East London running wouldn’t be the same without Bob Norris
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I just love chatting running with all sorts of characters and someone who has been around the sport for a long time is Bob Norris. He joins us now all the way from the Eastern Cape. Bob, welcome onto the show, thank you for taking the time to chat to us once again.
Bob Norris: Thank you Brad, it’s great to be with you.
BB: Bob, I love shooting the breeze with runners, and particularly experienced runners, you’re one of them. You’ve done lots, you’ve run lots, and you’ve got some great stories to share as well. But you’re also involved in giving lots back, which I love. You’re very involved in Park Runs, particularly in the Eastern Cape. You and Bruce Fordyce have got a very special relationship, tell me a little bit about what’s going on on the Park Run front in the Eastern Cape.
Eastern Cape Park Run explosion
BN: Yes, Park Run Eastern Cape has been phenomenal. When Bruce first contacted me, he said you’re going to do Eastern Cape Park Run, I didn’t know what he was talking about, first of all. Second of all, I said, no, I don’t do anything running anymore.
He said it’s very different and it has been very different and it’s been superb. SWo it’s grown, we’ve got 11 going currently and we’ve got about four more in the pipeline. For the Eastern Cape, over nearly 36 000 registered Park Runners and just 18 000 in little old East London is quite phenomenal.
BB: Bob, Park Run has really changed the landscape of running in South Africa. I don’t want to say it got stale, but it was always the same-old, same-old. I’m not knocking it, don’t get me wrong, I think the running club system has been great for the sport.
But Park Run has really just given it a new burst of energy and it’s a breath of fresh air. If you look at who is running Park Runs, yes, they are the seasoned runners, but it’s such a great way to get introduced to the sport. There’s a very low barrier to entry. I mean there’s no barrier to entry, all you need is a pair of shoes and that’s it. It’s non-intimidating, it’s really easy to get involved.
BN: It is, it’s the most fantastic thing and the stories that are coming out of Park Run, worldwide, South Africa, especially for us, it’s quite phenomenal. Because people, they’ve come off the couches, they’re now doing major trail runs and all kinds of things. It’s going through, just starting off at Park Run.
How Park Run sucks you in
We’ve got one guy here, his wife brought him along to the very first Park Run, he’d never even been to watch a run, let alone do a run. She walked with him and then she said, okay, now you’re on your own. Well, he’s now done more Park Runs than she’s done. He’s doing trail runs every other weekend, he entered the Two Oceans half marathon and completed that quite comfortably. He’s lost I don’t know how many kilograms or stone, if you want to speak in English terms. That’s one very good story and there are lots more of those.
I can remember one guy standing, his wife was coming along, he used to come along and just watch and he said to me, oh, I’ll never do this. I said, that’s fine, it’s great you come and support your wife. Then he came to me and said, okay, I’ll be your trail runner for you, I’ll walk and bring the people in. I said, fantastic.
He got to number eight of those and he said to me, no Bob, I’m only going to do ten of these. I said, well thank you, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for us. He said, because I’m going to go and try and walk and see how fast I can go now. He’s now done 150-160 Park Runs.
BB: You suck them in for life Bob!
BN: That’s actually what happens. Just getting back to your point, I think the one thing that’s disappointing is that the clubs don’t take it seriously enough. They should be out there every Saturday looking for talent because there is talent out there and we definitely need talent. There’s not enough development stuff going on.
Clubs can help runners progress from Park Run
BB: Bob, is it just the talent or is it the step up? Obviously a Park Run is 5km and I mean for a lot of people, that’s all they want to do. But people then start thinking, hey, if I can do 5km, I can do 10km. If I can do 10km, I can do 21km and it’s up to the clubs to help those people make the step up. They might not win a race, but there’s lots of experience within those clubs to sort of guide people to their first 10km and their first half marathon.
BN: Absolutely, that’s what clubs need to do. Some do, not all of them, but some of them do. I mean there was one, she’s one of the run directors at one of our Park Runs at the moment. She’s never going to win a race, believe me, but she went and did the Border 10km Championships on Saturday morning, which started at 6:30. She managed to finish it on just an hour, she rushed off to do the Park Run.
BB: The enthusiasm is incredible, I love that, but you guys are also involved with Born 2 Run Athletics Club as well. You talk about that talent identification. You’ve got some fantastic runners that you’ve found through that project and that process and that’s going great guns too.
East London area is a hotbed of talent
BN: Born 2 Run has also been fantastic. I’ve been involved in clubs, I started two clubs previously and then Born 2 Run was starting. I contacted Dave and Ann and said, I see you haven’t got East London on the map. I don’t want to get involved, but let me just tell you, this area, the border area, all those sort of guys have come out of here. All of these guys came from this region, you don’t want to just squash it aside.
Then of course they started talking to me and my arm got twisted and we did get involved. We’ve got a very nice situation because it’s, people just put their hands up to do things. Down here we actually don’t have a Chairman and Club Captains and secretaries and treasurers. People that are going to put it on their CV for the next 25 years.
We’ve got a lot of folk who put their hands up and say, ja, I’ll do this and I’ll do that. The running has just grown. Funny enough, especially on the women’s side, which I’m not complaining about, but we’ve had some fantastic results. We’ve got one or two really good men coming through and a couple of good juniors coming through. They came through at the Border 10km Champs on Saturday morning.
Creating a comfortable growth environment
So it’s been quite a relaxed atmosphere, it’s serious but it’s not too serious, again, it came out of the Park Run thing because a lot of the Park runners wanted to kick on. But they feared they’d be intimidated by some of the establishment clubs. So we sort of created that atmosphere and it’s worked.
