It’s time to race the Tough One
01 January 1970
You can also listen to these podcasts directly from the Old Mutual app, which is available here.
Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, it’s brilliant to have you with us once again and ever closer to the 2016 Old Mutual Soweto Marathon, one of the iconic races on the Johannesburg running calendar, another one that is also probably one of the most iconic in Jo’burg. But it’s definitely the most iconic 32 in South Africa, is approaching towards the end of November.
I’m talking about the RAC Tough One and it’s an interesting race, it’s at an interesting time of the year. We’re joined now by someone who is no stranger to the South African fraternity, Vreni Welsch joins us now. Vreni, welcome, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today.
Vreni Welsch: Thank you Brad, it’s nice to be talking to you and all the others, thank you.
BB: Vreni, Tough One is an interesting race and I say where it sits in the race calendar, for a lot of people it’s the rude awakening they need after hanging out on the dark side after their previous Comrades and it jolts them back into action. It’s not an easy one, it lives up to its name, it’s almost like the tick in the box to start taking things seriously again in the build-up to 2017.
VW: Quite right Brad, we used to be in February and the days when you chatted about fixtures in the province, it was either Striders or us who had to move. We felt we would be able to build-up the event so that you can actually have a successful event at the end of November, which as you know it is.
A long history
Yes, we’re running the 43rd time the Tough One, things are going good, people seem to enjoy it. We’ve got another three people who are running their 20th and we’ve got 18 people who are more than 20. We’ve got Peter Jacoby from Knysna who is running his 35th.
BB: That’s incredible, other than the Comrades and the Two Oceans, there can’t be too many other races around that have been going that long in SA.
VW: I must say we’re very proud that we’ve kept it going. I have personally been involved in it in some way or the other for 41 years. When I first came to Johannesburg I used to type the results for our race organiser and from there it’s grown.
It’s now in my home where we do the preparation and I have ladies coming twice a week to come and get all the pre-entries ready so that when we see them on Friday, the 25th of November we are ready for them. That’s how it’s gone.
BB: Vreni, before we get into the specifics of this year’s race and the entries and how things have been going, what do you attribute the success of this race to? There’s lots of running clubs around the country that struggle to put their races on. We see it so often and big races that are on the calendar for a few years and then disappear, what’s been the secret to RAC’s success with the Tough One?
VW: Brad, I would love to know, but I think one of the biggest words is Love. Every member just loves to know, we’ve put on a good race and it is ours. They all come forward, we are so fortunate. I would get at least 450 volunteers to come on the day to see that the race is a success. I don’t know if that is the recipe or not, but we love the event and every member loves the event.
BB: I think that’s so important Vreni and running clubs around the country can take a lesson and not just running clubs, I think it’s the runners. It’s up to each and every one of us. We love running races and there are some amazing races in SA, but they cannot be put on if it’s not by the hosting clubs. Often we’ll get a request from our running club, it doesn’t matter who you run for, saying please will you come help us and people are a just hesitant to do that.
A supportive community
I think it’s a small price to pay for each of us, give up one Saturday or Sunday morning, maybe two a year to be able to enjoy races around the country. I think it’s important that we all step up to the plate and say we love the sport, we’re going to do our little bit and RAC is one of those clubs. You’re so right, there’s this culture within RAC that people want to help, particularly around the races.
VW: I’ve got very interesting help from clubs at the drinks table, we’ve got Pegasus who run at our club every Sunday where we have our training runs and in respect they do a drinks table. It’s the same with Soul City. I’ve had a couple of clubs this year who have asked me: Can we come and work at the drinks table, we want to learn from your people.
Because I’m such a nervous person to see that it’s all right, every table does have an experienced person and they work with the new club. Because we just like to keep the standard up from what we’ve had and I’m just so fortunate at the response and the support I get from everybody.
Then I must thank the runners as well Brad, we get tremendous support from runners, from all over. This morning I was phoned by a gentleman from Warmbaths, please, how can I enter and that’s the type of support we get.
Warmbaths, Bethlehem, Vaal Triangle, so I always feel that City Lodge gets a variety of people hearing about their product away from Johannesburg as well. That’s what makes me so excited. I am getting old, but I can still work from waist up! We will continue for as long as we can manage.
BB: Vreni, you guys are doing such a great job. Let’s talk about this year’s race, it’s happening on the 27th of November, which is a great way to sign off the year and say we’ve done a 32km, a really hard 32km. We can take a couple of weeks off before we start our training proper for 2017, entries are open right now, how can people enter?
More of the same great standard in 2016
VW: They can enter either online on Entrytime or they can enter at one of the shops that are in Johannesburg and Pretoria where they can go and enter. They don’t receive a race number at present because again, if you’re going to ask me for an extra-small t-shirt or a XXX t-shirt, that’s what I want to give you.
So yes, they get an acknowledgement card that they’ve entered and then after the 8th of November they can go back to the shops. The ones who haven’t entered, who don’t want a t-shirt and they will then get their race number. The ones who have pre-entered before the seventh, they will have to come and collect their entries and again, we started something many years ago.
