Globetrotting FrontRunner

Had you asked a younger Wandisile Nongodlwana if he could see himself someday travelling the world for work and running, while inspiring people to follow a healthy lifestyle and develop the self-belief to get out and go for a run, he would probably have stared at you blankly. Yet in spite of his incredibly humble background, this inspirational athlete is the reason many people have started running. This is the story of his journey from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape to the farthest corners of the globe.

By Manfred Seidler

If you are an ardent follower of running on social media, you may have seen Wandisile Nongodlwana’s trademark jump as he crosses the finish line of his latest event or adventure. You may also have seen recently that the 43-year-old Wandi, as he is known to many, was part of an international team of runners that took on the London to Paris Challenge organised by Asics in April this year. 10 runners from all over the world, all part of the global Asics FrontRunners programme, were selected to run from London to Paris and then finish the journey with the Paris Marathon. “We had to send a motivational letter to Asics on why we should be doing this, and I got in. The goal was to test various shoes for Asics. We ran in their new Metaride and had to give feedback, and it was quite an experience,” says Wandi.

While the challenge was supposed to be a marathon distance every day for 10 days, including the Paris Marathon, it turned out differently, with one day even being 75km long. “We had to deal with blisters, and people had shin splints. We had to carry our food with us during the day, as only breakfast and dinner was catered for. So the first day was a marathon, day two was over 50km, and day three became 75km. We were not all at the same fitness level, and ran at different speeds, so that did cause some friction, which was made even more difficult by the language barriers. We had a massive blow out in the group on day three, but that seemed to be needed, as from then on there seemed to be a better understanding and tolerance level. It was very interesting to see how people reacted to different stress levels and situations.”

Unsurprisingly, the trip left Wandi with many memories and indelible impressions. Perhaps the most profound came on the morning of day four, as the group ran along the famous white cliffs of Dover in the UK, before departing Newhaven on the ferry to cross the English Channel to France. “That was really special. And high!” he exclaims. “I lay down on my tummy, crawled to the edge and looked down. I was literally looking down on the seagulls flying around the cliffs. But lying there was also a spiritual experience for me. It was so peaceful. I lay there looking down for about five minutes. Initially the adrenaline was pumping, but then I calmed down and felt this amazing sense of peace and awe. It seemed that all the troubles in the world had become insignificant. I was that much at peace.”

Humble Origins

This jet-setting life as an international runner and brand ambassador is a far cry from Wandisile’s humble start to life. He was born on 24 December 1975, in the remote village of Soto Location in Mooiplaas, some 40km outside of East London, the eldest of five siblings. Life was challenging for Wandi and his family: Water had to be fetched from the river in buckets, there was no electricity, the family slept in one hut, and afternoons and weekends were spent herding the cows and goats. His mother had no education, and his father had left school in Standard 2. Life was a battle… so for Wandi, the escape was education. He learnt from a very early age that he needed to excel at school if he wanted to leave the rural and humble surroundings he was growing up in.

Wandi is a talented runner, but not in the realms of those select few who could earn a living from it – only a tiny number of South Africans fall into this category – and his running started much later in life, anyway. At school his first love was soccer. “I was a number nine, a striker,” says Wandi with that infectious laugh of his. When asked who his idol and inspiration was amongst the world’s top players, he replies that he didn’t have any specific heroes that he followed. “We did not have TV when we grew up. It just happened that way.”

Once Wandi hit Standard 8, he moved in with his uncle in Duncan Village, a township in East London. As with primary school and his junior high school years, Wandi threw himself into his studies in East London, and when he matriculated, he was awarded a full bursary from Liberty Life to go study Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits in 1994. The hard work was beginning to pay off!

The Big Smoke

That bursary literally changed Wandi’s life, but it was a big move for the 18-year-old. “I literally only had 50 bucks, which my grandmother gave me. I also had the clothes on my back and a tog bag full of other clothing and toiletries. That was it.” As he says that, he holds up a regular sports tog bag to demonstrate how little it actually was. “Fortunately, the bursary covered everything, all my tuition and my accommodation. I went into a fully-catered res, so all meals were catered for. All my books, stationery, everything.”

The bursary also changed the fortunes of Wandi’s family, as it effectively made him the ‘bread-winner’ in the family. The small amount of pocket money he got from the bursary funds was supplemented by tutoring on weekends and in school holidays, and all that money went back home to help the family. After Wandi finished his studies and started to work, the money continued going to the family. “My first job, my first salary cheque went straight to my younger brother, who was in his first year at PE Tech.” That trend continued with his other siblings, too, and he then brought one sibling after another up to Johannesburg, paid for their tuition and also rebuilt the family home in Soto Location. His parents have passed on, so he is now the head of the household.

Today Wandi works for De Beers in IT, as a system manager, a position that sees him travel frequently to places as far-flung as Canada. His travel schedule for work, on top of frequent travels for running, means that he needs to spend as much quality time as he can with his wife and two children. “It isn’t always easy, but I make sure that the time I spend with them is the best time ever.” Wandi is a very private person and keeps his family life away from the exposure of social media, even though he is very active on social media as part of his running. “That is my life and is separate from my running, and the columns I do for Asics as an Asics Front Runner. That will always be sacred to me, and I will not expose them to that side of my life.” 

The Running Bug

Wandi’s introduction to running came some years back when he was part of a business relay event for work. “My leg was 7km long and the guy I handed over to was to run 11km, but at the changeover, he wasn’t there. You know, at these changeovers, there is always a big crowd and the person you hand over to is not always right there, so you sometimes have to look for them. But this guy wasn’t there, so I ran through the changeover point, thinking that maybe he would be further down the road. He wasn’t, so I just ran the next leg. I ran 18km that day, and I was like ‘Hmmmm, I can do this running thing.’ And that is how the running bug bit.”

“I then met a guy in the gym who would get there in the morning for training, but he was already sweating. He told me he was training for Comrades and ran in the mornings before doing his gym. It was quite funny… I knew nothing about having to qualify for Comrades. I knew absolutely nothing about running, I just knew I had to do Comrades.” And with that Wandi began training for and ran his first Comrades in 2008, finishing in 9:55:59. Having now run the race 12 consecutive times, he has posted a best of 6:39:45 in 2018 and has seven silver medals to his credit, including six in the last six years.

These days Wandi races in the veteran category and occasionally finds himself on the podium, which he says has reignited his passion for racing, but adds that his focus has changed from always trying to improve his times and chasing medals and podiums, to rather trying to inspire others to run. “In the past three, maybe four years, my focus has changed. It is now more about inspiring people. I want to show people that you can do well, whatever ‘well’ means to each individual. I won the Golden Gate stage trail race a few years ago with no sponsor. It was literally through dedication and hard work, so that is the message I am now trying to send.”

Becoming a FrontRunner

The biggest impact on his running career has been in the last three years, thanks to his successful application to become an Asics Frontrunner. In 2016 Asics advertised on social media that they were looking for brand ambassadors, or as they call it, FrontRunners, and Wandi’s friend Charmaine Mohokare encouraged him to apply. “She told me I had nothing to lose, so I applied and I became part of the crew in 2017. Through being a FrontRunner, I have had so many opportunities and experiences to run races, so it has been really good for me. But being an Asics FrontRunner does come with responsibilities, and I still want people to just be inspired to be their best. After all, I became a Frontrunner because of trying to motivate people.”

