to enter the Western States in 2018 and did not get in, so I set my eyes on Leadville instead. I still want to do both, but not being able to get into Western States meant I looked at Leadville for this year. They are also super strict about getting an entry, so as soon as entries opened, I applied, and I got in,” says Jock.

First run in 1983, the Leadville takes place each August and runs through the heart of the famous Rocky Mountains. With 4700m of ascent run at elevations between 2800m and 3800m, it is one of most gruelling trail races on the global calendar, and Jock needed to use every bit of the experience he has built up over the last nine years to get through it. This included starting conservatively and holding back in the early stages of the race. “It went against all my instincts, but I held back,” says Jock, but it paid off as he later reeled in one runner after another to climb from 24th to eighth place as he came home in 19:33:10.

In Leadville, Jock was ably seconded by his old friend from cycling days and now also a trail runner, Graeme McCullum, whose role was nearly as challenging as the race itself. For the first 11 hours he had to make sure he made it to all the feed zones in which he was allowed to second Jock, and then he acted as a pacer for Jock by running with him, as allowed by the event rules, so this was a big team effort. “Without Graeme things would have been a lot harder,” says Jock. He adds that Leadville has just made him hungrier for the next adventure: “Western States is still on my radar, but so is Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc in France.”

So… Which is Harder?

Inevitably, the question comes up which of the two sporting disciplines is harder, running or riding. Initially, Jock says he felt that cycling was harder, but quickly changed his mind, as the body takes less of a hammering when riding. “For sure, running is harder. And I say this because I can’t ever recall vomiting when pushing myself in cycling. In running, however, I don’t think I’ve done a race of 100km and more without vomiting!” he says.

“I’ve crawled into bed many times after a tough cycling race or stage, but I’ve never laid in a heap next to the road whilst still racing, as I have a few times whilst running. There is nowhere to hide in running, no wheels to sit on and no downhills to freewheel on. I got away with a lot racing a bike, because I was generally smarter than the rest, but that does not apply to running. There is simply nowhere to hide when the gas is on.”

Jock says the challenge of running is compounded still further by the need juggle a full-time job and family life with his highly competitive trail running, so time is something that needs to be planned to the T. “This is where my perfectionism and work ethic does help. I am very strict about allocating what time I have available to the maximum.” He heads up the Ford Fury branch in Fourways, a 50km drive from home, which means that at 4am you will find him out training. Then it is home, shower and off to work, before getting back home around 6pm, when he needs to find time to spend with his fiancé and five-year-old daughter. “They have been great in their support of me, but I do need to make sure that the time I spend with them is quality time.”

Another big difference between cycling and running is that he was paid to ride throughout his career, but he has to fund all his trail running himself, including his international trips. Of course, his sponsor, Salomon, does help, but by and large these trips come out of his pocket. That, though, is not a deterrent to Jock. His story has shown that when he puts his mind to something, he makes it happen.

IMAGE: Courtesy Jock Green

Vaylen Kirtley Anchorwoman

Catch Up with Vaylen Kirtley SABC Anchor Woman

Vaylen Kirtley has become the face of South African running on our television screens thanks to her work as anchor presenter of the SABC broadcasts of events such as the Comrades, Two Oceans, Cape Town and Soweto Marathons, but she’s a runner in her own right. We caught up with her for a Q&A the, in between doing a trail run and and her next stint of broadcast duty. – BY SEAN FALCONER

MA: Hi Vaylen. So first things first, how did your trail run go this morning?

Vaylen: This was the second year that I’ve done this 12km, and last year was really warm from the beginning, whereas today we had amazing weather at the start, and the sun only really came out when we finished the race. Still, I must say, I ended up getting a much slower time, but it’s okay, because at the beginning of the year, I had an accident on my scooter and smashed my elbow badly. That’s why you can see this lovely big scar. And it’s really just great to come back from that and be running again, because I’d never broken anything else before. So I had a great run, and what I was really impressed about was the amount of people that were there. I think last year, I easily walked to the front at the start line, but this year it was difficult. The numbers must have doubled. That’s certainly what it looked like to me.

