WALK THE TALK
by Michelle Carnegie
15 November 2017
When members of the Comrades Marathon Association’s (CMA) Board make important decisions regarding the Comrades Marathon, you can bet they know what they are doing, because many of them know exactly what it feels like to tackle the long stretch of road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
If you’re not sure what exactly members of the CMA’s Board are tasked with, then here goes. In a nutshell their main function is to formulate the strategic policies of the organisation and to ensure the sustainability of The Ultimate Human Race. The Board is also tasked with retaining the ethos and traditions, synonymous with this iconic event, which belongs to the people of South Africa.
Run24 caught up with four CMA Board members who have run the Comrades Marathon. We asked them to share their experiences on this life-changing event.
Q & A
What was your reason for tackling the Comrades Marathon?
Cheryl Winn: It was there, my husband and his friends were doing it, and I thought why not me at a time when few women were running.
Adrian Stowell: I was in my mid 30’s, unfit and slightly overweight. Also, watching it on TV inspired me.
Sello Mokoena: In my time you were seen as a fun runner until you ran the Comrades Marathon. The race represented a right of passage towards acceptance into the running family.
Isaac Ngwenya: I watched it on TV and committed to run it one day. I had a bet with my children so there was no opportunity to bail when they reminded me. At the time I hadn’t even started running and asked them for an extension! I lined up in the year 2000 and have never looked back.
When did you run your first race and what was your finishing time?
Cheryl Winn: 1978 - 9:19.
Adrian Stowell: 1986 – 10:19.
Sello Mokoena: In 1985 while finishing school, in between writing my Matric exams. I don't even remember my finishing time, that was not important. It was finishing and the bronze medal hanging around my neck that mattered.
Isaac Ngwenya: 2000 - 10:51.
How many Comrades Marathons have you run?
Cheryl Winn: 6 all together.
Adrian Stowell: 11, with a 20-year gap after the first 5 races while I served on the Comrades Executive Committee and Board of Trustees.
Sello Mokoena: One.
Isaac Ngwenya: I started 18 and finished 18, but only have 17 medals. In 2015 I finished in a time of 12:20. The medals were packed away by the time I finished. Let’s just say it was a hard day in the office.
Best and worst times?
Cheryl Winn: Best - 7:04. Worst - 9:19.
Adrian Stowell: Best - 8:36. Worst - 11:50.
Sello Mokoena: There's no such thing as a bad Comrades Marathon run or time, even a bail out is a phenomenal lifetime experience to be cherished.
Isaac Ngwenya: Best - 9:14:27. Worst - 11:53:40.
What made you go back after the first run?
Cheryl Winn: It was addictive.
Adrian Stowell: Something about Comrades is so special; once you have taken part in Comrades you can’t let go. The allure, mystique and sheer magnitude of the event is spellbinding.
Sello Mokoena: I wanted the experience and I got it. After my 1985 run I discovered that my talents lay in Track & Field and Cross Country, which I pursued relentlessly and still remain competitive in to this day.
Isaac Ngwenya: I got hooked and enjoyed it so much. The benefits were great and I got to keep my body weight in check (from 95kg then to anything between 78-85kg these days.) Comrades is addictive and as long as I enjoy running and have time to train I will run. The only time I will watch from the side is if I’m injured, medically not fit or have no time at all to train.
What was the hardest part of Comrades training for you? And the hardest part on race day?
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Cheryl Winn: When I was running I did not find it at all hard to train – at the time there was nothing in the world I would rather have been doing. On race day, I only ever found it hard in 1983, when I could already feel as early as halfway that the silver medal target was slipping away. From there on it was a matter of just clinging on and fighting for every second to somehow finish in 7:29. It was the only Comrades I did not enjoy at all, and oddly enough also the one I remember most vividly.
Adrian Stowell: For me the hardest part in training is to ensure that I qualify for Comrades by completing the Maritzburg Marathon in under 5 hours, and of course that dreaded last long run about 4 weeks prior to Comrades. The hardest part on the day is the 45-70km stretch when everything is aching.