By far the biggest opportunity that has come Wandi’s way through his association with Asics is the London to Paris Run, which he describes as a life changing experience. “I learned so much. We had runners from Russia, Portugal, the UK, Germany, and more, 10 runners from 10 different countries, and of course very few spoke decent English, which made communication very difficult. There were also different cultures, different outlooks on life, which made it a very interesting trip. For starters, not all of us ran at the same level, so we had to figure out how each person would run, and subsequently ended up in broadly two groups. Obviously there were also interpersonal dynamics.”

Having gotten through the longer than expected first few days and overcome the initial problems of communication and approach within the group, the 10 Frontrunners duly made it to Paris and lined up for the marathon, which they all ran and finished together. Wandi says the sense of achievement they felt as a group was immense, of having conquered a huge challenge, but even more gratifying was the newfound friendships, and all that they learnt along the way.

“That journey was one of deep introspection for me. I learnt so much, grew as a person, and discovered things about myself of a deeply personal nature, which show me that your background does not limit you. Work hard, look for opportunities and when these are presented to you, embrace them with open arms,” says Wandi. “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity provided to me by Asics, and I am looking forward to new adventures.”

Dave’s 50 in 50 Dream

For most ultra-runners, tackling the Two Oceans Marathon once a year is more than enough, but this year Dave Chamberlain tackled the ultra route 50 times in 50 days in the build-up to the 2019 race. Here is the story behind this incredible feat.

By PJ Moses

When it comes to long distance running, Dave Chamberlain has done quite some distance on his feet. In years gone by he ran the length of Argentina, then ran across Canada, and followed that up with a run through the Namib Desert. Then in April this year he undertook his most recent running adventure, tackling the Two Oceans Marathon 56km route 50 times in 50 days, including running the race itself as his 50th ‘Voyage,’ to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the race in 2019.

So, the last thing you would expect to hear the man from Pretoria say is, “I don’t actually like running. I think I might even hate it.” Well, he sure has a funny way of showing it, given his various running exploits, but he quickly explains further: “Running is just plain uncomfortable for me, so I have a strong dislike of running just for the sake of running. It makes little sense to me.” However, add a charitable cause to the run, and then whatever the distance, Dave is your man!

For the Penguins

Thus in March he began his 50-day challenge, to raise much-needed awareness and funds for BirdLife SA, with the goal to raise over one hundred thousand rand to help save the African penguin from extinction. His daily run along the race course soon caught the attention of the Cape running community, and the media, and he was given plenty of support, sometimes had running company, and did a number of interviews as well. Naturally, he was asked again and again why he was doing such a seemingly crazy thing, and he gave the same answer each time.

“Over the past seven or eight years, I’ve completed other running projects, but what drew me to this most recent one was the desire to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Two Oceans in a way that had local appeal. Also, I mostly try to run for environmental causes, and so chose penguin conservation due to the position that penguins hold, especially from a tourism perspective and the threat of their extinction. They are even more endangered than rhinos! All those times spent birdwatching with my Dad when I was a kid just made them the obvious choice. Also, I chose to run for BirdLife SA, because they do amazing work, even while being under financial pressure to simply continue being viable,” says Dave.

Calling the campaign 505050 and working in conjunction with BirdLife and Utopia (who did the marketing pro bono), Dave started a crowdfunding campaign and even had a dedicated website where people could follow his journey on a daily basis, through vlogs and updated stats. With the logistics and marketing taken care of, all he needed to do was concentrate on the running, but a lot more went into the challenge than just doing 50 kays a day!

Preparing to Run

Initially, all planning for the event went along the lines of ‘that seems doable,’ says Dave, and he made sure not to let himself think too much about the distance, or else it may have become a major stumbling block to his success. “I’m actually the laziest person I know – sometimes even too lazy to order Uber Eats. In that case, I’ll usually just drink two litres of milk for lunch. So if I did any deeper research, then it might have scared me off from the idea entirely. Instead, I spent three months leading up to the start of it, travelling around SA and Lesotho, looking for hills to run up and scenery to photograph.”

He used the Sport Science Lab at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria for his base during his training, and focused especially on strengthening his core during this conditioning phase. He also had to work on his mental preparation for what lay ahead. “I seem to always learn – or perhaps re-learn is more accurate – that I’m an idiot. Mostly in a charming, naïve way, thankfully, but still. The repetitive nature of running the same route for 50 days, through a city, was interesting from a psychological perspective. It’s certainly opened my eyes to looking at different ways to approaching future projects.”

He says that he is lucky to count on a supportive family to back him up during his running adventures, although he says that it is a challenge trying to live up to his two sisters. Both are accomplished ultra-distance athletes themselves, having completed iconic races such as Comrades, Maraton Des Sables and IronMan, and Dave says they are a tough crowd to impress. “I am sure they were impressed at the beginning of my running exploits, but I think they have become used to it now.”

Looking Within

Given his apparent dislike of running, it comes as no real surprise that Dave did not really enjoy running when he was younger, either. “I was at an all-boys school and sport was always a part of the culture at the school. It was used as a tool to promote participation and a chance to try out different codes, but for me it was just a way to pass the time and nothing really stuck. I never developed a passion for any one particular sporting code.”

He may not have found a passion for running back then, but somehow it found him again some years after school. “My first running project was motivated by the need to catch a boat at the southern tip of Argentina, before it sailed, but since then these challenges have morphed into finding a way to travel cheaply, while supporting conservation, and also while fulfilling a desire to understand human psychology. Finding someone to be my ‘crash-test dummy’ seemed like a tricky undertaking, so I decided to ‘experiment’ on myself.”

Doing such long distances by oneself can appear to be a lonely experience, but Dave enjoys the time spent in his own mind. “I never get lonely on my runs. There is so much happening, whether in the world that I am running through, or inside my head. It is very exciting to see what is around the next corner. Also, when I run, I don’t listen to music, because it serves as a distraction. My big motivation for running is travelling, and I want to be present in the environment that I am passing through, so I don’t want to intrude on that experience with music. Also, from a safety perspective, I want to be able to hear approaching cars and bicycles.”

Challenging Undertaking

Even though this was not his first running project, Dave says it was by far one of the toughest. “The lowest point of the project came on days 19 and 23. “I am not a big fan of cities, but ironically I went through a dark space because I could not participate in and enjoy the city life that I saw everybody else immersed in. Being in Cape Town and not being able to go to a Kirstenbosch concert, for example.”

One of the other challenges he faced was getting himself out of bed in the mornings. “Once I was at the start in Newlands and began running, I was fine. I think that it helped to not have a reason not to do it. In much the same way that many people don’t have a reason not to go to work, in spite of the rush-hour traffic that they know awaits them.” And when running became hard and the pain and discomfort felt like it may overwhelm him, Dave would remind himself that “This too shall pass.” He uses this phrase as his “reminder to endure the bad times, enjoy the good times and to embrace life, because they are all just transitory.”

