SA’s Best Ever ?

SA’s Best Ever ?

In 1992, Elana Meyer won an Olympic silver medal and helped put South Africa back on the sporting map, after years of isolation. It transformed her into not only an iconic South African hero, but also one of the most feared competitors in world running. However, Elana’s silver was just one chapter in a long and illustrious world class running career. 

When Elana Meyer arrived in Barcelona for the Olympic Games in 1992 – South Africa’s first Games since 1960 – she was considered the country’s best hope for a gold medal, but she had only a small amount of international racing experience. In fact, she had only run her first race outside of South Africa a short while before heading to Spain, at the Unity Games in Dakar, Senegal. It was all still so new to her.

“It was amazing to get to Barcelona. I kept telling myself, ‘It is true, it is true. I am here.’ It was very emotional because I had waited such a long time. I had actually qualified in 1984 for the Olympic 3000, but we couldn’t go. Zola took the British route to get there, but I didn’t have a British grandfather,” says Elana. “Instead, I was still a rookie in international racing in 1992.”

She was inundated with sometimes unbelievable questions from the media. “Even though my name was high in the international rankings, a lot of people didn’t believe our times from South Africa – they thought the tracks were short over here. People also asked me really funny questions, like do we grow up in the bush!”

By the end of the Games though, the world knew who Elana Meyer was, and how fast she could run, after she won the silver medal in the women’s 10 000m final. However, it was what happened after the race that left such an abiding memory. Elana embraced gold medallist Derartu Tulu, from Ethiopia, then the two runners draped their flags over their shoulders and ran an historic victory lap together, to a standing ovation from the packed stadium.

To begin with, Tulu’s victory was the first ever by a black African female athlete at the Olympics, but it was the shared joy of the black and white Africans, united by sport, that was seen as a victory for a new South African nation, which was approaching its first democratic elections.

“A lot of people remember that race for different reasons, but often it is for the victory lap,” says Elana. “Everyone here was watching the Games and wanted us to bring back gold medals, but we didn’t have that many good performers. Coming back was a positive experience, because we were accepted by all South Africans – it wasn’t just seen as a performance for white South Africa.”

That first year back in international competition was quite an eye-opener, says Elana. “Whenever I arrived in a city, there would be a press conference and they would ask me political questions. I knew it would be better to say something, unlike Zola in the 80s. I knew that I couldn’t just say ‘I am an athlete and I’m not going to go into the political side.’ That would just have made it more difficult for me, so I tried to answer the questions as honestly and informed as I could. That went on for first one or two years, because everything was very focused on politics and the participation of SA athletes, but after that we were pretty much accepted like other athletes.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. “When I went to Europe to compete ahead of the Games, Liz McColgan was the reigning World Champion and could dictate who ran against her, and she didn’t want to race me before the Games. So while I got to race internationally, it was not the ideal preparation because I couldn’t do the races I really wanted to. Also, while I was in Oslo or Stockholm, it was hard to stay focused because there were rumours that we wouldn’t be going to the Olympics because of the riots back home in Boiphatong.”

Elana was born in 1966 in Albertinia in the Southern Cape, the second of four children. She discovered her talent for running at an early age, but truly burst onto the running scene when she was just 13-years-old – when she won the Voet van Afrika Half Marathon in Bredasdorp in a time of 1:27:35! Unfortunately, she was soon disqualified…

“My neighbour in Albertinia told me of this cool race in Bredasdorp, so I went and ran it. The longest I’d run till then was about 10km in training. I won the half, but got disqualified because I was too young, and didn’t have a licence number and didn’t belong to a club.”

She started running when she went to primary school, doing mostly short sprint distances – because she would get a chocolate if she did well in races. Then, when Elana was about nine or ten, her school held a 3km fun run and she decided to give it a try. “I did quite well, and realised that I really liked the longer runs, so I tried to run the 5km from our farm to town without walking, but there was one mother of a hill, so it was a challenge. I remember the joy of achieving that goal, and I remember enjoying the feeling of freedom that I got from running.”

Elana focused on the track until she was in Matric, but then started doing the odd road race. That year, she went to Knysna and won another half marathon, but the track was still her priority. “My main focus was track for most of my career, especially in the isolation years. Zola was still faster than me, so my main goal was to be the fastest in SA, moving up from the 3000 to 5000, and later to 10 000. The good thing was that there were still challenges within SA, but by about 1990 I was winning comfortably in SA. So I started racing the international girls ‘on paper’ by comparing my times to theirs. I knew my competition and that kept me going through the isolation years.”

Elana also used these years to pursue her studies. She was awarded her B.Comm and B.Comm (hon) degrees, as well as her Higher Education Diploma from the University of Stellenbosch. She then enrolled for a Masters degree in marketing, but that had to be put aside when South Africa’s isolation from world sport ended and Elana suddenly had the opportunity to take on the rest of the world. “I always thought someday I would finish my Masters when I was pregnant, but I don’t think that’s going to happen now!” she laughs.

Between 1992 and her retirement in 2005, Elana performed consistently well on the world stage, breaking six world records, winning a World Cup title and winning the World Half Marathon title in 1997 (after coming back from a ruptured Achilles injury suffered in the 1996 Olympic Marathon). She set 23 South African records and won 30 gold, 14 silver and five bronze medals at SA Championship events.

Respected South African athletics statistician, Ri?l Hauman, believes that there is little doubt that Elana is the best female distance runner produced in South Africa. “Meyer’s domination of the road running scene in South Africa is without peer and she is the only SA woman to win a global road title. Also, between losing a mile race to Zola Pieterse in Bloemfontein on 18 February 1991 and finishing fifth over 1500m at the Nice Grand Prix on 15 July 1992, Meyer won 51 straight victories over a variety of distances and on all three surfaces. As far as is known, this is an unprecedented ‘streak’ in the history of women’s distance running.”

Elana was a prodigious racer, running up to 50 races in a single year. “I loved racing more than training, so preferred the shorter distances. I really enjoyed the half marathon, because it was short enough to really race it. In the marathon, I always felt I had to try and hold myself back, but in the half I could go for it. Also, the half doesn’t take too much out of you, so there’s no need for months of preparation or a long rest period after the race.”

Since retiring from international racing, Elana has focused on using her vast experience to add value to organisations and institutions. Her two most popular offerings are interactive inspirational programmes: Success and Balance, based on her life story and running career, and Achieving Excellence, in which she translates the effort and dedication that enabled her to break the world half marathon record into achieving success in business. As a qualified life coach, she also offers extensive one-on-one follow-up sessions for in-depth personal growth.

In 2007, Elana joined forces with the JAG Sports and Education Foundation, which focuses on education and sport development at a grassroots level, by encouraging young South Africans to dream, and to transform their dreams into achievable realities. As CEO, Elana is responsible for the running of the Foundation and for implementing education programmes which promote physical health, emotional wellbeing and personal achievement in under-served communities.

She is driven by a belief that she has a responsibility to give something back, because she received so much from sport. “The biggest teacher in my life was my sport, and that’s why I truly believe that sport is an incredible vehicle to use with kids for education, personal development and to empower them. What you learn through sport gives you such valuable tools that you can transfer to other aspects of your life.”

So does she miss her racing, and does she harbour any desire to make a comeback? “No, I have no drive to do that. I trained hard for many years, including Saturdays and Sundays. After many years like that, I exhausted all my competitive juices and spirit. There’s nothing about races that I miss – that’s been replaced by the rewarding work I’m currently doing with the Foundation.”

“People still ask me why I don’t run any more, because I can still win! But I retired with a feeling of having had a great career. I travelled the world, experienced a lot of highlights, and I feel fulfilled. I had a long career and achieved a lot of my dreams, and I really enjoyed it. Towards the end of my career, I was a bit scared of what would happen next. I loved the training, the travel and the opportunities, but being part of JAG means I’m still close to my passion. I have such a full and rewarding life now with my partner Jacques and my son Christopher, and spending time with them means more than anything.”

Elana is currently expecting her second baby, a daughter this time, and is loving every minute of being a mother. “The best performance of my life is, without doubt, Christopher. And the biggest gift now is my second pregnancy, because I’m older. I’ve been really lucky and am now even luckier that I can hopefully raise Christopher with a baby sister as well.”

She still gets up early every day for a run, anything from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on her schedule, and often with Christopher in the baby jogger. She says that she hasn’t run with a watch for years now; she just goes out nice and slow. But obviously not that slow…

“I still sometimes pass people on the run, even with the baby jogger. It was quite funny the one day when Christopher was still quite small. I was running just behind an international triathlete here in Stellenbosch and he kept looking behind to see if he had shaken me off. He even tried accelerating, but there I was just behind him. I saw him again a while later at the Totalsports Challenge and he came up to me to tell me that he couldn’t believe that he couldn’t drop this woman with the baby, but only later found out who it was running behind him!”


800m  2:06.23 
1000m  2:43.63 
1500m  4:02.15  
1 mile   4:30.21 
2000m  5:40.7 
3000m  8:32.00  
5000m  14:44.05  
10 000m   30:52.51  
10km  31:13  
12km  38:39  
15km  46:57  
10 miles   52:16  
21.1km   1:06:44  
42.2km   2:25:15  


24 Nov 198415km (jr) 53:18 
07 Nov 1987 2000m5:42.15 
22 Jul 1989 10km 31:47 
05 Oct 1989 10 000m 32:28.9 
03 Nov 1990 15km 48:17 
08 Apr 1991 5000m 14:49.35 
19 Apr 1991 10 000m 32:13.13 
29 Apr 19913000m 8:32.00 
04 May 1991 10km 31:33 
18 May 1991 21.1km67:59* 
05 Oct 199115km 47:40 
02 Nov 1991 15km 46:57* 
23 Dec 1991 10 000m 31:33.46 
06 Mar 1992 5000m 14:44.15 
07 Aug 1992 10 000m 31:11.75 
10 Sep 1994 10 000m 30:52.51 
16 Oct 1994 5km 15:10* 
22 Jul 1995 5000m 14:44.05 
09 Mar 1997 21.1km 67:36* 
05 Apr 1997 10km 31:19 
08 Mar 1998 21.1km 67:29* 
15 Jan 1999 21.1km 64:44* 
14 Oct 2001 10km 31:13** 

*    Also a world record
**  Also a world veteran (35+) record

Acsis VOB

Acsis VOB

Cape Town’s biggest running club offers a great mix of well-organised and safe club runs that cater for every level of runner, and offer incredibly scenic races, fun monthly socials and a great mix of people. And all this happens in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, surrounded by Cape Town’s mountains, forests, vineyards and sea.

