93′ champ Tilda Tearle – going for number 30!
04 November 2016
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Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, it’s great to have you with us, I’m Brad Brown. What a pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast, she is an absolute legend in South African running and particularly in Comrades Marathon circles. She’s a former Comrades Marathon winner and going to be going for number 30, triple green number on the cards in 2016. Tilda Tearle, thank you so much for joining us today, welcome.
Tilda Tearle: Thanks, it’s a pleasure.
BB: Tilda, 30 Comrades, you were telling me just before we started, you’ve actually lined up for 30 before, you’ve missed one, but this is the triple green number. Comrades is a huge part of your life and has been for a long time.
Time to take my Comrades pension
TT: It’s not just Comrades, running’s been a huge part of my life. I said after my 30th Comrades this year, I’m going to take Comrades pension, but still be a runner and run at least two marathons a year. Then hopefully, I hope to run one in 2020 as a 60-year-old. Then in 2025 it’s the 100th running and I’ll see how I am and maybe I’ll be at the start line again.
BB: I love that. Tilda, I was going to say, everyone who is listening to this, where you say you’re going to become a Comrades pensioner, you’ve run 30 and that’s it. Everyone is going, yeah, we’ve heard that before and I’m sure you’ve heard that before as well. Do you really think you can stay away?
TT: This will be a definite because I run lots of races during the year. I run almost every day of my life, I take a Monday off. I’ll still carry on doing that cause it’s such a big part of my life. But I’m sure that I’ll miss Comrades, the actual day, but I’ll still be running with all my friends and keeping up to date with training.
But I think the time comes when you just have to call it a day, you reach your sell by date, it becomes a bit harder. Also my mother will have a heart attack because I’ve given the whole family so many heart attacks during the years that I’ve run it. I promised them that this year will be the last time.
BB: That is fantastic.
TT: My husband has been very supportive as well.
BB: I’m sure.
TT: He’s a runner himself, but I said to him, I promise you, after this year, I won’t go to Comrades again, except when I’m 60.
BB: I think it’s fantastic. Tilda, you’ve seen, I don’t want to say seen it all at Comrades, but you started running…
TT: I have, the good, the bad and the ugly.
What keeps bringing people back?
BB: The early 80’s when the boom really started and the Bruce Fordyce era, so you’ve run right through that and seen how the race has evolved and changed. Obviously there’s lots of tradition still with the race. What is it for you that keeps you coming back to a race like Comrades?
TT: I think if you live in Natal, it’s just something you’ve got to do. For me it’s been the camaraderie of the training and lots of my friends run Comrades and it’s something to aim for. It’s a jolly good leveller as well. I’ve seen people with big mouths before Comrades, especially novices, that are reasonable runners.
Then they really get levelled out on Comrades day because it’s not an easy thing. You always have to have respect for Comrades. You can’t have a big mouth before Comrades because you just don’t know what’s going to happen on the day. You’ve got to train and you’ve got to show respect for Comrades.
BB: Tilda, someone who has won it, you’re obviously very competitive, I’m not sure if you still are, that’s actually what I wanted to ask. Are you still chasing? I chatted to Shaun Meiklejohn not so long ago and he obviously still loves racing within the age group. Are you still competitive or do you just run cause you love it?
TT: I just run because I love it. There’s a few people that if I see them in front of me, I give chase, but I’m not really competitive. For me now it’s a case of finishing. I mean before, many years ago, it was, if I ran a marathon, I would want to run a sub three, that was the aim.
Now it’s just going for a sub five. I’m not competitive at all anymore, and I don’t really race. I think that’s how I’ve managed to run for so many years, that I ran really hard, probably for about 12-13 years. Then from then on I have just run within myself and never, let’s say, put my body on the line.
Winning Comrades in 1993
BB: Tilda, let’s talk briefly about that win back in the early 90’s, in 1993. It was a fantastic race and there have been a couple of wonderful ladies’ races. I think particularly the one in ’89 with Frith van der Merwe that was just incredible. But 1993 was a special one for you in particular because it was one that you won. It was the last of the old style Comrades women races.
It was something you dreamt of for a long time and had worked long and hard to achieve. You had had many top ten finishes, you had come close on a number of occasions and you finally managed to. I don’t want to say get the monkey off your back, but you managed to pick up that win. It must have been an incredible feeling.
TT: It was, but I’d actually come third behind Frith in ’91 and then the following year I came second. So there was nowhere else to go except win it. I’d actually gone 4, 3, 2, 1, so I trained hard. I wasn’t injured and I wanted to run a sub 7. The year that I won, I was the only female that managed to break 7 hours on that year.
Berna Daly gave me a good run for my money on the day and I didn’t really know who she was. Then suddenly this lady appeared and was racing next to me and she was in front of me, right up until Cowies Hill. Because I hadn’t raced down Fields Hill, I had lots of energy left and passed her up Cowies. She actually came third, I think she just ran herself into the ground and then Ray Bischoff was second.
BB: That’s right.
TT: It was a very good feeling to win, and I had, in Kloof I still remember my sister was sitting there in the gutter with my niece. At that stage I was coming second and she said to me: just go and catch that cow. I thought to myself, going through my mind at that stage was, oh, I’m so tired, maybe a second will be alright. Then after she said that I thought, no, just pull yourself together and run, so that was a little bit of motivation.
husband was also running that Comrades and he was still in Kloof when I finished, so those years people used to put TV’s on the side of the road. So he stopped in Kloof and watched me win and then carried on his own race, so that was quite a story.
