Jeppe – Comrades, Barry Holland and so much more
27 April 2016
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You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I’m Brad Brown and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast. He’s been around the running and athletics and triathlon scene for many years, particularly up in Johannesburg. He’s involved with Jeppe Athletics Club and it’s wonderful to welcome Derick Marcisz onto the podcast. Derick, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today.
Derick Marcisz: It’s a pleasure, thanks for having me on the show.
BB: Derick, obviously we’re building up to Comrades 2016 and I know you have run Comrades in the past, it’s not your thing at the moment, you’re very much involved in the triathlon scene. But Jeppe has got an incredible Comrades history. You’ve got some big name Comrades runners there who have been around the race for a long time.
Jeppe is a Comrades club through and through
DM: Yes, I mean Jeppe is really a Comrades Club, it started as a Comrades Club, by a guy called Barry Holland who I think everyone knows. I think he’s running his 45th or 44th Comrades this year. From him, the history and the tradition has continued and we have many, many double green and even triple green numbers in the club, with a good mix of novices as well.
BB: That’s what I wanted to ask, it’s all good and well coming to a club that’s got so much history and I mean we’ll chat about Barry in just a moment because he’s an absolute machine. But it’s a welcoming club, there’s lots of novices and it’s great to be involved in a club like that as a novice because there’s lots of minds to pick.
DM: It’s really been a pleasure for me to actually be the coach for the last couple of years. It gives me a huge amount of satisfaction every year when I see guys who are complete novices and within a year or two completing the Comrades. Just to give you an idea, we have something like 150 odd entries in Comrades this year.
We have 30 that are green number runners and obviously a couple are going for 20 and even more. But we also have 31 novices. So from out of 150, you’ve got 30 very experienced guys and you’ve got 30 complete novices. Which I think is a really good mix and that seems to be the trend that we’re seeing in South Africa today, young people are coming back to run the Comrades, which I think for a few years they stayed away from it.
Young people are rediscovering Comrades
BB: Why do you think that is?
DM: It’s difficult to say. I think the exposure the race gets. I think young people today do actually want to exercise. We went through the cycling dream that everyone got attracted to cycling. But running is still one of those pure sports where all you need is a pair of shorts and a pair of shoes and off you go. You can start easily, you don’t have to outlay a lot of money as if you’re trying to do triathlon or cycling.
You just pitch up at a club and you start running. Jeppe has an infrastructure that welcomes newcomers. We have a beginners group where guys start off running 4-5km. Then we have obviously got the Comrades group who at the moment are training 70-80km in a week and doing long runs at 40-50km on the weekend.
BB: I love that, you say you start on 5km and then you suck them into the Comrades group don’t you Derick?
DM: No, we try and actually bring them through the various schools. I’m a big advocate of not rushing people into Comrades. Some people do arrive and do come knocking on our door and say, ‘can we run Comrades’ this year.
I usually recommend to everybody; you should give yourself at least two years if you’re a complete beginner runner before you attempt Comrades. But the South African psyche is different and we have a lot of people who come and join in January and want to do Comrades in May.
The legend of Barry Holland
BB: It’s strange, South African runners are generally strange, but let’s talk about Barry Holland who you mentioned. Barry, for a Comrades runner, you look at the guys who have run lots of them and a lot of them are small. Barry is a big guy, he’s tall, he’s strong, what’s been the key to his longevity Derick? I’m amazed that he’s been able to run as long as he has with the frame he’s got. It’s not his fault, it’s what he was given, but it’s just incredible.
DM: I think one of, Barry being big actually I think has helped him. Because he’s a strong guy and that has, I think, allowed him to endure 40+ Comrades. He has not suffered from any major injuries during his career of 43 odd Comrades and I think that has been a big plus factor. Often the smaller guys, over a period of time, they do come under strain. They find it difficult in actually sticking with the Comrades year after year after year.
For example, the other day at a social function I was talking to Alan Robb. He said he’s finding it really hard this year to get it altogether. I think he’s going for his 43rd Comrades this year. I think Barry is just one of those guys, he loves the training and he’s done it consecutive years. So there must be something about his training that actually suits him and I think he’s a really strong guy.
Reaching the magical 50 mark
BB: How many more do you think he’s still got in him?
DM:I think he’s facing the record, Dave Rogers I think is two ahead of him, if I’m not mistaken. I think Barry will try and keep going and he’s also got, I think Louis Massyn who has done the same amount of Comrades as Barry, or close on his heels.