But no man is an island, and even though he was the one running solo most days, the support of others helped to carry him through. “You can’t do these big runs without some much-needed support from others, and I was lucky to have some very good friends who live on Constantia Nek, so I could get sandwiches to nibble on and jump into the pool to refresh. I was also ‘adopted’ by Harfield Harriers as an honorary club member, and their support meant the world to me. All the help just meant that I only had to focus on doing the actual running and not much else.”

With a Little Help from Friends

The project was initially a self-funded and self-supported effort, but Pick n Pay stepped up and joined Dave in making it a success. “Being self-supported, I was looking for three watering holes along the route where I could maybe buy a snack and drink. I approached Pick n Pay with a request for a couple of drinks and an energy bar discount, per day, but they came back and sponsored my entire nutritional needs for the project. For that I owe them a very big thank you.”

“Also, the people I encountered on the route each day were fantastic. It meant a lot to me, even if it was just a hoot or a wave as I ran by them. It was interesting seeing how the various suburbs along the route responded to my repeated presence, but if I am to give out medals for support then it would have to go to the folks of Muizenberg, Noordhoek and Hout Bay.”

Ironically, his biggest obstacle came during the actual race, at kilometre 17, when the crowd of runners around him felt like it was suffocating him. “I’d run the course for 49 days, with all the space in the world, and found the crowds on race day claustrophobic. Luckily, I was able to start running along the pavement, and escape the crush. And after that, with the gradient starting to kick up to the base of Ou Kaapse Weg, the road opened up nicely. So, I stopped being grumpy.”

Next Challenge, Please

This former scuba diving instructor is a man trying to keep busy, and when he is not working in the family business, Dave is usually looking for his next running adventure. “The moment that I finish, I’m already thinking of the next possibility. I think that it comes down to the fact that I don’t do these projects for running reasons, so the physical completion of the project is merely part of the cycle towards the next chance to travel, or to explore my psychological state.”

He is not a bucket list type of guy, but he has a few ideas for interesting adventures that may be worth a go. “I already have my eye on something for January. Without running projects, I would quickly turn into a blimp. I am keen to find out how many marathons I can do in a row, other than that I would love to run the original routes of the Tour De France, Giro Da Italia or the Vuelta Espana, just to annoy the cyclists.”

He is even considering a run across Japan or Nepal, but that would depend on how much cash he can save between projects. Other than running vast distances, Dave is also a keen photographer… or at least, he tries to be. “I sometimes try to take photographs, but then I’m struck with the dreaded thought of having to hop in a car, and drive five kilometres to my sister’s house, to go develop them in my darkroom, so I have a lot of undeveloped film in my camera bag.”

Dave the Dreamer

Dave is a big believer in chasing dreams, and doing the things that bring joy to your life. “We have no control over the past, nor the future. And, we only have marginal control over the present. When presented with these brief moments, take control, no matter how silly they may seem. Kids live in their own realities, and I challenge you to find a happier sound than a bunch of little hooligans running around living their best lives. Taking control of the present is the best way that I know to add value and direction to my life, and a sense of peace,” he says.

“How you choose to manifest that control is up to you. If you like stamp-collecting, dedicate an hour a week to completely immersing yourself in stamp-collecting. If you love to bake, but don’t know how to give back to society, go to a nearby orphanage, get a list of birthdays, and bake each child a cupcake for their birthday. The sense of recognition that that child will receive is far greater than anything that I can achieve through running, and it takes so little of one’s time. Change is possible, and opportunities are all around us. You don’t need to save the world. Bringing a smile to a strangers face is all that is required.”

The challenge he sets for all of us is a simple one, but one that many people struggle to fulfil in their own lives. “Never let anyone destroy your dreams, and never destroy anyone else’s.” Dave is doing his best to live true to those words, and so should we.

13 Peaks to Solve a Quarter-life Crisis

The 13 Peaks Challenge was conceived by Ryan Sandes and after he had run the roughly 115km route, he invited all trail runners to give it a go, with the aim to summit the 13 peaks of the Table Mountain Range on the Cape Peninsula. One of the most recent to finish the challenge was Leigh De Necker, and this is her story of an epic two days of summiting.

A quarter-life crisis is an odd thing. Mine started about a year ago, and included one (and a half) unsuccessful romantic relationships and their respective break-ups, family dramas, moving house, financial struggles and career uncertainties. So, stuff we all have to go through… In order to deal with this, I run. I converted all my frustration into the energy that got me running faster and stronger than ever. I was fired up and ready to take on my second ultra-marathon. But, two days before the Two Oceans 56km, I got chicken pox. A vaccinated, 28-year-old, on Easter weekend, with chicken pox!

I was forced to miss the race and was quarantined. I screamed, cried, swore, threw tantrums threw things, scratched a little, ate a lot. I was incredibly unpleasant to be around, and to look at. Turns out, viruses and anti-virals really mess with your heart, physically, and rob you of all your fitness (and happiness). Okay that is dramatic, but stubborn as I am, I decided to train anyway, and as my luck would have it, I got injured. By that stage, I was sitting with about 23.1% sanity remaining.

So before I went around kicking children, I decided to allow myself time to recover and I entered a consolation race, the Knysna Marathon. Fast forward to training for said marathon, running it, and doing pretty well, considering my misfortunes, I fell in love with trail running all over again in the process. Things were looking up! But, then I lost my little dog, Gigi, in a tragic accident, and with that experience, I lost my last little bit of sanity. So, before sanity would return (or in order to regain it), I decided to take on the 13 Peaks Challenge. I’m not sure if I was literally trying to run away from all my problems, or if I was really just in search of some kind of perspective. Hope?

Up for the Challenge

So yes, this was a fantastic idea, considering I had never run more than 56km on the road and only 25km on trail. A two-day, 115km, 6585m elevated mission up 13 of Cape Town’s most iconic mountains definitely seemed realistic… especially since I have zero sense of direction. So bad, in fact, that I still get lost looking for peanut butter in the supermarket I visit weekly. So, if I were to do this, without accidentally navigating my way off Chapman’s Peak, it would have to be with a little (or lot) of help.

Luckily, it didn’t take much to convince my friend Sean Altern to join me. He is always over-prepared for such things, while I am always underprepared. Sean is patient, I’m not. Sean doesn’t swear, I do. Sean is always calm, I’m not. So Sean basically prepped everything, while I contributed snacks, bad ideas, inappropriate jokes and wet wipes (that nobody ended up using anyway).

Leading up to this, I could not think of anything else but the challenge. I spent a lot of time running (and getting lost) in the mountains to prepare, but I knew it was 90% a mental game! The combination of nerves and excitement was overwhelming, but also a relieving distraction from all the issues causing the above-mentioned quarter-life crisis.

Very Early Start!

Before I knew it, it was 4:30am on 2 August 2019. Breakfast was chicken mayo and vegetables on toast. Since I’d never taken on a challenge of such proportions, I figured I’d eat a bit of everything, and hopefully the body would find something useful. JJ Bell and Sean picked me up and we were on our way to Signal Hill (Peak #1). Alex Topliss met us there for the start, and we took a few photos before setting off at 5:07am. It was dark, but a perfect winter’s morning! As we trotted on and up, reaching the summit of Peak #2 (Lion’s Head), we looked down at our fellow Capetonians also sitting at their peak… peak traffic.