BB: I love the fact of just getting people to do what they’re comfortable doing and guiding them along the way. Some people are ready to go right now and some aren’t. But those that aren’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re never going to come along and want to race. It could be a year or two.
If you put people in the right environment where they’re allowed to grow at their own pace, it just allows them to do that. They feel comfortable and when they’re ready, they’ll put their hand up and they’ll do what they need to do.
BN: Absolutely, there’s absolutely no doubt about it. If you give them space. I mean we had some folk coming through, in fact quite seasoned runners who came across and eventually joined us. They’ve never been given that opportunity to become involved, as it were, in the other clubs.
Too often what happens, people cling onto positions and they say, well, but no young people are coming through. It’s not that no young people are coming through, it’s that you’re not giving them an opening to come through.
They say, you can go marshal on the street corner, but you can’t be the Club Captain or something. I’m not saying that of all clubs, that’s not true of all clubs at all. But a lot of people do moan and groan that there are no youngsters.
If you have a look at Born 2 Run here locally, anyway, it’s young. We’ve got a couple of oldies, I can talk about, like me. But there are a lot of young people coming through and that’s why I say, I joke with one of our members on Friday. I always say to her, when we go along to the club training, the average age goes up by 10 years!
Running numbers are great, top performers remain low
BB: You’re skewing things Bob, you’re skewing things! Let’s talk about the state of running outside of Park Run and Born 2 Run as well, but just in general in the Eastern Cape. If you look at races and race numbers, are you finding that the numbers are up? Is the sport healthy in the Eastern Cape?
BN: Numbers-wise, very healthy, very healthy. Performance-wise, that’s a Hardy Boy annual and we have these discussions amongst those of us who have been around for a long time. Because the results are nowhere near what they once were.
If you look at times and if you look at old Border records, South African records, if you consider that people were running. Like Elana was running and others, running their half marathons and even the marathon way back. We just don’t seem to be coming through with that and that’s quite sad.
If you look now as well, you look at choosing an Olympic team. We’ve got Lusapho April in this part of the world, he ran a 2:11 which is certainly not bad, in Hanover the other day. But we’ve got to challenge those 2:03 London Marathon times and we don’t seem to be getting there.
The reason for that, one of the reasons is probably because we had the mine system, mining clubs back then. The guys were looked after and they trained together, they worked together. I think that, and the varsities just haven’t seemed to take up that slack. We need the varsities and so on to do that.
So, I don’t know, as I say, we talk about this often and I speak to Bruce about it often. I speak to my local guys, if I want to have an argument, we get together. We chat and in fact we were talking about it just, I think yesterday or the day before. What do we do, I don’t know?
Is more cross country the way to success?
BB: Do we need more track meets? Is that one of the issues as well?
BN: Track certainly but you know, the catalyst for distance running was always cross country. We just don’t have cross country meets like we used to have. Everybody used to, well, not everybody, but a lot of guys used to go and run cross country and even the Comrades guys. Guys like Bruce and that used to run a good cross country before he would go onto his Comrades and most of us did. That’s what made people strong, but we don’t have cross country anymore.
BB: Park Run could possibly fill that void as well. Bob, you see it at various Park Runs, guys racing at the front end of the field. Yes, it’s only 5km and some of those cross country races were slightly longer, but it’s a good start.
BN: Absolutely, there’s no doubt it is a very good start and I would definitely not decry what happens at Park Run, there are some fantastic times that have been run there. But why are we not kicking on? I don’t quite understand why we’re not kicking on.
The other thing though, having said that, in the Eastern Cape, we’ve got all these runs cropping up all over the show. We had a lot of guys over racing, they’ve always done that. I suppose, because they need the money. But we had a half marathon on Saturday, something else up in Umtata on Sunday, this coming Wednesday there’s a half marathon from Middledrift to Fort Hare in Alice. You know, it just goes race after race, after race. We know you can’t keep racing like that all the time.
The point I was wanting to make there is that big money has been put into that by government and it’s last minute stuff. Last week Border announced this run was on and it’s like R70 000 in prize money. That’s not the biggest by a long shot, but still, R70 000 out of the blue, here’s this race. Whereas at Border 10km Champs, we should have had a decent bunch, it didn’t. So it’s a bit skewed from that point of view.
How to find your nearest Park Run
BB: I think there’s a lot of work to do, but I think what you guys are doing down there in the Eastern Cape is fantastic. Bob, if people want to find out more about the Eastern Cape Park Runs or Park Runs around the country for that matter, the website to get to is parkrun.co.za, if I’m not mistaken?
BN: That’s correct. Then you can just go onto whichever you would like to be your home Park Run and you can log on, even I can do that. Register, and then they send you a page of six barcodes. You cut one out, take one with you. You can have it laminated or put in a plastic packet or whatever and take it with you to any Park Run anywhere in the world.
We had someone from the UK the other day because our Nahoon Park Run is currently not operational and he wanted to do that. If it had been operational it wouldn’t matter because he’d have his barcode with him and he could do Nahoon Point Park Run and then go back to London or wherever else.
BB: Absolutely, Bob, thank you so much for joining us. If you want to find out more about Born 2 Run Athletics as well, we’ll pop the link into the show notes of this episode of Old Mutual Live as well. Thanks for your time today, much appreciated and we look forward to catching up again soon.
BN: Thank you Brad.