In 1977, a group of University of Cape Town graduates decided to start a new running club. After finishing their studies, they were no longer members of the UCT running club, so they decided to form their own, and the name they chose reflected their collective background – Varsity Old Boys, or VOB. The club colours they chose were the same royal blue and white colours of UCT, but instead of the horizontal stripes (hoops) that UCT uses, the new club opted for vertical stripes on the vest. This makes them one of the most distinctive clubs in the Cape – and not just because there are so many VOB runners to be seen at most races.

Today the club is officially known as acsis VOB, after the investment company that has been sponsoring the club since the beginning of 2009.

VOB has shared clubhouse facilities with the False Bay Rugby Club in Constantia since 1981, and regular activities at the clubhouse include at least six different club runs per week, catering for all levels of runner, as well as many socials. There are change rooms with shower facilities and all runners are invited to join the VOB members for a run and a post-run chat in the pub.

It’s an ideal setting for a running club, says club Chairman Richard McClarty. “The mountain and the vineyards are right on our doorstep and we’re in a sports complex with a Virgin Active gym on our grounds as well. It’s a great place to run – beautiful in summer, and in winter we can run in the suburbs where it is well lit.”

When asked what makes VOB a great club, Richard says that it is because, “We cater for all runners, from the elite to the slowest, and newcomers are always welcome. We really look after our new people – I made that my goal when I became Chairman. Your membership must be looked after, and there are all sorts of characters and personalities that need to be catered for.”

Richard attributes the success of the club to its loyal members. “We have a good base of stalwarts that have remained with VOB through the years. About 20 of the founder members still meet every Tuesday for a group run and then a bit of socialising in the clubhouse. Most people who leave do so only because of work transfers or going overseas. We’ve had very few issues over the years, and always try to work out any problems so nobody leaves unhappy. We care for our members and don’t like to see them leave.”

That’s not quite how it started, though. In the early years, VOB was more focused on elite and faster runners, but this led to a difference in opinion and a change of focus in the early 80s. When a large group of senior members broke away, the club lost its committee and its way for a short while, but a new committee was soon in place with a new attitude, namely, that it was more important to create a happy club, which catered to the average athlete rather than trying to make a name for the club by ‘buying’ elite athletes that had no long-term loyalty to the club.

In short, they wanted to create a club that people wanted to belong to. And it worked. “Today we’re the largest running club in the Western Province, with 733 members,” says Richard. “I think that makes us the second largest club in the country, with only RAC in Johannesburg bigger.”

There are official VOB club runs most days of the week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are for group runs, Wednesdays see the running of the weekly time trial, the Jog Squad for beginners meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, and there are two Sunday running groups, plus a trail running group.

The Tuesday and Thursday group runs start at the clubhouse at 18:00, with various pacing groups led by experienced group leaders. The pace groups range from 4:15 to 6:15 min/km, and most groups train for about an hour, stopping for water along the way. There is also an informal group known as the “Five-Thirties” who start their run at 17:30 on Tuesdays. Every Tuesday evening, there’s also an interval training group for strength and speed, doing sessions that include 1000m, 400m and hill repeats.

On Sundays, the Cool Sunday Running Group meets at a different location each week for a long run at about 5:20 min/km, over varying distances. The Sunday Stars is the other weekend group, also meeting each week at a different location for a run of between 12km and 18km. This large group is aimed at both social and serious runners, catering for anything from 5:00 to 6:30 min/km. Each runner is encouraged to bring 1.5 litres of Coke with them, as there is a Coke stop every 3km.

Then there is the Trail Runners group, which makes the most of the pristine mountain and beach trails of Cape Town. Most runs feature longer or shorter, faster or slower routes and groups, so everybody is welcome, and it’s a very social group that sometimes has a post-run breakfast get-together.

The Jog Squad meets every Monday and Wednesday and has been going since 1984, helping countless non-runners become runners. New groups are started each year in January, May and September, and there are beginner, intermediate and advanced groups. The Jog Squad’s programmes have controls built into them to prevent runners from doing too much, too soon, and ending up with an injury.

The club presents three races each year, all in the Constantia green belt area and on the slopes of Table Mountain, making them some of the most scenic and popular races in the province.

First on the calendar is the Constantia Village 15km in March, where one can “breathe in the grape-scented breeze” as the entry form states. Sponsored by the Constantia Village shopping centre, which is right next to the clubhouse, the race offers terrific prizes and giveaways from the tenants of the Village. This year, the race attracted a record field of over 1 800 finishers plus a further 200 in the 5km fun run.

Next up is the wonderfully scenic New Balance Table Mountain 16km in June, an absolute must-run for any mountain lover. Starting at the Constantia Nek parking area, the course winds up the bridle path to the back table of the mountain, then circles around the dams before flying back down to the Nek. The views of the southern Cape that you get along this route will simply blow you away, but dress warmly if the weather looks dodgy, because it can be hot down at the start and bitingly cold on top of the mountain. Unfortunately, due to the run being in a nature reserve, entries are limited to just 250, so preference is first given to all athletes who ran the previous year, before being opened up to the general public. All profits from the race are donated to the Table Mountain Parks Board.

The third race is the Constantia Valley Grape Run Half Marathon, presented by Sportsman’s Warehouse, in October. It runs through the historic wine farms of Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting, as well as taking a turn through Tokai Forest, so it’s a tough, challenging course, but arguably the most beautiful in the Western Cape. This race has grown in popularity each year since the first running in 2004, so the club now has to cap entries at 1 500 to protect the farms and forest from being trampled. Both course records were broken this year, with men’s winner Sibusiso Mbingeleli running 1:09:19 and women’s winner Thozama April clocking in at 1:25:34. There were also a few famous faces in the pack, with multiple-Comrades Marathon winner Vladimir Kotov claiming the master men’s category win, and former Comrades runner-up Bob de la Motte also lining up during a visit to SA from Perth. 

While the VOB clubhouse is located in Constantia and most of its members are residents of the more affluent areas of the southern suburbs, the club has also attracted many members from the more financially-disadvantaged sections of the community. Many of these athletes are young, enthusiastic and talented, and have been identified as being the nucleus that will make VOB an athletic force for many years to come.

For that reason, the club has established its Development Team, a satellite unit based in Khayelitsha with 23 members who often feature amongst the top places at local races. The runners are looked after by a dedicated team manager who also serves on the club committee. Furthermore, for the last ten or so years, the club has had a Chairman’s Fund, financed mainly by donations, which has been used to provide for the basic needs of financially-disadvantaged members.

When asked about the club’s social scene, Richard’s eyes light up. “We’ve got the VOB Booze Box! It’s our tradition to have the club gazebo and Booze Box at big races, organised by the club captain. In years gone by, other clubs would come to us at races to buy drinks from us. We were a regular shebeen!”

The club’s socials are just as popular, with members from other clubs also joining regularly. These include the annual end of year Dinner Dance at the end of November, with this year’s theme being Arabian Nights, and the VOB Pub Run in early December.

Club Secretary: Charlotte Kettlewell – 021 761 8887 (14:00 to 17:00),
Chairman: Richard McClarty – 082 871 2240,
General info: 088 126 7231
Club house: Tuesdays and Thursdays 17:30 to 18:00

Find Your Balance

Find Your Balance

Most injuries are a response to an imbalance in the body. Correct the imbalance and you are on your way to pain-free running! And all it takes is a few leafs of the Yellow Pages in your running shoes.

In a perfect world, you would be able to bend equally far on the right and left, your shoulders and hips would be parallel, your legs would be the same length, all your bones would be correctly aligned and your muscles, as well as connective tissue, would have equal tension.

Unfortunately, few of us live in this perfect world, especially us runners who try to juggle a busy career and family life with daily training. We all have to deal with daily stresses at work, at home and on the road, often leading to a disruption in the natural equilibrium of our bodies. And when the body is out of balance, more often than not, injuries follow.

But there is a solution, says Fourways-based, Johannesburg physiotherapist and kinesiologist, Adrian Stevens. He believes that the body’s nervous system responds to emotional, physical, nutritional and energetic stresses in a predictable manner.
“Only when the body is in balance, can one expect fewer injuries,” says Adrian.

He compares the human body to a triangle, with each side representing a different part of our lives.

  • One side represents the structural aspect, such as the camber of the road we run on, the type of shoes we wear, the position we sit in at our desks, and the physical injuries we have picked up over the years.
  • The second side represents our biochemistry, such as possible allergies, supplements we take, nutrition and medication.
  • The third side represents psychological aspects – how we think, feel and react.

“All these things are connected,” says Adrian. Practically, it can be explained as follows: you are training for Comrades, but a couple of weeks before, you run on a severe camber and start feeling a slight twitch in your calf muscle. At the same time, you are stressed at work, which causes your adrenalin levels to increase. Your brain and spinal cord release neurotransmitters depending on how you think and feel. If you are stressed, it can have an influence on, for example, your hormones and digestion. The membranes around your brain and spinal cord also control tension of the cranial bones in your spine and the posture of your spine.

Now combine the emotional stress you feel at work or home with the slight niggle in your calf muscle and you will have thrown your whole body out of its natural equilibrium. Loading your body in different ways can lead to many problems. “Injuries are a response to an imbalance. If you run with an imbalance, it will cause certain muscles to become tighter and others to become looser – resulting in your body moving further and further away from equilibrium,” says Adrian.

Adrian has developed an Integration? Technique which is aimed at achieving a structural, biochemical, psychological, energetic balance, and overall optimal health. “Manipulating the nervous system helps the body release the bad habits and postures that are the result of repeated and long-term stress. This approach to healing integrates the nervous system to return to optimum function and facilitates the body’s ability to heal itself.”

Adrian does not treat patients in the traditional manner of physiotherapy. He follows a more holistic approach to healing and believes in ‘curing the cause, not the complaint’. He knows and understands the frustration of a nagging injury. As a young student studying physiotherapy, he battled with back problems and became frustrated because the techniques he was learning were not helping him. He tried acupuncture and also read a book called The Body Doesn’t Lie by John Diamond. It’s one of the first books written on kinesiology and promotes the concept that the body is a self-healing organism that needs to be working at its optimum. “Through our nervous system and muscle testing, we can find out what is wrong with the body and what the best ways are to correct it.”

