WINNING WALKER!  3 759.7km In A Year

WINNING WALKER! 3 759.7km In A Year

He bought a brand new car, big and comfortable enough to sleep in before races. He spent hours planning which races to run where. He even forked out thousands of rands travelling overseas to find races so he could clock up as many kilometres as possible, all the time meticulously logging each and every kilometre. Brian Marshall was a man on a mission; a man who walked 3 759.7km in races in 12 months – and became the first walker ever to beat runners in the 500/1 000km Challenge. Modern Athlete spoke to Brian about walking, winning and that unspoken rivalry between walkers and runners.

The 500/1 000km Challenge is a well-known competition to most mileage junkies on South African roads; run or walk a cumulative distance of 500km or 1 000km in official road races in one year (the Challenge starts one day after Comrades and runs right up to Comrades the following year), and when you hit your target, you qualify for a Challenge medal. Though the distance initially sounds quite daunting, most committed runners and walkers can easily clock up the kilometres by doing what they love on weekends; running or walking official races.

As with every competition, the 500/1 000km Challenge is known for its group of competitive and committed runners and walkers who, each and every year, try and log as many kilometres as is humanly possible. And in the process, things start becoming very secretive; competitors don’t share their planned races with each other, some travel to all corners of the country to find races and if it means doing three races on a weekend, what a bonus! Some more fortunate ones even hop on a plane to log more kilometres in races abroad. All the time they keep an eye on each other’s whereabouts. If they don’t see each other at races, many get worried because that might mean that the other person has found a longer race somewhere else.

Being a top contender in the Challenge takes a lot of planning, commitment and a fierce will to come out tops. And that is exactly what Brian did. He logged nearly four times the required distance (1 000km) and was 443.7km ahead of his closest competitor, runner, Stuart Wainwright. Brian was also way ahead of the second walker, Tony Green, who completed a credible 1 884.87km. Though runners and walkers log the same amount of kilometres when they compete in the same road races, it’s a whole different story at circuit races. Runners have the advantage of clocking more kilometres in the required time as they cover more ground.

“When you are a walker, you don’t have time to take a rest when walking a 100 miler. You have to keep on going. Sometimes it is hard for walkers to do long distance races as they don’t always make the cut off times. I have an advantage because I come from a long distance running background,” says Brian, who three years ago changed from running to walking because of back and knee problems.

Brian started running in 1985, though he lived a life of too many drinks and cigarettes. “I was an alcoholic and smoked way too much. I have a drunken driving charge against me and have written off a couple of cars while driving under the influence. I knew I had to stop, but I just never found a way,” says Brian. Every year, he watched Bruce Fordyce running Comrades and every time he swore to run the race.

“One day my wife Brenda said I would never do it. I wanted to prove something so I started running,” says Brian. He did not take things slowly. His first run was on 1 January 1985 and a couple of weeks later, he ran 15km at the Varsity Kudus race in Johannesburg. Not long afterwards, he finished the Johnson Crane Marathon in a time of 4:17. Brian admits to having a compulsive nature. “When I drank, I drank; when I smoked, I smoked and when I ran, I ran.”
He went ahead to run 14 Comrades; his slowest time was 11:27 and his fastest time was 9:26. But alcohol and cigarettes still played a role for most of his running career. He eventually gave up drinking on 15 November 1994. “I am not ashamed of people knowing that I was an alcoholic. I told everyone at work about it and everyone at my running club. There is no way I will ever drink again. I am now a stronger person.” But letting go of cigarettes was not easy. Brian smoked for the biggest part of his running career. “During one Comrades, I smoked 14 cigarettes. I used to light a cigarette at the bottom of each major hill. Believe it or not, there were so many runners asking me for a cigarette.” Today, he regrets abusing his body in this way, but says you can only let go of an addiction when you are really committed. “Only when my mind was right, did I let go.”

Brian eventually gave up smoking in 2000, because he wanted to run the Western States 100 mile race in the mountains of California in 2002. He knew he could never run it as a smoker. Though he didn’t finish the race because of flu, he was at least rid of a bad habit. In 2005, on his third try, he finished the race, an achievement he still sees as a highlight in his running career. But by the end of 2005, Brian’s running days were coming to an end. His last running race was in 2006 and he was forced to stop because of back and knee problems. “My back was so bad that it took me 20 minutes to get up after lying on the floor.” Giving up sport altogether was never an option and Brian took to walking, proudly and passionately sporting the big W on his running vest.

It has been three years since he started walking and as usual, he does nothing half heartedly. He has entered the Challenge a couple of times and made it his goal to win it this year. As a walker, it meant he had to go the extra mile to clock up more mileage than the front runners. Brian studied the racing calendar and picked races in provinces where he could accumulate the most mileage. This sometimes meant a lot of travelling; he would drive to a province on a Friday night, sleep in his car, run on the Saturday morning, drive to an afternoon race if he could find one, drive back to Johannesburg the same day and compete in a Sunday morning race. “I once did 240km in eight races in nine days,” says Brian. He has also done three 100 miler (160km) races in three months; the Washie 100 miler, the Cape Town 100 miler and the Ultimate 100 miler. And only a week after the last 100 miler, he walked another 100km at a 24 hour race in Mpumalanga, all the time keeping an eye on his closest competitors.

“At races, I always checked to see who was there. I tried to make it my mission to know who was doing how much mileage. But we kept secrets from each other. When someone asked me how much mileage I had logged, I conveniently forgot a couple of hundred kilometres,” says Brian. He walked Comrades this year but did not finish. “You have to walk 7.8min/km. It’s not easy. I got to the 73km mark and realised I would not make the cut off, but would finish in about 12:10. I decided to stop, especially because the athletes who don’t make the cut off, are not allowed into the stadium.”

Just before Comrades, he flew to New York to take part in a 5/10 day Circuit Race held from 22 April to 2 May in Flushing Meadows, Queens, but not before asking his closest competitor if he was also going to run the race. “If he was going, I would cancel my race because I knew I could not clock up more kilometres if he ran the race,” says Brian. He completed 701km in ten days on a one mile route, placing second in his age category (50-59). Walking the same circuit over and over again didn’t bother Brian. “I am a draftsman and do calculations all the time. From the moment I started walking, my mind calculated how far I had gone and at what pace.” Brian was elated when he won the 1 000km Challenge, but admits he was already looking for a new challenge by then. “It’s about the journey and not the destination. The most exciting part of it all is the preparation for the races.”

He admits he looked down on walkers when he was still running. “Runners sometimes disregard walkers. I also did it when I was a runner. I am so happy I won this challenge; I did it for the walkers out there.” He sometimes experiences animosity between runners and walkers at races, especially when walkers insist on starting the race right at the front. “When you speak to walkers, they all tell you they have just as much right to start in front as the runners. I agree, but then one should stand to the right and not start as a group. The ideal situation of course would be separate starts for walkers and runners.” One thing that gets Brian’s blood boiling is when walkers mix a bit of running with their walking. “It gives all walkers a bad name.” His future goal is to walk all the races that he ran as a runner. “I could never stop walking. Even if I end up a cripple, I will race in a wheelchair. You have to do something; otherwise you might as well lie down and die.”


 21 Feb    Bay Ultra (PE)  50km
 22 Feb  Peninsula Marathon (Western Cape)
 25 Feb    Gino’s 10km Night Race (Western Cape)  10km
 26 Feb    Diaz Vasbyt (Day 1) (Mossel Bay)  40km
 27 Feb  Diaz Vasbyt (Day 2) (Mossel Bay)  30km
 27 Feb    Infantry School Cango Caves 5km (Oudtshoorn)  5km
 28 Feb    Infantry School Cango Caves Marathon (Oudtshoorn)   42.2km
 1 Mar    Rand Road Warriors Half Marathon (Edenvale)  21.1km


 1  Brian Marshall   W  3 759.70
 2  Stuart Wainwright    R  3 316.00
 3  Marthie Brits      R  3 066.60
 4  Susan Hurter     R  2 877.80
 5  Neels Vermeulen    R  2 683.90
 6  Kosie Van Vuuren    R  2 453.40
 7  Abie Smit     R  2 417.60
 8  Keith Solomon    R  2 244.90
 9  Corrie Fourie     R  2 153.87
 10  Michelle Fookwe    R  2 078.00


Girl Power

Girl Power

Most runners’ daily runs take the same routes. Most races are the same year after year and sometimes, the predictability of a route leaves you wanting something else. I have been running consistently since my winter hibernation period after Comrades, yet I felt something was missing. I have never been a gym bunny, so I knew a high-tech gym with its huge, claustrophobic walls was not the place to find the missing puzzle piece in my training schedule. I was in desperate need of a dose of some other cross training motivation. So, when I got the opportunity to be part of a four-week Adventure Boot Camp, I jumped at the chance to do something different.

At first, the thought of an exercise Boot Camp conjured up images of army clad GI Janes crawling through muddy water, climbing over walls and swinging from ropes, all the time being watched by a mean man with a thin moustache barking orders. When my friend, Denise Fox, told me about the Adventure Boot Camp she was attending at the Rietvlei Farm in Alberton, south of Johannesburg, I immediately wanted to know if it was an army style environment. “No ways, but just know, you are going to work hard,” said Denise, a tough cookie who has done 12 Comrades and often runs, teaches spinning and does Boot Camp – all in one day.

On my first evening as a Boot Camper, I had no idea what to expect. To be brutally honest, I had second thoughts about my new cross training project when the group of about 40 women started warming up by walking twenty steps and jogging another twenty steps. “How is this ever going to make me tired?” I (then) arrogantly thought. I was about to eat humble pie. As the days progressed, the classes became more challenging with endless squats, sit-ups, push-ups and sprints. After only two sessions, my muscles were so sore I found it difficult to get out of bed for my morning runs. Not even a marathon left me with such soreness, but at the same time I felt a feeling of satisfaction knowing that I was building a stronger body; which would probably help my running. Needless to say, after the first week, I was a loyal Boot camper.

Boot Camp is not about exhaustion to the point of no return; it’s about strengthening your body, building lean muscle and using muscles you forgot you ever had – and never strengthen while running. After week one, my soreness disappeared and my body started adapting to the new exercises.

Boot Camp does not require elaborate equipment. It has the same benefits as a gym (if not more) but it is more sociable and motivational. For me, the best part of Boot Camp was the natural environment one uses to make exercises more challenging; imagine exercising with peacocks and ducks surrounding you and looking up at the leaves of the trees as you cool down. Fields, walls, hills and steps are all used while exercising. For me, it was so much better than a gym!

