How we can all do our bit to help others
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, it’s awesome to have you with us today and I’m super excited to welcome our next guest onto the podcast. A couple of weeks ago we spoke about Born2Run and they’ve got a programme where their runners are able to sponsor an underprivileged runner within that club.
We spoke to Maphuti Phaka to find out a little bit about Maphuti’s journey. In that chat we discovered who Maphuti’s sponsor was and we’re joined now by Helen Ibbotson who joins us on the podcast. Helen, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for chatting to us.
Helen Ibbotson: Hi Brad, thanks for having me.
BB: Helen, we spoke to Maphuti a little bit about her journey and just the athletic ability and the opportunity to be able to run as an underprivileged runner. You got involved with Born2Run, you’re not South African, we’ll chat a little bit about your background. What brought you here in a moment. But you run for Born2Run, you’re a pretty good runner yourself. Tell me a little bit about why you got involved with that programme within Born2Run?
Concept to help development is brilliant
HI: I fairly recently joined Born2Run, I guess it was last year when I started to be coached by Ann Ashworth, with David’s help and set-up Born2Run and so she became my coach. I then joined the club and one of the reasons I joined because I really liked their vision, for running in South Africa.
It wasn’t just a running club, it was really focused on development and the development of elite and also the less privileged athlete. So I joined the team last year and then found out about the development programme where you had an opportunity to sponsor an athlete, an up and coming athlete.
I was really keen to do what I can to support that, so I put my arm up and said I would like to be one of the sponsors. So I am sponsoring Maphuti and it’s been really great to see how she’s progressed over the last year and moved into the elite squad. She’s now kind of one of the best athletes at Born2Run, so it’s been a real privilege to be able to help, in a very small way. But it’s been something at least.
BB: Helen, I love the way you say ‘in a very small way’. I think for many of us who are privileged and in a position where to buy a new pair of running shoes, it’s not a major issues or to pay for race entry is not a major issue. One of the things I love about running is the barriers to entry, for me, are fairly low. It’s not going to break the bank.
But there are many runners in this country that to get a new pair of running shoes is just never going to happen. A programme like Born2Run makes such a big difference. Imagine, and I’m saying this, I’m not an elite athlete, but if you have to think to yourself, as an elite athlete, you want to go and race. But you’ve got to worry about all these logistics and if that’s taken care of, it just makes your life so much easier.
HI: Absolutely. Before, I’ve lived in a number of other countries and one of them being the US. It was interesting, I was thinking about it this morning. There the barriers to entry are so much higher because when I moved to SA, I could not believe how, for me, how cheap it was to enter races, it’s unbelievable here.
If you go to the US, I still travel a lot to the US, I did a race in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago and then I was in LA and I raced there on Saturday. You’re paying $50, $100 to enter a half marathon, it’s a lot of money. I came here and I thought, oh, this is great, it’s really affordable.
But then of course, this is SA and I was introduced to athletes who are struggling to buy their kit and that kind of thing. So, I think it’s really important, so many of us have so much kit, we buy the latest shoes and we don’t really think about it when we chuck them away.
But here I like the culture of handing things on and trying to help other people out. Because relatively speaking, it is quite expensive for a lot of people. I’m really happy to help, even though it’s just a small financial contribution, it’s people like Ann and David who run the club that really put in the hard work in terms of organising it all. It’s really them that I think do the most for these athletes.
We can all help make a difference
BB: Born2Run has obviously got the programme, but there’s lots of running clubs that do have something like this. The reason we want to chat about it is just to make people aware of it. I think often as runners we don’t actually think about what’s going on with fellow runners around us.
We line up and we get this nice, warm, fuzzy feeling cause it’s a really nice snapshot of South African community on a race morning. But I think we really need to be conscious of what’s going on around us and what it took for the guy or girl standing next to us to get to that start line on race morning.
HI: Yes, it’s incredible. What’s interesting, I was in Nairobi a couple of months ago and I was very lucky, I organised a run with the elite Kenyan runners in the Ngong Hills where they have their training camp. I went running with them and there again, it was just incredible. These incredible elite athletes with all this potential running in kit which is very old and falling to bits. They don’t really have anything and they don’t have enough sponsorship to be able to afford them either.
What I also liked about Born2Run philosophy is when I came back and I mentioned it to Ann and David, her first reaction was: Let’s try and organise some shoes for them and send them out to the runners there as well. It’s really opened my eyes to trying to do more for the people who can’t really afford to get the kit that the rest of us can.