I once handed out entries at City to City and there was something like 300 people with the surname of M. Half the time we didn’t know if it was an S or a T and we sat down and thought, what can we do. That’s why all pre-entries for collection are sorted in club order and then in alpha order.
If the guy comes with a surname of M, but belongs to Rockies, there are not that many M’s in there or belongs to Alberton, it goes much quicker. So yes, that’s what we do and I understand why I’ve got to have people to help me prepare because we must pack t-shirts, race numbers into an envelope, but it’s the size that they’ve asked for.
BB: That sounds great. Vreni, as far as the entries, is it only pre-entry or will there be entries available on the day?
VW: Yes, there are late entries on the Friday and Saturday and unfortunately we have actually loaded the price for the entries on the day. Due to many logistic reasons, which I don’t really want to discuss, but it’s R200 on the day. I would really beg the runners to come Friday and Saturday and if you’re there as I have many from Limpopo arriving at 7:00 and I happen to still be around, I will give you entries on Saturday if you come to me before I go home. But the Sunday I must say, it is loaded on price-wise.
BB: I love that, I think it’s a good thing, I think the price should be loaded, in actual fact, I don’t think there should be, and this is just generally my opinion, I don’t think entries should be taken on the day of a race. Because people want good races to be put on, they don’t want race organisers to run out of water, they don’t want race organisers to run out of medals. How is a race organiser supposed to know how many people they need to cater for if they don’t know how many are coming?
The ASICS Five is a second option
I think as runners, again, it’s up to us to get our houses in order and make sure that we pre-enter. A race that’s 32km long, you don’t wake up on the morning and go: I feel like running 32km today, you have to train for it. I think it’s up to each and every one us to enter these races. But you’ve also got something for the whole family, there’s something called The ASICS Five, tell me about that.
VW: Yes, I feel, if you’re going to want to accommodate the children, the wives, the neighbourhood who run 5km, I’d rather give them a proper race where there are marshals, where there is a drinks table, than to call it a Fun Run and that’s why we brought on the 5km.
It’s just as much planning, if you do it properly, to organise a road race and give the front runners prize money. It’s not huge, but we do have prize money over the categories, than a Fun Run where you still have to have the people there. Yes, many children who come with their moms and dads and have to leave at 4:00 in the morning and have to be woken up have also got an event and they all get medals with the correct date on it.
BB: Brilliant, Vreni, we need to have a discussion about the race records for the Tough One as well. They’ve stood for a long time, I think if my memory serves me correctly, Gert Thys still owns the men’s record, Frith van der Merwe still holds the ladies record. I think that was set back in 1988. When are we going to see the record broken on this course Vreni?
VW: You know, I don’t know. Yolande Maclean who has now the most of all the ladies, she sits on a 2:05 and that she did in 2014. She now comes up as the ninth fastest runner of the Tough One. I did a bit of a search before you phoned me and that’s why I’m so clever! Must I tell you an interesting thing?
VW: She’s ninth on the list and do you know who is eigth?
VW: Sonja Laxton.
BB: No ways, that’s fantastic.
Frith’s record breaking attempt & Josia’s Olympic build-up
VW: Sonja, at 39, just before her 40th, in 1987 actually still lying at eighth. But Frith van der Merwe, as you say, is up there, two hours and we had so hoped she was going to break the two hours. She had an incredible year. I think sometimes the men were scared that they were going to be beaten at Comrades, so yes, she was one fantastic runner. I just wish she had opportunities overseas, because I think we would have seen a medal at Olympics with her.
The men have been quite different. It’s quite interesting with the men. I’ve had nobody win the race more than twice. Another phenomenal thing was, Josia Thugwane won the Tough One the year before he won the Olympics. I always say, you see, he did his training by running a Tough One and then was tough for the Olympics.
BB: You’re spot on Vreni because Frith van der Merwe’s 1988 record was the year before she ran that incredible Comrades, the Down run, where she went under six and nearly got into the top ten. She was phenomenal and that was the year before. You are spot on. I think you guys need to do something about those hills in Randburg, I’m sure they’ve grown in the last few years.
VW: I think one has grown because we did change the route three years ago, this is the third year and we’ve taken them off to go past Fourways Shopping area, it just became hideous. So we have taken them all through Bryanston, it’s shadier, but it’s hillier!
BB: Just make sure the air conditioners are turned on this year. The temperatures are cooler –
VW: I don’t know, we’ve had enough rain for our events. I remember the one runner two years ago came to me and said: It started cloudy, then it drizzled and then we were running in rivers and Pat Andrews really just said: I loved it, please bring that weather again!
BB: Vreni, as always, it’s wonderful catching up with you. If you want to enter, you can do it online now, Entrytime is the website to get to and we look forward to seeing everybody out at the 2016 RAC Tough One, it’s going to be another amazing race, it always is. Vreni puts on a great show, make sure you get out there and support the Rand Athletics Club. Thanks for your time today Vreni, much appreciated.
VW: Thank you Brad.