In 1995, Adrian also met Ron Holder, a well-known kinesiologist who has worked with former world record holder Elana Meyer as well as former world champion high jumpers, Jacques Freitag and Hestrie Cloete. Years ago, Ron also helped Zola Budd overcome a hip injury caused by her running style. Initially, Ron was the one who used Yellow Pages to build up wedges for shoes in order to correct imbalances.

“Ron had to go to Europe and some of his patients who had wedges in their shoes started coming to me. I had to learn fast and came up with a concept as to how the wedges work. Ultimately, all credit must go to Ron. He was the developer of the Yellow Pages wedges.”

Adrian integrates complementary medicine with his treatments. This includes acupuncture, body alignment and kinesiology, which help the body recover from illness and injury by restoring its energy balance. Kinesiology is a way of getting your body back in line.

The cornerstone of Adrian’s treatment lies in balancing the body by relieving unnatural pressure from muscles. He performs an initial test by asking you to push your arms up against his. “This is an easy and quick way to establish on which side of the body your stresses lie,” says Adrian. In a follow-up test with your shoes off, you reach as far as you can down the side of one leg, then the other. If an imbalance exists, the one arm usually travels further down than the other. Adrian looks for a muscle that tests weak and tries to ascertain why that muscle is not functioning properly.

A small layered wedge made from the Yellow Pages helps to correct these posture problems, so Adrian experiments with different thicknesses of wedge until he finds the right balance, making tiny adjustments until happy. He then tapes the wedge together with masking tape and fixes it to the bottom of the insole of your shoe. The wedge, which fits into the shoe of the weak leg, helps to change the behaviour of the muscles. Only when you are balanced, can you use your body effectively. With time and as your body adjusts, Adrian takes the pages out bit by bit to make the wedge thinner. “The body will start healing itself as soon as it’s in balance and there is no longer more stress on one side than the other,” says Adrian.

“When you run with the wedge, your footfall corrects the biomechanics of your body. The wedge stimulates the nervous system in the foot, which helps with your balance. As you run and walk, the loose muscles will become tighter and the tight muscles will become looser. These wedges are not uncomfortable, but have to be hard to cause a change in the nervous system.”

While running with the wedge in your shoe, you will probably feel your gait is smoother; this is because you are no longer wasting energy trying to keep yourself upright and in balance. After a while, the wedge might start irritating you because it is over-stimulating your nervous system and needs to be lowered.

“We all tend to have a kink in our armour. When we are under stress, we will injure or weaken in the same pattern. Runners need to remember that when they are injured, the most important thing is to fix the underlying problem and not just concentrate on the injury,” says Adrian. Only looking at the symptom or injury will give temporary relief, but the same or another compensatory injury is likely to follow if postural imbalances are not corrected. Once you are balanced, you will experience many happier and pain-free miles on the road, states Adrian.

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

A legend of the 80s and 90s, Matthews ‘The Flash’ Temane, was one of the fastest finishers our country has ever seen. He received Springbok colours 12 times and, in 1987, he held the prestigious honour of being the fastest man in the world over the half marathon with a time of 60:11. Modern Athlete recently caught up with Matthews, who is still running today and plans to do the Comrades Marathon next year.

He still wears it: the trademark white, shell necklace he wore years ago when he blitzed his way to endless podium finishes at local and international road races and track events. “I am still wearing that exact same necklace. I took it off once after fellow runners said I could not win without it. I proved them wrong. I did what they asked and took it off – and still won,” chuckles Matthews, who today runs for Vaal Reefs Marathon Club.

Speaking to Matthews, you quickly realise how humble he is despite his prestigious sporting accolades of the 80s and 90s. He proudly shows a book he has kept over the years featuring all the articles that were written about his achievements. Matthews is not a man who likes change; not in work and not in sport. He has been working at the same company for the last 25 years and is currently a supervisor at the hostels of the AngloGold Ashanti mine in Orkney, North-West. Twice a month on weekends, he returns to his childhood home in Hammanskraal outside Pretoria where he was raised by a mother who motivated him to pursue his love and talent for running.

As a young boy Matthews, the second of seven children, ran 10km to school and back every day. Running was not his first love. He lived to play soccer until a group of runners from school challenged the soccer players to a race around the field. Little did they know then that they would come up against a future world champion runner posing as a soccer player. Matthews outran them all and his soccer team managed to win. “That day, I realised I could run fast. I was 17 years old. My mom encouraged me to take up running and our school headmaster offered to coach me. He used to take me and a group of the boys to a mine in Westonaria and we would run there.” As a 19 year old, he dreamt of beating Matthews Motshwarateu, aka ‘Loop en Val’. His dream came true when he ran against him in the former Bophuthatswana. They ran on a grass track and Temane won the 5 000m in a very fast time of 14:28.

“I had great respect for Loop en Val,” says Matthews of this talented athlete who was sadly gunned down and robbed of R30 in 2001. Loop en Val was a great runner who won numerous track and cross country titles. He was also the first South African to break 28 minutes for 10 000m.

Matthews started his career in 1981 as a recreational officer at the Vaal Reefs Gold Mining Company in Westonaria. “It was nice for me to work for the mine because the people I worked with also ran. They liked running just as much as I did,” says Matthews, who ran at a time when mining companies’ running clubs did a lot to develop the rich talent amongst the black running community. Matthews’ career started taking off and in 1981, at the Goldfields Championships in Carletonville, he managed to win the 800m, 1 500m, 5 000m and 10 000m – all in one day. It was also the first time Matthews had ever run on a tartan track.

Later that year, he placed third in his first national race over 5 000m. His running ability was rewarded in 1982 when he received Springbok colours for the first time. Matthews is one of the few athletes to earn Springbok colours in all disciplines: track, cross country and road. On his 26th birthday, at the sixth HERALD-OPEL Street Mile in Port Elizabeth, Matthews set a personal best of 3:46:80 for the street mile, out-sprinting blonde Springbok Johan Fourie (3:47.9) and Victor Radebe (3:47.5). Our country had something special; he was a world champion in the making!

Matthews peaked towards the end of the 80s and in 1987, he achieved the ultimate, a PB and a world record in a time of 1:00:11 run at the Ohlsson’s SA championships in East London. He remembers that world record as if it was yesterday. “I fainted when I crossed the finish line. When I came by, I saw my coach, Richard Turnball, and he told me I just broke the world record! I could not believe it,” says Matthews, who after the race admitted he was dead scared of Zithulele Sinque, who came second.

Before he broke the record, he notched five wins in 15 days. One was in a 12km cross country event, two in 15km events and two in half marathons. His form held and in the same year, he broke the SA record in the 5 000m (13:25.1), this time at the Coetzenburg Stadium in Stellenbosch. In 1989, in East London, Matthews set a course record of 1:04:50 at the South African Half Marathon Championships, something he is still very proud of today. “I loved running short distances. Marathons were never really my thing.”

Despite this, he represented South Africa in the marathon at the World Athletics Championships on 12 August 1995 in Gothenburg, Sweden. His first international experience was not what he had hoped for. He finished 45th in a time of 2:31:24, almost 20 minutes off the pace. “It was my first international race and not a nice experience. Everything was new and strange to me. The weather was cold and I did not enjoy the race,” recalls Matthew, who has a personal best of 2:14 for the marathon.

He gave it his all in every race and saw each one as a challenge. “I used to out sprint my competitors, often coming from behind. I studied them and knew Johan Fourie was only good at sprinting the last 400m, nothing further. I realised I had to kick over the last 600m to beat him and made sure I trained fast 600m sprints.”

Johan, who regularly raced against Matthews, recently spoke about his admiration for Matthews’ finishing pace. “He had an unbelievable kick towards the end of a race and he has beaten me many times.”

On the track, it was definitely Johan Fourie, Deon Brummer and Henning Gericke. “They were all friends and all trying to beat me.” Johan and Matthews were known for their battles in the mile race. “Johan was very good at the mile, but I was a little better at the longer track distances because I had a stronger kick over distance,” says Matthews.

On the road, his greatest competitors were Xolile Yawa, a former Berlin Marathon winner and nine time SA 10 000m senior champion as well as Zithuele Sinqe, a 2:08 marathoner and Two Oceans marathon winner in 1996 and 1997.

Quality training was the cornerstone of his regime and he still roughly follows the same training principles today, says Matthews.

At his peak, he ran about an hour every morning at a relaxed pace of between four and five min/km. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were dedicated to track work. These sessions included speed sessions, sprinting flat out for 200m, jogging for another 200m, sprinting for 400m, jogging for 200m and finishing the set with 600m sprint followed by a 200m jog. He would repeat this three times in one session.

On Wednesday afternoons, Matthews hit the gym or did hill training, a normal hill session was five repeats up an 800m incline. He believed in respecting his body and never pushing it beyond its limits.

“I always listened to my body. If I felt tired, I did less training and if I felt good I did a bit more. Weekends were always reserved for longer runs of about two hours but I never did too much mileage because I knew it would make me slow.”

Matthews decided to try his hand at Comrades as he started slowing down over time. In 1999, he finished in a time of 7:12 and in 2000, in a time of 8:28. “I was never very good at long distance races. In my first Comrades I went out very hard trying to run in the front, but I quickly got very tired. My body did not know how to handle that kind of pain and I had to run and walk to the finish,” he grimaces with a smile.

His mom passed away in 2007 after a heart attack and it took its toll on Matthews. He struggled through a difficult time in which he lost interest in running. “After my mom’s death it constantly felt as if there was a heavy weight on my shoulders. I was very close to her and took her to all the big races. I still lived with her and she looked after me because I am not married.” Over time he slowly started putting the pieces together and today running is part of keeping his mother’s memory alive.

He loves running purely for the joy he gets from it. “Athletes these days run for the money. They don’t try and chase fast times. They rather go for a podium position because there is so much prize money at stake,” says Matthews.

