Finding Solace on the Trails

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

 

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

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

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

Hitting the Trails

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Demons

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

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

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

Green and Gold Again

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

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

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

Learning from Experience

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

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

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

A dream Come True

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

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

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

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

So… Which is Harder?

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

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

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

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

IMAGE: Courtesy Jock Green

Vaylen Kirtley Anchorwoman

Catch Up with Vaylen Kirtley SABC Anchor Woman

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MA: Where does your love of sport come from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMAGE: Jetline Action Photo

Fast Pace Expected in Cape Town SPAR Women's 10km Challenge

Fast Pace Expected in Cape Town SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge

There will be a very strong field of runners in the SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Sunday.

 

Since the SPAR Grand Prix was opened to international as well as South African runners, a number of African runners have started competing in the SPAR 10km Challenge series, which is run at six cities around the country.

Nedbank Running Club manager Nick Bester has confirmed that Namibian runner Helalia Johannes, who won the Port Elizabeth Challenge earlier this month, will be running in Cape Town, as will Tadu Teshome Nare of Ethiopia, who came second in Port Elizabeth.

Another Nedbank runner, Irvette van Zyl, is in good form at the moment. She finished fifth, behind a group of East African runners, in the FNB OneRun 12km race in Cape Town on Sunday, in 39.22 minutes. Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts) was seventh, in 40.45 minutes.Bester said he expected Van Zyl to do well on Sunday.

“She still had the Two Oceans ultra marathon in her legs when she came fifth in Port Elizabeth. But she has recovered from that and I think she will do well.” SPAR Grand Prix coordinator Ian Laxton has predicted a fast race on Sunday. “In Port Elizabeth, the first 11 runners finished in under 35 minutes, and the first six runners all earned bonus points for running faster than the winning time last year,” said Laxton.

“If you think Port Elizabeth was fast, wait for Cape Town. The course is more sheltered than in Port Elizabeth and if the weather is good, I think we can see times around 31, 32 minutes.”

“I also think more runners will earn bonus points in Cape Town. The race has been moved from Bellville to Green Point and I think that will make a difference – it is flatter.”

Other runners who can be expected to put up a good showing are last year’s Grand Prix winner, Glenrose Xaba of Boxer, Betha Chikanga and Caroline Mhandu of Maxed Elite Zimbabwe and Jenet Mbhele of Umzimkulu Striders.

More than 20 000 runners are expected to take part in the 10km SPAR Women’s Challenge and the 5km Fun Run. The 10km Run will start at 7am and the 10km Walk 15 minutes later. The Fun Run starts at 7.40am.

Gauteng Night Run sets Sandton alight

Gauteng Night Run sets Sandton alight

The inaugural Gauteng Night Run was certainly one to be proud of for organisers and athletes alike as the Sandton streets played host to runners from far and wide.

Thursday 16 May at 19h30 saw the Gauteng Provincial Government host the 8km fun run as they kicked off Africa’s greatest sporting festival: The Arnold Classic Africa. Starting and ending at Crawford College Sandton the event was initiated in order to help citizens be involved in regular exercise and help them to lead a heathy lifestyle.

The shotgun start, fired courtesy of the Honorable Faith Mazibuko: MEC Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation saw all walks of life try their hand with the immediate uphill grind through the school before hitting the roads to make up for any early lost ground.

Mr Ivor Hoff, Chief Director: Sport & Recreation – Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture & Recreation was delighted with the race; “It was wonderful to see so many people celebrate life and enjoy the Sandton streets, sky-scrapers and fresh Autumn evening. Our objective was to offer an event and route that would challenge the serious athlete yet welcome the fun runner as we endeavour to promote healthy living, great friendships and celebrating our cities. Thank you and congratulations to everyone who took part this evening: See you at the 2020 start line.”

Event organiser Danny Blumberg of DB Events said the event ran smoothly and that the event will continue to flourish in future years; “From the talk on the finish line the runners thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. They were welcomed home by friends and families; music; fresh food and flashing lights. We cannot wait to host this fantastic initiative again next year: well done to all involved!”

Results:
Men:
1. Charles Tjiane (Maxed Elite): 28:21
2. Madala Moshiane: 28:37
3. Honest Alfas (Old Mutual Athletics Club): 29:49

Women:
1. Mapaseka Makhanya : 36:18
2. Mlumi Tsolekile (Old Mutual Athletics Club): 39:52
3. Roxanne Zone (FFA): 41:33

Call Yourself a Marathoner?