Our energetic instructor and camp leader, Jason Coetzee, who is qualified in personal training, was full of energy and a great motivation, though he only likes hearing one answer and that is: “Yebo!” Jason’s favourite saying is, “Imagine strutting your stuff in December on Camps Bay. You will thank me.” One thing he is very good at is distracting you so that you don’t always realise how hard you are working. What I enjoyed most was being outdoors and seeing women of all shapes and sizes and with different goals give it their all, often displaying a sense of humour only a Boot Camper can have after what feels like the 60th ab crunch.

Adventure Boot Camp was started in 2005 by Huenu Solsona. The four-week programme in a number of outdoor venues around the country, is a women-only thing and nothing like an army environment. It started with 30 enthusiastic women at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town and has grown to over 19 camps countrywide; all with a mission to create positive awareness in women both mentally and physically.

You can choose between three sessions or five sessions a week. You don’t need trendy gym clothes and you’re not out there to impress anyone. Each boot camp session starts and ends with stretching. The hour of exercise involves a bit of everything and the challenges are upped every week, with the aim of leaving you feeling stronger and fitter after four weeks. You can expect to do squats, lunges, stomach crunches, skipping, running, obstacle courses, weight training and a lot of something I call triceps torture. It’s all focused on women’s needs. Exercises are designed to firm your butt and thighs, flatten your stomach, reduce body fat and increase stamina. These exercises hit the spot! You will tie ropes around your ankles and later use them to do arm exercises; expect to do these until you groan. Words like the Spiderman Plank and the Bear Crawl will soon become part of your vocabulary.

A pre- and post-evaluation on the first and last Friday of Boot Camp is done to help you monitor your progress. On assessment day, you do a timed sprint of 1.2km and as many sit ups and push ups as you can master in one minute. Each and every Boot Camper exercises to her own ability. There are women who can only walk, those who can only jog and those who sprint, some who can’t do any sit ups and some who would give GI Jane a run for her money. One thing is for sure; nobody is left behind or asked to complete more than they are capable of, but no one will go home unchallenged either.

I need to confess, my competitiveness did get the better of me and many times I tried to outrun everyone. Yes, it is easy to cheat and not do some of the exercises while your camp leader looks the other way, but at the end of the day you are only cheating yourself.

You can expect a reduction in your body fat, some weight loss, improved posture, endurance improvement and an increase in strength. Just remember, none of these things will happen if you don’t adapt the rest of your lifestyle to a healthy one. Apart from this, Boot Camp is fun; you get to be outdoors and it’s motivating exercising in a group.

I thought Boot Camp was just for women who are not fit and who have never exercised. I thought I was fit and strong. How wrong I was.

The Bear Crawl!

MONTLY COST (different regions may differ in price)
Five Days: R650
Three Days: R530

I loved doing something where I could push the limits again. I feel stronger and faster on my morning runs. In the past month, I have taken one minute off my 5km racing time. As with all new things, the question remains: has my running improved mainly because of Boot Camp or is it rather a case of running more consistently and feeling positive? I don’t know, maybe it’s a mix of everything. But one thing is for sure, Boot Camp was the most fun I have had exercising in a long time. It’s about sisterhood and team work and a great place to make friends. Maybe the adrenalin and my firmer thighs are clouding my sense of logic, but I am already considering signing up for the next camp.

Adventure Boot Camp
(Cape Town head office):
021 671 1741

Boot Camp is a functional approach to fitness, says Jason Coetzee, personal trainer and Boot Camp leader at Rietvlei Farm. When you run, you are forced to hold your own body weight and at Boot Camp, you are using basic equipment and body weight during the work out. Because of this, the training is more specific to running. As runners, we tend to forget about the other components of fitness namely strength, conditioning and flexibility which are covered ex

Running Blind

Running Blind

“I am blind and my wife has cancer. You read about these things and think it will never happen to you.”

When you go out on your next run – be it an easy 5km or a tough marathon – try the following: close your eyes and hold on to your running buddy. Let him be your eyes. Most likely you will not last 500m with your eyes shut because none of us like the fear of the unknown. Now imagine hearing, but never seeing. Imagine running in a world where every pavement, every bump in the road and every water table has to be pointed out to you. It takes courage and determination. Modern Athlete spoke to Stefan Steyn from Polokwane, on running blind.

It was that time of day on the route of the Comrades Marathon; somewhere past the halfway mark and somewhere at the bottom of the umpteenth hill. Stefan Steyn and Guppy Wilkinson, his running guide and best friend, were ready to tackle a monster hill, as always tied by the arm and running side by side, only inches apart. “You are so lucky you can’t see the hills ahead. It must be much easier on you,” a fellow Comrades runner remarked as the two friends struggled up the hill. “I am blind. Not stupid!” Stefan said.

Comments like these are all part of a blind runner’s day on the road, says Stefan, a 46-year-old attorney who runs for Polokwane Athletic Club. He has always been partially sighted but his world became dark in 2000. This has certainly not kept him from living life to the fullest or doing the one thing he loves most, running. He has completed eight Comrades Marathons, loves to bungee jump and lives for his family and running mates. “Runners are amazing people. They can be so funny but some of them can also put their feet in their mouths.” The perfect example of this is the time Stefan’s running guide lost concentration for a second and allowed him to run straight into another runner. “Can’t you see where you’re running?” the woman shouted. “Actually, I can’t,” Stefan replied to the runner, who later realised Stefan was blind, turned back and profusely apologised.

“Attorneys can be very serious. That is why I love being out on the road, running amongst people who are always ready to crack a joke. I have heard some very entertaining comments such as, ‘Are you guys on a blind date?’ and ‘Who is leading who?’ When I run, I can just be myself without any pretence,” says Stefan. But there was a time when his blindness bothered him so much that he tried to hide it from friends, colleagues and to a certain extent, could not even admit it to himself.
Stefan suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that leads to total blindness. He was born with this condition but for most of his school life, his parents thought his impaired vision was due to meningitis, which he had had as a child.
Stefan could see in front of him but battled with tunnel vision and night blindness. As a child, he knew something was wrong with his eyes, especially when participating in sport. He never played rugby because he couldn’t catch the ball when it was out of his field of vision. He never experienced the joy of participating in team sport. At the age of 12, his desire to be part of some kind of sport lead him to running and he started jogging for a couple of kilometres on his own every day.

For a while, Stefan attended a school for vision-impaired learners, but soon decided he could see better than the other kids and went back to a normal school. After school, he enrolled at the North-West University (the former Potchefstroom University). He jogged a bit, mainly with his older brother, Abel, who was born blind and also suffers from RP. “Abel held on to me while the two of us ran together. It was like the blind leading the blind. I could still see back then, but my vision was quickly deteriorating. We sometimes even rode on a tandem. If only my brother knew how little I could actually see!”

Stefan started working in Polokwane and none of his colleagues knew he was partially sighted. “I did not want to talk about it or tell anyone. A lot of people have told me they used to greet me back then and I never responded. Now they realise it was because I couldn’t see. Back then they thought I was just rude.” He continued running short distances and in 1995, he was so inspired watching the Comrades Marathon on TV that he put on his running shoes and ran 18km, silently promising himself that one day he too would be part of the Comrades.

In 1997, he underwent an eye operation but his eyes deteriorated even more in the months that followed. At this stage, he still managed to run on his own and completed a couple of races. In 1998, he ran his first marathon with a friend, Johan Moolman. “I was so tired but ecstatic when we finished in a time of 4:12.” Unfortunately for Stefan, running without a guide was soon a thing of the past. When he and Johan arrived at Om Die Dam Ultra Marathon in Hartbeespoort Dam, Stefan realised how bad his vision had become. “There were just too many people and I battled to see. I held on to Johan’s arm for the first 25km. At Saartjie’s Nek, I was finished and got into the bailer’s bus. The silence in that bus was deafening. When I got out, I looked for my wife; I was struggling to see anything. I walked up to people and asked for help but many thought I was either drunk or joking. Eventually my wife and I found each other. For a couple of weeks after that race, I did not want to know anything about running.”

However, the urge to do the one thing that made him feel free was overwhelming and Stefan was soon back on the road, this time with the help of another friend, Leon Visser. The two friends decided to tackle Comrades. “Leon is the one who invented the straps around our wrists with a string that looks like a shoelace tied to both straps. It works so well. We keep the lace, which is between 90 and 120cm long, tied to the wrist straps. Leon shortens the lace until our hands nearly touch. The longer you run with someone, the easier it is to read his body language. Trust is by far the most important thing between a blind runner and his guide. The biggest mistake people sometimes make is to grab a blind person by the hand and drag them along,” says Stefan. “I am comfortable with our system of guiding. Another option often used is where the blind guy holds on to the guide’s elbow.”

Though he has never tripped one of his guides, Stefan has often fallen himself. “I am very good at doing somersaults. Cat eyes in the road are the most dangerous and I have tripped over a couple of those.”

Stefan’s first Comrades in 1999 was not meant to be. At Botha’s Hill, he got into the bailer’s bus but while waiting for the bus, he vowed to return and conquer the distance. And he did. In 2000, Stefan and Leon finished in a time of 11:45. “I was so happy and exhausted. After the race, I kept on saying I would never do it again, but the next morning I found myself already talking about the next one.” The year 2000 was significant in many ways. Stefan realised he was becoming completely blind. “It was quite a mind shift to admit it. My eyes were so bad that I had to ask my staff to type documents in bold lettering. I even battled to read.” In this time, he also had to deal with the painful experience of his wife, Hanlie, being diagnosed with breast cancer. “The less I could see, the more I ran. It was my way of clearing my head of everything that was happening.” In 2002, Stefan and Leon improved their Comrades time to 10:36.

Stefan’s blindness does not keep him from experiencing the great atmosphere and excitement at a race such as Comrades. “I listen to the voices of encouragement and my guides are usually very vocal. When I ran with Leon, he described all the pretty girls to me. I have found the male guides I run with usually tell me about the girls while the female guides describe the beautiful scenery,” says Stefan. When Leon moved away, Stefan went on to complete two more Comrades with another friend, Dries Stoltz.

In 2006, he started running with Guppy, his guide of the last four years. Since their first run together, an unbreakable partnership has been formed. “Initially, it takes time to get used to a new guide. There are some guides I can run with and some I just can’t. It’s got nothing to do with length, it’s all in the stride and rhythm. The most important thing is you have to be good friends. Guppy and I are very close; make no mistake, we do have our moments when we disagree. We have to be in agreement as to how fast we are going to run and if we are racing or not. It’s not as if we can let go of each other halfway through the race.” They know each other inside out. “When I get tired, Guppy starts singing ‘We are the Champions’. That’s his polite way of saying we’d better speed up.”