These days he trains with friends from the Vaal Reefs Marathon Club. They run together on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the other days, each one follows his own programme. Matthews likes to stick with what he knows and runs about an hour each morning. He includes some hill repetitions or 800m track session twice a week in his programme. He proudly shows the Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney where he still does a lot of training. As Comrades is his goal next year, he has started increasing his mileage on weekends. “Once or twice I have asked a friend to drop me in Potchefstroom. I run back to Orkney about 50km away.”

He loves sport and his only regret is that he never had a chance to compete at the Olympics. “I will never stop running. I want to run until I am very old. Soon, I will be a master and I would like to do well in the older category. We will see what happens in next year’s Comrades,” says Matthews. He is clearly content, happy and still very much in love with running. The only thing missing in his life is a wife. “I just have not found the right one but I am desperately looking,” laughs Matthews.


  • Won SA 5 000m title seven times (1982-1983 and 1985-1989)
  • Won SA Cross Country Championships four times (1984 and 1986-88)
  • Won SA 10km title four years in a row (1985-1988)
  • Won SA 15km title (1985 and 1987)
  • Won SA 21.1km title in (1985, 1987 and 1989)


 1 500m 1984 3:38.30
 3 000m 1985  7:47.50
 5 000m 1986 13:25.15
 10 000m 1989 27:57.50
 Mile 1983 3:55.40


 10km  1985  28:29
 15km  1991  42:59
 Half Marathon  1987  1:00:11
 Marathon  1995  2:14.21
 Mile 1986  3:46.80 

A quick guide to shin splints

A quick guide to shin splints

Brad Walker explains the signs and symptoms of shin splints, the preventative action you can take to reduce the chances of experiencing the injury and how to treat shin splints.

Shin splints is a term commonly used to describe lower leg pain. However, shin splints are only one of several conditions that affect the lower leg. The most common causes of lower leg pain are general shin soreness, shin splints and stress fractures.

Before I move on to shin splints, I want to cover the topic of general shin soreness. Shin soreness is simply a muscular overuse problem. By using the RICER regime (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, Referral), you will be able to overcome 95% of all general shin soreness within about 72 hours. For lower leg pain that goes beyond general shin soreness, a more aggressive approach must be taken.

Although the term ‘shin splints’ is often used to describe a variety of lower leg problems, it actually refers specifically to a condition called Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). To better understand shin splints, or MTSS, let us have a look at the muscles, tendons and bones involved.

There are many muscles and tendons that make up the lower leg, or calf region. It is quite a complex formation of inter-weaving and overcrossing muscles and tendons. The main components of the lower leg that are affected by the pain associated with shin splints are the tibia and fibula. These are the two bones in the lower leg. The tibia is situated on the medial, or inside of the lower leg, while the fibula is situated on the lateral, or outside of the lower leg.

There are also a large number of the muscles that, when overworked, pull on the tibia and fibula and cause the pain associated with shin splints. Specifically, the pain associated with shin splints is a result of fatigue and trauma to the muscle’s tendons where they attach themselves to the tibia. In an effort to keep the foot, ankle and lower leg stable, the muscles exert a great force on the tibia. This excessive force can result in the tendons being partially torn away from the bone.

While there are many causes of shin splints, they can all be categorised into two main groups, overload (or training errors) and biomechanical inefficiencies.

Shin splints are commonly associated with sports that require a lot of running or weight bearing activity. However, it is not necessarily the added weight or force applied to the muscles and tendons of the lower leg, but rather the impact force associated with running and weight bearing activities.

In other words, it is not the running itself, but the sudden shock force of repeated landings and changes of direction that cause the problem. When the muscles and tendons become fatigued and overloaded, they lose their ability to adequately absorb the damaging shock force.

Other overload causes include:

  • Exercising on hard surfaces, such as concrete.
  • Exercising on uneven ground.
  • Beginning an exercise programme after a long lay-off period.
  • Increasing exercise intensity or duration too quickly.
  • Exercising in worn out or ill-fitting shoes.
  • Excessive uphill or downhill running.

The major biomechanical inefficiency contributing to shin splints is flat feet. Flat feet lead to a second biomechanical inefficiency called over-pronation. Pronation occurs just after the heel strikes the ground. The foot flattens out and then continues to roll inward. Over-pronation occurs when the foot and ankle continue to roll excessively inward. This excessive inward rolling causes the tibia to twist which, in-turn, over stretches the muscles of the lower leg.

Other biomechanical causes include:

  • Poor running mechanics.
  • Tight, stiff muscles in the lower leg.
  • Running with excessive forward lean.
  • Running with excessive backward lean.
  • Landing on the balls of your feet.
  • Running with your toes pointed outwards.

Prevention, rather than cure, should always be your first aim. I was very surprised when researching this topic, at the number of articles that totally neglected any mention of preventative measures. They all talked of treatment and cure, but only one out of 20 took the time to address the issue of prevention in any detail. Even before any sign of shin soreness appears there are a number of simple preventative measures that can be easily implemented.

Since about half of all lower leg problems are caused by biomechanic inefficiencies, it makes sense to get the right advice on footwear. Your feet are the one area you should not ‘skimp’ on. The best advice I can give you concerning footwear is to go and see a qualified podiatrist for a complete foot strike or gait analysis. They will be able to tell you if there are any concerns regarding the way your foot strike or gait is functioning. After your foot strike has been analysed, have your podiatrist, or competent sports footwear sales person recommend a number of shoes that suit your requirements. Good quality footwear will go a long way in helping to prevent many lower leg problems.

Apart from good footwear, what else can you do? I believe the following three preventative measures are not only very effective, but crucial. Firstly, a thorough and correct warm-up will help to prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity to come. Without a proper warm-up, the muscles and tendons will be tight and stiff. There will be limited blood flow to the lower legs, which will result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients for those muscles. Before any activity, be sure to thoroughly warm up all the muscles and tendons that will be used during your sport or activity.

Secondly, flexible muscles are extremely important in the prevention of lower leg injuries. When muscles and tendons are flexible and supple, they are able to move and perform without being over stretched. If, however, your muscles and tendons are tight and stiff, it is quite easy for those muscles and tendons to be pushed beyond their natural range of movement. To keep your muscles and tendons flexible and supple, it is important to undertake a structured stretching routine.

And thirdly, strengthening and conditioning the muscles of the lower leg will also help to prevent shin splints.

Firstly, be sure to remove the cause of the problem. Whether it is a biomechanical problem, or an overload problem, make sure steps are taken to remove the cause. The basic treatment for shin splints is no different to most other soft tissue injuries. Immediately following the onset of any shin pain, the RICER regime should be applied. This involves rest, ice, compression, elevation, and referral to an appropriate professional for an accurate diagnosis. It is critical that the RICER regime be implemented for at least the first 48 to 72 hours. Doing this will give you the best possible chance of a complete and full recovery.

The next phase of treatment (after the first 48 to 72 hours) involves a number of physiotherapy techniques. The application of heat and massage is one of the most effective treatments for speeding up the healing process of the muscles and tendons. I have found, both from personal experience and from working with many clients, that this form of treatment is the most effective. If you suffer from shin splints, be sure to spend at least a few minutes massaging the affected area both before and after you exercise.

Once most of the pain has been reduced, it is time to move on to the rehabilitation phase of your treatment. The main aims of this phase it to regain the strength, power, endurance and flexibility of the muscle and tendons that have been injured.

This article courtesy of Brad Walker and Peak Performance. Brad Walker is the Founder and CEO of The Stretching Institute, the foremost experts in stretching and flexibility training.


Rand Athletic Club

Rand Athletic Club

Rand Athletic Club (RAC) is the biggest and one of the oldest clubs in the country with a membership of close to 1 500 runners and walkers. It is a club known for its rich running tradition and its huge attendance at time trial evenings; about 500 runners gather at the clubhouse every Tuesday evening to partake in the TT. Over the years, many well-known faces and talented runners have been part of this club, which started way back in 1972.  

Three friends, Caspar Greeff, Ray Alborough and Fritz Madel, who all lived in Northcliff, Johannesburg, and ran together, founded RAC in 1972. Madel took the role of the club’s first chairman. In February 1973, the club constitution and colours were accepted and subscriptions were set at a mere R4 per year, with running licences costing just R1.50. Initially, the young club battled to take off but after some hard work from the club secretary, Tiaan van der Walt, and later Gavin Reynolds, matters improved and membership slowly started increasing. Little did they know at the time, that they would be creating a club that would become a constitution on our running roads in decades to come. Six RAC members completed the 1973 Comrades; at that stage the club had 37 members. At a meeting in February 1974, it was agreed that women could join the club ‘with rights equal to those of men.’ Pam Potter was the first female member, joining eight months later in November 1974. The club policy, which was set out at a meeting in December 1974, is still followed today: “To always be there for all runners and not concentrate on a few of the best athletes.”

Modern Athlete chatted to Dick Welch, current RAC chairman who joined the club in 1975 after he was transferred to Johannesburg from Mpumalanga. By then, there were about 60 members who formed different groups, running from different places. “Initially there was no clubhouse and the runners started their morning training runs from a lamppost in Northcliff. We got up to all kinds of mischief on the runs in those days. I will never forget the time each one of us got a turn to lead the run. If it was your turn, you could decide when to turn. At one stage everyone just kept on turning right. We must have gone around the same block about 25 times! Eventually someone turned left,” chuckled Dick.

He remembers runs where Fritz, one of the founding members, took a group of runners on a 16km route in Northcliff. One day, some of the guys measured it and found it was only 15km. “Fritz was mortified. His logbook had to be changed and he insisted the measuring wheel was wrong. These are the spirited guys who started the club and ran in those days. We had a lot of fun and giggles. We used to pick up members along the way. That’s how the club grew.” 

The club’s first race was on 3 February 1974, a 20km event that attracted 139 starters of which 137 runners finished. This was described as a ‘tough race’ by most entrants. The following year, in 1975, the club race was lengthened to 32km and the RAC Tough One was born with the start and finish at the Randburg Sports Complex. 15 red flags were required for the marshals and the winner received a cup and a gift voucher for R20.

The Tough One became a must-do event on the running calendar and from 1992 to 1994, it won the Race of the Year Trophy. In 1997, a 5km race was introduced to go with the 32km to accommodate shorter distance fun runners. The race now attracts fields in excess of 3 000 runners and one of the traditions created is the presentation of a special clock to all runners who have completed 20 Tough Ones. All we can say is that it is a very well-earned timepiece.