Waves of fog and cloud slowly crept in from the sea and over the city lights as we looped down, but it didn’t take long to start the next climb up Kloof Nek, and we enjoyed a jog along the edge of Table Mountain. We looked back every so often to see the top of Lion’s Head peeking out above the blanket of clouds, which we were now well above. The sound of waterfalls, traffic, hooting owls, hooting cars, rustling leaves and trees is an endemic remix only Cape Town can offer. As the city lights dim and the sun lights up the mountain, a sensory overload of magic is experienced. It was all fun, laughs and inappropriate jokes, Sean listening quietly while Alex and I spoke a bunch of nonsense. Sean must have known what was coming, as it didn’t take long for the infamous Platteklip Gorge to shut Alex and I up. I had never climbed the gorge before, but people always spoke of it being quite nasty. It was.

Upon reaching the top, we started running again. It felt like we were running on the moon, leaping between cratered rocks and dodging puddles. Well, Sean just ran through the water, clearly not too concerned about the dreaded “trench foot,” despite his constant referrals to the condition. We skipped and slipped our way over a few frosted boardwalks to reach a big pile of rocks triangled to form Peak #3, Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain as well as the Cape Peninsula. The view included beautiful sneak peeks of bits of mountains, city and sea between patchy clouds.

Slip-Sliding Away…

After a few majestic poses on top of the beacon, we said goodbye to Alex and descended the back of the mountain. It was surprising to see so many frosted board walks, and Sean slid right down one into a bush. I had a long, loud laugh, before asking whether he was ok. He was, and our fall scores were officially, Sean 1 – Leigh 0. This side of the mountain was shaded, so it was a little chilly, but the descent allowed us some time to move faster and warm up. This was also the first water refill point. We relied largely on drinking water from the rivers, waterfalls and mountain streams, and nature provided us with ice cold, fresh water for the duration of our adventure.

Another cool thing about this challenge is that the journey between and to the top of each peak is so different, from the vegetation, to the rock formations, to the paths leading to the summits. Grootkop (Peak #4), was no exception. The path (or sometimes lack thereof) was overgrown with dense bushes. In between some rocks we found the occasional Aloe hiding, which was awesome to see. This one was a real Bundu-bash getting to the top, where the clouds did not really allow us too much of a view, but the mission up there with our legs in full 4×4 mode was great fun!

As we bush-whacked back down, creating our own path for most of the way, it was a little cold until we made our way down through the clouds, passed the shadow of the mountains and back into sunlight. There was a fair amount of single track to Judas Peak, #5, and for any trail runner, a stretch of good old single track is pure bliss. Judas Peak was one of the easier climbs for me, but one of the most spectacular views. Hout Bay was clear in sight now and so was our next peak.

Stunning Views

The decent down Judas was incredibly steep, taking us through all kinds of gullies and cracks, but with some really awesome views. The ocean was flat, 50 shades of blue, making it look deceptively tropical. We did experience a small rockfall at one point, which I initially thought was a baboon, bergie or caveman coming after us (your imagination goes a little wild after being in the mountains for six hours). The path eventually spat us out on Suikerbossie Road in Hout Bay and then it was literally straight up Klein Leeukoppie (Peak #6).

We definitely underestimated this one. It is terribly named, because there is nothing “Klein” about it. The path sometimes just ends randomly, forcing some rather intense rock climbing. In a lot of ways, the climbing was actually great – using our arms to pull ourselves up gave the legs moments of relief. Fatigue was definitely being felt, though, but it is so important to stay focussed, as the smallest foot misplacement could result in a nasty fall.

We eventually made it to the top, to yet another breathtaking (literally) view. We decided this was a good time to take a 15-minute break to have something a little more substantial to eat. Up until this point, we had been snacking on biltong and energy bars mostly, so a peanut butter and jam sandwich for me and a bag of Big Corn Bites for Sean (and simply just sitting down), really gave us the boost we needed to proceed.

Spot of Trespassing?

Straight back down and we got in touch with JJ de Villiers from CCP in Hout Bay. Sean and I had a WhatsApp group with JJ, Ray Chaplin and Ryan Sandes to send progress updates and share the adventure, but also for safety reasons. Due to security concerns in the Hout Bay area, JJ had offered to meet us on Sandy Bay beach and watch us go up and down Suther Peak (#7) safely. However, finding JJ and Sandy Beach was a laugh… The map led us to an electric fence and closed gate (which we only later discovered had an intercom for someone to open for us).

Not knowing this at the time, we missioned through woody vegetation to find a way around, but ran straight into another stretch of fence. The top was barbed wire, so the only way through was under. Gentleman Sean bent and lifted the bottom of the fence while I squeezed under. I couldn’t lift it high enough from my side to help him, though, so he lay there wiggling, unable to move past his crotch area. I laughed at him again, but eventually he slipped through. This put us on somebody’s private estate, so the concern of a viscous dog or sniper attack was real! So we ran along the road quite quickly, infused with subtle panic, trying to look as though we belonged there, and eventually we made it out alive. Along the way, we explored a few roads which were interestingly named after either flowers or really old people, before finally making it to JJ.

We had a brief introduction and briefing from JJ and then up Suther Peak we went. I was a little low on water, but was so distracted by how epic this climb was. I do see why it is referred to as “Suffer Peak,” but it’s a beautiful, pleasant kind of suffering, as twisted as that sounds. In between bright green plants were little bright yellow flowers (Sean, the nerd, was dropping scientific names everywhere). There were a few leafless, bare, burned trees, and looking through their frames back down on the ocean, now lit up by the midday sun, was nothing short of spectacular. This was definitely a favourite!

Game Face On!

Back on Sandy Beach, JJ rewarded us each with a strawberry Steri Stumpi, and I sat on the beach chugging from a five-litre bottle of water. Ray was there too, taking photos, laughing, joking – perfect company for a little pit-stop. We refilled on water and refuelled our spirits, then trotted back down the streets named after old people. The next stretch involved a lot of road running, through to the other side of Hout Bay, dodging pedestrians and drivers who should never have been awarded their licences. Meanwhile, Ray leap-frogged us to capture some epic photos. Sean and I walked the ups, but every time we saw Ray and his camera, it was “Game face on, pose, run, look fresh!”

My Garmin’s battery died at the Chappies tollgate, and of course, I had not brought the charger, but Sean’s Fenix was still running, and of course, he had his charger. (Sidenote: I want a Fenix.) A Red Bull before our mission back into the mountains had me fired up to summit Chapman’s Peak (#8) before sunset. Now infused with sugar and caffeine, I think at one point I even suggested the one-day challenge, but there was no comment from realistic Mr Sean. The light was stunning, with sea, sky, mountains, plants all saturated with deep blues, greens, orange and yellows, and we made it just in time to enjoy the sunset at the beacon.

I had set up another WhatsApp group before the challenge for family and friends, where I posted pictures, videos and updates, and where I got the most incredible support and encouraging replies. One of the many things I gained from this experience was a boost in appreciation for all the indescribably awesome people I have in my life, who love me and back me in all my madness! After tagging our eighth peak on the group, I received another unexpected message, from somebody who really, and seemingly carelessly, broke my heart in the past. A message that, a month, maybe even a week earlier, would have really rattled me. I did, admittedly, send a few strong four-lettered words echoing through the mountains, but I quickly settled into feelings of indifference, liberation, healing, forgiveness, contentment and peace.