Stefan and Guppy have different morning schedules. They train together three times a week, on weekend days as well as one weekday at the local time trial. On the other two training days, Stefan runs on a treadmill, something he has become used to but does not enjoy. “I run about 50km a week with Guppy and on the treadmill, but increase my distance as Comrades approaches. Right now, I am running an average of about 60km or 70km a week. I will build up to 110km in the months closer to Comrades,” says Stefan. He admits to getting frustrated when Guppy is sick or on holiday and can’t run with him. He then resorts to his treadmill and runs by holding on to the bars with one hand. “I am used to it. Believe it or not, but in seven years of treadmill running, I have not fallen once.”

Their dream of a Bill Rowan medal came true this year when they finished Comrades in 8:59:22. “I asked Guppy to tell me when we got to the 3km-to-go mark. He forgot! When I eventually asked if we were there yet, we were already at the 2km-to-go mark. That was a good feeling, but we had to move in the last kilometre. My wife was at the finish and it was such a special race!” A week before the race, Stefan had dedicated his 2009 Comrades to his wife. At that stage, there wasn’t a specific reason for it, says Stefan. Little did they know what was to follow a week after Comrades; Hanlie lost consciousness and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. “Now I realise there was a reason for me running that race for my wife. We are trying to stay positive and see every day as a grace and a gift from God,” says Stefan.

Stefan has been her rock and has stood by her and supported her through her illness, says Hanlie. The Cancer Association of South Africa recently organised a fundraising night relay in Polokwane for cancer patients and in remembrance of everyone who has lost their lives to cancer. Stefan wore a special t-shirt with the words, ‘Stefan for Hanlie, in faith, hope and love’ and participated with all his colleagues. It was freezing cold and rained a bit yet Stefan and his running mate ran through the night. By 5:50 the next morning they had done 58km. “I could never ask for a better husband,” says Hanlie.

He tries to live as independently as possible. His guide dog, Ziba, goes with him everywhere. “Ziba must be one of the holiest dogs; he even goes to church with me.” Stefan believes in using all the new technology available to blind people. “I dislike pity and it makes me angry when people say, ‘oh shame.’ ” He finds his inspiration in his faith and through running, has raised money to buy bibles for primary school children in Polokwane. In 2007, he raised enough money to buy more than 600 books.

According to Stefan, he wants to get his green number in Comrades and if it happens that he runs another ten Comrades after that, so be it. He also dreams of tackling a 100 miler soon. “I run to clear my head and to get rid of stress. In running, there are no social boundaries and everyone accepts each other. If only we could project these positive feelings amongst all runners in society; this country would be a better place.”

Through everything, he tries to stay positive. “I am blind and my wife has cancer. You read about these things and think it will never happen to you. It’s only human to wonder why it has happened to us. But we are living in faith and making the best of every day. We can’t stop living.”

Though he loves being Stefan’s guide, guiding might not be for everyone, says Guppy. You have to be dedicated; when you don’t feel like running you still have to because you need to consider the other person. You also have to be the type of person who likes to help other people.

Being a guide is not as difficult as it sounds. The most difficult part is motivating the other person when they become tired. Taking drinks from water tables is also no walk in the park. “Stefan runs on my right and most water tables are also to the right side. Sometimes people at water tables don’t look at Stefan and can’t understand why he is not taking water from them. I have to try and lean over and get drinks for both of us.”

Guppy initially started running with Stefan to help him out on a couple of runs, but they immediately got along so well that they are inseparable today. “If Stefan doesn’t run because he is sick, I usually also don’t feel like running. Sometimes I run on my own. It is nice because you can run to your own rhythm, but Stefan and I are lucky; we are equally strong.” Stefan is the most inspirational man he has ever met. “You will never hear Stefan utter negative things. He and his family have been through so much, yet he never complains. His faith is very important to him and has carried him through some hard times. Stefan is a true inspiration to me.”

A blind runner may choose to use an elbow lead, a tether or to run free and receive verbal instruction from the guide. Commonly, the blind runner is tethered to the guide runner, the tether tied loosely around the wrists or else knotted and held between the fingers in each runner’s hand. The ‘rules’ are that the tether should be non-stretch material of a specific length, and that the guide runner, if racing, should never cross the finish line before the blind runner, and should also never be seen to drag or propel the blind runner along.

A guide runner must be faster or have the potential to be faster than the blind athlete. For this reason, many top blind sportswomen have male guide runners, as they usually have greater ability to run fast enough for elite level competition.

It helps if a guide runner is a similar height to the blind runner, as it is easier to match the stride pattern. Technique isn’t as important as the stride pattern and ability to keep pace.


A number of blind runners have participated in the Comrades Marathon (the following are stats of runners that the Comrades Marathon Association are aware of).

  • Johnny Demas (in 2003 Johnny was awarded the Spirit of Comrades award. He has completed 21 Comrades)
  • Renette Bloem (1)
  • Louis Potgieter (13)
  • Chris Stander (18)
  • Christo Botha (8)
  • Derek Carter (3)
  • Jean-Claude Perronnet (1)
  • Charlie Mcconnell (1)
  • Carl de Campos (1)

Additional sources:

Timeless Warriors

Timeless Warriors

Together they have run nearly 350 marathons and 48 Comrades. One of them was part of a group of only 12 runners on the starting line of the very first Jackie Gibson Marathon in 1946. The other has logged nearly 90 000km in his 33 years of running. Amazingly, both of them are still running today. Allan Ferguson (88) and Des Robins (80) are two of the most well-known ‘mature’ runners on our roads.

I was fortunate enough to meet these two gentlemen. They are absolute characters in the true sense. Both were dressed to the nines for our meeting, Mr Fergie in his smart black blazer and Des in his favourite Comrades Green Number Club golf shirt. Listening to them speak about running makes you want to put your running shoes on and not only run but excel at it. Their passion for running and life is admirable.

They joined Modern Athlete for a trip down memory lane.

The little black book in his hands initially looks like any other notebook, but when Mr Fergie, as he is affectionately known by his friends and family, opens the book, a mind blowing history of running unfolds. He has logged each and every race he has ever run since the very first one more than sixty years ago. When he starts chatting about all the different races, it’s hard to keep up. His list includes, 50 Jackie Gibson Marathons, 32 Springs Striders (32km), 40 Milo Korkie Ultras (56km) and 60 Naval Hill 10km races, to name a few. The Naval Hill race has even been named after Mr Fergie; it is now officially called the Coca-Cola Allan Ferguson Round Naval Hill 4/10km. About 40 runners from Johannesburg Harriers Athletics Club (JHAC), of which Mr Fergie has been part all his life, recently ran with him when he completed his 60th consecutive Naval Hill race in Bloemfontein.

Mr Fergie has been running since his 20s and after his retirement, he travelled for a couple of months all over South Africa, running all the races he always wanted to. He has run 36 Comrades and in 1995, at the age of 73, he was the oldest competitor to finish the race that day in a time of 10:16, something a whole lot of 30-year-olds battle to do.

Mr Fergie’s contemporary, Des, is just as passionate about running and still plans to run the Comrades next year at the age of 80. If he succeeds, he will become the oldest competitor ever to finish this gruelling race. In 1989, at the age of 79, Wally Hayward finished the Comrades in a time of 10:58.

Des has an impressive resum? of his own. Though the logbook with all the races he has run was stolen from his car a while ago, he still remembers clearly what he has achieved. He has run a total of 89 ultras. The races that stand out include, City to City Marathon (28 runs), Two Oceans 56km (11 runs), RAC Tough One (26 runs) and Springs Striders (27 runs). Together, these two men are living legends; young at heart and still just as much in love with running today as all those years ago. 

Mr Fergie:
I played rugby in the former Rhodesia. When we came to South Africa, I wanted to continue but the rugby players here were so big. I thought, “Bugger this Ferguson. They will kill you.” Then I met Arthur Hampton, a bloke I worked with. He introduced me to running. 
Des: I have been running for 33 years, I only started at the late age of 47, because all my life I mainly played tennis and golf. My son, Corrie, wanted to run a race called the TV Race and asked me to join him. When we got to the race, I met up with some old friends. In the months that followed, we started running together. They eventually stopped and I just carried on.

Mr Fergie:
The JHAC hosted the first Jackie Gibson Marathon in 1946. It was the first marathon after the war. We were 18 runners on the starting line and I came sixth in a time of 2:59. Wally Hayward won the race that day.
Des: The TV race I ran with my son was held in 1977 and it was broadcast on TV; many people ran it just for that reason. The route was three laps of 8km.

Mr Fergie: Before the start of the race, all the athletes gathered in a small room. The announcer called the names of the competitors one by one. You then ran past spectators down stairs to the start. We were about 20 competitors then. This year, there were more than 300 runners and after the run, I got a clock and a pen from the organisers.

Mr Fergie:
When you arrived at Comrades, you looked for your name and number on a huge board. You ticked it off and that was registration done! You were ready to run. There were no such a thing as exhibitions and goodie bags. And don’t think there were any water tables on the route. You drank water where you could find some, be it a garden or at a shop. Some competitors were lucky enough to have seconds helping them, but that did not always work well. I remember running up Inchanga when I saw my second for the first time in the whole race. He was riding on his scooter calling out, “Hey Fergie, I’m here!” And all I could say was, “Where the bloody hell have you been? I am 50km into the race and now you want to give me water!”
Des: Cars always got stuck behind each other because of seconding. The last time seconds were allowed was in 1980. I remember: a lot of competitors stopped halfway into the Comrades and had a big meal before carrying on running. In the old days, there were no physiotherapy stations like now. I think it was much harder to run Comrades then than now.

Mr Fergie and Des:
Mr Fergie: For 27 years, I ran in Bata takkies. I even remember one guy running the Comrades in rugby boots.

Mr Fergie: Wally Hayward of course. I came second to Wally so many times. That man was built like a bronze god. Those bloody calves of his were enormous. I would run behind this guy and think ‘how does one compete against someone like this?’ Then there was a guy called Johan Coleman, an Afrikaans guy. My friend Arthur Hampton always told me how Johan was sitting next to the road buggered, but as soon as he saw Arthur passing, he would get up and suddenly start sprinting.

Mr Fergie: I worked in Germiston and ran to work and back every day; it was about 20km. Later, I increased my distance. One of my longest training runs was a 60km run all the way to Vereeniging and back. I started the run with a bottle full of coke and ran all the way on my own. As I went along, I filled up my bottle with water from gardens and garages. The year (1973) I increased my distance, I ran my best Comrades (6:57). I believed in doing a lot of distance, so did Wally. He told me that on a Sunday he would start running at four in the morning and only finish at four in the afternoon.
Des: In those days, there weren’t specialised training methods and runners had to work a lot harder.