The marathon is a challenge, a huge physical hurdle to get over, no matter who you are or what your level of running ability, but it seems not everybody gets that… Some ‘experts’ think you need to run fast times if you want to call yourself a marathoner. I think they’re missing the point. – BY WESLEY GABRIELS

As I enter the week leading up to my Comrades Marathon qualifier, I have had to listen to yet another version of a babbling buffoon’s rendition of the “mediocrity of the modern marathon runner,” written and composed by a critically acclaimed author of ‘’you shouldn’t get a medal for just finishing.’’ It’s okay… I don’t expect you to get it. After all, the beauty of marathon running lies in the triumph of the human spirit. As a species, there is an inherent beauty in our failings… but you may have missed that.

Cases in Point
Winelands Marathon 2015… a young man finished his first marathon in a time of 4:38. Nothing remarkable there, right, except that he had only started running six weeks earlier, just two weeks after fighting for his life in a hospital bed. He would go on to do the Two Oceans and Comrades ultra-marathons six months later.

Comrades Marathon 2016… a young lady found herself in trouble and unable to continue when a fellow runner pulled up alongside to support her and help her get to the finish. As they approached the finish line with seconds to go before cut-off, he noticed another runner unable to get to the finish line, so he told her to continue without him, so that he could go help the runner behind them. That gentleman sacrificed his race to help two complete strangers, and when the gun sounded for the final cut-off, he and his fallen comrade were mere metres short of the finish line.

Getting back to the acclaimed author, by your standards that helpful runner had achieved nothing, but to two complete strangers he was the proverbial angel… and they would all return the following year to finish the race together. Again, probably not that remarkable to you, is it?

I could also mention Peter Taylor, who runs all his marathons and ultras barefoot in order to raise funds for guide dogs, or amputee Xolani Luvuno, who completed last year’s 91km Comrades Marathon on crutches and in a time that made it look like I was standing still… but that won’t matter to you, because if you don’t get it by now, then you never will.

A Very Select Club
There is no such thing as a mediocre marathon runner. Marathon running is a discipline that only 1% of the world’s population is capable of doing, and it requires an unnatural skill-set. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter whether you run it in three hours or seven hours, at some point your body will tell you that you can’t take another step… but you will your very soul to keep putting one foot in front of the other until it’s done, and somehow you keep moving forward!

The marathon distance is such an enigma that the only thing guaranteed is the pain, so we train ourselves to not only be comfortable with the discomfort, but the pain actually fuels us. We go willingly into the darkness to face the monster, and then we take its damn soul!

In a country desperate to conquer racial and economic divides, marathon race day erases these lines effortlessly at the sound of the starter’s gun, albeit just for a few hours, but that mutual struggle of the marathon distance puts us all on truly equal footing.

The Real Deal
I can only pray that you are one day lucky enough to experience what it’s like to experience a marathon the way we do, mr acclaimed author, and I can only hope that the experience teaches you a touch of humility, as it has done for the rest of us. It may even change your life.

I am privileged to be able to call myself a marathon runner, and I have the world of respect for anyone who attempts it, no matter what their finishing time is, or even if they miss the final cut-off. I have been lucky enough to have been part of both the front and back of the pack on marathon day, so I’ve seen both worlds, but as the saying goes, a marathon is like a mullet hairstyle… the party is in the back!

About the Author
Wesley is a Cape Town-based ultra-marathon runner and member of Celtic Harriers, who also plays and coaches cricket.

IMAGES: Chanel Webber Adonis, Moegsien Ebrahim, Jetline Action Photo & courtesy Two Oceans Marathon

It’s so Easy to WIN a Trip to the Great Wall of China Marathon!

Is running the Great Wall Marathon on your bucket list? Well we have good news for you, Huawei is running a stunning competition for a trip for two to the Great Wall Marathon in China on 18 May.



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

The winners will receive:

• Roundtrip flights for two – Including airport taxes.

• Transfers from airport/hotel/airport.

• Travel Insurance.

• VISA assistance and payment for VISA’s.

• Sightseeing in Beijing and surrounds.

• Evening Celebration Party after the race.

• Lunches and dinners not specified above.