MA: So you’ve come down to Cape Town to anchor the SABC’s broadcast of tomorrow’s marathon. Do you usually try fit in a run yourself, whether it’s a race, a parkrun or just a training run, when you travel to cover a race?

Vaylen: Definitely, whenever I go anywhere, I’ve got my running kit in my bag and try to get out and do a run. The beauty of being somebody that loves to run is that you can do it absolutely anywhere.

MA: You’ve become the face of running in this country, thanks to your work on SABC Sport, so do you find that a lot of people recognise you during races, and say hello or want to have their picture taken with you?

Vaylen: You know, runners are very chatty, and I’m a runner, too, so I love a good chat. It starts with somebody saying hello, and you can end up having this life-changing conversation over 30 minutes, or 10 kilometres, and you’ve got a new friend. But I don’t find it as easy to chat during trail races, because I have to concentrate on where I’m putting my feet!

MA: You’ve run the Comrades twice, in 2010 and 2011, which came after you’d already worked on the broadcast for several years, so I would imagine you have plenty of conversations with fellow runners in that one?

Vaylen: Of course, I had some wonderful chats in those races, but you know, it’s funny, now I can’t even think that I did that distance once upon a time! The first time, I finished with just 13 minutes to spare, and I ended up spending two hours in the medical tent, where they had to give me two glucose drips and they couldn’t find a pulse at one stage. It was crazy, and it was all because I made all the novice mistakes, like not eating enough on the road. The next year, I trained better, and I had learnt my lesson from 2010, so I ate so much on the road – basically every time somebody was offering, I took something, and I ended up running 10:19. I haven’t run anything like that again, but I did run the Two Oceans Ultra in 2014, because it’s the only big ultra in the country that offers a Friday run, for those people who for religious reasons can’t run on the Saturday. So I could run it and then do the broadcast the next day.

This year I ran the Two Oceans Trail Run on the Friday before the ultra, because I have fallen in love with trail running, especially when I’m down in the Western Cape. The trails here are absolutely magnificent… but it’s a completely different type of running. One of the first things that struck me about trail was the skill that people have in running downhill, and you can see what a difference it makes, even in a short 12km race like today. I find it incredible how much time people make up in using different techniques going downhill, even on really steep slopes with big spiky rocks and loose gravel. I have to walk a lot of the time, and can’t believe the skill of these people flying past me down the hills!

MA: Does it ever cross your mind that that you’re taking a risk running trails, in terms of having a bad fall, which might affect your work?

Vaylen: It worries my producer! And yesterday, one of my colleagues said to me, “Vaylen, whatever you do, just don’t fall, please, because on Sunday we need your face to look how it does today!”

MA: Was that comment sparked by the fact that you’re now considered accident-prone, after your scooter accident and elbow injury?

Vaylen: Ha, ha, ha, I actually do regularly trip over my own feet sometimes, and I think all of the scars and scrapes that I have are from being clumsy. When I was three, my older brother got a bike that didn’t have training wheels, but I also wanted to be on a bike that didn’t have training wheels, but my parents wouldn’t let me ride it, obviously because I couldn’t ride a bike yet, so I snuck out early one Saturday morning, at 5:30am when everybody was still asleep, and tried to ride his bike in the courtyard. I kicked the pedals, but obviously my legs were too short, and next thing my second toe on the left foot got stuck in between the cog and the chain. My mom still tells the story about how my screaming woke them all up, and my toe is actually a little deformed because of that accident.

MA: Where does your love of sport come from?

Vaylen: I get this question all the time, and I tell people it feels as if sport has always been a part of my life. I started doing cross country when I was in primary school, but even before then I wanted to be involved in all of the activities at school. Not that I was a particularly strong team sports player, but I just loved being involved and part of a team, and just being out in the sunshine, as I grew up with a love of being outdoors. For me it was much more about participation. I think I may have run regional champs in cross country when I was in my last year of primary school, but I was more about cheering everybody on than the competitiveness of running. Some people have said I never really fulfilled my potential, but I think you’ve either got that very competitive streak or you don’t.

