How Tumi Matlou got a chance to Beat the Sun
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. A while ago we caught up with Carla van Huyssteen and we spoke about an incredible run that was taking place in France called the ASICS Beat the Sun.
I said we’d touch base again, not with Carla, but with one of the other runners who was taking part. It’s a great pleasure to welcome onto the podcast today one of the runners that took part in that incredible event, it was Tumi Matlou. Tumi, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for joining us.
Tumi Matlou: Thank you so much for having me here.
BB: Tumi, you were one of the amateur runners who got to go to France to take part in this race, tell us a bit about how you got involved, how did you come about going?
TM: It’s actually quite a funny story. It was just me one night browsing through the internet and then I saw Modern Athlete advertising this race. I just entered and you know, I think when I entered, I never really expected, because you saw they said that there’s over 30 000 people who have entered so far. So out of 30 000, to be chosen for 50, you never thought your name would be in that hat.
So I entered and then ja, the most amazing part was, I ran SA track and I just finished by 10km event. I looked at my phone, obviously everyone congratulating me. I went onto my email and I saw this ‘congratulation, you’re top 50’ and I thought to myself, wait, this is a scam. Went into it and that was it, and that was three months after I entered.
I obviously forgot about it and focussed on my track season. My whole life up until then, it was just training for track. I completely forgot that I even entered for this competition and it was the best way to end my track season. So get that news, possibly being part of the team and going over for that, that was just absolutely amazing.
An incredible experience to take part
BB: I love hearing stories like that, when you do it and then you forget about it and then it happens, it’s amazing. Let’s talk about the experience, you talk about running on the track, this was very different, a beautiful part of the world and an incredible event.
TM: This is completely different. With track it’s all about speed and strides and getting everything in line. Then you get to trail running and luckily, the funny story also, I come from a trail background. Only last year I converted to track because I wanted to get more speed in. I wanted to really up my 10km time and I went over to track.
Trail running, it wasn’t a foreign event for me to all of a sudden convert to trail running. But it’s a completely different world. I remember one of the legs that I ran, I cried, I cried cause I was in so much pain. When you stop, the pain just got even worse. So you had to continue, but you couldn’t continue because you’re in pain.
I think, not I think, I know, the view and everything was just beautiful. That made it worth going on and continuing. The fact that you had your team waiting for you on the next leg, you didn’t want to let them down. But also you didn’t want to let yourself down.
It was a very emotional race. I think people always ask me, ‘so how was the race, how did it go’ and this is definitely the one race that I can never explain to everyone. You have to go run those mountains and experience all those emotions that come with it. For me it was a complete different way of running or experience.
I run, when I run road, I’m one of those people who believe. That’s why you run quick, so you can get off your feet and you’re done. This was just, it was a lot of patience and it was mental work. You had to have a lot of mental strength and emotions that came out of there. You can never explain to someone about that race.
I think it’s by far one of the most unique races I’ve ever come across. Afterwards people talk about all these emotions that came along and you’re thinking to yourself, wait a minute, was this a race or was this a life coaching session, what happened? No, it was absolutely amazing.
How Beat the Sun goes down
BB: Tumi, for people who haven’t listened to my chat with Carla, we spoke a bit about the race and the format. Tell us, if somebody asks you what the race is, explain it to us because it’s quite a unique format.
TM: It really is. The route is marked out, 140km route. A team consists of six teammates. What happens is every leg, there’s 13 legs and the one fellow, which is obviously the professional had to run three legs. What happened was, after every leg, was on different stages, different country, different route, different terrain. Every stage there was a different athlete doing that stage.
It was all about the whole team doing that race or that course within 15:41 and it’s very hard. I think a lot of people think, oh, but you guys are, it’s a relay, so you all have fresh legs for your next leg. But it really takes a toll out of you because you give your all with the first leg and then remembering, oh gosh, wait, I have to pace myself, there’s another one, another leg coming up.
Again, it just shows how hard this race is because only two teams managed to go within that time period. It’s very hard and the biggest surprise was, a European team had an all-male team and they didn’t even finish on time. We came fourth after the male team. So we were very proud of how we did.
