40+ Comrades Marathons & running for Savages
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome back onto another edition of Old Mutual Live, it’s good to have you with us. What a pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast. A green number at Comrades is pretty special, a double green is amazing. But when you start looking at even beyond 30 and only 40, is something I can’t wrap my head around. Joining us now is someone who has a quadruple green number, going for number 42 this year, David Williams joins us. David, welcome onto the show, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today.
David Williams: Thank you for interviewing me, a pleasure.
BB: 42 Comrades, 41 in the bag, you can’t imagine your life without this race can you?
DW: It has become part of my lifestyle and one prepares for the day, it’s not something that you just wake up one morning and decide, I’m going to go and run Comrades just prior to the cut-off date for the entries. It is something that one plans in advance for and makes up one’s mind that yes, I’m going to do it. I’m going to make the effort in terms of the training that is required.
Committed to my Comrades journey from the start
BB: David, 42nd Comrades this year, the first one was a long time ago, can you still remember it? That first one is always very special.
DW: Yes, I do remember it, it was in 1973. It basically came about as a consequence of joining a number of colleagues at work who were Comrades runners and encouraging me to participate. Basically the understanding of what was required had been communicated via my colleagues at work. We said we would try and do it as a group. Also that I had just come out of serving my military service, so I was relatively fit. We then just got straight into training and enjoyed the experience.
BB: David, most runners will probably agree with me here, keeping motivation up year after year is pretty tough. Particularly once you get into, around five or six, it is very difficult. Knowing that your 10 is so close, people’s motivation does wain. How have you kept yourself going and coming back year after year?
DW: It revolves around commitment and compromise, obviously family time is also important. The fortunate situation I find myself in is that I live in Durban North. We have a unique group of runners, it’s a non-entity, it’s known as Region Carriers. We meet every day of the week, at a different venue and do our training as a group.
The uniqueness of Region Carriers, it’s not a club, it’s a group of runners from various clubs who meet at a specific time. A specific place and we do the training. If you find that you are absent for some reason, you may have one of the participants saying to you; I don’t remember signing a sick leave or a leave form, so where were you the day before.
You have this commitment and also I think one builds up a relationship with other runners. We do tend to help each other through. The motivation I would say, is going for the initial green number. Then finding, age was on my side, that I could possibly just continue.
So it has been a kind of ambition to get to 40, in that my runs were going relatively well. Relatively easily without over-extending myself. In other words, creating a balance in my life which was leading to a healthy lifestyle and enjoyment while running.
We hear about people talking business while they’re playing golf, the same happens while you’re running. You link up with such a variety of different people. You’re able to have discussions and bearing in mind, there’s also the races that happen almost every weekend prior to Comrades.
It’s quite enjoyable getting out there and participating in the different races, which take you to different parts of your province. Different routes, which gives you that variety and addresses what could be boring if you continue just to run this route week in and week out.
Number 40 was very special, when it came
BB: You mentioned your first one and how you remember that one, but number 40 must have been pretty special too? Getting your quadruple green number, you become part of quite an elite club.
DW: It was very special and it was a very interesting year. It was 2013, Alan Robb, David Louw and I were all going for 40, which is in itself something that hasn’t happened before on Comrades. Unfortunately, I failed on my 40th, I did not make the cut-off. I was probably 2km out when I realised that was it, 5:30 had come and gone.
But also recalling that it was an Up run and it was the year where the weather conditions were so adverse. In terms of extremely strong berg winds, with high temperatures, which resulted in the highest fall-out race of Comrades and it happened to be that year.
Interestingly enough, Alan Robb also had a bad run, I phoned him after the race and we compared notes and he said it was his worst ever. He reached a point where he actually sat down on the side of the road and said he couldn’t go any further and that was before Polly Shortts. Guys assisted him and he made it through. He had plenty of time at that point. David Louw also didn’t have a good run. He indicated he was cramping, something that he hadn’t really experienced to the same extent with his previous runs.
Unfortunately, I wrote that off to a character building exercise and so had to come back again in 2014, which was a Down run. I prefer the Down run and it was well in time-wise on that occasion. Sport is sent to test us. Just when you think you’ve got it all sewn up, and I’d not failed at any other race prior to the 40th, that it goes and happens on that day. That’s why I call it a character building exercise.