BB: Helen, let’s take a step back and talk about your running history. You told me a story before we started recording that I absolutely love. You’re originally from London in the UK, but because of the work that you do, you do travel a lot. You get stationed in various parts of the world. Tell me how your running journey began, where did it start for you?
A fascinating start to her running journey
HI: It actually started, I didn’t tell you this bit, but it actually started, the first run I ever went on in my life was when I was living in Moscow. It was in winter and it was about minus 20 and a friend of mine, a fellow lawyer friend persuaded me. He said: You go to gym so much, why don’t you try and go for a run. I said: What’s the point of that, I’m quite happy in the gym.
Anyway, I was persuaded to go for a run in minus 20 around Moscow. He took me out and we ran 10 miles and we stopped and he said: You know, you’ve just run 10 miles? That’s quite good for somebody who has never run before. I said okay, great and just went back to the gym and didn’t really think much more about it.
Then I moved to Senegal, to Dakar. I arrived in Dakar and was looking for the gym, of course there wasn’t a gym. I thought well, I’m here, I’m living here now and I need to keep fit, so I guess I’ll just do that running thing again. I put trainers on and that was that.
I used to go running before work, very early because it was so humid there. I ran around Dakar and as I was living in Dakar, it was during the World Cup, the South Africa hosted World Cup. So I came into South Africa to watch the quarter-final and I remember vividly thinking that I could never living in Johannesburg. It’s terribly dangerous, typical British mentality, it’s very dangerous and nobody goes outside. I couldn’t go running, no, I’ll just go and watch the football and I’ll get out of there.
My friend who I was staying with, he was living in Parkhurst and I arrived and I said: Oh, this looks very nice, but I couldn’t live here, you can’t go outside. He said: Actually, there is quite a big running community in Johannesburg and he drew me a map of Parkhurst and off I went.
It was during that run, I can vividly remember the moment when I looked up at the sky and saw this beautiful Johannesburg blue sky, dry, no humidity. I was skipping around Parkhurst feeling very safe and I got back from my run and I said to my friend: Right, I think I’m going to move here. About two months later I did and then discovered this huge South African love of running and the infrastructure and haven’t looked back since.
BB: Let’s not forget, that run around the World Cup was the middle of winter. So you’re looking up at a blue Highveld sky in the middle of winter, it probably wasn’t too hot from a South African perspective. But for someone who possibly spent many cold European winters in their life, it was a gorgeous day wasn’t it?
HI: For me it was a summers day, I couldn’t believe it when I was sitting at the World Cup and all the South Africans were just freezing and complaining. I was thinking, this is lovely spring weather! The weather is a big thing here, it really enables you guys to just go outside every day and have great runs.
South African’s don’t realise how good they have it
When I travel to Europe now and I’m going running in the rain before meetings around London, you realise how lucky you are here. Every time I come back I tell my South African friends: Guys, you are so lucky, don’t take this for granted, it’s incredible!
BB: I love hearing that and that was also one of the reasons I wanted to chat to you, it was just to get that perspective. I think again, as South Africans, we take so much for granted, yes, there’s lots of issues and everywhere has issues to deal with, but gee, we’ve got so much more good things going for us than we do bad things.
HI: It really is. It’s so funny, I speak to my other ex-pat friends here and we say Johannesburg in particular, or South Africa is the well-kept secret. The quality of so much here is just so incredible. The people, I can’t believe how the running scene here is.
I’ve made so many friends just through running, people here are very friendly, but they’re so committed. It’s been very interesting to watch, to see the difference between the runners here and the runners everywhere else. I’ve run and here it’s about the love of the running rather than the more materialistic things and the new kit and that kind of thing.
Like I just said, I was just at a couple of races, one in LA and you go to the start of the race and everyone has paid $50 or whatever to enter and everyone is wearing the brand new kit. Drinking the right protein shakes and everything. But here, you turn up to a race and it’s anybody and everybody there and it’s much more. The barriers to entry are much lower as we discussed earlier. The love of running, it’s more about the love of running than the love of everything that goes along with it.