Mr Fergie: Comrades was never about the numbers. It was just another race. I remember one Comrades with only about 30 runners. In those days, the first six runners got a gold   medal. I have three gold medals; in 1948, I came sixth, in 1949, I came third and in 1952, I was fourth (He also has 12 silver and 21 bronze Comrades medals).
Des: It was a couple of rands to enter races and at the finish we got cloth badges. There was no prize money. Medals only came along in the early 80s. I used to sew all my badges onto a tracksuit but it got lost and I started collecting and framing them. Today, they are all displayed on a big wall in my house (Des has 12 Comrades bronze medals).

Mr Fergie:
Jock of the Bushveld (in Mpumalanga) was one of the nicest runs. It was the poor man’s Two Oceans.
Des: The old Milo Korkie (from Pretoria to Johannesburg) was definitely the hardest run. It was 56km and there was a six hour cut off.

Mr Fergie:
I ran the Comrades Marathon with my two sons, Graham (56) and Derek (54). My two grandsons, Allan Ziervogel and Gavin Yves, also ran with me on two separate occasions (In 1993, Mr Fergie ran with his grandson, Gavin and his son Derek. They finished in a time of 9:23. He also ran the race with Graham, Derek and his grandson, Allan. The Ferguson family created history. It was the first time three generations had run the Comrades together. He and his two sons have a massive total of 84 Comrades medals. Derek has 22 Comrades medals and Graham has 26 medals. It would be interesting to see if there is another family out there where all are still alive and have accumulated as many medals). 
Des: Running my tenth Comrades with my son was special. I am also proud of my best Comrades time of 9:36.

Mr Fergie:
I ran a sub-three hour marathon when I was already over 60!
Des: My best time for a marathon, which is 3:23.

Mr Fergie:
My wife, Marion, passed away in 1999, but she was always there. I don’t know if I could have run so much if it wasn’t for her. These days, my sons take me to races with them.
Des: My wife, Shirley, has supported me all my life, through rain and shine. She used to go with me to every race, but because she battles with problem feet now, she can’t always make it these days. Running is a very healthy sport. Your family always knows where you are. It’s not like golf where you stay long after the last hole! You run from five to six in the morning and you’re done. Running is much healthier than golf.

Mr Fergie:
I run at least 5km every day. Sometimes I build up to 10km, depending on which races are coming up. I stay in an old age home and run on the grounds. I run a figure of eight route which is 1.2km long. I repeat it four times (Mr Fergie organised a race at the old age home a while ago and about 120 people took part; some were even pushed around the course in their wheelchairs! At the start of the race, Chariots of Fire played and there was even a little Polly’s Shorts on the route. He has also started a gym at the home and tries to do all his exercise on the grounds, mainly because it is safer. He got robbed about four years ago. Robbers pushed him down and stole his shoes while he was out running).
Des: I exercise every morning for half an hour. I do sit ups, push ups and exercises with light weights. On Thursday evenings, I run my club’s (Fit 2000) 4km time trial in Bedfordview and on weekends, I run 10km and 21km races in Pretoria and Johannesburg. If I want to run Comrades next year, I will soon have to start increasing my mileage!
(Both men say they have never had serious injuries, but these days they battle with breathing when running. It takes them a while before they manage to control their breathing).

Mr Fergie: I only have a cup of coffee before a race and generally I try to eat healthy. I don’t drink alcohol. I used to drink a lot of beer in my day but ten years ago I said, “No more liquor for you old man. It’s not doing you any good.”
Des: I have a bowl of cereal before I run and try to stay away from junk food the other times. Every night I still enjoy my coke and whiskey.

Mr Fergie: Build up slowly and get your mind used to distance. Don’t overdo it.
Des: The biggest mistake new runners make is trying to run every race faster than the previous one; when it doesn’t happen, they are disappointed. You have to know yourself and your abilities.

We decided to get Mr Fergie and Des together to do the one thing they love most – run! And so it happened. On a cool September morning, they met at the Clearwater Florida Flat One Race in Roodepoort on the West Rand. It was apparent how much these two men are loved on the road. On the way to the starting line of the 5km, Des was stopped by the ladies and got a big hug and kiss while Mr Fergie was recognised and greeted by more people than I can even remember. When the gun went off, they were on their way, passing a lot of people half their age. After the race, Des even told how he helped a lady push a pram up the hill! Fergie was very impressed with their time, 42 minutes! “I wanted to run 45 minutes but this old bugger pushed me,” he said. After the race, Mr Fergie sat down on the grass in the sun, patiently waiting for his two sons to finish the 10km and 21km races. Des was off to a coffee shop to socialise with friends, one of the perks of
running, he says.



Isn’t it great how remarkable and timeless our sport can be? Here are two gents who are the essence of Modern Athletes and they are in their 80s. I am sure all our readers will join me in saluting you for your achievements and we hope that we can stay on the road as long as you have. Well done gents, keep on running!

Gender Verification In Sport

Gender Verification In Sport

The subject of gender testing in sport is currently a hot topic and Modern Athlete asked an expert, Sports Physician Dr Gavin Shang, to give us some insight on the topic.

Caster Semenya is South Africa’s newest athletic sensation, having won gold in the 800m at the recent IAAF World Athletic Championships in Berlin. However, her remarkable achievements on the track have been overshadowed by questions surrounding her gender and possible physiological advantages she may have over her competitors. Many ‘informed’ politicians have advocated that she is indeed female and that a simple check for the ‘necessary parts’ would verify such statements. However, this is not as simple as it seems.

The questions and speculation from rival athletic bodies and competitors have only been fuelled by a released report, stating that her urine testosterone: epi-testosterone level was three times higher than normal for a female athlete. This is only one piece of information that may or may not be relevant once her entire case has been reviewed. Levels higher than 4:1 raise suspicion and further testing is then conducted.

The complex and in-depth analysis and evaluation process of gender verification or determination in sport requires a multidisciplinary approach involving geneticists, internal medicine specialists, gynaecologists, psychologists and endocrinologists; and even when a thorough investigation is complete, the answer is sometimes still in doubt.

This is not a new issue to the sporting community and has been brought up in the past when the eligibility of an athlete competing in an event, limited to a single gender, is questioned. This is usually only made relevant during elite international competitions. History shows us a number of occasions where male athletes have competed as females to win, or where natural inter-sex individuals have competed as females:

  • German high jumper, Dora Ratjen, placed fourth at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and set a world record at the 1938 European Championships. She was actually a man, Hermann Ratjen, who was forced by the Nazis to disguise his gender.
  • Polish 100m sprinter, Stanislawa Walasiewicz, won gold at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, but was runner up at the 1936 Olympics. She accused the American winner, Helen Stephens, of being male. Subsequent autopsies in the 1980s revealed that both athletes had ambiguous genitalia.
  • Czechoslovakian athlete, Zdenka Koubkova and British athlete, Mary Edith Louise Weston, excelled in various events in the 1930s, but were both suspected of being male, although this was not proved. Both later had operations to change their gender.
  • USSR athlete sisters, Tamara and Irina Press, won five Olympic track and field golds and set 26 world records in the 1960s. However, they never competed again after they failed to appear for gender testing in 1966.
  • Polish sprinter, Ewa Klobukowska helped win gold in the 4x100m relay and won bronze in the 100m at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. In 1967, she became the first athlete to fail a gender test due to a rare XXY chromosomal condition. This did not give her any physiological advantage, but she was still banned from further international competition.
  • Eight athletes initially failed the gender verification tests at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta; seven of the eight were attributed to Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). The condition does not make the individual sensitive to the effects of testosterone. They were all subsequently cleared and reinstated.
  • Indian 800m silver medalist, Santhi Soundarajan, at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, failed a gender verification test and was stripped of her medal.

Gender verification in sports was requested shortly after the 1936 Olympics, following performances by some questionable individuals. However, ‘proper’ tests only began in 1966 at the European Athletic Championships where many Eastern European and Soviet female athletes were suspected of being male. The tests were only mandatory for females and involved improper nude parades for assessment of their external characteristics. However, many conditions exist that allow for ambiguous genitalia to be present and is thus not the easy answer for determining the gender of a suspected athlete.

The next logical step would be chromosomal testing, which conventionally reveals an XX female or an XY male. However, many problems can arise during the many stages of foetal development, which can allow for a myriad of conditions to occur due to chromosomal, gonadal or hormonal influences. These varied intersex conditions present with the genetic sex differing from the external appearance of the individual and with varying physiological functions. Thus, XX males and XY females can exist with ambiguous external genitalia, which makes their classification as male or female more difficult.

Hormonally, testosterone is 10 to 20 times more abundant in males than in females; and is naturally produced by both the male testes and the female ovaries as well as by the adrenal glands.

The androgenic effects account for the primary and secondary sex characteristics in males. In females, testosterone effects are subtle and are responsible for musculo-skeletal development and libido. It is suggested in the literature that testosterone is important for memory, attention and spatial ability.

Illegal doping continues in sport, and athletes and laboratories go to exceptional lengths in attempts to conceal such abuse from regulatory bodies. The anabolic effects account for the lower body fat mass, increased muscle mass and strength and increased bone density, which allows those athletes to have a physiological advantage over their competitors. Excessive prolonged use can have masculinizing effects of facial hair growth, decreased breast size, menstrual irregularities, male pattern baldness and a deepened voice. One famous athlete who used testosterone for doping purposes and developed male characteristics was Heidi Kriegler, who later became Andreas Kriegler after retirement.

In 1996, Mary Decker-Slaney, world champion long-distance runner in the early 80s (infamously involved in a collision with South Africa’s Zola Budd at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles), had a urine testosterone:epi-testosterone level that was much higher than the 6:1 ratio allowed by the IAAF. She argued that females in their 30s and 40s on birth control medication could have higher than normal levels. The case eventually went to arbitration and still remains controversial.

Raised levels of testosterone can thus be due to many sources both exogenous and endogenous. Levels can vary widely amongst individuals and a higher than normal level does not always equate to a failed drug test. This makes possible infractions difficult to detect. If an athlete has raised levels, that individual is monitored at regular intervals to establish their normal levels and these are used as a marker for any future suspicious elevations.

Raised levels can be caused by doping or a number of disorders:

  • hormonal imbalances;
  • adrenal gland disorders;
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome;
  • testosterone producing neoplasms;
  • medication;
  • enzyme deficiency disorders (5-alpha reductase deficiency);
  • AIS amongst others. The IAAF allows athletes with AIS to participate as females, despite their being genetically male, highlighting how simple genetic analysis alone does not suffice.