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

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

Huawei Infographic (2) It's so Easy to WIN a Trip to the Great Wall of China Marathon! Features

WIN a Trip to the Great Wall of China Marathon!

Ni hao! That's hello in Mandarin, which you will need to know if you win Huawei’s stunning competition for a trip for two to the Great Wall Marathon in China on 18 May.

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

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

TO ENTER, CLICK THIS LINK!

The estimated value of this competition is R180,000! There will be one winner chosen at random, and the winner will get to select a running buddy of their choice to compete and go on the trip with them. The winners will be announced on social media on 8 April 2019 and a ceremony for the prize handover will be held on a date agreed by all parties.

Trip itinerary:
• 15 May 2019: Explore Beijing – Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and more.
• 16 May 2019: Great Wall Marathon Route Inspection.
• 17 May 2019: Cloisonné Factory and Ming Tombs.
• 18 May 2019: Race day.
• 19 May 2019: Beijing excursion option and Evening Celebration Party.
• 20 May 2019: Farewell Beijing.

TO ENTER, CLICK THIS LINK!

The T’s and C’s: Steps to participate and judging criteria
1. Entry into the competition is open to all South African residents above the age of 18 years and with a valid South African passport.
2. The organisers of the competition reserve the right to substitute the prizes for an alternative prize of equal or greater value should the prizes promoted not be available due to unforeseen circumstances.
3. The prizes are not exchangeable for cash, and will not be transferable or negotiable.
4. To enter, You must complete one of the following race distances in these qualifying times:
• 21.1km 2h 24m 59sec
• 42.2km 4h 49m 59sec
• 56km 6h 45m 59sec
5. Runners need to enter the competition via the website using the link
6. All entrants’ details need to be uploaded in order to qualify for entry. Details required: Name, surname, contact cellphone number, email address, vitality number, Huawei wearable device serial number and screen shot of the race that was successfully completed.
7. If you successfully complete a race according to requirements (qualifying time) you will be awarded one entry to the Great Wall Marathon competition.
8. If you successfully complete a race according to requirements and are a Discovery Vitality member you will be awarded an additional entry to the Great Wall Marathon competition.
9. If you successful complete a race according to requirements, are a Discovery Vitality member and own a Huawei wearable device you will be awarded another entry to the Great Wall Marathon competition.
10. Winners will be chosen via random draw on 5 April 2019
11. Within 3 (three) days from the date of the random draw, the Competition Winner will be contacted by Huawei via email or cellphone. The Competition Winner will then be requested to provide information to verify that he/she is a qualifying person for the prize. Should Huawei be unable to contact the Competition Winner within five business days, or should the Competition Winner refuse to provide the personal information, or should the Competition Winner not be a qualifying person, then Huawei will select another winner and restart the process.

TO ENTER, CLICK THIS LINK!

Ready for Another Big Year

It’s a case of ‘something old, something new’ for former Comrades Marathon champion Charne Bosman this year. The 2016 women’s winner was unveiled as a marquee signing for the new Murray & Roberts Running Club in January, but in the meantime she has gone back to a tried and tested formula of being coached by Lindsey Parry, who helped guide her to her biggest win yet – and she’s feeling confident about her 2019 Comrades form. – BY SEAN FALCONER

One of the biggest smiles in the room at the recent launch of the new Murray & Roberts club belonged to Charne Bosman, and she has continued smiling at the start line, and on the podium, at recent races in Gauteng. “I am thrilled to join the Murray & Roberts team – and black and yellow are definitely my colours!” she says. “I decided at the beginning of this year that it was a new year, so I needed a new beginning, and I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my career.”

“I have nothing but thanks for the Nedbank Running Club, but I felt it was time for a fresh change, and when I saw the incredible support of the new club at the Dis-Chem Half Marathon, I knew I had made a good choice. On the other hand, I decided to go back to being coached by Lindsey, because he helped me do so well in 2015 and 2016. The last two years I did my own thing, but realised that even with all my running experience, having Lindsey in the build-up to races, especially the Comrades, is so beneficial.”