For me, the main thing that amazed me was that the runners here will just blow the runners wherever else I’ve run out of the water. In the UK or the US, if you train for a marathon, one marathon in a year, that’s a huge deal and everyone gets sponsored and it’s all over Facebook. Here, the runners are running marathons every week, every other week, it’s just like a training run, so it’s really inspiring. It certainly made me more focused on my running and pushing myself further.
BB: Let’s talk about your running, you talk about pushing yourself, you’re a pretty good runner yourself from an ability perspective. I’m not going to give your age away, but at the Dischem earlier on this year you ended up finishing second in your age category, which is fantastic. Just looking at that half marathon time, sub 1:35, that’s pretty decent on the Dischem course, it’s not the easiest, you’re a good runner.
The appeal of running half marathons
HI: Yeah, that was pretty good. As my coach will tell you, I’m completely obsessed about doing sub 90 half marathons at the moment, that’s my new thing. I did Dischem, I did my PB was actually at Kaapsehoop last year and I did a 1:26. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to repeat that. But I just did a 1:29 in Washing.
So I guess a sub 90 half marathon is not so shabby for someone who never really did any sport at school. I never did sport at school and I was always told I wasn’t particularly good at it. I only really started it maybe 6-7 years ago, so yeah, I’m not so bad. Then hitting the big 4-0 last year, means you tend to place in your age category quite a lot now, so that’s quite nice.
BB: At least you are, I turned the big 4-0 last week, I’m coming nowhere close to placing in age categories Helen! Let’s just touch on, you mentioned something about South African runners and our mind-set and our appetite for the longer stuff, that’s one of the big things. I don’t want to say I’ve got an issue with it, but I find often that people don’t consider you and I put it in in air quotes ‘a real runner,’ unless you’ve run Comrades, which it drives me mad. Because someone who runs a sub 90-minute half marathon, is phenomenal and that’s a great goal to have. You don’t have to go on to run Comrades. Your thoughts on the race like Comrades or the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon?
HI: It’s hysterical, I’ve lost count of the number of times my fellow running friends said: When are you going to run Comrades, when are you going to run Comrades? I have absolutely no desire to run Comrades. I think it’s great that everyone else does it, just for them, it’s amazing, it’s absolutely something.
I think you’ve got to be South African to get it, but it’s obviously this iconic race that people, literally the people I know, that is what they spend their time doing. They’re training for Comrades and then they have a few months off and they do a few other marathons. Then it’s back on the Comrades route. I think it’s great and it’s very impressive and I love watching it and I think it’s a fantastic thing.
But personally, it’s just, I have absolutely no desire to do anything ultra. I think it’s also combined with the fact, because I travel so much, I actually don’t think I’d be able to train for anything really more than a half marathon distance. That’s why I like the half marathon distance so much because you can pretty much do a half marathon without a huge amount of training.
Obviously if you want to get good times you need to do a bit more, but with my travel schedule, when I’m landing in various countries, here, there and everywhere, I wouldn’t be able to train for Comrades. It is quite funny, people say when are you going to do it, you’ve got to do it at least once. I still haven’t quite got there, but you never know.
BB: Never say never! I agree with you, half marathon, for me also, yes, I’ve run Comrades and I do the long things, but a half marathon for me is a great distance. Because it’s challenging enough, like you say, you do need to do a bit of training for it, but it also doesn’t kill you on race day. You recover and bounce back pretty quickly and just as it starts hurting, then it’s pretty much over. Whereas if you’re running Comrades, you start hurting at 21km, there’s still a long way to go.
HI: That’s the thing and I do a lot of travel for fun as well. What I like to do is pick a race somewhere in the world that sounds really cool and then go out and do it and also get to visit that area. I think if I was doing longer races, you’ve got to take it a bit more seriously and you wouldn’t have as much fun, I don’t think.
With a half marathon you know that you can have a good time, get up the next day, run a half marathon and get that whole experience whilst enjoying yourself. I went to Antarctic last year and I ran the Antarctic half marathon which was incredible. But I think if I’d been doing the full marathon I would have been a bit less relaxed. I wouldn’t have had quite as much fun as I did in Buenos Aires before we went down to the Antarctic.
BB: Helen, it’s been amazing chatting, I look forward to meeting you at a half marathon, nothing longer, in the future and keep it up. Thank you for the work that you’re doing with Born2Run, I think what you guys are doing is amazing. I’d love to catch up again and find out more about your running exploits, it sounds amazing.
HI: Definitely, it sounds great, thanks very much Brad.