One More Climb

We spent a while going on in the ‘almost dark’ without our headlamps, just as a safety precaution to not attract too much attention to ourselves in the low light. As we popped over another little hill, we switched our lights on and then it was up and up to our final peak for the day. I really struggled with this climb. It had been a long day on the legs, and I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what we had already done. Every step felt heavy, and the climb felt really long and steep. Now that we were back in the dark, I was also disorientated, which exhausted me further.

When it started to get foggy, I realised we were high up, ascending through a cloud layer again. Sean was constantly encouraging me, which helped too and I could hear my phone buzzing from my support crew. Finally, we hit a steady jeep track, went through a hazy layer and into clear, starry skies at the summit of Noordhoek Peak (#9). “Sean, look how awesome Simon’s Town looks!” I said. “Leigh, that is Hout Bay!” Clearly, I was still disorientated, but on such a high… again, literally!

We took a ‘Blair Witch Project photo’ with our headlamps and then took the opportunity to reflect on the day and say a prayer. We thanked God for newly found perspective, and appreciation for family, friends, nature and the strength we just proved we have in our bodies, hearts, minds and spirits! It was really powerful, and I’m grateful to have shared it with a friend like Sean, and everybody from my support crew, albeit indirectly. I also took the opportunity to honour and pay tribute to my Gigi girl, which was a special moment for me too.

It was auto pilot on the downhill through Silvermine, past the dam, back on the road, out the gate and across the road onto Ou Kaapse Weg. We were pleasantly surprised to hear the legend JJ de Villiers cheering us on for an awesome end to Day one. Ray and JJ Bell were there to meet us with blankets and more Steri Stumpies, and Ray had got me my favourite dinner, a peanut butter bliss smoothie and Prince Wrap from Kauai for the trip home to rest.

Back to the Trails

I did not sleep well. My legs were a little sore, but my biggest ache was the bottom of my feet. I think it was from the sand in my shoes. I was, however, more overwhelmed by the experience, reflecting on it and going through all the messages from family and friends. I slept lightly for about four hours and then got up just before 4am. It was chicken mayo, veggies and chocolate for breakfast, and the running started just before 5am.

Another start in the dark and as we set off, we noticed a set of eyes reflecting the light of our headlamps. It was a little bokkie. This was so cool to see, and on another perfect winter’s morning, we summited Muizenberg Peak (#10) just before 6am, looking down on a lit-up city still fast asleep. This was a nice warm-up peak to get the heart pumping and legs going again, but I was having trouble getting water from my hydration pack, and was concerned that there was an issue with the drinking pipe.

After a crazy amount of fiddling fuelled by frustration, rage and thirst, I finally discovered that by simply twisting the little mouth nozzle to 90-degrees, the free flow of water is unlocked. I have had this pack for months, done countless runs with it, and I only realised this now! I may not have provided too much functional use or benefit to Sean, or myself apparently, but there is no doubt that my moments of being an absolute imbecile provided Netflix-level entertainment. This was followed by a quick toilet stop, which further strengthened our friendship, as Sean graciously passed the ‘white gold’ to me from the neighbouring stall. Then it was a bit of complaining about sore feet, a sand-removing shake of the shoes and back over Ou Kaapse Weg, through the gate, past the dam, this time heading towards Constantiaberg.

Tired Legs, Slow Progress

We found a rather large slug on the path, which we dubbed our mascot and pacesetter, as his pace was representative of the speed at which we were going! I could feel yesterday’s fatigue and was moving very slowly, but moving nonetheless. It was misty as we climbed, but the morning sun shone through, bringing out the saturated colours of our surroundings as we summited Peak 11. I tried to jump onto the beacon for a photo, but my legs were not ready for that kind of commitment and I just ended up kicking Sean instead.

The downhill along a mountain bike track allowed us to pick up some speed again and see from a distance the mountains and surrounds of Hout Bay we had conquered yesterday. Then there was a (relatively) small climb called Vlakkenberg, which I also suggested be renamed to something more appropriate (but inappropriate to repeat here). We came across some trail runners who recognised us from the social media posts Ryan Sandes had been doing, and they gave us a round of applause and encouragement as we passed.

We descended past a pig farm and back onto the road at Constantia Nek, where Ray was waiting with friends Gen and Justin. It was such a nice surprise to see them, and they joined us up to Klassenkop (#12). The company was great and the way up was mainly a steep Jeep track, which made a pleasant change from the millions of rock and stair climbs. As we passed De Villiers Dam on top, the path converted to single track, which then became bushy, then rocky (like the moon again, or what I would imagine a place like Utah to look like), and ultimately involved crossing a gully, via a tree, to get to the beacon (a pile of rocks). This was another of my favourites, being particularly unique, and the laughs with Gen and Justin made it that much more awesome. Gen also fell. I laughed again. Later I fell too, so Karma. And overall fall scores were tied.

Into the Home Stretch

I had done Devilʼs Peak (#13) the week before, so I felt confident about the last stretch, but I had heavily underestimated the mission between Peaks 12 and 13. Day 2 had a lot more distance between peaks than Day 1, and I started to feel a little frustrated, because we would climb up and then go down again, then up, then down. Nursery Ravine was a very steep, technical down, but eventually we entered the forest, so in my head we were almost close to my ‘home turf.’ After more up, down, up, down missions, my feet were starting to burn and for the first time, I was starting to feel a little fed up.

Eventually we came across a landmark I thought I recognised as an area I run through often. White rocks. Well, turns out there are a lot of patches of big white rocks in the forest, and we were in fact 4km further back from where I thought we were. It was, once again, very disorientating, but this time also disheartening. I became frustrated with myself because I already have a complex about how dreadful my navigation is, so this really ticked me off. Sean continued to be encouraging, but I was grumpy and had lost my sense of humour, so I told him to allow me to sulk.

Finally, a waterfall I really did recognise, and Ray standing under it with more Red Bull. My smile was back, because for the first time in the whole challenge, I knew exactly what I was in for. Red Bull chugged, another one in my backpack and up and over Newlandʼs Ravine. Sean was motoring, but I was still going at the pace of the Constantiaberg slug… but I was going. Sean did stop to wee a lot, though, throughout the challenge, which allowed fantastic opportunities for me to snack, often. With the sound of his piddles, coupled with the rustling of my energy bar wrappers (along with my clicking ankles and the bass from my heart beat, compliments of the Red Bull), we created our very own “ode to the peaks” anthem.

Time to Reflect…

Then, Devilʼs Peak was done! In trying to find the appropriate rock to balance my phone on for a self-timer shot, I probably added an extra kilometre to my total distance. Anyway, out onto Tafelberg Road, Ray and Tam were waiting with more Red Bull and an assortment of sugary snacks, and then it was auto pilot to the end. There was no more pain, no more frustration, and I was hardly taking in the views anymore, just the occasional glance up to where we were, and where we needed to be.

Racing to catch the sunset, dodging a string of cars that were trying to do the same, we finished the 13 Peaks loop at Signal Hill at 18:17 on 3 August, having run 37 hours, covering 115.8km and 6585m of elevation! Tam and Ray popped the champagne, and I was climbing the beacon like an ape, and doing handstands all over it. Sean just celebrated calmly like a civilised human being.