The process of gender testing has many variables and unfortunately in high profile cases, is played out in front of a world audience. It has been termed socially insensitive, humiliating and discriminatory towards females and individuals with disorders of sexual development. The far-reaching psychological consequences and social stigma for those who fail such tests are other issues all on their own. These are not new concerns; and much scrutiny and debate led to the IAAF ceasing compulsory gender testing on athletes in 1992, but it retained the option of assessing gender should suspicions arise or if challenged.

In 1996, IOC World Conference of Women and Health passed a resolution to discontinue the process of gender verification during the Olympics, and the IOC officially ended compulsory gender testing in 1999.

In the end there are no winners in this difficult matter, not to the sport or to the competitors and most importantly not to the individual at the centre of it all. Gender testing has a place in the sporting world to ensure fair competition for the athletes, but it should be handled more sensitively than it has been. All we can do is wait for the complicated process to be completed and for all the variables to be considered before jumping to conclusions.


Christine on PROTEIN

Christine on PROTEIN

Dietician, Christine Peters, shares some secrets about how PROTEIN affects our diet!

Proteins are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of all tissues in our body. As well as being essential for growth and repair of body tissue, they are used to make hormones, enzymes, antibodies and neurotransmitters, and help transport substances around the body. Both the quality of the proteins you eat (determined by the balance of these amino acids) and the quantities of proteins you eat are important.

Generally, it is recommended that protein make up 15% of our total energy intake, but we are often not given enough guidance to the quality of protein. For example, the average baby only receives about 1% of its total energy intake as protein and manages to double its birth weight in six months. This is because the quality of protein is good and easily absorbed. Assuming that you actually take in 15% protein daily, 10% should be good quality (about 35g). This is an optimal intake for most adults, unless pregnant, breastfeeding, recovering from surgery or undertaking large amounts of exercise or heavy manual work. For us runners, the amount and quality of our protein intake is vital in ensuring we stay fit, healthy and strong.

The amount of protein you need increases or decreases when exercising, according to the amount needed to fuel muscles, and the amount needed to account for any extra muscle that is laid down. As an athlete generally consumes more calories, this extra protein needed during endurance sports is generally covered, so there is no need for athletes to supplement with powders and supplements.

Most athletes’ total protein needs are met with 1g protein per kilogram of body-weight e.g. 60g for a 60kg athlete. However, if an athlete’s daily training sessions are lengthy and intense (burning up a significant amount of their protein fuel), they will require an increased protein intake. The protein requirements of different athletes are summed up in this table:

General sports activity 1g of protein per kg body weight
Endurance training athletes (aim for high end of range for very strenuous and prolonged activity) 1.2g to 1.6g of protein for every kg you weigh
Adolescents and growing athletes 2g of protein for every kg you weigh
Pregnant athletes Extra 10g of protein per day in trimesters two and three
Breastfeeding athletes Extra 20g of protein per day

Most South African diets cover these recommendations (12% to 15% total energy intake as protein) however, low-energy consumers may find that 15% to 20% of their total energy budget is needed as protein. For example, people who are watching their weight and are only eating limited amounts, may need to consume a slightly bigger percentage of their total intake as protein.

In the sporting world, many people tend to think that consuming large amounts of protein will lead to bigger muscles and enhanced muscle function. However, any excess protein that is not used is broken down and its waste products are excreted via the kidneys in urine. This means that a high protein diet will put strain on the kidneys and can even leech calcium off your bones, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. In fact, there isn’t enough evidence to prove that massive amounts of protein in any form are advantageous to athletes. Also, concentrated amounts of amino acid solutions found in protein can cause cramping and diarrhoea due to the large amounts of water that are drawn into the intestines.

Protein choices should always be made with other nutritional goals in mind. Animal proteins supply the body with essential amino acids which are easily absorbed, as well as other nutrients such as calcium (dairy products) and iron (meat and shellfish). But, many animal proteins are also naturally high in saturated fat and cholesterol. The best choice is to choose proteins with a low fat content, such as low fat or fat free milk, chicken without skin, lean beef or boiled eggs. Vegetable proteins, on the other end of the scale, tend to be high in carbohydrates, such as is found in soya products like soya sausages, cutlets, burgers.

Complete Versus Incomplete Proteins
Some foods provide a good balance of essential amino acids and are generally regarded as superior sources of protein. Generally, animal proteins are seen as more ‘complete’ in terms of their amino acids, than vegetable proteins. But, people who don’t eat many animal proteins can obtain essential amino acids from a variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruit and grains. Grains, nuts and legumes are great sources of plant protein but they all lack a different essential amino acid. When these complementary proteins are eaten together, all the essential amino acids can be obtained from them. Not sure how to combine these? Try rice and beans, rice and peas, peanuts or peanut butter and bread, or samp and beans.

There are a lot of concerns surrounding vegetarians and vegans. Vegans have to make a concerted effort to eat sufficient amounts of high quality protein and are at risk of having insufficient amounts of calcium, iron and vitamin B12. It is recommended that true vegetarians consult a dietician to ensure they get a good balance of essential nutrients. Lacto-vegetarians (dairy consuming vegetarians) and ovolacto-vegetarians (egg and dairy consuming vegetarians) can easily meet the recommended intakes of these ‘lacking’ nutrients.

This table can be used a guideline to help you assess which proteins will help you meet your daily nutritional requirements.

Protein-Rich Foods
The following foods have approximately 10g protein:

Low-fat animal proteins

  • Grilled fish (50g cooked weight)
  • Tuna, salmon or pilchards (50g)
  • Lean beef or lamb (35g cooked weight)
  • Turkey or chicken (40g cooked weight)
  • Game biltong (15g)
  • Lean beef biltong (25g)
  • Eggs (2 small)
  • Cottage cheese (70g)
  • Reduced fat cheese (30g)
  • Low fat yoghurt (200g carton)
  • Low fat milk (300ml)
  • Liquid meal supplements (150ml)

Vegetable proteins

  • Wholewheat bread (4 slices)
  • All bran flakes (2 cups)
  • Cooked pasta (1 ? cups)
  • Cooked brown rice (3 cups)
  • Cooked lentils (2/3 cup)
  • Baked beans (4/5 cup)
  • Cooked soya beans (? cup)
  • Nuts (50g)
  • Raw tofu (120g)
  • Peanut butter (3 tablespoons)

Source: Langenhoven M, Kruger M, Grouws E, Faber M. MRC Food composition Tables, 3rd Edition. Parow: Medical Research Council. 1991.


  • The South African Fat & Protein Guide by Prof Nola Dippenaar & Liesbet Delport (RD) SA.
  • The Complete South African Guild to Sports Nutrition by Louise Burke.


Health - The Trevor Toerien Way

Health – The Trevor Toerien Way

Most sportspeople are willing to try anything new, be it different training sessions, learning how to meditate or starting a whole new eating programme as long as they improve and achieve the results they crave. Trevor Toerien, a runner from Boksburg, has done exactly that. Through revolutionising his diet, Trevor believes he has transformed his sporting career, and achieved running times he would never have done otherwise. An added bonus: his arthritis has since disappeared. Modern Athlete chatted to Trevor on his conscious health choices in order to live a longer, healthier life and run stronger.

The first thing that catches your eye when you walk into the pretty kitchen of a house in Germiston on the East Rand, is the luscious green wheatgrass in trays on the counter. Very close to those lie more trays, showcasing sprouts bursting with goodness. You immediately feel guilty about the scone you had for breakfast. And when you open one of the kitchen cupboards, you find rows and rows of imported and local vitamins, minerals and other supplements. With an experienced hand, Trevor cuts the wheatgrass, pops it into the blender and within minutes he whips up a wheatgrass shot, which is equivalent to about 1kg of fresh garden vegetables in nutritional value, something he has twice a day. While many of us wake up to toast and coffee or good old fashioned cereal, Trevor grinds a mixture of seeds into a powder which he has with water. He washes it down with a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar, which is known to alkalize the body. And that is breakfast done for Trevor Toerien.

“I will eat anything as long as it is nutritious. I don’t care what it tastes like. Wheatgrass is an acquired taste. It does taste a bit like cut grass, but I enjoy it. If I know something is good for me, I will have it,” says Trevor, who has just won the gruelling 52km Rhodes Ultra Marathon in a time of 4:30:50. Trevor’s winning margin of 20:26 was the fourth biggest in the 21 year history of the race. He also finished fifth overall (and first Veteran) in the recent Donkey’s Pass 24km Mountain Challenge just outside Newcastle. And to top it all off, he blitzed to second place in the Veteran’s Category of the Central Gauteng Athletics Cross Country Championships held in August in an unofficial time of 26:31.

For this 43-year-old runner, living and eating healthily has become a way of life. “Initially, my friends thought I was obsessive, but once they got to know what I eat and why, they realised there is nothing weird about it.” Amongst his friends and fellow Boksburg runners, Trevor has become known for his somewhat different way of doing things, such as the time earlier this year when he took 18 bags to a Comrades training camp. He made sure he had everything from the wheatgrass to a blender to an ozone therapy machine. He uses this machine from time to time as he feels it improves circulation, relaxes blood vessels and helps to release more oxygen at tissue level. He also packed two kettlebells, a functional movement training tool, weighing 24kg each. “I must admit, it takes me very long to pack. My wife had to transport my bags with a bakkie to the bus we were travelling in. My club mates know me by now. They just laugh and say if I can run a 6:20 Comrades, they don’t care how many bags I take with. Trevor has conquered nine Comrades Marathons and ran a personal best of 6:20:34 this year, earning him his fifth silver medal.

Trevor has suffered from arthritis since the age of eight. His aunt died from health complications as a result of arthritis and as a teenager Trevor realised that if he wasn’t careful, the same could happen to him. At the age of 21, he became a vegetarian. “It helped me to manage the pain a bit, but it didn’t take the arthritis away.” Trevor started running for Germiston Callies Harriers when he was 31 and within a year, he signed up for his first Comrades (2000). He finished in a time of 9:19. “I thought I was only going to do one. But then everyone said you have to do one up and one down run. And once that happens you just want to do more.” And that’s exactly what he did. He trained hard and longed for a silver medal in his third Comrades in 2002. “Unfortunately, I was overconfident and I went out there just expecting it to happen. I did not respect the race. I landed up running 8:03. I was so disappointed. Something like that really brings you back to earth and gets you off your high horse. It made me respect Comrades, but I was so bitterly disappointed that I took a year off running. I did not do anything and thought I would never run again.” A year later, while watching the Comrades on TV, things changed and the running bug bit again.

