Arran Brown – from Cape Town Cycle Tour to Comrades
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome back to yet another edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. When I introduce my next guest, you might be wondering, well, hang on a sec, why are we talking to an ex-cyclist on a running podcast. I can tell you, he’s running and running a lot right now.
It seems to be a bit of a trend of ex-professional cyclists taking up the sport of running once they’re finished with their professional cycling career. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Arran Brown onto the podcast. Arran, welcome, nice to chat and it’s strange to chat running to you. I’ve spoken to you about cycling before, but this is the first time about running.
Arran Brown: Yes, it is funny, I’ve spent the last 10 years talking about cycling and how I’m going to perform at the next race in cycling. But now it’s a new challenge and onto running.
BB: Totally different beast though isn’t it?
AB: It’s completely different. I started running in January last year and I can remember, in January last year I ran 3km and I was limping for a week. I soon found out that cycling, your cycling build and your cycling strength is completely different to cycling. I found my ankle joints, my knees and my hips were the ones that were taking strain the most. It’s taken a good year of running to build up that base to actually be able to cope with long distance running.
The switch from cycling to running
BB: Arran, what’s been the attraction and the reason I ask it is, I find a lot of runners, particularly runners who have been running for a long time and not necessarily at the top of their game. But they might be in their 40’s, 50’s, heading towards 60, pick up an injury. They decide maybe running is not for me so they switch to cycling. You don’t often see people making the switch the other way around. What made you decide you want to take up running and not take it up seriously, but you wanted to really give it a good go?
AB: You see, I was cycling for about 10/11 years, eight years as a professional, let’s say all in all a good 15/16 years of cycling. When my cycling career came to an end about four years ago, I completely stopped exercising. I just wanted a complete break from physical sport.
I’d started at primary school level with athletics and right through, from a very young age, I’ve been an athlete. So for a year I put on 15kg, I completely lost touch with sport. Then at the end of that year I stood on a scale and I saw I weighed an extra 15kg and I thought I can’t carry on like this. What’s the next challenge, what am I going to do?
I happened to enter a running race with a friend, it was a 10km race. I really enjoyed it and so I started running and getting fit. A friend of mine, which happens to most people who do the Comrades, but a friend said to me, listen, he’s got a spare entry going, and the Comrades is in 6 months’ time, it’s yours come and do it. I set myself the challenge of doing the Comrades Marathon, which I never really expected to do and that’s how I got into running.
So I think everyone else sort of switches from running to cycling because they pick up niggles in their joints and cycling isn’t an impact sport. So if you’re a bit older and you’ve got running injuries, you can cycle because it’s not very hard on the body. Whereas running I find is a lot harder on the body.
BB: Arran, I’m going to touch on your Comrades experience in a moment, but I find fascinating that a lot of ex-professional cyclists, particularly South African. I can’t speak for the international guys, but particularly here, have made the switch. I think of the likes of Douglas Ryder who is the Team Principle of Dimension Data.
I think of someone like Jock Green who has not just made the switch, he’s running like an absolute machine. I know Malcolm Lange has also done a couple of long ones. I know he’s done the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, the ultra, and now yourself as well.
Comrades plays on the mind of all South Africans
What do you think the attraction is? Is it a case of you guys, obviously Comrades is such a South African institution, just like the Cape Town Cycle Tour is or the 94.7, if you’re a cyclist. Those are the races you want to do. But as South Africans, we all grew up watching Comrades on TV, even if you’re a runner, or not a runner, you knew people who were running. Was it always in the back of your mind that one day maybe I’d like to do that?
AB: For sure. I think as a young person growing up in South Africa there’s two events you watch, you watch the Cape Argus Cycle Tour and you watch the Comrades Marathon. If you’ve done the Cape Argus and that’s my thinking behind it. Is that when you come to the end of your cycling career, it’s kind of like what is the next big?
There’s IronMan that a lot of people are getting into and there’s also the Comrades. But Comrades has been around for many years, 91 years now. Like you say, it’s an institutional event in South Africa. I think it’s a real achievement, I must say.