At the end of all of this, I found the perspective and hope I was looking for. I learnt a lot from the beautiful heart my Gigi dog had, and increased appreciation and love for the incredible people I have in my life. I found physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength I did not know I had. It was my so-called quarter-life crisis that led me to this point, so maybe a quarter-life crisis is not such a bad thing after all, but rather a blessing.

Recognising the best behind the business of sport at the 2019 Hollard Sport Industry Awards

The very best work behind the business of sport which spans marketing, PR, digital, sponsorship, advertising, community investment, social media and branding were awarded at the Hollard Sport Industry Awards, held in Johannesburg on Friday night.

“We are thrilled by the increased number of entries we saw for this year’s awards as well as the caliber of work that has been done. Congratulations to all the winners and thank you to everyone who submitted entries. Without the work that they do, we wouldn’t see the iconic sport moments that have captured our attention as well as the development work that goes into bringing these sporting moments into our homes and common spaces. As an organisation, we find it meaningful to enable better futures through sponsorship of these important awards” says Heidi Brauer, Chief Marketing Officer of Hollard.

Biggest Winner’s

Levergy, the Sport and Entertainment arm of M&C Saatchi, took home four awards on the night including the Activation of the Year award for their work on “Nedbank Cup #Teamup4kzn” – an initiative which used the Nedbank Cup to drive awareness and raise funds for relief efforts and cleanup operations after the catastrophic flooding which hit Kwazulu-Natal 3 weeks before the Cup was played. The Levergy team also won Best use of PR (sponsored by Belgotex) for the excellent use of public relations around this same campaign as well as the Hollywood Bets sponsored category of Best Digital Platform for their SuperSport TV Twitter activation. Levergy also walked away with the much-coveted Agency of the Year for 2019, sponsored by Gallo Images.

One of the most sought-after awards on the evening, Campaign of the Year sponsored by Nielsen Sports, which was initially erroneously awarded to the wrong agency, went to Openfield for their outstanding work on the Vodacom Super Rugby campaign. Openfield also won Best Sponsorship of an Event or Competition for Vodacom Super Rugby, sponsored by WorldWide Sports.

T&W, winner of Agency of the Year last year, won the FujiFilm Best Audio-Visual content for 2019 for their Orlando Pirates 80 Legends campaign.

Best Sponsorship of a Team or Individual, sponsored by Golf Guys, went to creative sports marketing agency Retroactive for their work for client Biogen and James ‘Hobbo’ Hobson, the journey of a regular South African guy who went from being unfit and weighing 130kgs to completing the Ironman 70.3 in Durban in June. Not surprisingly, Retroactive, which was formed in October 2018 by Bryan Habana, Mike Sharman, Ben Karpinski and Shaka Sisulu also won Young Agency of the Year, sponsored by Modern Athlete.

Other awards on the night included:

  • Best Live Experience – M-Sports Marketing Communications (Carling Black Label Cup Match Day 2019) – Sponsored by Deloitte
  • Best New Sponsorship – Playmakers (Powerade Fit Night Out) – Sponsored by NB Sport Development
  • Development Programme of The Year – Peschl Sports and Spotlight Public Relations (Go! Durban Cycle Academy) – Sponsored by the Thebe Foundation
  • Participation Event of the Year – Stillwater Sport (FNB Run Your City Series) – Sponsored by Thirsti
  • Hollard Brand of the Year – DHL

Honouring The Greats

Highlights on the night include the awarding of the Leadership in Sports Business award, sponsored by Engen, to Francois Pienaar. Francois, who played for the Springboks from 1993 until 1996 winning 29 international caps while captain, is perhaps best known for leading South Africa to victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In 2003, he founded the Make a Difference (MAD) Leadership Scholarship Programme, to produce the country’s next generation of young leaders.

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Sue Destombes, who has been the Secretary General at COSAFA (the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations) for the past five years. Sue has a career spanning more than 40 years, primarily in marketing and event management in the soccer industry and was hand-picked by FIFA to act as a mentor in their Female Leadership Development Programme. Sue has worked tirelessly to promote women in football and was instrumental in bringing back the COSAFA Women’s Championship, as well as securing funding for the tournament, despite lack of sponsorship interest.

Personality of the Year, awarded to someone who has had a memorable year in the local sport industry and who has raised the profile of the industry in a manner that demonstrates innovation, leadership and business acumen, was given to Annelee Murray. Annelee has been involved in rugby for the past 20 years, 19 of which as the PR Manager for the Springboks. She is an integral part of the team, having been with them through 225 test matches, 7 coaches and 15 captains and is often referred to as the hardest working Springbok, which is testament to the passion and dedication with which she approaches her life’s work.

The Sports Person’s Lifetime Community Award, sponsored this year by Tshikululu Social Investments, is presented to an individual with a minimum of 20 years of significant philanthropic contribution to community and sports development. This year this prestigious award was awarded to Morne Du Plessis.

A member of the International Rugby Hall of Fame, Morné is the owner and director of Sports Plan. Among its achievements, is the establishment and management of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa with Tim Noakes, and the Bioenergetics of Exercise Research Unit at the University of Cape Town.

The Sport Industry Group, the organiser of these awards in Johannesburg, is represented in South Africa by Creative Space Media and is a networking organisation that sits at the heart of sport. Through editorial content and constant engagement with the industry, the Sport Industry Group looks to celebrate excellence and stimulate conversation, setting the agenda for the world’s most dynamic industry

Can Johannes Continue SPAR Grand Prix Domination?

The 2019 SPAR Grand Prix Women’s 10km Challenge series has reached its midway point, with Namibia’s Helalia Johannes firmly in the lead after three wins in the first three races. Now, can she make it four from four in the Pretoria leg on 3 August, or will her change of focus open the door to her rivals?

On the 23rd of June 2019, Helalia Johannes (Nedbank Namibia) exceeded expectations when she won the Durban leg of the 2019 SPAR Women’s Challenge series in 30 minutes and 59 seconds, the fastest time ever run by a woman on South African soil. That shattered the course record of 31:18, set by Colleen de Reuck in 2000, and also gave Johannes yet another new Namibian national record, in a year that has seen her post five new national marks across various distances. It also gave her three wins out of three in the SPAR series, after earlier wins in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

Tadu Naru (Nedbank Ethiopia) was second in 32:36 and three times SPAR Grand Prix winner, Irvette van Zyl (Nedbank Central Gauteng) was third, in 32:57. The top three all received 10 Grand Prix bonus points for finishing faster than last year’s winning time of 33:07.

Johannes now has 90 points, Naru has 86, and Van Zyl, for whom this year’s Durban leg was her first podium finish this year, has 78. They have opened up a big gap between themselves and the chasing pack, with 2017 Grand Prix winner Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts Free State), who finished seventh in Durban, currently in fourth place on the log with 67 points.

After the Durban race, Van Zyl made it clear that her priority had been earning bonus points. “I knew I couldn’t keep up with Helalia, but I was running for bonus points,” she said. “As long as you earn bonus points, you can keep in touch with the top runners. If one of them doesn’t run all six races, you are right up there with them.”