Great to see South African woman on the rise
BB: That’s amazing, I love that, that is fantastic. Let’s talk about women’s running in general and particularly the last year and a bit. If you look at it from Old Mutual Two Oceans last year with Caroline Wostmann and the way she won. Just her story, I almost get the sense that we’re having this revival of women’s running in South Africa. I don’t want to say it died for a while but I think we did lose interest with a lot of the international competitors winning. But it’s great to have South African winners once again.
TT: It is nice and I think that maybe the women were a bit intimidated by the Russians. You think oh, the Russians are coming, there’s no chance for me. But now it’s been proven that the women are strong enough to win Comrades again.
Last year was first and second and I mean Two Oceans, there weren’t any Russians there, but the women still ran pretty well. I think that Caroline is probably going to be another Frith for a couple of years, I predict that she’ll probably win Comrades and run well for a good few years, that’s what I think.
BB: I just love her story and what she’s doing. I mean not that she was an average runner, she obviously had the ability. But she’s a mom, she’s a wife and just like everyone, she worked. It’s just amazing to see how she’s embraced the change and has realised that she’s got this unbelievable talent and potential and is realising it. I think it gives the rest of us hope, not that we can one day win a Comrades, but if we set our minds to something, we can achieve it.
TT: I think Comrades is, unless you’re a cripple or really overweight, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to run Comrades with the proper training. A lot of people, I mean my running story is that I wanted to run Comrades, that’s why I started running, or else I probably wouldn’t have started running. But I wanted to do Comrades.
31st of May 1983 I went for my first run and exactly a year later I ran Comrades. My start was a little 3km run in white takkies around the block. My husband still said to me, you can’t go because people are going to laugh at you because it’s Comrades day.
I said it doesn’t matter, let’s just go. I dragged him with me and we did a little 3km run around the block, on Comrades day. From then on I just ran more and more and obviously got to Comrades the following year.
Running Comrades as a novice
BB: How did that first one go, can you still remember it quite clearly Tilda?
TT: I think everybody will remember their first one. I did, I think an 8:49, which was quite good, a reasonable time, of course they didn’t have Bill Rowan’s in those days. I seemed to have always missed out on the back to back, the Bill Rowan, the money, the whole lot. But I suppose I was running for love and not for all those things.
The first one, I actually grew up in Maritzburg and went that night, the night before Comrades to spend it in Maritzburg and my husband was going to drive. I’ve got two younger sisters and their boyfriends were also running Comrades that same year, in 1984. So I had the husbands and the two sisters in the car and I went an hour before the time to sit in the gutter because there was no seeding then, it was nought degrees, to sit near the start of Comrades and wait to go.
I remember that distinctly and I said to them, when you see me along the route, I want Fanta Grape and a Chelsea bun. They found me and my sister stood there with her Chelsea bun and her Fanta Grape and as I came past I said: Sorry, I don’t want it, I’ll see you in Durban.
We didn’t’ make proper arrangements for the finish, so I was lost and the two boyfriends were lost, so it was a bit of drama. Then people don’t warn you how sore you actually are after that Down run. I thought that I might never run again, that’s how sore my legs were. They say to you you’ll be sore, but they don’t tell you how sore.
BB: I think that’s what a lot of novices have got in store in 2016. You also mentioned something in that year that you won Tilda and I think it’s vital advice and if someone is a novice or if this is their first down run they need to hear.
Some sound Comrades Down run advice
You mentioned that you did not race Down Fields Hill and that’s something I think a lot of people need to hear. Even if you’re not going for the win, it’s important to hold back down both those hills, down Fields Hill and make sure you’ve got something for the last 20.
TT: You’ve got to hold back down those hills because you can race down them. When you get into Pinetown, you don’t have legs anymore, it feels like they’ve been chopped off at the knees. I think many a race has been lost by racing down Fields Hill.
BB: I think that’s some wise words, particularly for the novices in 2016. Tilda, it’s been a little slice of heaven catching up with you. I grew up, just so you know, my dad’s done 11 Comrades. I think he did his first one probably around the same time as your first one, about 1983. So I grew up going to Comrades every single year and was given the curse that because my dad had run it, I grew up wanting to run it.
Given the opportunity, I’ve now done a few myself. One of my fondest memories is obviously seeing you run. My mom was a huge fan of yours and she loved the ponytails and the pigtails and the smile that you used to run with. So that’s one of my enduring memories of Comrades as a kid.
TT: Oh good. I said the ponytails are still there, but they’re just a bit shorter.
BB: Tilda, before I let you go, let’s touch on that, you always look in immaculate condition in a Comrades, you look manicured, how do you manage that? The rest of us look absolutely shattered and broken and you look as fresh as a daisy.
TT: I said that the women in general look better than the men, maybe I look good on the outside. But maybe you don’t know what’s going on on the inside.
BB: I love that, Tilda Tearle, thank you so much for your time today, much appreciated. Best of luck for Comrades 2016 and your triple green number, we look forward to catching up with you down in Durban.
TT: Thanks very much.