“While watching, I realised I should be running there. I got inspired again and slowly started training.” Trevor claimed his silver medal the next year (2004) finishing in 7:25. In 2005, he missed a second silver, finishing in 7:33. That was when he started suspecting something was missing in either his training or diet. “I thought, why am I struggling so much with my running? I realised my training was spot on and I started looking at my diet.” After doing a lot of research on health matters and soya products specifically, he decided to revert back to eating meat as a lot of soya products are genetically modified. He gradually became increasingly interested in all aspects of health and started importing a range of colloidal minerals from the USA. “These minerals contain everything your body needs and because they are in a liquid form, they get absorbed into your bloodstream quickly. I believe it has helped me a lot in terms of energy and endurance.”

Trevor started growing his own wheatgrass and sprouts in his kitchen as well as vegetables in his garden. He finds wheatgrass especially beneficial as it is known for its alkalizing qualities. It also contains a great deal of enzymes that serve as antioxidants. For lunch, Trevor digs into a bowl of sprouts and salad. Dinner time, it’s more sprouts with either grilled fish or chicken. He also eats a South American grain called quinoa, which is tasty and high in protein. He doesn’t eat any potatoes, bread or rice. “Some people walk into my kitchen and comment that it looks like a farm, but I believe living this way basically guarantees you a disease-free life. I know for sure it has helped my running tremendously. I don’t think I am a talented runner. I think my improved ability has a lot to do with my changed diet.” In a restaurant, he usually orders grilled fish. “I don’t like any sauces on my food. Just give me the food the way it was supposed to be, with no additives,” says Trevor.

Yes, he has a life and he does have junk food once in a while! “After the Donkey’s Pass race, we had dinner with friends and I had two glasses of red wine and game. I enjoyed it, but while driving back the next day, I could already feel the effect it had on my body. At home, I went on a bit of a detox and I was fine.” For Trevor, eating healthily has become a lifestyle which he has adapted to and enjoys, especially the benefits he reaps from it. For the last couple of years, he has not suffered from the pain that goes with arthritis. “Of course I get sick, but to me it is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s your body’s way of getting rid of toxins. I just try and dose myself with natural supplements. I have not been to a doctor in thirty years or taken any medication. I don’t want to give away my powers to doctors. I respect them and they serve a valuable purpose, but I feel I can heal my body better the way I know how. I do visit a homeopath from time to time. You can take control of your own health; it’s just a matter of believing it.”

Trevor’s wife, Gaynor, and two sons, Evan (13) and Jody (8), don’t eat the same meals as him. They do have some sprouts and salads, but Gaynor prepares a different meal for her and the boys. “I’m very fortunate that my wife helps me to prepare my food. I have my family’s support and without my wife helping me it would be very difficult to stick to my eating plan. I give my boys some supplements, but it’s up to them to change their eating habits if they want to. Change must come from them and they should not be forced into it,” says Trevor.

Trevor mixes up his training with speed work, hills, cross country runs and long distance. In the months building up to Comrades, he runs about 12km some mornings. These runs include two so-called ‘hot spots’, where he runs flat out for 1km and then eases off. Track training on Tuesdays consists of about ten 400m sessions and once a week he does a time trial. Thursdays are reserved for long hilly runs followed by a long club run or race on the weekends. “I do anything between 100km and 120km a week, but in peak training weeks just before Comrades, I run over 200km a week. I usually join my club on a Comrades training camp where we train on the Comrades route. Then I run 40km a day for four days. I love it. It is so inspiring and a great confidence booster.” Trevor includes strength training in his exercise regime and trains mornings and nights with two kettlebells, which he feels have strengthened his legs, upper body and core area.
He finds the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon to be a tough race as it usually forms part of his build up to Comrades and he is not very fit at that time. He remembers one particular Two Oceans where he sat at the side of the road feeling as if he was going to die. “I didn’t train well that year and thought I could run on memory. I didn’t bail, which was good. I did bail once in my life and that was at the RAC Tough One.” Trevor ran this Randburg race shortly after his one year lay off from running. “I wasn’t used to the distance and gave up at about 28km. I got into a car and was later devastated that I bailed.” His favourite race is the Rhodes Ultra Marathon, which he has run four times and won twice. “It is a beautiful race. I’m not the sort of guy who will win any road races, but to win a trail run like that was special.”

He has a competitive spirit and loves to give his all. “I always measure myself and say, ‘Well, if you did that, what else could you do?’ In every race and training session I like to run on the edge and push myself.”

Trevor would love to run even faster, but for that to happen, he feels he will have to follow an even stricter diet and train harder. “My dream is to run a sub six hour Comrades, but I’m not getting any younger. It gets harder the older you get. I’m going to run one more Comrades next year. Then I will have done ten. After that I would like to concentrate on Two Oceans.” He believes wholeheartedly in his healthy way of living, but is very cautious of telling other runners what to do. “I would rather live by example and if others see it works for me and they want advice, I am willing to share my story.”

Trevor has one ultimate dream, “To run Comrades at the age of 100. I want to be the oldest finisher of Comrades.”


Not being able to run makes me feel… As if something is missing. It’s almost like a drug.
I run because… It helps me in everyday life and in my business. It’s like a form of meditation. While you run you can think about things and let go of a lot of other things.
I like long distance running because… It builds character.
Hardest run ever: Cross country Championships – Witbank
Words to live by: Never give up.
Words of advice: If you work hard, you will achieve. It’s not about wishing for it, it’s about going after it.
Running mentor: Frank Da Ascencao.

Run Lite - How I Lost 50kg

Run Lite – How I Lost 50kg

The tall, muscular figure running into Durban’s Sahara Kingsmead Stadium almost gets lost amongst all the other shapes and sizes, but there is something about the look on this man’s face and the way he beats his chest that makes you look twice. Sibusiso Buthelezi, a runner from Johannesburg Harriers Athletic Club, is not only finishing his very first Comrades Marathon, he is also proving that determination can make you realise your dreams. Who would have guessed that merely two years ago, this man was 50kg heavier, weighing in at an astounding 143kg? This is the story of one man’s transformation from ‘fat boy’ to Bill Rowan medallist.

It is 3:30 in the morning. Sibu, as he is known to his friends, is suddenly wide awake and lies silently in the dark. That’s when he decides he has had enough of his big body. Today is the day to start running. He gets up and fumbles in the dark to find his shoes. He can’t even remember when last he had them on. Sibu then reaches for his size 48 tracksuit pants and shirt. A couple of minutes later, he breathes the cool morning air, silently welcoming the darkness, knowing that at this hour no one can see his 143kg frame trying to exercise. He knows a 4km route close to his house in the south of Johannesburg and approaches it with a walking/running attitude.

That was 7 August 2007, a day Sibu will never forget because it changed his life forever. “That day, I ran from one lamppost to the next and then I walked from the following lamppost to another. It took me 50 minutes to finish 4km. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and sore, but within me there was a lot of excitement. It was me against the world. I did not want to share my plans with anyone because I have disappointed them too many times before,” says Sibu.

Up until then, he had lived a life of too many cigarettes, beers shared with friends while watching sport on television, eating oversized portions and sometimes even eating two meals for lunch in the canteen at work. Though he was not chubby at school, he was also not the fittest boy in class either. While studying for his BCom Accounting degree, his weight fluctuated constantly and when he started working as Head of Operational Risk at African Bank in 2004, his weight problems reached an all time high.

“I am very outgoing and love spending time with my friends, many of whom I have known since school days. I am always surrounded by people and to me a good time means sitting and chatting with friends. Unfortunately, that is also how it all went wrong. We used to drink a few beers and while drinking you end up eating more and more,” says Sibu.

Sibu has a big frame and boxed at school and university because his father was a professional boxer. He also tried a bit of weight training, but time and again, he would fall off the wagon and go back to his old ways of no exercise. “I had moments where I was trying to be fit and health conscious. But sometimes I trained so much that when I lost interest, I did so completely. I didn’t even want to drive past a gym because it made me feel guilty. It wasn’t a happy life. My weight was forever fluctuating,” says Sibu.

He started gaining so much weight that he had to buy size 48 pants. “Every time I bought clothes, I had to buy one size bigger. It was horrible. I don’t have to wear a suit to work, but I still like to dress nicely. Unfortunately, my size kept me from doing so. I bought clothes that would fit instead of clothes that I liked. The belt of my pants just made the last hole.” His usual cheerful attitude towards life started changing. “I became nasty and spiteful because I thought the world was unfair towards me.”

Every time he saw his friends, they would comment on his increasing size. Sibu tried to down play it and often joked along. “A lot of my friends said I looked more like a taxi driver than a man who worked in an office. Inside, I felt bad but I tried not to show how much it bothered me. The funny thing was it didn’t make me eat less. The only other time I felt guilty was when I bought clothes.” At work, he struggled to climb two flights of stairs and by the time he reached the top, he was drenched in sweat. But Sibu kept on eating and drinking, anything from pizza to beer. Eating became a habit, it became synonymous with socialising. But after his first run on 7 August 2007, Sibusiso’s life started changing.

He started running every day and also changed his eating habits. “I started taking a lunchbox to work, filled with a sandwich, fruit and salad.” Initially, he did not make any drastic changes as he was scared he would be put off by bland diet food and not stick to his new programme. He slowly introduced dietary changes such as no longer buying snacks at the vending machine, but rather nibbling on fruit and dried fruit. He no longer ate at the work canteen and changed to eating low fat products. “I just made small changes, for instance I still had a bit of mayonnaise on my sandwich, but it was the low fat version.” He cut out red meat and only had chicken once a week. He mainly ate fish and vegetables or stir fry for supper. “By then my wife (Lizzy) realised it was not just another one of my whims and she supported me. She got my running clothes ready in the morning and prepared all my food,” says Sibu, who also added a weight training routine in the evening to his exercise programme.

By September 2007, he was running 8km, though he still started at 3:30 for fear of people seeing him and making fun of him. “I remember the security guards laughing at me when I ran. At work, a lot of people doubted me and said I would never last. In my mind, I created an imaginary book called my humble pie book. Every time someone laughed at me, I would write his name in my humble pie book. The names in that book increased every day,” says Sibu.

Initially, he didn’t weigh himself. “I was so scared because I wasn’t even sure I could maintain it, but I could feel I was losing weight. My belt was now in the third hole.” Only six weeks into his new programme, he worked up enough guts to get on the scale. He still weighed a hefty 136kg, but was 7kg lighter than before.

Sibu kept on running, alternating between 8km and 10km runs. He eventually confided in a friend, Meetash Patel, about his desire to tackle a running race. In November 2007, Sibu, weighing 107kg, and Meetash ran the Soweto 10km in an hour. “It was my first race ever. I enjoyed it so much and just wanted to do more,” says Sibu, who was still not running in proper running shoes. He describes his shoes as a pair of takkies he bought over the counter a couple of years earlier. They were so old, he kept the front parts together with tape.