RAC now also host a 10km race in June. The race, which traditionally was run just before Comrades, recently changed to a later date. “Our numbers are pretty much the same. We get a lot of walkers but fewer Comrades guys,” says Dick. This RAC 10km race started by accident 20 years ago. The Sunday Times and Rotary Club sponsored a race, the Rotary Jog Day, but pulled out just before the event. When Dick heard about it, he volunteered to tell club members their usual club long run would start at Zoo Lake on that specific Sunday, and not at the club. “About 500 people pitched up. That was 20 years ago and ever since we have hosted the RAC 10km.”

Dick plans to organise a Gold Rush race next year, just as he did 20 years ago. “Barclays Bank donated ten Kruger Rands back in those days. We buried them and runners each got a prospect flag. They dashed 6km to the spruit and had to plant their flag in the ground. Runners with flags placed closest to the Kruger Rands won them. I would love to organise something similar next year.”

Initially, the facilities at the Randburg Sports Complex were used but as membership grew, the clubhouse got too small, especially on time trial evenings which had peaked at attendance of about 1 000 runners. In 1982, RAC moved to Old Parktonian Sports Club in Johannesburg and the clubhouse has been there ever since.

In December 1976, the Korhaan was accepted as the club emblem and by 1978, membership had grown to 333 members. Subscriptions were increased to R5 and Dick was appointed as chairman, a position he has held for the last 31 years. “A lot of people say I am like Robert Mugabe! They just can’t get rid of me,” laughs Dick.

Time trials are held every Tuesday evening at 17:45 in summer and winter. Average attendance these days is about 500 runners. There are many non-RAC members who are welcome and they often have young university graduates who have moved to the area or people from the neighbourhood who want to stay active, says Dick. Runners can choose between a 5km and 8km route and walkers can walk a 4km or 7km route. Sensibly, walkers start 1km ahead to avoid congestion.

The RAC time trial is a hilly route and 20 to 30 seconds slower than most other time trials. For years, it has been known for its competitiveness and older members like Bruce Fordyce often battled it out with guys like Mark Plaatjes.

Mark still holds the record of about 24 minutes.

The consistency of the weekly time trials has also helped to recruit a lot of new members. “Just the other night, one of the guys that has not run the route for a long time remarked how nothing has changed. People know where to find us and when we run.” After time trials, runners usually get together for a light meal and a few drinks which brings a nice social element to the club.

Sundays are reserved for long runs and always have been. In earlier days, Dick’s wife, Vreni, used to second runners. “One day she ended up with six bailers and three kids in the car and we knew it was time to get more people to help. We got more wives to second but then we made a fatal error, allowing the wives to run, and so we lost our seconds!” he laughs.

Today, RAC has seven set routes of about 25km run in rotation on Sundays. Runs starts at 6am in summer and 7am in winter. In the months leading up to Comrades, roughly 200 runners join the longer run. Currently, about 140 are running. “In winter, it dwindles down to only about 15, because after Comrades everyone is licking their wounds, taking it easy and bonding with families.”

Weekday training consists of different size and pace groups getting together at different places. “Most members join in a group close to their homes. Some run from Bryanston, Paulshof, Fourways or Craighall Park,” says Dick. He does not agree with the mindset that a big club is impersonal. “People will always pair up; be it a big or a small club. Our members are always there to help with entries and manning water tables when necessary.”

Every year before Comrades, RAC hosts a traditional 60km long run which attracts runners from different clubs. It is known for its good organisation and well planned refreshment stops. This year about 700 people ran.

In 1983, RAC membership exceeded 1 000 for the first time. Ten years later, in 1993, RAC celebrated its 21st birthday and membership stood at 3 074. The year 2000 saw another surge in membership with the Comrades cut off being extended to 12 hours. Many old runners reappeared and RAC recorded the largest Comrades entry: 823 (648 finishers). Today, the numbers have dwindled to about 1 500 members, says Dick, mainly due to about 11 new running clubs that were started up in a radius of 10km from RAC and a fair amount of members immigrating.

RAC members make up about 20% of the field at most road races. “My son has done some research on the running times of 35-year-olds compared to those of 40-year-olds. The older group outclassed the younger one and this can be put down to 40-year-olds having more time to train. At 40, you are often at a stage where you are on top of your career and the kids are no longer crying babies so you can make the early mornings.”

He stresses the importance of club structures. “I sometimes refer to the gym culture amongst runners; you pay your money, you do your thing and you only squeal when something is wrong. Otherwise nobody knows you. That is wrong. It is important for people to get involved in their clubs. The club structure provides input and keeps things together,” says Dick, who tries to meet at least one new person every time he goes running. “Folks on the road all have some kind of story to tell and they are all specifically different.”

The now familiar club colours are white vests and white/maroon shorts. The white shorts were a bone of contention for female runners in the early days and in 2001, women changed to maroon shorts.

Dick’s wife, Vreni, is synonymous with RAC. In 2001, she was awarded the Spirit of Comrades Trophy; the first non-runner to achieve this honour. Her passion for sport comes from her days as one of the country’s top tennis players in the early 60s. She also played provincial hockey and netball. Vreni used to run but after an injury and a case of blood poisoning, she decided to give up running. She kept her passion alive by initially helping at water tables and, in 1979, was elected as club secretary.

She has been club secretary for the past 28 years and has put her heart and soul into it. She is a well-known face at the timekeeping tables and she and Dick are also part of a team supplying the SABC with information from different parts of the Comrades route. As if this is not enough, she also organises overseas running trips for runners, booking seats, finding hotels and filling out entries for international races. She has just returned from Berlin where she accompanied a group of runners competing in the Berlin Marathon.

Bruce Fordyce was one of the more well-known RAC runners. He initially ran in the colours of Wits University before joining RAC, and though he won Comrades as a Wits runner, he was never part of a team winning the Gunga-Din Trophy. Bruce was an RAC member on and off for about ten years. He now runs for the recently formed Nedbank Running Club. “We often tease him and say when his bank balance drops below six figures, he will come back to RAC,” says Dick.

Sonja Laxton joined RAC in 1985 and is still a member today. In 1987, she did her club proud by being awarded triple Springbok colours in track, cross country and road running. At the world Half Marathon Championships in 1992, Sonja set a new world veteran record. Today, she still wins many races in her age category and is often a top contender in the Spar Ladies Race series.

With so many members over the years, the club has made many notable achievements; here are just a few:

Norma De Beer completed the 1977 Comrades and became the first RAC lady to run the event.

In 1979, Hosiah Tjale won the Checkers Marathon and in 1980, went ahead to win the first RAC Gold medal at Comrades, as well as winning the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon.

In 1982, Helga van Werweskerken broke the SA 1 000m track record.

Bob De La Motte, Tony Dearling, Trevor Metcalfe and Allan Day won the Gunga-Din team trophy (for Comrades) in 1984.

In 1985, Ephraim Sibisi won the Two Oceans.

In 1989, Fritz (founding member) ran his 30th Comrades.

Titus Mamabolo ran a 2:19 marathon at the age of 50 in 1991, and was awarded Springbok colours.

In 1992, Israel Morake won the Two Oceans Marathon.

Ina Sanders won gold at the 1998 Comrades and a year later, she won the ladies section at the London to Brighton Marathon.

A traditional Comrades Aches and Pains party is held every year at Dick and Vreni’s house in Craighall Park. “Usually, everyone whose surname starts with A-N brings salads and N-Z brings desserts,” says Dick. The club hosts a breakfast for members after specific races and every year on New Years morning, between 300 and 400 people get together to run a 12km/15km route from the RAC clubhouse.

“Our founding members were good athletes as well as nice people. This has, in turn, attracted nice people to the club and I believe that this is RAC’s greatest asset. A club will always flourish if it has the magic of a couple of hundred like-minded people as members. One has only to visit the club on Tuesday evenings and be part of the social after the time trial to know this is true.”

Modern Athlete would like to take time to salute RAC. The club is a true institution and another example of the great running fraternities that we have in our country. It is great to have so many passionate people prepared to contribute to creating solid club structure and great running environments for all to enjoy.

Keep it up RAC, we look forward to your next 37 years.

011 442 8256

Irene Road Running Club

Irene Road Running Club

Irene Road Running Club (IRRC) is one of the most prominent running clubs in Gauteng North and is known for their eye catching logo ‘Serious about our r(f)un.’ And though it is represented by some talented athletes, it is their incredible team spirit and strong belief in making running fun that has made IRRC the successful and popular club it is today.

It all started with a group of employees from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Irene. This group used to get together and run for fun, until they decided, “Hey, we might as well start a running club.” The nearest running club to the ARC was Alpha Centurion Runners in Clubview and because of all the new building developments in Irene, the group thought a closer running club would be ideal. Shortly afterwards, on 1 February 1994, Irene Road Running Club was officially affiliated to Athletics Gauteng North (AGN).

Initially, there was no clubhouse or any facilities for runners. “We started our time trial under a tree. There was nothing, only beautiful peaceful roads to run on within the ARC,” says Wynand Breytenbach, general manager of IRRC. In 1998, the ARC donated an old building that had originally housed pigs, to the club. “We turned it into our existing clubhouse,” says Wynand. Today the clubhouse is a social hub after time trials on Tuesday evenings.

The club started small. During the first year of its existence, 60 members joined. Six years later, in 2000, the club’s membership reached more than 400. By then, it was the largest club in the province and one of the few clubs in the country that consisted of more than 300 members. Today, it is still the only club in the province with more than 400 members and this year, membership has reached close to 730, making it the second largest club in the country, according to Wynand.
Initially a little tree, symbolising the trees in the grounds of the ARC, was used as the club’s logo. A couple of years later, club members decided to emphasise their strong feelings towards fun and extended the club’s logo to ‘Serious about our r(f)un’. “That is what we are all about – fun,” says Wynand.

The club’s main focus is on the recreational runner and walker as club members believe there are enough organisations that support professional athletes. IRRC chooses to provide opportunities for everyone who has the desire to run or walk. The club aims to make everyone feel like a champion in his or her own right. “Our club is what members make of it.” The members’ commitment to the club is portrayed in the number of chairmen the club has had since its start. Since 1994, there have only been three chairmen, with Pieter Olivier serving as the present chairman.