At one stage Barry did try to retire, we even had a big retirement here at Jeppe and we bought him a big box of Meerlust. I think it was a magnum or double magnum and we bid him farewell. I think retirement lasted about three months and he was back again!
BB: That’s fantastic, do you think he’ll make 50?
DM: You know, I think as you get older it does, unfortunately, the time you start, you start usually when you’re around 20. Most of the guys from that era started around 20, so when you’re getting to 50, you are at 70 years of age. I think the body isn’t meant to run Comrades pretty much after 60, it does become a stress and strain on the joins and everything like that. But as long as Barry keeps healthy, I think he could actually get there.
Jeppe ladies up there with the best
BB: You mentioned there’s lots of double and triple greens as well, Kim Paine who also runs for the club, she’s run 25, I think and she’s also a phenomenal runner.
DM: Yes, I mean Kim is also one of those ladies who just kept going. In fact, it’s quite interesting, as a club this year, we actually have a very, very big contingent of lady runners. We have three ladies, in fact, that have done more than 20 Comrades. I think Kim has done 25, Toni Hesper has done I think one less than her, 24. There’s also another lady called Ross Koghen who has done 23.
BB: That’s phenomenal. Derick what do you think it is that makes Comrades keep people coming back? It’s all good and well, often people say, oh, I’m just going to run one or I’m just going to run two. I want to go Up and Down and that’s it.
But we’ve seen it time and time again, if you’ve been around running in this country, I’m starting to think runners can’t count. They think that two is halfway to ten, what is it that keeps people coming back for those green numbers and double greens and triple greens?
The continuous allure of Comrades
DM: I think Comrades did a very clever thing in my opinion, when they introduced the back to back medal. Because guys would come and they would run one Comrades and say, I’ve done the one Comrades, why should I do another one. The attraction of a special medal for your back to back which you can only really get if you do the Comrades after that, means then you’ve got suddenly two under your belt.
If you end up staying with a running club, each year it comes around Comrades time when guys have to enter in November. People get caught up with the spirit of Comrades and Comrades does a really good job of advertising their race. That the guys just get attracted to coming back. Then once you’ve got the three or four, you start thinking, maybe a green number would be nice and that’s what keeps people coming back.
BB: Then once you’ve got that green number, you can’t have the green number sitting on your mantelpiece at home, you have to go and run in it because people need to see it. So you’ve run 11 and then you’re closer to 20 than you are to 10 and you might as well carry on.
DM: That’s exactly right, people say you’ve got to run one Comrades with your green number, so you do that. If it’s an Up run, then someone tells you at the club, maybe you must also do one down run and then you’ve got 12 and then that’s how it continues.
Once you’re 18 or 15, then you’re off for 20, we’ve got three runners that are looking for their 20th this year, plus another two runners that are going for number 10. It goes on from that and I’m sure Kim and the other two ladies that I mentioned are quite capable and want to go on to try and get their 30th.
BB: I love it Derick and your Comrades journey, you’ve run it, you’ve decided it’s not for you, you’re going to stick to triathlon?
Playing to your own strengthens
DM: I was always a better marathon runner than a Comrades runner. I have this ongoing standing joke with Bruce Fordyce, I’m actually one second quicker than him on the marathon. But I don’t have any gold medals for Comrades.
It’s a joke that we share every time we meet. I ran it way back in the 80’s, I did a 6:49 was my best, I did four of them. But I was just a better marathon runner and a better short distance runner than a Comrades runner. In recent years I turned to triathlon when running just became too hard on the body in terms of getting injured.
BB: Jeppe has also got a very active triathlon club as well, if people want to find out more about the running club, or the triathlon club, how do they find out more about Jeppe?
DM: They can, we have a Facebook page, if they look under Jeppe Athletics, there’ll be details there. We have a website, also if they Google Jeppe Athletics, they’ll find the club. Or just come along, any morning of the week, 5:00 in the morning at Jeppe Quondam in Bedfordview and you’ll find anything from 50-100 people that you can join for a run.
BB: I love that about running in this country, it’s incredible. I know we’ve got people that listen from around the world and they long for support structures and groups like that, but we’ve literally got them on our doorstep in almost every community in this country Derick.
I think runners in this country are phenomenal and best of luck on everyone at Jeppe who are building up to Comrades 2016 and also to Barry as he continues to chase that record. We’ll be following his progress very closely on race day.
DM: Excellent, good, thank you very much and nice to be on here chatting to you.