In February last year, Sibu ran his first 21.1km at the Deloitte Pretoria Half Marathon. “My time was 2:07 and for the first time I was not embarrassed to run. I was a man on a mission.” He completed a couple more half marathons before a friend at gym, Zola Mafeje, convinced him to join Johannesburg Harriers Athletic Club. Sibu’s goal was to run the Soweto Marathon and by the time he ran it in November last year, he had already slimmed down to 97kg. His first marathon was no walk in the park and the words ‘hitting the wall’ soon became a reality. “Things went well up to the 36km mark, but then my body suddenly just came to a stop. I had to walk and even that was too much of an effort. My feet hurt and I had blisters. I eventually finished the race in 4:18. That’s when I realised I also needed proper running shoes.”

By then Sibu’s humble pie book was nearly empty. “People congratulated me on my weight loss. It inspired me because I had the weight of an audience on my shoulders. I did not want to disappoint them.” In February this year, he ran the Dischem Half Marathon in Bedfordview in a time of 1:43. A couple of days later while running in Meyersdal, a suburb south of Johannesburg, he met up with a group of runners who meet every morning at 5:00 at the Virgin Active gym. “They saw me running and said I should join them. The next morning I was there. It was so nice. For the first time, I ran with people who knew different routes. Some of the runners were faster than me, all were more experienced and they talked about running all the time. It changed my life and my running improved so much. Everyone just accepted me. At first we just spoke about running, but later we shared other things too,” says Sibu.

He never really gave Comrades much thought but after a couple of weeks running with his newfound friends, it slowly started becoming a dream. “Every time I ran with my new group, every second sentence had to do with Comrades. That’s when I decided to tackle it.” By then Sibu weighed 92kg, ideal for his frame and height.

He qualified for Comrades in a time of 3:39 at his second 42.2km ever, the Cape Gate Vaal Marathon. Shortly afterwards, he ran his first ultra marathon, Om die Dam, which he describes as a learning curve. The race made him realise he is an impatient runner who starts fast but fades in the latter part of the race. “After Om die Dam, I ran the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon and also had to negotiate the last few kilometres. I thought that was the way it was going to be at Comrades; run faster in the first half and negotiate the second half. I had a finishing time in my mind but never said it out loud. My goal was to finish in the single digits. 9:59:59 would have been perfect!”

He felt prepared, but also very nervous on Comrades day. “People always say you feel emotional after Comrades, but for me it was the other way around. I was very emotional at the start. There were so many people around me, but I felt so lonely. I looked left and right and it seemed as if everyone around me knew exactly what they were doing, except me. I was scared I would not finish and disappoint myself as well as my family and friends who were there to support me,” says Sibu.

He saw the sub-nine hour bus at the start and decided he just needed to stay ahead of it. At the 30km mark he joined a smaller group of runners and did everything they did. “I had no idea what I was doing so I thought I might as well join them. I was like a student. When they walked, I walked and when they ran I ran.” Just after the halfway mark, the sub-nine hour bus passed them and Sibu decided to take a chance and join them. “There are so many things about Comrades that I don’t even remember because I was too emotionally involved in that race.”

At about the 70km mark, Sibu’s energy was low and he started thinking of falling back, but at that moment he heard someone screaming his name. It was his wife and two boys, Njabulo (6) and Vukani (3), joined by friends cheering him on. “No one will ever know how much energy that gave me. I didn’t pull back and hung on to the bus.”

Shortly afterwards, he ran past a feeding station with speakers announcing the tenth lady, Kashmira Parbhoo, had just made her way into the stadium. Kashmira is one of Sibu’s running friends, with whom he trains in the mornings. “When I heard Kashmira’s name, I thought, it looks like this is our day! And as we started getting closer to the stadium, I realised that a sub-nine hour was on the cards for me. It was the most amazing feeling. When I ran into the stadium, I saw my family and I beat my chest for my boys. That day was so emotional not only because I finished the race, but because I realised I had come a long way. For the first time, I saw myself as a runner.”

When one speaks to Sibu’s friends you quickly realise how much he is loved and respected, not only for his sheer determination to lose so much weight, but also because of the many hardships he has endured in life.

At the age of 4, he was kidnapped in Soweto where he grew up, but as his kidnappers fled with him in their car, they were involved in a car accident and Sibu was rescued. In later life, he was involved in a serious car accident and landed in hospital with a blood clot in his brain. He could not read, write and had no feeling in his arm and one part of his face. “Doctors thought it could also be a brain tumour that I had before the accident. They wanted to operate, but I refused and started seeing a homeopath. A couple of months later it was gone,” says Sibu.

He believes running has brought him closer to his family. “In the past, I would get home late and not see my kids before they went to bed. Now I can account for my time and I make sure I spend quality time with them. My family also comes with me to races. Races have become a family outing for us. We wake the kids and they dress up. On the way to the race, my wife plays my favourite music by Tracy Chapman. My family is proud of me and my eldest boy has also started running a little bit now.”

Sibu could never go back to his old ways. He looks forward to his morning runs and enjoys his healthy way of living. He is inspired by people from his running group, especially Cindy Beeming and her husband, Arthur, with whom he has a special bond. “They are just such inspiring people with an amazing ability to make everyone around them happy and feel good about themselves,” says Sibu.

He loves running because it is an undiscriminating sport. “All shapes and sizes run. There is no such a thing as this one has a R10 000 bike and that one has a R3 000 bike. Runners are all equal in those long kilometres on the road. It’s just you, your running shoes and your fellow runners around you.”

Sibu would like to run many more Comrades and one day maybe even compete in an Iron Man. “God has given me a lot of chances in life. I have learnt how to live my life in the right way. This is one chance I am not going to mess up.”

The Desert Runner

He has become known as the desert runner, a man who has done nearly all of his running in the most dry, hot and windy places on Earth; over sand dunes, up mountains and on dangerous trails. Now he is ready to tackle the mother of all adventures – a 200km race through the Amazon Jungle, running amongst rodents the size of dogs and where leg guards are a necessity because of the huge snakes. And as the organisers of this race warn, the two most important things you should bring into the Jungle with you are your eyes. Modern Athlete spoke to Hout Bay runner, Ryan Sandes, about his upcoming race through the Amazon Jungle.

Imagine running 200km through extreme terrain – sound tough enough? Now try doing it while keeping an eye out for snakes, over-sized rats and wild pigs. And if this is not enough, don’t think you are just going to run from point A to B. Swimming across creeks, negotiating rope crossings and making their way through mud, swamps and up hills all becomes part of a day’s run for competitors in the upcoming Jungle Marathon from 8 to 17 October. Not a race for the faint-hearted, especially when previous entrants say that if you run the Jungle Marathon once, you never return.

For Ryan Sandes, the Jungle Marathon is an ultimate challenge and in a couple of weeks he will be flying off to Brazil, mosquito net, hammock and all. After all, he knows how to look after himself in extreme races. He won the Gobi Desert Race in China and the Sahara Desert Race in Egypt, both 250km self-supported races over seven days and both part of the extreme Four Deserts Challenge.

Ryan, who has only been running for three years, stunned the sporting community last year when, as an unknown runner, he came from nowhere to win the Gobi and shortly afterwards the Sahara, making him not only the first South African to win these gruelling races, but also the first entrant ever to win each and every stage of both the Gobi and the Sahara. Time Magazine even named the Four Deserts Challenge as number two on its list of Top Ten Endurance Competitions in the world (the list includes such events as the Tour de France and the Dakar Rally).

27-year-old Ryan found out about the Jungle Marathon through fellow competitors. It is said to be one of the hardest marathons, not because of the distance, but rather because of the extreme conditions. Ryan has never been one to back off from extremes. “I like to try harder races than what I have done before. I try to push myself further. I have also never been to South America and to run there in such conditions will allow me to truly experience the environment. Hey, you only live once,” says Ryan, who has a BSc Degree in Construction Studies and an Honours Degree in Quantity Surveying from the University of Cape Town.

The race, which will be held in Floresta Nacional do Tapaj?s, in Par?, Brazil, attracts competitors from all over the world. Entrants have the choice of two distances, 200km or 100km. The race is open to men and women, individuals and teams. There will be either four stages over four days (for 100km runners) or six stages over seven days (for 200km runners), varying in distance from approximately 16km to 87km. Each stage will have a maximum time for completion and any runner failing to arrive within the allocated stage time may be eliminated. The decision is taken by the race director and depends on the reasons for not finishing in time, the stage and the physical and psychological condition of the athlete.

The Jungle course is designed in a series of loops to minimize the spread of runners and facilitate emergency evacuations if required. Each stage is clearly marked with biodegradable tape. At each checkpoint, located every 5km to 10km, runners can replenish their water supply, rest and, if necessary, seek medical advice. Each checkpoint is also manned with military personnel, firemen to handle possible evacuations, a doctor or paramedic as well as two local guides from the particular area of the jungle to assist with the quickest route out of the jungle should someone be evacuated. The military firemen sweep each stage of the race one day in advance to double check for potential dangers. Although great navigational skills are not a prerequisite to compete in this race, common sense is. The route winds along pre-existing paths, on trails and tracks through primary jungle and around and through natural obstacles such as streams and rivers.

The Jungle is an unforgiving place where the weather can change from sizzling heat to pouring rain within minutes. Competitors have to carry all their own equipment and food and are only provided with water. “The humidity in the Jungle is about 97% and the temperatures range between 30?C and 40?C. You also have to be extremely careful of the terrain, as it is easy to hurt yourself by stepping into a hole covered by vegetation or leaves,” says Ryan.

On arrival in Santar?m, a city in the state of Par?, competitors are transferred by boat to the village of Alter do Ch?o. They then depart for an overnight trip on a boat to the Jungle base camp at Itapuama. “The journey on the boat is about eight hours and I hear it is quite crammed because everyone has to pitch their hammocks and sleep on the boat,” says Ryan.

The local jungle guides who help with trail preparation, as well as the military and fire service support teams, cover their arms, legs and heads when they are in the jungle because of the plants that can cut skin. If you don’t cover your skin, you are also more likely to get ticks as you cross swamps. But the scariest thought of all is that you have less protection against snake bites if there are no layers between the Jungle and your skin. Some even recommend snake guards that protect the legs from just below the knee to the top of the feet. Though snakes are not predators, they will attack when stepped on. “I decided against the snake guards. It looks too uncomfortable. I normally wear compression tights, but for this race I will wear full length tights to protect myself against scrapes and cuts,” says Ryan. He is also looking at ways to protect his feet from getting wet and while training, he deliberately runs through wet puddles to get his feet used to possible wetness.

Ryan’s backpack weighs about 9kg. Competitors need to be totally self-sufficient and take their own hammocks and some type of covering to keep warm at night when they sleep at campsites along the shores of the river. Like all other competitors, Ryan had to undergo a full medical examination as part of the entry process. He is planning to leave a week before the start of the race in order to acclimatise.