Charne finished second woman overall and first veteran at Dis-Chem, showing that she is already in good racing shape for the 2019 season, with plenty of speed in her legs over shorter distances, but she says her main focus this year will once again be the Comrades. “People say I am 43, but to be honest, I feel stronger than before. I don’t let myself say I am getting older, I stay positive. As you get older, you realise you need to work harder, therefore I’m doing more strength work, cross training and swimming, focusing on my recovery, and I have my coach back to take the stress away. I’m aiming to get to Comrades well prepared, and Lindsey gives me such valuable feedback. If I go too fast in a race, he adapts my training the following week and gives me a little less to do, so we are watching it all carefully.”

Comrades Highlight
Unsurprisingly, Charne lists her 2016 Comrades win as the biggest moment of her career, especially given the way she reeled in a faltering Caroline Wöstmann, who had earlier opened a massive lead – and that in spite of having broken a small toe just under seven weeks before the race when she slipped in the bathroom. “I kept that quiet for a long time, only Lindsey and my family knew, so I didn’t expect to run so well, but it just shows you, anything can happen on race day.”

“I will always remember how down I felt for about four hours after breaking my toe, but then I went onto Google to research treatment and read that hyperbaric chambers can speed up recovery from injury. I found a chamber at the Eugene Marais Hospital, mailed Doctor Gregory Weir the next morning, and he replied that he would help me, for free! I also read that rugby players often play with broken toes, so I spoke to Dr Org Strauss at the Blue Bulls rugby team and asked whether I would do further damage if I kept on running. He said the pinkie toe does very little, so if I can deal with the pain, I can still run.”

That saw Charne take two weeks off running, during which she did 10 sessions in pure oxygen in the hyperbaric chamber, which she says halved her recovery time from the injury. “I also told myself that pain is just temporary, blocked out the pain for two to three hours when I ran, and then iced my toe so that I was ready to go again the next morning. I still can’t believe I got through that and lined up for the race, but if you’re hungry enough for success, you will get to that start line. I’m hungry again this year… just going to mind my toes!”

Even so, Charne admits that she didn’t expect to win, even when she heard from her supporters that Caroline was in trouble. “Lindsey had given me a plan and I stuck to it, but with 10km to go I didn’t think I could close a 10-minute gap. I still had to get through the race myself, so I had to keep running at my pace, and besides, I need to see someone in order to chase them, but when I actually saw the cars and motorbikes around Caroline, that was when I realised the win was on. I knew that when I passed her, I’d have to run as hard as possible. For everyone watching, it was clear that she wasn’t able to respond… but I didn’t know that, so I kept pushing all the way to the finish. It was a great race!”

Career Longevity
Winning Comrades shot Charne into the national limelight, but she had actually been at the forefront of South African women’s running for more than two decades. Amongst her many titles and accolades are three SA Marathon titles and 23 outings in the green and gold of her country (in road and cross country), plus she won the Soweto Marathon twice in consecutive years, as well as three consecutive Two Oceans Half Marathon titles. However, it was the Comrades win that brought her the mast attention. “I don’t think we realise the magnitude of the Comrades in South Africa,” says Charne. “When I won in 2016, some people asked me when I’d started running!”

Of course, there have also been disappointments along the way, and Charne says her biggest regret remains not getting to the Olympics. “2003 was one of my biggest years, with wins in the Peninsula and Soweto Marathons. I then tried to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Marathon, but picked up a stress fracture in my leg. In 2008 I was in the marathon squad, but I wasn’t selected for the final Games team, and in 2012 I messed things up in Rotterdam when I tried again to qualify. My target was 2:36, but I felt great and thought I could go 2:34, so I started too fast and by 22 kilometres I’d blown it. Failing to make the Olympics in 2012 almost ended my running career. I was sad for months after that race, because it was one of my biggest dreams, and I didn’t achieve it.”

Eventually, some months later, Charne says she finally got herself running again, but with a new focus. “I decided that my Olympic dream was just not meant to be, but at least I had tried, and that led to my decision to try my first ultra, at the 2012 City to City 50km. I finished second, in spite of not being properly prepared for the distance, and then getting tripped and falling with 7km to go. The following year, I finished third at Two Oceans, in one of the best races of my career. I was lying ninth at Constantia Nek, but then I started catching everyone. I was hammering it over the last few kilometres, and if the race had been just 1km further, I could have passed Tabtitha Tsatsa for second place… which would have meant I would have become the winner when Natalya Volgina was disqualified.”