I’ve done 200km cycling races, but the Comrades for me was, it’s the training for it, you can’t just wake up one day and go run a Comrades Marathon. So there’s a lot of discipline, healthy eating, just to get yourself onto the start line. I think it’s that challenge that attracts people and especially ex-pro cyclists, looking to challenge themselves in a different way. I think that’s really the attraction for the likes of the past pro cyclists that are doing it.
Can you compare Comrades and Cape Town Cycle Tour?
BB: Arran, it’s one thing riding a 200km cycle race and racing one, where you are literally on the limit the whole way. Comrades is very different in the sense, I guess if you’re going for the win or you’re really pushing hard for a time.
But from an intensity level, it’s very different to what you would have been doing on a bike. Compare the experience to finishing a Comrades to perhaps racing a Cape Town Cycle Tour, you mentioned that as an iconic race. Is it possible to compare them, or are they that different that you can’t really?
AB: They’re very different, the approach to them is different. The way I used to approach the Argus, for myself, is that I would always look at a 2-2.5-hour effort. Yes, it’s much more intense, your intensity levels are a lot higher. But the duration is a lot shorter.
Whereas with Comrades, I must say, the mental side of it was a huge thing. Physically you’re pushing your body for nine hours versus 2.5 in the Cape Argus. Let’s say you’re running the Comrades Marathon in 10 hours, as an average, it’s 10 hours of constant exercise.
The mental confidence that you have to have to get through that, that for me was the main thing, was actually getting your head around the fact that when you’ve run 10km. You’ve already been running for an hour and you run past the board that still says 79km to go. That’s really the difference between the two.
BB: I’m sure you’ve had a couple of proper suffer fests on a bicycle, being a sprinter. Having to lug yourself over big mountainous stages to get to the stages that would be in your armoury that you would race for. Comparing the suffer fest that you went through at Comrades to suffer fest you possibly went through in Comrades. Physically, was it harder than you thought it was going to be, was it what you expected it was going to be, or was it easier?
Novice Comrades is unknown endurance waters
AB: The way I approached the Comrades was, I’ve suffered before, I’ve struggled in Europe, I’ve struggled in the Tour of Morocco. I’ve learnt how to block pain out of my mind. From a pain point of view, I could cope with that.
What I actually thought is that when I started the race, I didn’t know what to expect, it was really the unknown. I had never really pushed my body for nine hours, so I really didn’t understand what my body would do after say five hours of physical exertion.
So I ran the first 60km and in fact the first 10km I ran really slowly. As I got into the event I started picking up my pace, picking up my pace. I ran all the way to 60km thinking, what’s the fuss about Comrades? Everybody tells me how hard this race is, I’ve got to 60km, this isn’t hard, this is easy. It’s 60km and I’m feeling good, there’s only 30km to go, what’s the big deal, I’m on for eight hours flat here.
It was a big wake-up call because as soon as I started descending down into Durban, about 28km to go, I started cramping in my left calf. I’ve never cramped before and I had to actually sit on the barrier there and massage this calf muscle and nurture it the whole way to Durban. That last 30km was a whole other world of pain.
BB: From an experience perspective, you mentioned racing in Europe and cycling, not that it’s small by any stretch of the imagination here. But the crowd support and just the vibe amongst the other athletes at a race like Comrades. How would you rate that in comparison to cycling races you’ve done around the globe?
AB: Look, the Comrades is really something special, I’ve done my first one this year and I’m going to be going back every year that I can, if I don’t get an injury. I’ve gone to every single one of my friends, every single one of our clients that we help at Cycle Fit. I’ve said to everyone, if I could get every single South African, or any other human being to run the Comrades.
Comrades is incomparable
I think it’s a memory that sticks in your mind forever. It’s something really special and that sense of achievement when you cross the line is something special. Being able to get from Pietermaritzburg to Durban on your feet, you don’t have any mechanical device helping you get there, is something special. That emotion and that self-belief, it’s like your vision on difficulties in life change. That’s what everyone told me before and it’s very true.