Grand Prix coordinator Ian Laxton agrees that bonus points could decide the outcome of the Grand Prix title. “Anyone who doesn’t run all six races will battle to win. The top three are so close that if one drops out, another is lying in wait for her,” he said.

Johannes, who is the reigning Commonwealth Games marathon champion, said after the Durban race that she would be turning her attention to training for the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar on 27 September. “I have been concentrating on shorter distances this year, but I will be doing more long-distance training from now on,” she said. “I don’t know how that will affect me if I run in Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg in the SPAR series.”

Van Zyl said the presence of international runners like Johannes and Naru was doing much for road running in South Africa. “They are forcing us all to run faster,” she said. “But it will be interesting to see what happens in the altitude races, in Pretoria and Johannesburg. And we are all really going to struggle to get bonus points next year!”

The Durban race was one of four in which juniors can earn points in their own category. Naru, who is 18, has an 11-point lead, with 20 points from the two races so far. In the 40-49 category, Bulelwa Simae (Boxer WP) leads the category with 14 points from three races, with Janene Carey (Boxer KZN) in second position on 10 points. The leader in the 50-59 category is former Comrades Marathon gold medallist Grace de Oliveira (Murray & Roberts KZN), with 11 points. Olga Howard (Nedbank WP) leads the 60+ category with 23 points.

In the club competition, Nedbank is firmly in the lead with 424 points, followed by Maxed Elite Zimbabwe with 138. Boxer is in third place with 132 points.

SPAR Women's Challenge Celebrates 30 Years in Durban

SPAR Women’s Challenge Celebrates 30 Years in Durban

The oldest race in the SPAR Women’s Challenge series, the Durban race, turns 30 this year, and the organisers predict a fast and exciting race as part of the celebrations on Sunday 23 June.

The Durban Challenge takes place two weeks after South Africa’s most famous race, the Comrades Marathon, and many of the women who did well in the Comrades Marathon cut their road-running teeth on SPAR Challenge races. Gold medallists Jenna Challenor and Charne Bosman are both former SPAR Challenge winners, while Comrades winner Gerda Steyn finished second in the Joburg race last year, after entering as part of her training for marathons.

There will once again be a very strong field for Sunday’s race at King’s Park. Namibian Helalia Johannes (Nedbank), who already won the Port Elizabeth and Cape Town races this year, both in record time, will be attempting to make it three in a row. Meanwhile, the talented Ethiopian junior Tadu Nare (Nedbank), who finished second in Port Elizabeth and third in Cape Town, will also be running on Sunday.

Among the top South Africans competing are 2017 Grand Prix winner Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts) and three-times Grand Prix winner Irvette van Zyl (Nedbank). Last year’s podium finishers, Betha Chikanga (Maxed Elite), Glenrose Xaba (Boxer) and Nolene Conrad (Murray & Roberts) are also expected to compete on Sunday.

The elite runners are expected to put up fast times. In Cape Town, the first 11 were all under the 2018 winning time, while the first seven in Port Elizabeth beat the previous year’s winning time. This trend is expected to continue in Durban.

“Durban is traditionally the fastest race of the series,” said SPAR Grand Prix coordinator Ian Laxton. “It depends on the weather, of course, but I expect a lot of runners to earn bonus points for finishing in less than last year’s winning time.” Laxton adds that he also expects top South African runners such as Molotsane and Van Zyl to make a strong push to get on the podium.

IMAGES: Reg Caldecott

Most Memorable Comrades

Most Memorable Comrades

The 2019 Comrades Marathon will be remembered for many reasons, but the two standout performances of the year were undoubtedly those of men’s winner Edward Mothibi and women’s winner Gerda Steyn. – BY SEAN FALCONER

Winning the Comrades Marathon is considered the pinnacle of achievement in South African road running, and adding that title to your name opens the door to fame, media attention, sponsorships, endorsements and more. However, the way that Edward Mothibi and Gerda Steyn won the Comrades titles in 2019 went a step further, and their performances in the Up Run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg will long live in the memory.

After an eventful men’s race that featured several changes of the lead and then an exciting breakaway group of five contenders, it eventually came down to Mothibi, who finished fourth last year in his debut Comrades, going head-to-head with three-time winner and double defending champ Bongmusa Mthembu as they hit the final ‘Big Five’ climb on Polly Shortts. With most people following the race expecting Mthembu to once again use his strength on the hills to pull clear, it looked like things would go according to script as he opened a small gap on the challenger, but instead it was Mothibi who threw in a surge of his own and made the decisive move on the notoriously steep hill.

The old adage once again proved true, that the first runner to crest the top of Polly’s with 8km to go will go on to win the race. By the top, Mothibi had pulled 20 seconds clear of Mthembu, and he then powered his way to the finish at the Scottsville Race Track in Pietermaritzburg to claim the win in 5:31:33. Mthembu finished 25 seconds adrift in 5:31:58, with World 100km record holder Nao Kazami of Japan taking third in 5:39:16 in his debut Comrades.

After the race, Mothibi said that he had dug deep into his reserves of strength to overcome Mthembu up Polly’s, but that he had actually surprised himself by winning: “I didn’t plan to win; I just wanted a gold medal! I gave it all. I just pushed harder.” For his part, a gracious Mthembu conceded that the better man on the day won, and he added, “I could see Edward had a plan… everything I did he could respond to.”

Other notable finishers in the men’s race included Justin Chesire coming home sixth to become the first Kenyan to win a Comrades gold medal, and Zimbabwean Marko Mambo finishing eighth and first veteran. Also, in a heartbreaking finale, Nkosikhona Mhlakwana made a late surge to overtake Gordon Lesetedi and Siya Mqambeli to go into ninth position with just a hundred metres to go, only to stumble and falter, then watch helplessly as the last gold medal eluded him. Further back in the field, 1995 winner Shaun Meiklejohn finished his 30th Comrades in 6:56:16, while the two leading Comrades medallists of all time, Barry Holland and Louis Massyn, achieved their 47th consecutive medals in 10:29:42 and 11:51:52 respectively.

Majestic Gerda
The early leader in the women’s race was 2017 Down Run winner Ann Ashworth, who was on pace to run a 6:03 and smash Elena Nurgalieva’s Up Run record of 6:09:24, but it was Gerda Steyn who took control of the race just before the 30km mark, then flew up Botha’s Hill and further extending her lead to just under two minutes over Ashworth by the halfway mark in Drummond. For the rest of the race she serenely extended her lead, never looking troubled, and reached the finish in an incredible 5:58:53, smiling, waving and even doing a jig on the line.

Steyn had won the Two Oceans Marathon for a second time just seven weeks before the Comrades, where she missed Frith van der Merwe’s course record by just 53 seconds after deciding not to push too hard and thus save her legs for the Comrades. It didn’t look like the 56km Cape ultra had any adverse effect on her Comrades performance, however, as she became the first woman ever to complete the Up Run in less than six hours. Reminiscent of Van der Merwe’s incredible winning run in 1991, when she finished 15th overall in the Comrades field, Steyn came home 17th overall, winning by a margin of nearly 19 minutes over second-placed Alexandra Morozova of Russia (6:17:40), who was also second in 2017 and third last year. Third place went to debutant Caitriona Jennings of Ireland in 6:24:12, with Ashworth taking fourth in 6:27:15.