With that really successful 2013 Two Oceans debut still fresh in her memory, Charne then made her Comrades debut, finishing fifth. Ultra-running clearly suits her, and in the years from 2013 to 2018 she has earned four gold medals at Two Oceans (finishing in positions 2, 5, 4 and 3, with a best of 3:40:16 in that 2013 debut) and five golds at Comrades, with an equally remarkable finishing record of positions 5, 2, 1, 3 and 5, and a best of 6:25:55 in the 2016 Down Run, when she won the race.

Planning for Success
When asked if she would like to go after the win at Two Oceans, to round off her collection of top five positions in the race, she says no, because Comrades is her main focus this year. “It would be nice to win Two Oceans, but this year it’s too close to Comrades. Last year I learnt my lesson when I won the Loskop 50km in 3:22 and broke the course record for veterans, then had my biggest training week at altitude in Graskop the very next week. I hadn’t actually raced too hard at Loskop, but the big week on top of it broke me, and that affected my Comrades.”

“So I will see how Two Oceans goes, but I will have worked out with Lindsey what I need to do, and then I will run a sensible race. If there is something in the last few kays and there is a chance to win it, as Caroline did, then I will go for it, but that is not my main focus. Lindsey always says I need to run certain times, and I am going to listen to him, because I feel this year I have the opportunity to do well at Comrades again.”

That careful planning also includes going back to what worked for her in the past. In the build-up to her 2016 Comrades win, she won the Johnson Crane Marathon and finished fourth at Two Oceans. In 2017, she didn’t finish the Peninsula Marathon, but then took second place at the Om Die Dam 50km. Last year, however, she probably raced too much, winning the Johnson Crane, Bestmed/Tuks and Deloitte marathons, as well as the Sunrise Monster 32km and at Loskop. This year she has already finished second in the Dis-Chem Half, and followed that up with another win in the Johnson Crane Marathon, posting a new course record of 2:44:52, but she says she is actually holding back.

“In 2018 I was trying to do my long training runs in races, and I think that was one of my mistakes, because even if just training, you naturally go five to 10 percent faster. Lindsey says he will join me in some races this year to hold me back, and will keep an eye on me to make sure I stick to what is planned. I still won at Johnson Crane, and may go down to the Cape for the Peninsula Marathon, but I am running according to a strict plan. I learnt a big lesson in 2018, that to do well at Comrades, you can’t race all the other races. You have to train and race smart.”

Looking Ahead
Charne has been running since 1991 and says she instantly fell in love with running the first time she ran with her cousin. It also soon became apparent that she had serious running talent. “When I was 16 years old, I did a VO2max test and they said I scored 69, which meant that I had lots of potential to be a long-distance runner. They also said I was built like a Kenyan, with long legs and a short torso, which gave me still more encouragement.”

Even now at 43, she says she still loves the way running makes her feel. Nevertheless, she has reached that part of a pro runner’s career when one inevitably has to begin thinking of what will come next, when your competitive years at the top are over. “You can’t run competitively forever, so I am already thinking ahead. I studied teaching way back in the day, then only taught for six months before turning pro in 1998, but last year I actually updated my CV for the first time in years because several schools asked me to help them out as a relief teacher.”

“If schools need me again this year, I will be available, as long as it fits into my training schedule, but to be honest, I can’t see myself going back to teaching fulltime. On the other hand, I can see myself as a running coach, helping with children, because I love to work with kids. I’m already coaching junior athletes, and enjoy giving back in that way. Also, Murray & Roberts are supporting the Vorentoe Academy, so if there is an opportunity and they want me to help there, I would love to get involved. I’ve actually just done some coaching courses with ASA, and it made me realise that I actually enjoy studying, so even though it’s been a long time since my varsity days, I may look for something to study after Comrades, like sports marketing. You’re never too old to try something new!”

No matter what the future holds, for now Charne says she is still fully focused on her running. “The older I get, the stronger I seem to get, so I do not see my age as a barrier… but I do listen to my body more now. I know what works for me, and of course, what does not work. Experience has taught me to focus only on what I can control, and that is running my own race. My rivals must do what they need to do, but all that matters to me when I cross the finish line is that I want to know that I gave it everything I have. If I can tell myself I did that, then I will be happy with the result, no matter that my position is.”

IMAGES: Jetline Action Photo & courtesy Murray & Roberts

Safety First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KwaZulu-Natal
• Durban Metro Police – 031 306 4422
• Durban Metro Ambulance – 031 307 7744

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