MA: Speaking of school days, did you have an outgoing nature then, and the confidence to be a presenter, an actor or public speaker or was this something that came afterwards?

Vaylen: No, it was always there. I was involved with public speaking and drama from primary school right through high school, and leadership positions at my school, including the Johannesburg Junior City Council, where I was part of the communications portfolio.

MA: In terms of working in the running community, an early memory of you was when you were the roving reporter on the Comrades Marathon route, stopping runners for a quick word on camera. How did that come about?

Vaylen: So I actually started working on a junior sports programme for the SABC when I was in high school, and in my last year of high school, I also got involved in a disability sports programme. From there I started getting involved with other events and they put me on the road running production, and I think it was 2005 when I was part of that Comrades production team for the first time. I remember one of the people said to me, this is live, so don’t mess up tomorrow, because there will be millions of people watching. I was so young then, just 18.

MA: How did your career progress from there to becoming the anchor of the running event broadcasts?

Vaylen: I think my colleagues thought I did a good job, and so I played that road reporter role for a couple of years, and on a couple of different races, because back then the SABC used to cover quite a lot of road running events. And then I started doing voiceovers, and I did a short period on a road running programme – I think it was sponsored by Nedbank – while still being part of the team covering races. I then ran the Comrades, fulfilling a childhood dream, and the year after that, they asked me to take over from Cynthia Chaka as anchor of all the road running productions. I was just so excited to have gotten that kind of opportunity, and of course, I grabbed it with both hands. Thankfully, they obviously think that I did an okay job, and I’m still doing the job now.

MA: Besides anchoring the live broadcasts of races, you also appear on morning TV. Please tell us about your various roles in TV.

Vaylen: Okay, so currently I am the producer and presenter of the sports on Morning Live, from Monday to Friday, We’ve got five-minute bulletins each hour for the three-hour show, which is broadcast on SABC2 and on the DSTV channel 44, which is broadcast across Africa. I also do scripting and voiceovers for a disability sports programme, and as I said earlier, I have been covering disabled sport since I that junior sports programme, so it’s wonderful that I’m still involved in disability sports.

I also do scripting and voiceovers for a magazine programme, and I co-anchor a weekly women’s sports talk show called The Ladies Club, with Lebo Motsoeli. That’s fantastic, because we only have one or maximum two guests in a half-hour show. That gives us an opportunity to actually get to know people a lot better, and to focus on the significance of their achievements, because if you don’t know what they’ve gone through, and a little bit of their background, you can’t fully appreciate what they’ve been able to do. I must say, I love telling stories, and I like hearing people’s stories.

MA: It sounds like you’ve developed a good balance in your work, between presenting, producing and writing.

VK: Definitely, and that’s why I feel so grateful for the work that I do, because I get an opportunity to do all of those things. I get the opportunity to have more in-depth interviews with The Ladies Club, whereas on Morning Live our slots are limited, because it is a current affairs show, so more often than not I’m doing quick news bulletins. Then with the disability sports programme, I get to write scripts, and there’s great opportunity for storytelling with a mixture of human elements, as well as what’s current and newsworthy. But there’s nothing like live events, something that’s unfolding right in front of you, and then the journalist and storyteller in me really comes to the fore.

MA: I assume you have to watch a lot of sports to keep up to speed with what’s going on around the world, in order to put together a daily news package?