From that sense, I don’t think any cycling race that I did ever really gave me that sense of achievement, even if I won certain races and I was actually racing to win in the cycling. I’m not really racing to win in the running, but that sense of achievement is what made it very different to me.
BB: That’s incredible and that’s saying something about Comrades. Arran, you’ve won some incredible races in your career, you’ve won the Triple Crown here in South Africa, the three big races so to speak. So that says a hell of a lot about Comrades. You’ve answered my next question, I was going to say, are you going back for your back to back, but obviously health willing, that’s the plan?
AB: Definitely. I think the big trick is to try your best not to get injured. I think that’s the trick. Just before this Comrades I did the Pirates time trial on the Tuesday evening and I managed to step into a pothole and sprained my ankle slightly and bruised it. I was almost out of the Comrades and managed to get in. I think the trick is to be able to train all those kilometres and stay injury free for the event. I think that’s the trick, but definitely I’ll be coming back. I think it’s an event I’d like to see myself doing every single year if I can.
BB: I like that. Let’s talk about what you’re still involved in from a cycling perspective because you haven’t walked away from the sport totally. Do you still ride, before we get into Cycle Fit and what you’re up to there? Do you still go for the odd pedal?
Still well involved in cycling
AB: Definitely, I still ride, I have a mountain bike and a road bike, that Merida sponsor me. So I often go on social rides. I’m also involved with Reach for a Dream, Nedbank and Reach for a Dream are a charity organisation. So I’m part of that charity and every year at the 94.7. I take part with this charity and so I’m still very much involved and love cycling. On a daily basis I’m talking cycling and helping cyclists.
BB: Brilliant, let’s talk about what you are doing at Cycle Fit, you guys have started that business from humble beginnings and it’s really grown, it’s doing some great things.
AB: Cycle Fit is a unique business. A lot of people actually specialise in bicycle setup in South Africa. We started the business 11 years ago, or I started it 11 years ago. I’ve got some business partners on board and we’ve got a fantastic team at Cycle Fit. Where we do up to about 7-8 bicycle set-ups per day. We focus on helping riders ride comfortably and injury free and so on a daily basis that’s what I do from 8-5. I’m up and running and ensuring that the business is running at a high standard and that we’re servicing our clients the way we aim to.
BB: Do you find that the running is a bit lower, I don’t want to say lower maintenance, but it’s less schlep, if you know what I’m saying? You can just literally put on a pair of running shoes and head out the door. Whereas cycling there’s a lot more preparation and thought that needs to go into going out for a ride?
AB: For sure, cycling takes a lot of time. So if you’re quite busy, if you’re running a business, I’m also studying at the moment, my MBA through Wits. So if you’re trying to run a business, you’ve got a family with kids, I find that if you are a really busy person.
Running is great because you can go for an hour run and it feels like you’ve done a three-hour cycle. From that perspective, that’s why I actually really like running. Because if you go for an hour run, do 10km, you feel like you’ve done a three-hour cycle. From a time perspective, it’s convenient.
BB: Brilliant. If people want to find out more about Cycle Fit and what you’re up to there, how can they find out more Arran?
AB: We have a website, it’s www.cyclefit.co.za. We have a lot of media videos on our website, people can actually see what we do. We’ve had Daryl Impey come in, so we’ve got a video on him in our studios and the website will be the best way to see what we do.
BB: Awesome stuff, Arran Brown, thank you so much for your time here on Old Mutual Live. Best of luck with the running and we look forward to seeing you complete the Up in the back to back. As most Comrades runners will tell you, two is halfway to ten, you’re sucked in good and proper now.
AB: Thanks Brad, and you too, you’ve done three, so I’ll see you there next year hopefully.
BB: Absolutely. You’ll have to wait for me at the finish cause you’re obviously a lot quicker than I am, so just make sure the beers are cold.
AB: Thanks Brad, it’s been great chatting and all the best, thank you.