The spirit of Comrades continues to shine
21 November 2016
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. As we head towards the conclusion of 2016 you might be wondering why are we talking about Comrades so soon but a lot of runners are already getting their minds and bodies wrapped around taking on the iconic ultra marathon next year. Entries as we speak are open, but they are going pretty quickly and we’re joined now by the General Manager of the Comrades Marathon Chris Fisher. Chris, welcome, nice to touch base again, are you well?
Chris Fisher: Brad, I’m very well, morning to all the listeners.
BB: It’s great to have you on Chris, it’s amazing, the thing just keeps on turning doesn’t it? We spoke I think just after Comrades 2016 about Comrades 2017 and everything is in place, the wheels are turning and on we go to next year’s race. From a Comrades perspective, everything running smoothly?
CF: Yes Brad, the show goes on. A lot of people think it’s an event and then nothing happens for a couple of months and then it just happens again. But we literally are planning 2-3 years ahead, so the team is hard at work. We’ve changed the venue this year, the finish venue, so that’s required a lot of work. We’ve also had a whole lot of other events in the interim like the Spirit of Comrades Awards and different race organising committee meetings, so it just continues to roll and all going well.
Celebrating the spirit of the Comrades Marathon
BB: Let’s touch on the Spirit of Comrades Awards, obviously Old Mutual very involved there as well. But again, it was another fantastic evening and speaking from experience, as a recipient of that award, it’s a great evening. A great way for Comrades and the greater community to recognise some unsung heroes.
CF: Brad, it’s our second biggest event of the year and it’s absolutely vital that we have this celebration. Because we do spend a lot of time and effort, obviously, on our winners and our Gold Medal winners and whatever. But each of the runners that complete the race has got a story. Old Mutual for a number of years now have wanted to hone in on the ordinary runner that’s done something extraordinary.
So the Old Mutual Spirit of Comrades Awards dinner is something that not only the Comrades staff, the board, the ROC, the media but all the average runner looks towards. Because there are so many stories there that are absolutely amazing. A year ago we had our blind runner, Richard Monisi, that was an absolutely amazing story.
Each year these stories just come through and all the running clubs send us their stories, their motivations and we hand them over to our Heritage and Traditions committee and they go through hundreds and hundreds of these stories. We have to obviously put a lid on it and say right, we can celebrate three amazing stories on the night and the stories just get better and better, it’s just amazing.
BB: It is amazing, you almost think, oh, you’ve heard it all, but every year new ones crop up and it’s phenomenal.
CF: If you don’t take a box of tissues to the Spirit of Comrades Awards evening, you’re going to spoil your shirt. When they explain exactly what some of these runners do and the sacrifices they make, it’s humbling. You sit there and think, gee, there are some absolutely amazing people out there.
BB: I think that’s one thing I love about Comrades too Chris, are the stories. It’s what sucks people in and keeps people coming back I guess. I think it’s something to aspire to and it’s just a great reward for ordinary, everyday runners who are doing, as you say, something extraordinary.
New board members bring fresh approach
You mentioned the Comrades staff and the board members who enjoy it, there’s also been some big changes at Comrades, particularly from a board level, recent AGM and some big changes there, does that affect anything? I know it’s from a continuity perspective quite difficult, but does that change anything for the average runner or not really Chris?
CF: Brad, change is a good thing. We’ve got a number of different, we have our AGM every year and there are some people that come up for re-election and this year we had five of our nine board members that came up for re-election. We had 11 incredibly strong candidates and that’s a fantastic message for Comrades.
We’ve had MBA’s, we’ve had lawyers, when I read up the CV’s of the 11 candidates in the hall and the hall was jam-packed. It’s absolutely amazing the quality of people that actually that get nominated to stand on the board. This year we’ve had some significant changes on the board and each of those new members I’m sure will contribute to the best of their ability in accordance with a mandate that the members have given them. We look forward to working with this newly constituted board.
We’ve got a new Chairperson because McDonald Chitja stood down at the end of last year to carry on with his other professional job. So we’ve got a new Chairman and we’ve got some new members. We’ve got some board members that are returning but it’s a new look Comrades board.
Will it affect the runners? Yes, it will and I’m sure it will affect it in a positive way. It all depends on how well the respective committees that get appointed by the board. We have what we call our ‘pillars of sustainability’ and each of those pillars has a committee. It’s how well the board actually extracts the intellectual knowledge that sits in their committee and puts that into Comrades. That ultimately affects how well Comrades is run.
Entry interest was been incredible yet again
BB: Let’s touch on the runners for a moment if we may Chris, the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon just we’ve recorded this have shut up shop on the ultra. It’s the quickest they’ve ever sold out, are we seeing similar trends in the Comrades entries? I know entries close up at the end of November for the 2017, how are we looking numbers-wise, are we up from last year? Is it flat, is it the same? What are things looking like? I see on the website as we’re recording this, just shy of 14 000 entries, which is also getting pretty close to the cut-off.
CF: Just shy of 14 000 and there’s always the late rush but interesting stats. Internationals, month on month, internationals are up and novices are a little bit down. But last year the novices were incredibly high. We had one in every three was a novice. We may well reach that figures again, but there’s going to have to be a little bit of an acceleration on the novice side. But we will hit our 20 000 during the course of November, so those listeners who haven’t put their application in, please do so or else you’re going to be disappointed.
BB: Absolutely and we saw it with the Two Oceans, there’s always a bit of a mad rush right at the end when people realise, oh, there’s not that many left. I think we’re getting to that point in the Comrades entries as well where it might sound like a lot, but it’s not. Once they start going, it’s going to pick up momentum. If you haven’t entered yet and you are planning on running Comrades 2017, now is the time. Don’t wait, because you will miss out.
Chris, as always, great to catch up, I think it’s always good to touch base in the build-up to these things and if there’s any changes or things runners need to know, it’s a great platform to let them know that. Thanks for your time today, much appreciated and we look forward to catching up again in the weeks and months leading up to Comrades 2017.
CF: Brad, thanks for the call, appreciate it.