BB: David, I have to chuckle. You talk about Alan Robb in that particular race because I ran that year as well. I don’t think you realise how tough it was while you were out there. But when I got to the top of Polly Shortts, they’ve got that big screen on the top of the hill and they had the TV commentary going and the pictures were on Alan Robb actually coming in to finish.
I think he did about a 10:30 or a 10:40 that year. I thought to myself, gee, if Alan Robb ran a 10:30, I feel like I’m winning this race because I must be having a good day. It made me feel a lot better, seeing him coming in there, just under the bronze cut-off, but fantastic indeed.
David, you mentioned your running group and just how important that’s been in your running career and keeping that motivation up. But you run for a club that’s got quite a strong Comrades history as well, Savages. They’ve been around for a long time and it’s one of the iconic clubs down there in KZN that produces lots of Comrades runners’ year after year.
The legend of Savages Athletics Club
DW: Yes, Savages was formed in 1960 by Kenny Craig as one of the founder members. Kenny was a soccer player and so were his friends. They decided that they would like to run Comrades, but also felt that there was a need to form a club. Basically that is how Savages was started.
It was just those group of guys who decided that, let’s do this and at the same time, form a club. Kenny will tell you the story how difficult it was to get the club registered through the Controlling Association. Because there was a limit on the number of clubs that they would commit to be formed within the province. In those early days, the Savages was very strong with membership, but now we’re down to 200 members.
There has been a proliferation of clubs which basically dilutes the number of runners that can join a club. There’s only so many runners and with the many clubs that have now been formed, we find that the clubs are relatively small in membership.
That does present some problems, when it comes to clubs hosting races because you suddenly find you haven’t necessarily got the manpower to host a race. I’m talking about formal 21km or 42km marathons, which form part of the fixtures in the KZN calendar.
I think the other aspect, you mentioned Comrades legends; Kenny Craig, Clive Crawley, Tilda Tearle, these are still people who are active, living legends. I mean Tilda Tearle is a previous winner and she is going for her 30th Comrades this year.
In terms of how we kind of maintain the tradition, it’s an interesting question. I think there’s a lot to do with reputation and it also is very interesting for Savages Athletics Club in that we had to, we were given notice from our club premises in the Kings Park precinct. We’ve now moved into Morningside Sports Club, which only happened in 2015.
We’re hoping to attract new members from the community and build the club with a younger generation. If one looks at the average age of our club membership, we’re moving towards middle age and old age. That’s not good for the club itself. We do need to get younger members in with new ideas and fresh ways of doing communication and so on.
Great to have former Savage, Colleen De Reuck coming to Comrades
BB: I think, funny you say that, I think that’s a problem that many running clubs are facing in this country and it’ll be interesting to see how that problem is tackled. David, one last thing, you mentioned some of those living legends and the big names. You’ve run a bit with Colleen De Reuck as well in your running career, nice to see her coming back and running her first Comrades this year.
DW: Yes, I do remember Colleen De Reuck quite clearly, but she was way faster than me –
BB: Than most of us!
DW: Yes, it is good to see that she’s coming home. Also to note that Tilda Tearle has been keeping in contact with her, which is good. I just looked up the results of the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. I see Colleen was the fifth lady overall, in a time of 3:53 and first in her age category. She’s obviously up to doing a good Comrades, it’s a little bit different, but she’s got the pedigree.
BB: She definitely does and she also, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but she also won her age group at the Ironman World Championships last year. She’s definitely racing hard, so it’s good to see. David, best of luck to you in 2016, I hope you have an amazing day out, we look forward to seeing you down there. Finally, I know you probably hate being asked this question, how many more do you think you’ve still got in you?
DW: Brad, I think physically I’m still reasonably good, I’m not completely in showroom condition. Age is beginning to show a bit of fair wear and tear symptoms, but time is going to gong me out. My challenge is always to make it within the cut-off time and thank goodness they extended it by one hour. Because I’ve made use of that additional hour regularly in the past!
BB: David, it’s been awesome catching up, best of luck and who knows, maybe there’s 50 on the cards. We look forward to following your progress, thank you very much for your time today.
DW: Thank you Brad, thanks, bye.