The clubhouse is built on the grounds of the ARC Irene Campus in a very sought after farm environment. The biggest advantage is the safe training routes with a minimum of traffic and a variety of flat, hilly and cross country courses. All members have access to the campus at all times. Another benefit of the campus is that it is large enough to host road races without the need to use public roads. There are complete start and finish venues with safe parking for 7 000 vehicles.

The club facilities include a bar that is open after time trials and a shop where members can buy club colours and running shoes. A special club social, with a different theme, is held every first Tuesday of each month. Light meals are sold and lucky draw prizes are given away.
The club offers organised training sessions throughout the week. An official training school is hosted at the ARC and it is managed by a personal trainer. All training programmes are freely available to club members while members of other clubs are welcome to join the training programmes at a monthly fee. Training programmes, held from Mondays to Sundays, cater for all, from the long distance Comrades runner to runners wanting to specialise in shorter distances. Depending on the time of the year, up to 60 runners show up for daily training runs. A number of members focus on triathlons, duathlons and adventure races while most juniors enjoy the cross country season.

The club entered a record number of 228 runners for Comrades in 2005, placing them second of 975 clubs in terms of numbers. This year, 166 IRRC runners entered Comrades, making Irene the third biggest club at Comrades. Over 85% of the Irene entrants finished the 2009 race, while three got silver medals and over 12 runners earned Bill Rowan medals, says Wynand. Another 150 club members go along to Comrades every year and enjoy the race from the comfort of the two support stations along the route as well as at the finish area.

The club makes sure that each and every Comrades runner is looked after and pampered before the big race. Comrades runners get goodie bags stacked with expensive products such as socks, supplements and a rucksack.

The club prides itself on having already won a Comrades gold medal, despite the fact that its focus is on recreational and not professional runners. Ann Chester won gold for the club at Comrades in 1998 and in 2005, Heleen Joubert finished as the 13th lady overall.

The club has one of the biggest walking sections with nearly 80 walkers following specialised training programmes. Assistance or training is given to them by other experienced walkers and outside coaches. The club has some exceptional walkers such as Gerard van den Raad, Annatjie Greyvenstein and Elsa Meyer. All three have excelled and achieved national colours. These three Grand Masters will participate in the Sydney 2009 World Masters Games held in October. Elsa is also the South African 20km champion and Annatjie the 10km champ. Their fellow club mate, Belinda Skinner, won the SA 30km Championships recently held in Oudtshoorn.

The club hosts two big road races during the year. The Irene 10/21.1km is run in November and has become one of the largest events of its kind. The 5 000 entries at the 2006 event propelled the race to within the top ten largest races in the country. The race has been sponsored by Liqui Fruit for the past 13 years. A new route was introduced last year, making it an even better race within a tranquil environment.

The second race, the Irene Lantern Race, is a 10km event in February and is not only the largest night race, but also one of the largest 10km races in the country. The average number of entries for large night races in the country is about 1 000 while the Lantern Race attracts more than 4 000 competitors. The beauty of the race is that lanterns light the entire route. A third race, a 15km event, is in the pipeline and IRRC promises that this race will be run in a true farm atmosphere. In 2006, Irene presented its first cross country event and the event is now a fixture on the cross country event calendar.

Time trials are held on a Tuesday evening on the grounds of the ARC. Starting time is 17:30 from September to April and 17:15 from May to August. Training is allowed on the premises from 13:00 during weekdays with no restrictions over weekends. Time trials are well attended with more than 100 members participating on some evenings.


The club believes there should be a healthy balance between participation in sport and the enjoyment thereof – both for members and their families – as this is a good way to stimulate growth and sustainability in sport. The club’s social scene includes:

  • Away weekends to attend races countrywide.
  • Away weekends twice a year with emphasis placed on family involvement rather than running.
  • Club tents and refreshments are provided at most races. The club has a catering trolley with coffee, tea and eats. Gerard van den Raad, without fail, gets the trolley to all the races, while Koos Loots, a social member, makes sure everyone is well hydrated and fed after a race and that runner’s tog bags are exactly where they were left.
  • Monthly socials are held at the club with presentations by sponsors, medical and nutritional experts and gear suppliers.
  • Pre- and post-Comrades functions.
  • Spring Race/Hat Run.

A special social evening is held every first Tuesday of the month. These evenings are very popular and between 200 and 300 people attend. It is also an opportunity for medical suppliers, coaches and suppliers of shoes and clothing to show off the latest in technology. These functions serve as the perfect opportunity for members to build team spirit. Sometimes the men even get the chance to show off their baking skills by baking pancakes for fellow club mates.

A key element in the success of IRRC is communication. Every Monday morning, each member receives a newsletter with photos of the weekend races and the latest club news. In this way, members get to share in each other’s joy and sometimes even sorrow, says Wynand.

And as it goes in all clubs, IRRC has a group of runners who make the club unique. “We call them the Doringboom gang; they love to sit under a specific tree after a time trial and sometimes they enjoy the drinks more than the run,” says Wynand.

A formal function known as the Chairman’s Ball is held once a year; this year it was held at the Irene Country Club. “We dress up, drink and dance. It’s a chance to show each other we own clothes other than our running shoes, shorts and vests. Sometimes we don’t even recognise each other.” Another more informal function is held at the end of the year and includes a prize giving ceremony where athletes are not only rewarded for outstanding performances, but also for anything remarkable or unique they have done in running circles. Comrades runners get to celebrate their journey at a post-Comrades party held at the clubhouse just after the race.

“It’s our team spirit and visibility at races that stand out. People can see we are having fun. Our club colours are also nice. Some members have joined just because they liked it so much,” says Wynand.

The club’s fun focus does not mean that it doesn’t attract top athletes. Numerous Irene athletes finish in top positions at a lot of running and walking races held every weekend. Annerien van Schalkwyk is one such a member. She finished second overall in the Spar Grand Prix Ladies Challenge in 2007. In 2008, she finished third at the 5 000m South African Track and Field Championships in Stellenbosch and fourth at the Two Oceans Half Marathon in 2008 and 2009. She was also the first lady home in the South African Half Marathon Championships in Port Elizabeth in a personal best of 1:11:49. She represented South Africa at the IAAF Half Marathon Championships in 2008 in Brazil and in October, she is on her way to the same championships, this time in England.

The club prides itself on its strong veteran runners: Dirk Cloete, Greg Barnes, Ansie Viljoen and Lettie Saayman feature amongst the stronger veteran athletes.

A name which will probably be carved into Irene’s history books is that of Marina van Deventer. She recently made the front page of several newspapers after she was dragged for kilometres through the snow at the gruelling 52km Rhodes Ultra Marathon. Marina broke her ankle in two places after stepping in a hole about 25km into the race. Fellow athletes had to set it using thorn branches and plastic bags. The road the athletes were running on was covered in snow and no vehicles could gain access. Fellow running mates dragged her through the snow before they could find help at a medical station. Marina is recovering well and still attending time trials, though she can’t run, says Wynand.


The club is proud of their group performances:

  • Most entries for many races such as the Spar Ladies races.
  • Top five largest clubs with entries at Comrades and Two Oceans.
  • Most entries in a number of community events.
  • Largest support group at the Wheelchair Race for the Pretoria School for the Disabled.
  • Gauteng North Club Time Trial Champions.

In 2007 members of the club achieved:

  • 175 podium positions at races.
  • 31 athletes received provincial colours for a variety of events.
  • One athlete received National Colours and represented South Africa (Annerien).
  • Two national titles (Annerien and Annatjie).

The club is committed to the upliftment of disadvantaged athletes. A substantial amount of funds is used to subsidise running gear and race fees to runners who would otherwise not have been able to participate in the sport.

A number of charities and community organisations also benefit from funds raised during club activities. Beneficiaries include Irene Homes for the mentally disabled. Last year, the club donated R6 000 to Irene Homes, a beneficiary of the club’s annual Hat Race held at the Wally Hayward Race in May.

Tshwane Child and Family Welfare Society is the beneficiary of the Irene 10/21.1km race. Various other community projects include the collection of blankets, stationery, food and Christmas gifts during the year. Members also regularly donate clothing and toys for needy families. “We try to reach out to communities and make a difference in the lives of others. It’s not just about us,” says Wynand.

Irene is a club that functions as a big family. “We care for each other and want people to enjoy life in a healthy environment through socialising and exercising.” If you are as serious about having fun as you are about running, you might want to consider putting on your running shoes and start running for this club. 

012 654 0005 / 082 937 0733

Running from Pain

Running from Pain

The proper role of pain relief medication in sports medicine has always been controversial. The effects and effectiveness of these drugs in treating musculoskeletal injuries remain largely unknown due to the scarcity of studies specifi c to the athletic community. These drugs do have their uses, but are clearly not always good for you.

Aspirin, which was first used in 1899, and its salicyclate derivatives were the only anti-infl ammatory agents available for several decades. Corticosteroids were developed in the 1940s and are powerful anti-infl ammatory agents, which can have serious side effects, especially if used long term. Then in 1949, a third category of anti-infl ammatory was developed. These did not belong to the salicyclate or corticosteroid group and thus the name ‘non-salicylate, non-steroidal anti-infl ammatory drugs’ (NSAIDs) evolved.

NSAIDs are the most frequently prescribed and administered group of medications worldwide. All have anti-infl ammatory, analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-pyretic (fever-relieving) properties, but unfortunately, continue to be associated with serious adverse effects.

Medical practitioners, while well-intentioned, often prescribe NSAIDs in the management of injuries before, during or after sporting activity. Unfortunately, while they make recovery from a strenuous workout or nagging injury more tolerable, they can provide one with a false sense of security because they:

  • Allow some athletes to go longer and harder than they should.
  • Can mask and reduce indicators of underlying injury (pain and swelling).

Conventional wisdom dictates that all infl ammation is bad and needs to be reduced. However, research suggests that medication to reduce inflammation may actually be counter-productive, as it blocks the body’s natural healing process – and can lead to serious complications.

Pain, swelling and loss of function naturally prevent further damage to an injured area. Infl ammation is therefore an essential element to the healing process of all tissues and several studies have shown that by blocking infl ammation, the repair and cellular regeneration process is blunted. These studies show that NSAIDs used for treating injuries may reduce acute pain and allow an athlete to return to action sooner, but may neither facilitate faster healing nor promote long-term healing, and may instead increase the risk of further injury.