VK: It’s not a case of “have to” watch sport, because I actually want to, because I love watching sport. I mean, my TV is mainly on sports, and I actually have to force myself to watch a movie or a series now and again. Otherwise, if it’s not live sport, it’s a sport documentary, because there are so many fascinating stories out there – and when you’re passionate about something, it’s not really work. So, for example, if I report that there is a massive boxing fight coming up on Saturday night, I also want to watch it. I mean, if people are getting excited about it, I’ll get equally excited about it. I want to see that person go for that record attempt for a half or a full marathon. When you are involved in people’s stories, you’re so just as excited about it, so you want to know how it goes, especially when you get to know people. You want to know how they are doing. Oh, and my daughter doesn’t watch sports with me, because she says I scream at the TV too much!

MA: Speaking of watching TV with your daughter, I read that you recently discovered a series that you both enjoy, The Flash, which ironically is about a superhero who runs very fast. Was that the reason you liked it, because he runs?

VK: Hahaha, yes, I suppose was quite tickled by that… but who wouldn’t want to run that fast? In this job we follow people and we are amazed at the times that they are able to run, but he’s a superhero that does amazing things at that speed.

MA: If you’ll permit a slightly harder question, the presenters and commentators of running productions on TV often get a fair amount of criticism on social media. How do you feel about that, especially the day after you’ve done a broadcast that you thought actually went quite well?

VK: I think when you get involved in TV, you realise that you’ve got to have a thick skin, but as much as there is criticism, there are also a lot of people that are very complimentary, and I feel you have to find the balance between both ends of the spectrum. I think there are people out there that want to see broadcasts get better, but there are also people who just want to criticise for criticism’s sake. Those that genuinely want to see things improve, they’ll give you suggestions, and that’s really helpful, valid feedback. But we also listen to the criticism, to help better your product, because at the end of the day, you want to be better than the last time. But overall, it’s a mixture of having a bit of a thick skin, because in TV, just as in life, you’re not going to be able to please everybody, so you find a middle ground.

MA: I’ve read that you’re a bit nervous about alarm clocks, that you sometimes check at least 10 times that the alarm is properly set when going to bed, because you have to be up so early most mornings for the breakfast show. Have you ever overslept for work?

VK: I have to be at work at 4am on week days, so I always check that alarm clock at least three times before I actually turn my lights off, because I get up at 3am. I have been known to hit the snooze button one too many times… but I’ve made pretty sure that I use the loudest alarm that is so irritating, it will definitely wake me up!

MA: I would imagine that most of your schedule revolves around the fact that you need to get to bed relatively early, and this must affect your relationships and your social life?

VK: I don’t want to say that the sacrifice is worth it, because to me, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a career, it’s what I’ve chosen to do. For me it’s normal. However, my fiancée struggled quite significantly with this kind of life when he first got involved with me, and it was through him that I realised how other people view my life, that it isn’t as normal as I think it is.

MA: You’ve said that because you’re up at three every morning of the week, come the weekend you like to sleep in, but on the other hand, don’t you think that means getting up to go running on the weekend is that much easier for you?

VK: Definitely, which is why I try to go and do a parkrun with my daughter on Saturday mornings, because I actually want to get up and go run… but keep in mind that it is actually sleeping in for me when I only get up at 6am for a parkrun! Ialso get to sleep in on Sundays, even though we go to the early service at church, because 6:30am is really sleeping in for me!

MA: I suppose your fitness levels are affected by your unorthodox work schedule, since you probably only get to go running sporadically. On a related note, do you find there pressure on you as a TV personality that you supposed to live up to some expectation about fitness and appearance, or do you think it’s a bit more relaxed these days?

VK: True, I don’t get to run as often as I would like to, and I definitely don’t do half as much cross-training as I should, but I think I’m fortunate to be in sports, because it’s not quite like being an entertainment presenter. I think if I was on the red carpet every weekend, there would be far more emphasis on image, but I don’t feel that there is that pressure on me. Also, I think these days there is a lot more consciousness around people looking healthy, and people embracing who they are. The general psychology of society is changing and evolving.

MA: That said, there are a number of pictures of you on online where you’ve done the red carpet thing, and you do seem to enjoy the dressing up thing.

