Keeping a Comrades Marathon number in the family
11 May 2016
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, great things start here, great things start now. Don’t forget, if you’re looking for information on Comrades and some training help, there’s a fabulous new website called World of Endurance, all the details on there. You can get tons and tons of information, worldofendurance.co.za, you can get all the details. You can get that link in the show notes for this episode as well.
Time to chat some more Comrades as we build up to the big day and an absolute pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the show. Gail Strang welcome, nice to touch base, thanks for joining us.
Gail Strang: Thank you for inviting me.
Comrades spirit was bred from a young age
BB: Gail, I love chatting running just with ordinary, everyday runners who work for a living, but find something special within themselves to run Comrades. You’re going for number nine I believe this year and Comrades has become a big part of your life?
GS: A very big part of my life. I think I eat, sleep, do everything running.
BB: That’s fantastic, it’s funny, I always joke, I say to people, if you’re running this and you’ve got kids, you’re condemning your children to run this race. You grew up in a household with your dad running Comrades, so this has been part of your life for a long time.
GS: From the year my mom was pregnant with me, yes.
BB: You can’t imagine life without Comrades. Your dad was a pretty decent runner too wasn’t he?
GS: Yes, he did six Silver and four Bronze. His first Comrades, sadly, he was about 2m from the finish when they fired the gun. So he didn’t make it in year ’67, but then he went on to run 10 consecutive Comrades.
BB: That’s phenomenal and that number is obviously green and that’s where your story comes in. Your dad has subsequently passed away, but you’re running in his number, I think that’s pretty cool.
Keeping a Comrades race number in the family
GS: Yes, when I decided to do Comrades my dad, we weren’t sure if he could give me the number. He just contacted Comrades House and in those days, going back, I say going back those years, in ’98. He just had to write a letter to Comrades House and ask for permission for me to use his number. It’s in the family and it’ll stay in the family.
BB: How special is that for you?
GS: Extremely special. I had a period in the training now where I thought, oh, really, do I have to keep on with this training. Because your life literally is running and I’ve got a beautiful group of runners, we run with Jukskei Park.
The one guy just sent me a message and he said, Comrades is who you are, it’s your race and I love it. I’ve got literally, this year, to do my ninth and then next year is my 10th and that brings up a special, three special reasons. It’s my tenth, so I get my green number. It’s exactly 40 years from when my dad got his green number. So that’s the 10 and the 40 and I turn 50.
BB: How cool is that, that’s fantastic.
The bug continues to bite
GS: It is a special year, so I have to do it this year. I have to do next year and then they always say you have to run in your green, which then is the next year…. Then I think the bug has bitten to get to 20.
BB: I was going to say, then you’re sitting with a problem Gail because you’re closer to 20 than you are to starting off and you might as well go and turn it into a double green.
GS: For sure and at the end of every Comrades we always say, that’s it, no more, I’m not doing this silly race again. We get home, we shower, we eat and say, okay, what’s the training plan for next year.
BB: Gail, do you remember, as a kid, going and watching your dad? I’ve got vivid memories of watching my dad run. Obviously I’ve now run it as well, but do you remember those days of waking up. It was cold and dark and going and watching? Are they fresh in your memory?
GS: They are, I think also mainly because I was quite young, I was a newborn. But in the last couple of years, in those days we were the seconds for my dad, there were so few people. It was getting up early and driving ahead and being ready for dad. Having his water and his Coke and then driving to the next point to meet him. It’s quite different to Comrades of today, so I do, I have such fond memories.
Making the decision to continue the tradition
BB: How old were you when you first thought, I want to run this thing?
GS: To be quite honest, I don’t think I ever doubted I would do it. It was just when the time arose and I wasn’t even that young. Obviously, I took 10 years off between. So I did ’98, ’99, 2000, so I was already in my 30’s. But always followed it, always wanted to do it.
Then the one day I just said to my dad, okay, it’s my turn, it’s time to run, I’m going to do it. After my first Comrades my dad said, oh, when I saw my number I had to have a good cry. I think hopefully it was the fact that his daughter had finally finished Comrades.
BB: How proud of you was he?
GS: Very and so supportive and encouraging. It’s sad that he’s not alive now, I suppose as a novice you just go full steam ahead. Where now I’m not competitive, but I would like to know more on what he trained. How he trained. I do have all his log books. I’ve got a box that I take out the night before, a couple of nights before Comrades every year.
Have a good cry and I’ve got all his times, all hand written, and I go through it. But I would really have liked to have been able to say hey dad, what should I be doing here. Should I be doing more track, should I be doing longer slower runs. I really do miss him.