Ryan normally trains in a three to four week cycle, starting off with an easy week which builds up to a difficult week. His average weekly programme for big races includes:

Monday: Gym in the evening and sauna afterwards.
Tuesday: Run for 15km to 25km including running in an environmental chamber at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (one hour on the road and 40 to 60 minutes in the chamber).
Wednesday: Run two to three hours on trails/mountains (with backpack).
Thursday: Run for 15km to 25km including running in environmental chamber (one hour on road and 40 to 60 minutes in the chamber).
Friday: Gym.
Saturday: Three to nine hour run on trails/mountains (with backpack).
Sunday:  Three to five hour run on trails/mountains (with backpack) followed by gym and sauna.

Ryan trains on trails around Hout Bay, Table Mountain, Cape Point and on the beach. He usually runs alone, but sometimes he has a buddy who joins him for two hours of his long run. “I get bored running on the road, but on trails it seems as if things get a lot clearer. Halfway through a six hour run, a lot of things clear up in my head. The only bad thing about running so much is that my social life has gone downhill!”

In the months leading up to the Jungle Marathon, Ryan has added a lot of gym work to his routine in order to strengthen his body. Training in the environmental chamber has also helped him. He runs on a treadmill in the chamber where one can control the heat and humidity. He sometimes pushes the heat up to 43?C and the humidity to 40%.

“I would love to win the Jungle Marathon. That’s the best case scenario, but I would be na?ve to think I can just go out there and win it on my first try. My goal is to try and finish it as quickly as possible, but anything can happen. You could be bitten by a snake and apparently there are giant rats and wild pigs to negotiate. If I see them, I will probably climb up a tree,” says Ryan, who admits he is terrified of snakes. He has woken up a few times in the last couple of weeks leading up to the race with nightmares about snakes. “I am nervous and scared in some ways, but also really excited about this race.”

After the Jungle Marathon, Ryan would like to complete the Four Deserts Challenge. He still has to do the Atacama Crossing in Chile and The Last Desert in Antarctica. His goal is to become the first person to win each of the 250km Four Desert Challenges. “And after that I would like to do some 100 miler races.” Ryan has found his passion in extreme races. “I really enjoy it, both the physical and mental side. You have to be strong mentally. It is a question of mind over matter. When I go through a bad patch, I always try and tell myself I am achieving a lot just by being there. I also try to break the race into segments.” It doesn’t seem as if Ryan has a lot of bad patches. He recently won the Hansa Hout Bay Trail Challenge in July in a record time of 4:17.

Ryan is one of several celebrities taking up a celebrity challenge in 2010. This challenge is part of Comrades 2010 and will see celebrities like Ryan, Ferdinand Rabie (Big Brother SA) and Garth Wright (former Springbok scrumhalf`) competing against each other.

Not bad for a man who entered his first marathon by chance in 2006. He has always been active, but never ran until his last year at varsity. He entered the Knysna Forest Marathon with friends; and only because entries for the half marathon were full. Ryan landed up finishing the marathon in 3:17 and shortly afterwards discovered his passion for trail running. “The feeling of competition and achieving goals got me hooked and I wanted to do more races.” He eventually came across the Four Deserts Challenge while surfing the internet. For Ryan, it was not only the perfect way of living his newfound passion, but also a good way of seeing the world. And he has been doing so ever since. As he says, “Live every day as if it is your last. Make the most of it and remember, what you put in is what you get out.”


  • Mosquito net
  • Rainfly sheet
  • Food supplies to last for four to seven days of racing
  • Insect repellent
  • Compass
  • Knife
  • Compulsory medical kit
  • Torch and spare batteries
  • Waterproof matches or lighter
  • Emergency whistle
  • Water purifying tablets

The stage distances are approximately as follows, but are subject to change

  • Stage 1: Departs 07:00 -16.3km – cut-off 17:30
  • Stage 2: Departs 06:00 – 24.5km – cut-off 17:30
  • Stage 3: Departs 06:00 – 31.1km – cut-off 17:30
  • Stage 4: Departs 07:30 – 18.4km – cut-off 17:30 (End of 100km race)
  • Stage 5: Departs 05:30 – 87km (This is a non-stop overnight stage) – cut off at 19:00 on second day of stage
  • Stage 6: Departs 08:00 – 24.8km – cut-off 17:00 (End of 200km race)


  • Waterproof everything. It is very hard to dry anything in the jungle once it is wet.
  • Take plenty of mosquito repellent. Practice hanging your hammock and mosquito net so that no insects can find their way in.
  • Consider sealskinz socks or some other method to combat wet feet.
  • Extremely good general fitness is vital for this race.
  • You need a rucksack that fits snugly to your back so it doesn’t get caught in the trees at the side of the trails.
  • Treat the Jungle with respect and take adequate precautions in a potentially dangerous location.
  • Prior to the race, a military specialist will highlight dangers in the jungle and how to avoid them.
  • This includes encountering wildlife, dealing with the terrain, dangerous and poisonous plants to avoid and your action plan if you are lost. Heed their advice.
  • Runners are obliged to replenish their water supply at each checkpoint and must leave the checkpoint with a minimum of 2.5 litres of water.
  • Local fruits or plants growing in the jungle may not be eaten. The only exception is an emergency when an athlete gets lost. However, it is up to the athlete to know what things can and cannot be eaten.


Golden Girl

Golden Girl

Few of us ever reach the age of 100. In fact, most folks can’t even imagine making it to 90, and if they do, the last thing on their minds would be exercise. The next time you feel old and ready to hang up your sweat towel, you may want to consider a 99-year-old Australian great-grandmother called Ruth Frith, the oldest competitor in the upcoming Sydney 2009 World Masters Games.

Ruth trains six times a week and believes that everybody has to try their best. To this golden girl, it’s not about winning events, but about being brave enough to enter and compete, no matter what your age. This is the inspirational story of a granny to whom age is just a number. Modern Athlete spoke to Ruth, hoping to learn some of her secrets to staying healthy and young at heart.

She was always on the sidelines of the athletics field, a proud mother watching and encouraging her daughter to compete. While watching, athletes she had known for many years would dump their sport bags at her side, and she would be the designated guard, keeping an eye on the bags while they competed. Until one day. Ruth, then 74, had had enough. “If they can do it, I can too,” she told herself. That was in 1983, the start of Ruth’s long and glorious athletics career. Today she is the holder of five world records in the women’s 95-99 age category, that is, in the discus throw (9.85m), hammer throw (11.37m), shot put (4.72m), weight throw (5.11m) and weight pentathlon (5 544 points).

This Brisbane great-grandmother, who will turn 100 on 23 August, represents the Gold Coast Masters Athletics Club in competitions all over Australia. She has become the first centenarian to sign up for the Sydney 2009 World Masters Games, the world’s largest multi-sport event. This event is open to sportspeople of all abilities and most ages; anyone can compete as long as they satisfy their sports’ minimum age, which ranges between 25 and 35. The Games, held between 10 and 18 October, will see 25 000 people from more than 100 countries compete in 28 sports at more than 70 venues throughout Sydney, including many Olympic sites.

Ruth, who has been competing in Masters Athletics for 25 years, says she couldn’t wait to sign up for the Games. Turning 100 soon is no big deal to this proud grandmother of six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and two great, great-grandchildren. “To me, birthdays are all the same. I have never looked at it thinking that I’m getting old. It’s just another year gone by.” She is certainly not like any centenarian we could have imagined. Her voice is clear and her sense of humour is as sharp as that of a 30-year-old. She enjoys telling how she was charmed by South Africa on her visits in 1992 and 1997, and how much she loves the country.

She has outlived her husband, Raymond, who made it to the ripe old age of 97. The couple lived in Sydney, but when Raymond passed away after kidney failure, Ruth moved to Brisbane to live with her daughter and coach, Helen Searle. Her mother’s love of sport must be genetic, because 68-year-old Helen is also a world record-breaking athlete. She competed at the 1960 Rome Olympics and in 1964 in Tokyo. She won a bronze medal in high jump at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff and a silver in high jump and long jump at the same Games held in 1962 in Perth. Mom and daughter will both compete at the Sydney 2009 World Masters Games.

Ruth, an athletics official at the shot put and discus events from 1960 to 2001, says that everyone is born with a gift of some sort. Her father was a good runner and she believes his gift was passed on to her. As a 10-year-old girl, she ran everywhere. She has participated in some sort of exercise throughout her life. She wanted to be a doctor, but unfortunately mathematics at school wasn’t her strongest subject. She eventually worked in admin in a solicitor’s office until she got married.

“I don’t think I have secrets to staying young. I am just blessed with good health. I don’t believe in diets and all that nonsense, because if you exercise, you don’t need to diet. Surprisingly, I don’t eat vegetables and potatoes, but I do like fruit.” She says she has a sweet tooth, but gets tired of all the chocolates she receives. “People don’t know what to give a 99-year-old, so I always end up with chocolates. I got nine boxes of chocolates last Christmas. I didn’t know what to do with them. My favourite treat is sponge cake with plenty of cream.” She loves cooking and gardening, but finds it difficult because her eyes are degenerating, leaving her half blind. When she competes, it’s in a category for athletes who can see a metre away. This has not kept her from giving it her all. “You put up with what you have. I have lived 99 years with red hair and freckles, and if you can do that, you can live with anything.”

Ruth trains six times a week. On three of those days, she will train 90 minutes per day in shot put, hammer throw and the other events she competes in. On the other three days, she starts off her training by cycling on a stationary bike for ten minutes and then does light weights in her sunroom.

Ruth’s life motto is to stay true to herself. She believes if you can’t do that, you can’t be true to anybody else. She loves athletics and wherever she goes, she motivates people to go out there and try. “Just the other day, I said to a lot of elderly people that even if you have grey hair and creaky knees, it shouldn’t stop you from exercising. Nobody is expecting you to be an Olympian, just do your best. I know for certain even if you are beaten, the sun will rise the next day. There is no disgrace in being second.” Ruth competes in tracksuit pants or shorts and wears her club vest proudly. But there was a time when she didn’t like wearing shorts. “Women didn’t even wear slacks in those days and most officials were men, so to go out there in a pair of shorts was like not wearing clothes at all.”

“I love training. I have always said that the day I don’t want to train, will be the day I give it up. I will be lost without sport in my life. If it gets taken away from me, it will be like taking my life away.” She’s looking forward to the Games, especially her favourite event which is hammer throw. One thing is certain: Ruth Frith is guaranteed to break records. “Whatever I do at the age of 100 will be a record. My goal is just to go out there and do the best I can.”

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