VK: It’s wonderful to have been asked to host some really big award ceremonies, like the South African Sports Awards, the PSL Awards, and the GSport Awards, and dressing up comes with the territory, you know, but I do enjoy it.

MA: Getting back to the Cape Town Marathon broadcast, what are your feelings as a broadcaster about the event’s rapid growth and the excitement around marathon running, versus the traditional focus in South Africa on ultra-marathons? I would assume you would be exceptionally excited about this event, because it’s something new to sink your teeth into.

VK: Definitely, but it’s not just the fact that it’s wonderful content for us to broadcast, and the spectacle of an IAAF Gold Label status event, in the same league as your Berlin and New York Marathons, but actually what it means to athletics in the country, because it’s creating a legacy that’s going to live on for many, many years. If you remember a couple of years ago, one of the biggest criticisms about South African road running was this huge focus on ultra-marathon running, which is not an Olympic distance, and we had Olympic quality athletes moving up to the ultras to chase the prize money on offer, which affected their ability to run for the country in shorter distances, including the marathon. It’s races like the Cape Town Marathon that now give those athletes a world class platform on home soil to compete at a recognised Olympic distance, and our athletes are really starting to step up.

It is such an interesting debate, because I think that South Africa has been in a league of its own when it comes to ultras, which is why people come from all over the world to run ultra-marathons in South Africa, and because we give those athletes proper credit for their efforts. It’s something that Camille Heron mentioned, that she was astounded at the reception she gets in South Africa, and that she’s more recognised here than back in the United States. I don’t ever want us to lose that, but I do think in the past you had athletes opting to go longer too soon, when they could have focused on the marathon or shorter distances.

MA: On a related note, you’ve got the SPAR Women’s races and the FNB City Series races bringing top international talent to South Africa and lifting standards at the shorter road distances. You must be excited about that as well, even if you’re not directly involved in broadcasting these events?

VK: Yes, it’s fantastic to see internationally recognised distances with strong international fields, good prize money and media attention. It create a much more competitive environment and that brings out the best in our athletes, and we’ve seen throughout sporting history that the better the competition gets, the more athletes step things up.

MA: Those races aren’t broadcast by the SABC, but as a broadcaster, would you like to see those races getting the same kind of coverage that Comrades, Two Oceans, Soweto and Cape Town get?

VK: I think that the fact that we know about these events, and the fact that we talk about them, is incredibly powerful. Yes, it would be wonderful if we did put them on TV, but at the end of the day there are time constraints, budgetary constraints, and all those kinds of things. But it would be great to see more road running in general on TV, especially given the rich heritage of road running in this country… and not just road running, but also other running, like cross country, and track and field. One of the saddest things is that we don’t get to see more track and field in this country, because we’ve got amazing athletes, but they’re not being seen. Athletics Alive on the SABC covers track and field and does a great job, but I think if there was more live coverage, then we’d also see committed sponsors getting involved in track and field, helping to create a level of consistency and grow the sport.

MA: Getting back to your own running, do you get that FOMO feeling while covering races from the studio?

VK: Absolutely, all the time! And after each race, I’m super inspired, so I just go put on my shoes and I go running, because you feel like you’ve missed out.

MA: So how many races do you manage to fit in these days?

VK: It’s very sporadic, very much all over the place, a bit like my training. As I’ve said, I just love running, so it’s always part of my life, and I always take my kit with me wherever I go. I’ll get out on the road or trails wherever I am, but I don’t have a set training regime, and I don’t have set races that I do. I have certain things that I look forward to doing that fit in with work travel, like this Sanlam Peace Trail Run, or the Two Oceans Trail Run, but otherwise I just decide close to race day that I will go do a local race.

MA: Lastly is there a bucket race you still want to do?

VK: Yeah, one day I want to hear Frank Sinatra being blared over the speakers at the start of the New York Marathon. That’s top on my running bucket list, but other than that, I don’t think I have another specific race that I’d like to like to run. New York is the one.

IMAGE: Jetline Action Photo