Just an “average” nine-hour Comrades runner
BB: Did you inherit his ability as well?
GS: No, I’m just an average nine-hour Comrades runner.
BB: There’s nothing average about a nine-hour Comrades Gail. I have to tell you that. That’s superb, you obviously did get some of those genes
GS: Some of them, but not the Silver genes.
BB: You get to drink more Coke than he used to, I can tell you that much.
GS: I definitely drink more Coke than he did.
BB: Talk to me a little bit about the motivation and this is something I don’t think a lot of people talk about. It’s all good and well when you start and you’re excited. The first one is pretty easy to get motivated and up in the morning for.
Maybe the second one where you’ve done an Up and now it’s time to do the Down as well. But when you start getting five and beyond and yes, maybe the 10th one you know it’s a green number. But that stretch from 5-9 is pretty tough. How do you keep yourself going?
GS: Like I said earlier, I have the most amazing running group. You want to get out there and run because you want to catch up from the day before and have a good laugh and giggles. The majority of our group do run Comrades.
The vibe just happens, you just get pulled along. You don’t ever think twice, well, you must do Comrades again next year and the next year. I think also just the motivation from getting to three, I did three and I would have liked to have done ten. But then I had more children, so I took 10 years off. Then it was, okay, now we get to four, five and then it just, you have to carry on, you can’t not carry on.
Passing the baton on to the next generation
BB: Are your kids making noises that one day when they’re big they want to run this thing?
GS: You know, my first two kids are big now and they definitely don’t have running genes. They both, to try and get them to run a Park Run is a mission. So yes, those two are out. But my two little ones, they both love Park Runs and supportive of me, very. Yes, I think they will run Comrades one day, hopefully in my dad’s number, well, definitely in my dad’s number.
BB: That would be a very cool story, but let me tell you something, don’t write those older two off because I was that, I was a self-certified couch potato. Finally just got a fire beneath me and decided I wanted to run Comrades. So, you never know and it’s never too late. You might have a fight on your hands about who is going to be running in that number, because I don’t think all four of them can run in the number.
GS: No, they can’t and they’ve also got my nephew, my nephew is 30. He also says now, Aunty Gail, can I please have grandpa’s number. I’m saying, let me finish first, so we actually joke. If he could have started now, I could have handed him the number. He could have done ten and done it in a ten year span, but he can’t because I’m running it.
BB: It’s quite interesting, I think we’re going to see a lot more of that Gail. I know a few people who are running in a parent’s number. I think it’s going to get to a point where there’s going to be grandkids and it’s going to become a generational thing, which I love. I just think it’s another one of those special things that I love about Comrades.
GS: And it is special having a number like that, there’s not one Comrades that I’ve run where I haven’t had topics of conversation come up on the number. You end up running with a person, oh, how did you get such a nice number. I have been very rude to a man when he said, oh, how did you get a low number. So yes, and I did snap back and was rude back to him. But in general, it’s so divine and also, it’s just brilliant because it is a lovely number, 270.
BB: That is a low number.
GS: It is and what also makes it even more special, I’ve got a picture of my dad at the start line, I think it was 1971 Comrades. He’s on the start, tiger takkies and so, I’ve got such Comrades blood in me.
BB: The race has definitely changed over the years, you look at that start photo compared to the start photo now and you can’t spot anyone in the latest start photos. Gail, I want to wish you all the best for number nine, you’re an old hat at this now. You could do it with your eyes closed, I’m sure. How’s the prep gone this year, are you feeling comfortable?
GS: Yes, I am. I had a couple of hiccups along the way, when you miss one long run, the whole world is coming to an end, so I’ve missed one or two Saturday long runs. Otherwise my training has gone well. I’m happy and I can’t say I’m going for a Bill Rowan, I mean I haven’t done the training. But if I keep going, it will be a decent nine-hour this year.
BB: I was going to say, a Bill Rowan on the cards, but you answered that before I got to ask it.
GS: You know, Bill Rowan takes a lot from you, in my view. I’ve never run one, I’ve got close to one, I did a 9:16. But it takes a lot of time away from my kids. So my balance is, I run, I do what I can and on the day. If my legs say, okay, you’re in for a Bill Rowan, I’ll try. I’ve tried twice and ja, so we’ll see, but a sub 10 is all I’m wanting, nine-hour something.
BB: Gail, best of luck, it’s been awesome chatting and I love stories like this, I think everyone has a Comrades story. I just love sharing them on this platform, so thanks for sharing yours.
GS: Thank you very much.