Central to this process are chemicals called Prostaglandins (PGs), which are produced by COX enzymes in the body.

COX-1 enzymes produce those PGs that support the bloodclotting function of platelets (cells) in the blood, and also protect the lining of the stomach from the damaging erosive effects of gastric acid. COX-2 enzymes produce PGs that promote infl ammation, pain and fever.

NSAIDs block COX enzymes and reduce PGs throughout the body. As a result, the infl ammation, pain and fever needed for the healing process are reduced. Also, since the PGs that protect the stomach and support blood clotting are reduced, NSAIDs can lead to gastro-duodenal ulcers and promote bleeding.

This led to the development of a more enzyme-selective group of NSAIDs with fewer gastric side effects, which still had the desired effect of traditional NSAIDs. Selective COX-2 NSAIDs have been marketed since 1999, but unfortunately come with their own controversy, as they are not fully understood yet.

Multiple studies have indicated an increased risk of myocardial infarction (death of heart tissue), stroke, heart failure and hypertension, particularly in patients with prior cardiovascular disease or risk factors for it. Until the molecular differences among these agents are better understood through further long-term studies, this group of NSAIDs should be limited to patients for whom there are no appropriate alternatives, and then, only in the lowest dose and for the shortest duration necessary.

Aside from injury-treatment, endurance athletes are more likely to use NSAIDs to complete events, and they need to be verycareful when considering taking NSAIDs during training and competition. NSAIDs appear to contribute to hypertension, fl uid imbalances, electrolyte disorders and even renal failure in
endurance events. Older athletes will see these changes sooner by virtue of their age, associated vascular (blood vessel) changes, medical conditions and medications.

Furthermore, the combined use of NSAIDs with exercise increases the likelihood of stomach problems and gastric side effects. As well as the biochemical and biomechanical stresses associated with exercise, the integrity of the stomach lining layers can be compromised due to the decreased blood supply to the
gastro-intestinal tract. Also, drinking alcohol while taking any of the NSAIDs will increase the risk of gastritis and gastro-intestinal bleeding.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) describes muscle pain or stiffness experienced 24 to 72 hours after exercise, particularly at the beginning of a new exercise regime, after a change in sports activities, or after a dramatic increase in the duration or intensity of exercise. This normal response is due to eccentric (contraction when the muscle is lengthened), mechanical derangement of muscle fi bres and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover.

Several studies have examined the use of NSAIDs as a preventative measure, but even though there was a reduced perception of pain and muscle soreness, it still did not prevent muscle cell injury from occurring. Creatine-kinase, an enzyme marker for muscle injury, was still raised in all studies. Therefore,
the use of NSAIDs as a preventative measure has no effect on DOMS other than decreasing the  perception of pain.

One of the oldest myths and errors in sports medicine has been the classifi cation of tendon injuries as infl ammatory conditions. This misunderstanding of ‘tendonitis’ has become ingrained into the minds of coaches, athletes, parents and doctors to such an extent that NSAIDs have become a refl ex treatment for these injuries.

The properly-termed ‘tendinopathy’ or ‘tendinosis’ shows disorganised, haphazard areas of healing with frayed and disrupted collagen fi brils and a scarcity of infl ammatory cells. NSAIDs may help mask associated pain, but will have no added benefit in treating infl ammation that is not present. NSAIDs may
blunt long-term healing and although the return to activity may be sooner, the chronic nature of the  condition may be extended due to stresses and strains on non-healing tissue.

Although the widespread use of NSAIDs has gained almost universal acceptance, there is minimal scientifi c evidence of their effectiveness in the treatment of sports injuries. The complexity of side effects, drug interactions, co-morbid conditions (presence of additional disorders or diseases) and use in the athletic population calls for other pain relief strategies.

Preferably, no athlete should rely on any drug to complete an event and athletes are advised not to use NSAIDs, particularly on event days. Realistically though, those who are suffering with musculoskeletal injuries may ignore this advice.

Gavin Shang – Modern Athlete Expert
MB BCh (Wits)
MPhil Sports Medicine (UCT/SSISA)

Dr Gavin Shang is a Sports Physician at the Rosebank Centre for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Johannesburg. He holds a Masters degree in Sports Medicine and has worked with numerous top local and international sports people over the years.


Balance Biomechanics

Balance Biomechanics

The average runner strikes about 600 times per kilometre. Somebody who weighs about 70kg lands with roughly 120 tons of force per square centimetre per foot strike.

Does this get your attention? Now imagine your foot is not striking correctly; that means your ankle is not working properly, your knees are under strain and a whole lot of muscles are trying to counteract the imbalance. Are you still wondering why you have that niggling injury you just can’t seem to sort out? Maybe it’s time you start paying attention to your biomechanics.

The foot is a complex structure made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles and tendons. With all the pressure we put on our feet every day, it’s no wonder that many runners land up with knee, hip, back and even neck problems because their feet and legs are not aligned correctly. Many running injuries are caused by over training, lack of stretching and in fact a large percentage of all lower limb injuries in sport are caused by poor biomechanics, say Franklin Dubowitz, podiatrist from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

Running is a repetitive action and if your biomechanics are not working properly, it is bound to cause problems. “South African runners are out there every single weekend, winter and summer, and many run crazy distances. A lot of athletes don’t take care of themselves and ignore pain or slight niggles. Some leave it so late that they end up with serious injuries,” says Franklin.

Very few people are 100 percent balanced and aligned. Most of us supinate (roll outwards) or pronate (roll inwards) to a certain degree, and it is normal to pronate within certain perimeters, therefore it is not everyone needs intervention. Running shoes play a role in helping with problems such as excessive supination and pronation, but in a lot of cases, shoes are just not specific enough. That’s when you should start considering consulting a podiatrist. “If I measure the way you strike with your feet and one foot has a 15? of pronation while the other foot has a 24? of pronation, how can you expect one set of running shoes to work for both feet?” says Franklin, who has treated sporting stars such as Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith, Sachin Tendulkar and most other members of the Indian cricket team.

Most of us know the traditional system of orthotics, where an impression of the foot, called a plaster cast, is taken while the patient is sitting in a non-weight bearing position. Podiatrists use this cast, as well as computer technology, to design a device that balances and corrects problems. This process normally takes anything from a couple of days to sometimes a few weeks, a sometimes frustrating waiting period for someone in a hurry to sort out their injuries. New technology now allows for orthotics to be made instantaneously in as little as an hour including consultation; a first in South Africa, says Franklin.

You can walk out of the consultation room with your new pair of orthotics in your shoes and you can be sure it’s going to be a pair that is flexible, comfortable, functional and transferable. Franklin does not work with rigid orthotics. “One has to remove the abnormal movement of the foot but at the same time still allow for the normal movement. Your foot has to be able to move and absorb shock and that is the reasoning behind more flexible orthotics,” says Franklin.

In Sachin Tendulkar’s case 11 years ago, rigid orthotics were the cause of his stress fracture. “He battled to run in the hard orthotics and eventually flew in from India to see me. We manufactured a special orthotic and within seven days he was up and running. That orthotic is still known today as the Tendulkar orthotic,” says Franklin, who has been treating runners, amongst others, for 27 years.

A patient is assessed by a video gait analysis system while running or walking on a treadmill. Four high speed cameras record the foot strike from all angles. This information is recorded instantaneously on a computer. While playing back the recording, one can see how the patient is landing and how the foot moves through the gait. “We can slow down the recording and dissect the leg, ankle and foot from each and every angle and establish whether the patient is supinating or pronating,” says Franklin. He is strongly against methods of assessment where the patient runs up and down an alley in order for a podiatrist to diagnose what the problem is with the naked eye. “Your eyes are simply just not quick enough to see exacts,” says Franklin.

The best method of assessment is a video gait analysis system, used by a many podiatrists these days. Usually, an additional analysis is done where the patient walks across a pressure plate. Information about the stride, pressure points (superficial and deep seated), possible supination or pronation, and a comparison between your left and right foot are recorded on another computer, which shows two and three dimensional images of pressure under your feet. It also shows the exact movement from heel strike to toe-off. In more traditional methods of treatment, this information helps podiatrists with the manufacturing of orthotics in a laboratory.

New technology changes all of this. In many cases, orthotics can now be manufactured instantaneously in the comfort of the consultation room. You can walk out with the orthotics in your shoes, says Franklin. It works like this: first a ready made module which fits into your shoe gets chosen for your specific sport or daily activity. These modules, of which some are made of carbon fibre, are imported. Previous information gathered from your stride, pressure points and possible supination or pronation help Franklin to manually adjust the mould around your feet until it feels comfortable and is customised to your specific problem. The success of the system is that your orthotics are made under weight bearing circumstances, which allow them to feel soft, light and flexible. All adjustments are made while you are standing on the orthotics in the machine. A negative impression is done with the assistance of a sophisticated pressure sensor plate. The selected module is then pre heated and laminated. It is inserted into the digital mould and the patient is then asked to stand on the machine once again to allow the module to set in the required position. The patient steps off and the orthotics are done.

Remember, this machine does not perform magic and all orthotics take time to get used to. One should at first walk with the orthotics before attempting to run. Wearing orthotics also does not mean that you will never get injured again, but, according to Frankin, your chances of injury are greatly reduced.


  • If you have an injury or a niggle and you are not sure whether you need the help of a physiotherapist, a chiropractor or a podiatrist, consult a sports physician, who can steer you in the right direction.
  • A lot of runners believe they should run through pain. Nonsense! Pain tells you something is wrong and you should get it seen to. Take action and don’t wait until it is too late to ever run again.
  • Sales personnel in sports shops are trained to fit shoes properly. They are not trained to diagnose problems.
  • It is ultimately up to you to train wisely and correctly and to listen what your body tells you.

Johnny - The Great All-Rounder

Johnny – The Great All-Rounder

He was known as one of the greatest all round distance runners South Africa has ever produced. Not only did he win most of the high profile road races in South Africa’s race calendar in the 70s and 80s, but he was also the holder of national titles in the marathon, half marathon and cross country events. Johnny Halberstadt was known for more than just his phenomenal running ability. He will always be remembered as the man who refused sport’s highest accolade, Springbok colours, because he felt so strongly about the plight of black athletes. Modern Athlete spoke to Johnny and got to know more about his life in Boulder, Colorado, one of the most beautiful running cities in the world.