Steyn’s performance earned her a cool R1.2 million in prize money – R500,000 for first place, and incentives of R500,000 for a new course record and R200,000 as first South African finisher. Her winning time is the fourth-fastest ever run by a woman in the Comrades (although the three faster times were all on the Down Run), and she is just the fourth woman ever to win the Two Oceans and Comrades in the same year, after Van der Merwe (1989), Elena Nurgalieva (2004 and 2012) and Caroline Wöstmann (2015). After the race, Steyn said, “It is a dream come true! Many years of hard work came together today. It’s a real blessing… it’s the biggest achievement I can ask for.”

New, improved routes designed by local cyclists for this year’s Knysna Cycle Tour

New, improved routes designed by local cyclists for this year’s Knysna Cycle Tour

This year the organisers of the Knysna Cycle Tour have announced new, improved routes for their biggest events, the 104km road race as well as the 30 and 50km Mountain Bike races.

Route Manager Andrew Finn said that there is an exciting new route for the longer road race, which is now a 104 km ride. Says Finn: “The route will take riders on a thrilling, scenic adventure through one of the most picturesque sections of the Garden Route, revealing stunning views of ocean and beach, mountains and pristine forest along the way.

“Leaving and returning to Knysna along the N2, cyclists will experience the Knysna Lagoon then, after the first big climb up Kytersnek they will turn off to Buffalo Bay with all its beautiful views of the sea en route to what is arguably the best beach and surfing spot in the Knysna area. Then, after another stretch along the N2, there will be some great climbs through natural forests and farmlands on the way up to Barrington.

“The most interesting addition to this race is a brief 2,1 km gravel pass along the Seven Passes Road between Barrington and Karatara. From Karatara, it’s fast downhill all the way back to the N2.”

The tour’s MTB routes have been designed and are being maintained by a group of keen local cyclists led by Stuart Lightley, Greg Penrith and David Correia who volunteer their time and promote the beautiful tracks available in Knysna’s backyard at every opportunity.

Lightley explains: “I was asked to contribute to a route redesign for the 30 and 50 km MTB routes and to incorporate more single track, making the routes more fun and technically challenging. The idea with both the mountain and road events is to show off some of the areas where the Knysna locals ride.

“I’ve been riding mountain bikes and exploring the Knysna forests for almost 30 years and know the forest quite well. I enjoy the more technical type of riding, and actively help and encourage others to improve their technical skills. With this in mind, I have built tens of kilometers of single track, mostly in the Concordia Contours Trails area, to the north of Knysna, near Simola. We have selected a number of these trails for the mountain bike events.”

Says Finn: “The end result is that this year, for the first time, our 50 km and 30 km MTB events will take participants along routes created by locals. After the climb up the Simola hill, both routes will use single track sections designed and built by these local track designers and builders which will add a new dimension to both events.

“Our official route managers, Corne Botha and Pat October from Jakhals Events in Oudtshoorn will oversee safety, the marshals, and all signage on these routes amongst other things.”

The MTB races have all had exciting single track added to the first sections of the route, including a lap of the stunning Oakhill School purpose-designed track, the Life of Brian single track link to Narnia Village, the Knysna Montessori single track to the drop-off onto the Salt River farm track, and the iconic SANParks single-track Petrus Se Brand through to Harkerville.

Once back at the finish on the Knysna High School sports field there’ll be plenty of entertainment for the whole family and time for cyclists to relax with food from local food stalls, listen to some music and enjoy a beer or two.

Online entries for the Knysna Cycle Tour races close on 14 June. For more information and to enter go to the website:

Murray & Roberts Club Launches with Comrades Champ Signing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Carma, There is Nothing Slow about It

Are you tired all the time? Stressed Out in your daily life? Most South Africans have a magnesium deficiency within their diet and experience these symptoms on a daily basis. Slow Carma is a Magnesium compound, that together with L-Carnitine combats this deficiency, strengthens your metabolic system and helps the body to produce energy naturally.

What is L-Carnitine?

L-Carnitine is a naturally occurring amino acid derivative that’s often taken as a weight loss supplement. It plays a few crucial roles in our bodies that include assisting in the production of energy! It does this by transporting fatty acids into your cells mitochondria, this inhibits the build-up of lactic acid in your body – one of the primary causes of fatigue. L-Carnitine has also been shown to support the heart and cardiovascular system.

Taking just two capsules of Slow Carma daily will help introduce L-Carnitine into your system and where before you felt fatigued you will now have the energy you need to take on the day!

Why do I Need Magnesium?

Magnesium is a vital nutrient for your body, it is involved in many important physiological processes that occur when you exercise. Adding magnesium to your diet assists your body with the production of Energy through Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), considered by biologists to be the energy currency of life. It is the high-energy molecule that stores the energy we need to do just about anything and is especially necessary when you are going for that PB in a race. Magnesium also helps the body manage muscle contraction and muscle relaxation – important for those that suffer with cramping while exercising, but most importantly it keeps your body’s cells healthy!

Leading an active lifestyle means that there are numerous benefits to include Magnesium as a daily supplement in your diet, as it can improve your athletic training, your performance, and aid recovery. Studies have shown those with higher Magnesium levels showed better muscle integrity and function, grip strength, lower leg muscle power, knee extension torque and ankle extension strength. All vital for a runner!

Professional Athletes Agree!

As featured in the July edition of Modern Athlete, track, road and cross country star Thabang Mosiako believes that using Magnesium Café supplements after suffering severe head injuries in a brutal attack, was a tremendous contributing factor to his quick recovery and return to competition.

“Benita tracked me down after the attack and told me to try the product, that I will see the results. Everyone thought I would only be running again next year, or at least after six months of recovery, but I went to African Champs. What really helped me recover was the magnesium products, and I can’t thank Benita and Magnesium Café enough. It took away the headaches, and gave me the energy and focus I needed in training. The terrible headaches I was getting are not so bad now, and I plan to keep using the product, because it saved my career!”

Having earned IAAF Gold Label status after a brilliant run at the World Half Marathon Champs earlier this year in Spain, Nolene Conrad added magnesium to her current supplement regime and immediately noticed the difference.

“As I have been struggling with a magnesium deficiency, I started using Slow Carma as an additional supplement to my usual recovery drink. Magnesium is crucial for performance, energy and recovery, and I have seen the results after using this product on a daily basis. What is great is that it’s a combination of magnesium and L-carnitine to enhance the repairing of damaged muscles, relieve muscle soreness and give you more energy.”

The Perfect Partner for Comrades Marathon

Wiseman Sibaya, has attempted four and completed two Comrades Marathons, he says taking two Slow Carma before and during the race assisted his body to not cramp, “it’s a long race, and taking two 30 minutes before and two just before half way helped me a lot.” Speaking on the two that he didn’t finish, he realized there was something lacking saying, “it’s not only about running, it’s always what you put in your body to assist you, since using Magnesium it has helped my body to finish the race. After completing the 90km race, I could still walk 1km to my car and drive home, I didn’t limp the next day, and I believe it’s because of the Magnesium.”

Slow Carma is available from their online store Magnesium Café  at a special rate for the month of September.