Sello Mokoena: There's no such thing as difficult or hard when training for something you love and believe in. I always looked forward to those long group and club runs over the weekend, I recall them like it's yesterday and to this day truly miss them.
Isaac Ngwenya: It is very hard to train when your work and travel schedule is hectic. The hardest part of race day is when fatigue sets in and you know that you still have a long way to go.
What was the best part (in training and on race day)?
Cheryl Winn: Best part of training was the joy in being alive, being healthy, being out in the beautiful fresh air and sharing it with friends. Best part of race day was the encouragement of spectators and self-satisfaction of actually putting in a whole year’s endeavor and sacrifice together and doing this thing.
Adrian Stowell: The best part in training is losing weight and feeling healthier and happier. The best part of race day is reaching the 80km mark and knowing that you have enough time to walk to the finish if necessary.
Sello Mokoena: Most definitely the camaraderie, the spirit of sharing and helping each other along the route, both in training and on race day.
Isaac Ngwenya: Just knowing that you have done your best, and that you are lining up with no injuries and feeling good on the day.
What advice do you have for novices wanting to tackle this race?
Cheryl Winn: Preparation, training, focus, preparation, training, focus! Know exactly what you are getting into.
Adrian Stowell: Firstly, arrive at the start early (at least an hour before the start) to avoid traffic jams and to find your starting batch. Secondly, take it easy at the start and don’t run too fast as this will come back to bite you later.
Sello Mokoena: Aim to have fun and hold your horses until the finish venue is in sight, and then have more fun!
Isaac Ngwenya: Take it easy, enjoy the run, listen to your body and run within yourself. Also, be realistic with your set of goals and just do your best on your runs.
Having run this iconic race, does it must make a difference in your interaction with runners and your decisions as members of the Board?
Cheryl Winn: I have and always will put the best interests of runners first. I believe it is the most important thing we as administrators can do.
Adrian Stowell: Having run the race certainly assists me, as a member of the Board to understand the runners needs as well as their feelings and concerns.
Sello Mokoena: We represent the core of the sport and in order to make pertinent decisions, it is vital to know what runners go through to achieve their individual goals through the race.
Isaac Ngwenya: Yes, especially helping others achieve their goals
What has Comrades taught you and did it change your life in any way?
Cheryl Winn: It has taught me self-reliance and profoundly influenced the entire direction of my life.
Adrian Stowell: If you can finish Comrades, you can achieve anything in life. Nothing is impossible.
Sello Mokoena: It made me stop the waywardness of youth and helped me on the straight and narrow, a prerequisite for a responsible adulthood and being a resourceful citizen.
Isaac Ngwenya: Patience and dedication. Take it easy and run within your capability.
What makes the Comrades Marathon such a special race?
Cheryl Winn: Ordinary people doing and sharing an endeavor that is absolutely extraordinary.
Adrian Stowell: The ethos and traditions of Comrades as well as the camaraderie of the race and the help and support of the thousands of participants and spectators along the route.
Sello Mokoena: The Comrades Marathon is not a race, it's a phenomenon, it has its own life and once hooked you'll never be the same again.
Isaac Ngwenya: The camaraderie and achieving the challenge.
Describe the Comrades Marathon in 3 words.
Cheryl Winn: Ultimate human race.
Adrian Stowell: Inspiring. Awesome. Unbelievable
Sello Mokoena: Life changing experience
Isaac Ngwenya: Challenging. Fulfilling. Humbling.
In your opinion who is the best female and male Comrades runners of all times?
Cheryl Winn: Frith van der Merwe and Bruce Fordyce
Adrian Stowell: Frith Van Der Merwe and Bruce Fordyce.
Sello Mokoena: Frith van Der Merve and Hoseah Tjale
Isaac Ngwenya Difficult to say, for females one can only think of Betty Cavanagh who ran during the difficult times with minimal support. As for the men Wally Hayward and Bruce Fordyce come to mind. But then there are the unsung heroes like Sam Tshabalala, Jetman Msuthu, Willie Mtolo not to forget Hosea Tjale.
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