Johnny Halberstadt is clearly a content man. Though he was on the phone to us, thousands of miles away, he described exactly, the spot he was standing, high up on a huge balcony overlooking open land with the majestic Rocky Mountains in the background. “You should see it here! It is beautiful,” says Johnny, who admits he is, after all these years, still in awe of the beauty of his adopted home. Johnny could not have chosen a better place to live. Around the world, Boulder is known as a running city and a haven for athletes focused on living a healthy, outdoor lifestyle. It is a place that has been Johnny’s home for the last 15 years.

The Halberstadt family immigrated to the States in 1994 where Johnny and long-time friend and former world marathon champion, Mark Plaatjes, started a successful business, the Boulder Running Company. Today, the two men are known as leading innovators in footwear technology and an integral part of the Boulder community.

The Boulder Running Company is a small chain of running stores in Colorado and prides itself on creating an atmosphere where walkers and runners of all shapes and sizes can buy athletic gear while being treated like elite athletes. If you walk into their store in Boulder on any Saturday, you will find the two buddies working in exactly the same way as their employees, even if it involves taking out the trash.

And this is probably one of the reasons why they are so successful; last year their company was awarded the Esprit Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, an award won because of the excellent level of service they deliver to customers and the community. And in 2006, they were named top running store in the USA (out of 740 stores) by the Running Network and Running Intelligence organisations. Today, the Boulder Running Company is an institution synonymous with the city. Boulder Running Company also sponsors several local road races and money raised goes to organisations such as the Orphans of Aids Trust Foundations in South Africa.

Johnny and Mark are not only business partners, but also best friends. “Mark is a wonderful guy and stays about 8km from me. He is in great shape and still runs 60km per week. We don’t run much together but he has a training group he coaches,” says Johnny. Mark, who has a Master’s degree in physical therapy from the University of Witwatersrand and a pre-med degree from the University of Georgia, also works as a physical therapist in his own private practice, situated above the store.

Mark, who could not compete in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games due to the international boycott of South Africa, finished sixth in the Boston Marathon in 1993. Just three weeks after gaining USA citizenship, he won the 1993 World Championship Marathon. “He is such a humble, incredible man and one of the most respected physical therapists in the country,” says Johnny.

The community of Boulder loves sport, but they differ from South Africans in their approach to sporting activities. “Most people here are not so obsessed with running good times. They participate with friends and family and often do it to raise money for causes like breast cancer awareness. The health benefit of sport is the foremost priority,” says Johnny. Most people in Boulder run because of the beautiful surroundings and many world class athletes train there. “It’s an awesome place; in the nearby mountains there are even bears and American mountain lions that you have to be careful of,” says Johnny. Other attractions include the year round sporting activities in Boulder. “All we need is the ocean and then we would have everything.”

In 1971, Johnny obtained a track scholarship to Oklahoma State University after some excellent performances on the track, road and in cross country events in South Africa. In this time, he earned a MBA and undergraduate degree in business and quickly made a name as an athlete. He was the 1972 NCAA (inter universities) 10 000m champion, setting a South African record of 28:50.4. Three weeks later in Oregon, he broke the South African 5 000m record, finishing in a time of 13:44. Johnny went ahead to place third in the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:22:23 and was a six time Big 8 Conference champion in track and cross country. He graduated in 1975 and returned to South Africa. Upon his return, he combined his running career with footwear innovation and product development, founding Heart and Sole specialist running stores.

Johnny is best remembered for hitting the wall during the 1979 Comrades. He was far in the lead when he dropped back, but then recovered enough to fight his way back into second place. Johnny will also be remembered for the 1979 marathon he ran in Durban, clocking the fastest marathon (2:12:19) at the time on the continent of Africa. He ran and won many of the standard distance big races in South Africa before moving to ultra distances in 1979. He won the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in a time of 3:05:37, after an exciting battle with Vincent Rakabaele. Even with all the steep gradients, he went through the 50km mark in world record time. The Comrades Marathon is one race that has eluded Johnny; he placed second twice. In his first Comrades in 1979, he was second in a time of 5:50:30. In 1981, he followed it up by placing second again in a time of 5:46. “I would have loved to win that race, but I could just never master it. I could never get the formula right. Over that distance, guys like Bruce Fordyce and Alan Robb were just too good.”

Name a big local race and chances are Johnny has won it. In 1981, he clocked 3:11 at the Korkie Ultra Marathon (the winning time was usually around 3:20). He won the City-to-City race twice, the Jackie Gibson Marathon, the Johannesburg City Marathon and countless other races. He was just as good at shorter distances as marathons, running a sub-four minute mile. “I believe I did the best I could when I was running competitively. I often compare running with conducting. One needs to conduct the body’s muscles to work together in harmony. That is when you really perform. I still believe that we use too little of God’s talent given to us. It is important to make the most of what we are given,” says Johnny, who has seven Comrades medals and seven Two Oceans medals to his name.

In the 80s, Johnny made a crucial decision; to compete in a series of marathons and other road races in the USA, and it paid off. Johnny finished fourth in a time of 2:13:02 at the Nike OTC Marathon in Oregon while finishing third in 1982 in the Chicago Marathon, clocking 2:11:46, the fastest time of his career. But these races did not only bring glory to this runner, known by some as the little marathon man, because of his slight build. By competing in these races and accepting money, he lost the right to be a South African amateur and was subsequently banned from running in South Africa. It took three years of negotiating with authorities before the matter was settled and Johnny was reinstated as an amateur.

Johnny’s biggest ‘crime’ was taking the side of black athletes. After an impressive victory at the South African cross country championships in George in 1979, Johnny was awarded Springbok colours. He declined. His reason for declining was the bad treatment of Matthews (Loop en Val) Motshwarateu. Matthews was denied a South African passport after he was offered a scholarship to a university in the USA. The South African government had refused him a passport on the grounds that he was a citizen of Bophuthatswana, but a year earlier had awarded him Springbok colours for track and cross country. Johnny pointed out that if Matthews was good enough to be awarded Springbok colours (which only citizens can earn), then he was surely good enough to get a passport. Matthews was eventually given a travel document, but it inhibited his movement so much that he could never compete for his university outside of the USA. Suddenly, the unfair treatment of mixed athletes found a face, that of Johnny Halberstadt, who said he could never live with his conscience if he accepted a Springbok blazer. This move made him the black sheep of the South African Amateur Athletics Union.

 “Sometimes I wish I didn’t say certain things or said some things differently. But things happen for a reason. It tests us and makes us stronger,” says Johnny. However, he does not regret standing up for what he believes in. “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Those were my personal convictions and no matter how tough and controversial they were, I knew my decision was right. I had to live with myself afterwards. When I look back today, things are very clear and what I did seems the obvious thing to have done. But at the time, it was not so obvious,” says Johnny.

He realises a lot of people thought he disrespected the sport by refusing Springbok colours and that he had a personal grudge against the South African Amateur Athletics Union. “My actions were not aimed directly at the union. It was more my way of saying if we really want to make it back into the international sporting arena we have to stand together as a nation. We are all humans.”

“There were so many!” Johnny names a few: Bernard Rose, Willie Farrell, Matthews Motshwarateu, Kevin Shaw, Vincent Rakabaele, Andrew Greyling and Alan Robb.

Johnny attributes his running success to his meticulous preparation, determination and willingness to always try and find possible problems in his running and training. “I learnt valuable lessons as a student in America. My experience taught me the importance of a post race get together where you sort out what went wrong in a race. From there you try and solve it to make sure it does not happen again.”

He feels he never really excelled at races over 60km. “Once you get over 60km, you are in a totally different world; anything can happen. You have to specialise in these types of distances if you really want to achieve at it. I don’t really think I ever got that right,” says Johnny. To him mental preparation is by far the most important thing in sport. “Enthusiasm, determination, excellence and trying to do the best you can are crucial. People often say, just do it. But I say; don’t just do it, do it right and in the best way you can the first time. Plan and execute, don’t just slap things together.”

He doesn’t run much these days; but occasionally jogs, something he refers to as his ‘meditation on the move.’ He will always love running because it is a way of expressing himself. “While I run, I think about what goes on in life and I try to get my life in order.” He doesn’t really miss much about competing at a high level as he knows he had his time of glory. “These days, I get a kick out of seeing great performances on all levels, be it in athletics or music. When someone does something well, it is beautiful to see.”

Johnny immigrated to the USA, seeing the opportunity to develop and market footwear patents. “In order to develop my business career further, the natural move was to immigrate. To me, the American experience has been about expanding my mind. When you are surrounded by people who are really good and motivated, it rubs off on you. When I trained with world class athletes, it gave me great self confidence.”
Johnny met his wife, Shona, in a steakhouse where she was a part-time waitress. He was dining with fellow athlete, Bernard Rose, when his eye fell on the beautiful Shona, an avid tennis player. The two were married in 1980 and have two kids, Jason (26) and Caitlin (24), both runners. “We are very close to nature here, but we miss our friends in SA.” They have a huge circle of friends in Boulder, especially in the church they attend. They don’t visit South Africa often as their closest family is in Swaziland.

All new runners should take things step by step and work on their strength. “We all have weaknesses and too many of us focus on this. Rather concentrate on your strengths. If you learn the most basic physiology of training, you will get the most out of what you do. One thing about running is that you get out what you put in. It’s like baking a cake; you have to follow the recipe in order to bake the best cake,” says Johnny.

He believes too many runners just go out each day and run endless amounts of kilometres without following any structure. “Think of it this way: if you want to become a great dancer, it doesn’t help just going out there every day and aimlessly moving around for hours. You have to work on efficiency and form. The same can be said about running. Be all that you can be. If you do something, do it to the best of your ability. And most of all, make sure you love what you are doing.”

   Then  Now
 Age  32-35 (Peak of career)  59 (He turns 60 in October)
 Weight   54kg  55kg
 Weekly Mileage  Close to 200km   Very little at present
 Residence   Bedfordview  Colorado, USA


 Mile  3:59.9
 8km  Sub 23:00 (in a downhill race)
 10km  28:50.4
 21.1km  1:03.35
 Marathon  2:11.46
 Ultra Marathon (56km)  3:05:37
 100km  6:47