It’s just, people need to, I don’t think people understand how difficult that race is. I think we all think, no man, guys, we’ll do it. Like on paper, Africa had a lot of the fastest runners. But it wasn’t about how fast, it was really about consistency and strength and just going on. Everyone had to be, you were just as strong as your weakest team member. At the end of the day, we didn’t cut it, but coming fourth, I’m really proud.
We beat America. Shame, America, I remember talking to one of their American teammates and they were quite angry by the fact that they didn’t beat Africa. I think they came there thinking they would definitely be after Europe. It was a massive shock to a lot of people, first three teams, Europe and then Africa coming along, so it was like, what?
How do you prepare for a race like that?
BB: Tumi, how did you prepare for this thing? You talk about you wrapped up your track session, I mean running on track is very different to running in mountains in South Africa. But running in mountains in Europe is very different to running mountains in South Africa. We all think we’ve seen mountains, but you haven’t seen mountains until you run in Europe.
TM: Absolutely. My preparation, it was actually perfect timing for this because I started my cross country season. So what coach and I did was we worked more on my trail running. So my long runs, my two long runs during the week would be on trail. Every second week, I actually made it every week until the race, we went to Dullstroom, just for a bit of elevation training. Because Mont Blanc is quite a mountain to conquer.
I still kept to my cross country training, but my long runs, instead of being on road, we did trail running and weekends we went to Dullstroom. Which is just about an hour and 45 minutes from where I live, so it wasn’t really a train smash for me to go there and spend a weekend and come back and continue with the week. That’s basically my preparation that I did, my trail and elevation training in Dullstroom.
BB: It sounds like it was an incredible experience and one that I think anyone who runs would love to have experienced. What’s next on the cards for you now, what are you training for and what’s the next goal?
Big things still to come
TM: At the moment it’s cross country, I actually have a race this weekend. It’s one the leagues and cross country season this year is going to be quite massive because obviously trying to qualify for SA Championships, for CGA Province.
Then next year we’ve got two major events happening, regarding cross country. The African Champs and the World Champs. So we’re all fighting to be Top six, or to be the six members of females to represent South Africa.
So at the moment I’m focusing on qualifying for SAs, which will happen on the 10th of September in George. Then after that, after SA, having a look at where I’m standing; it’s a try out for African Champs. South Africa has got so many good athletes at the moment, our females are absolutely dominating. That it’s really a fight to be that Top six. I just hope to do well and to give my all to be part of the six.
BB: You’re spot on Tumi, you look at the state of South African running at the moment, particularly, like you say, on the ladies’ side of things, it’s incredible what’s happening. It’s so good for the sport, I think it’s amazing. You guys are doing such great work, which I think is fantastic and success breeds success, that’s what it’s all about.
TM: Absolutely. South African women are now putting themselves on the map and it’s a very exciting time period for a female runner to be in South Africa at the moment. We’re really showing that we’re coming back, not coming back, but we want to be seen as a contender for Ethiopia. We want to be seen as a contender for the Kenyans.
Still a long way to go, but we’re working hard and we want to be at their level. It’s going to be a lot of work, I’m not going to lie to you, we are yet in South Africa to have a South African woman. Dominique Scott did it the other day in the US, to run a 30 or 31 minutes. So now in South Africa we need to do that.
I was talking to my coach and we were saying, we need to stop being scared of the pace. If we want to run a 30 minutes, we need to go all out. I think South African women are now ready, we are ready to push it and to be 30 minute contenders. It’s a long way.
BB: Yeah, you know what, you’ve got to speak it into existence before it’s going to happen. Tumi, just chatting to you, I can sense your optimism and your confidence. I don’t think it’s going to be as long as a lot of people think. Keep up the great work, congratulations once again on being part of that African team at the ASICS Beat the Sun. We look forward to following your progress in the cross country season and beyond.
TM: Thank you so much Brad, thank you for having me, looking forward to the season, cross country is my favourite, so I’m really looking forward to giving my all and thank you so much.