Westville AC – a KZN running institution
03 June 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto yet another edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. One thing I like doing every so often here on the show is chatting to folks, ordinary running folks who are involved with running clubs around the country, because the running scene in South Africa is just so strong and if it wasn’t for those running clubs it really wouldn’t be where it is today. We’re joined by one of those gentlemen now, Stefan Wilmans. Stefan, welcome onto the show. Thanks for joining us today.
Stefan Wilmans: Thanks a lot Brad.
BB: Stefan you’re from the Westville Athletic Club down in KZN in Kwazulu-Natal. It’s a club that’s been around for a long, long time hasn’t it?
SW: Yes, the club started in 1974 and it originally started from the boot of a car, there was no clubhouse. Yes, from there on it grew and it’s now apparently what I understand, the biggest club in Kwazulu-Natal.
What makes Westville special
BB: Wow, that’s incredible, I love that story, out of a boot of a car, that’s how things come from humble beginnings. Stefan what makes Westville as a club special in your mind?
SW: There’s always wonderful support around Westville and I think especially if you’re a Comrades runner. A lot of people will tell you that, you know once you come past Westville even from Hillcrest on the Down run people just cheer you on.
It doesn’t matter if there’s other club runners next to you from other clubs, for some or other reason the Westville runner always stands out. He gets the support. A lot of people come afterwards and said to me, “Now why do they cheer you on, what’s wrong with our club?”
BB: That’s fantastic. Stefan you mentioned it’s got quite a big Comrades culture obviously because it’s in KZN and where it is specifically does make a difference. You personally, you’ve had your fair share of Comrades but you’ve proved what you wanted to prove and you’re done with that crazy race aren’t you?
SW: Yes, I’ve always wanted to do it. I was originally in Johannesburg and eventually moved down to Durban and you know once you’re here and you live on the route you just get drawn in. Eventually you end up doing it and yes, I’ve done it and eventually I got my green number in 2014. I decided, that’s it, my knees take a bit of a strain and I’m a bit more of the heavier runner, you know 80kg plus. For the bigger okes doing long distance like that the body takes some strain.
BB: Yes, it absolutely does without a doubt. You’re still running though, I mean you’re still ticking over I’m sure.
SW: Yes, I’m still running. I’m doing the shorter distances now. I’m doing up to half marathons, 10km, 15km and half marathons yes, and then of course I do cross country. That’s also part of the league we’ve got down here. Then of course the time trials that we’ve got competing against other clubs but that’s just 8km.
The importance of a club time trial
BB: Let’s talk about some of the things that are going around the club at Westville. You mentioned the cross country. We’ll touch on that in a mo, but the time trials, that’s one of the big things. Any club or someone’s listening to this and they’ve got a running club that’s maybe not growing, time trials is where it all starts for a running club. Tell us a little bit about yours.
SW: Yes, absolutely. We’ve got a time trial night, every Tuesday night. Then club members and visitors are also welcome and they can come and do our time trial. It’s 4km for women and 8km for men. Basically the 8km is just a double lapper. You run out on the street and it’s a route that we all know and of course if you don’t know the route you must just follow one of the older members that’s used to the route. As I say, it’s every Tuesday afternoon at 17:45.
BB: Like you say, visitors welcome, just make sure you’re not the fastest otherwise you’ll lead everyone astray.
SW: That’s it, that’s what I say to the visitors; when you come make sure that you don’t run in front because you might get lost.
Great social aspect at Westville
BB: I love it. Stefan and then from a social perspective, I mean running clubs that spend a lot of time sort of off the road together braaiing and socialising, those tend to grow as well. Tell us a little bit about the social side of Westville.
SW: Yes, absolutely. Also on the Tuesday nights, that’s our club night, but once a month we’ve got a braai night. After the time trial we light braai fires and the people are welcome to come and braai. Yes, we’ve got a bar available there.
After cross country in the afternoons when you’ve got a league cross country there’s also drinks available and people can also braai if they want to. Yes and at the races afterwards we also have a few drinks after a race so yes, there’s a lot of drinking that goes with the running.
BB: It sounds like most running clubs in the country we’ve got. It’s a drinking club with a running problem.
SW: That’s right.
BB: Stefan, tell me a little bit about how you got into the sport of running. I mean I always love hearing how people started. Where did your journey begin?
Moving to KZN got inspired to run Comrades
SW: Well like I say when I grew up in Johannesburg and I always watched it on TV and at that stage Bruce Fordyce was the icon. That was in the eighties when he was winning Comrades and you know you always look at it and you think you know I’d love to do that.
But being up in Joburg and you know you’ve got the cold winters there, it didn’t really stick until I moved down to Durban and got involved here. You know you see the people running and suddenly you realise but Comrades is right here, you know it’s right on your doorstep and it was actually my wife.
My wife met one of the runners at the club and they said to her, you know you’ve visited the club on a few occasions as a visitor, why don’t you join. Yes, we decided to join and eventually when we joined and I heard about the Comrades stories. I decided that’s what I want to do.
Yes, then you get simply drawn in and you enjoy some of the running groups and become part of it. Before you know it you’re there, you do the training you have to do. You end up on the morning there in Maritzburg ready to roll.
BB: Before you know it you’re sucked in for ten.
SW: Yes, the actually plan, my plan was only to do four. Now because I thought no, I’ve got the ability to run four different medals, the silver, the Bill Rowan, the bronze and then Vic Clapham. But yes, the silver was the one that kept on eluding me. I never got that one and eventually I ended up with nine Bill Rowan’s and one bronze.
The KZN cross country league
BB: Wow, now that’s incredible. Stefan, tell me a little bit about that cross country league as well in KZN. It’s something that, I mean if you look at over the years you talk about that era when Bruce Fordyce was racing. But back in the eighties there was a very strong cross country set up here in South Africa. It died a little bit but seems to be reviving and getting much stronger.
SW: Yes, look I think the cross country went through a patch where it was sort of a like dying sport. I do think it’s starting to pick up a bit. I know that we’ve got quite a few leagues going during the year now and it’s not only in Durban, Maritzburg. But it’s now more across the whole of Kwazulu Natal.
We try and encourage the people to do those leagues. It’s really fun, it’s on a Saturday afternoon, and no, it doesn’t take much of your time. It’s different distances for the different age groups but it’s really a nice, and I think it really enhances your running towards road running as well. It definitely gives you strength.
BB: Yes, I wanted to ask you that. Have you found that it’s been very beneficial to your running performance, that it’s really helped you run better?
SW: Oh yes, definitely. You know the people reckon in my days when I was an open runner we did 12km and a lot of people reckon that the 12km off-road equals to a half marathon on the road.
BB: Interesting. Stefan and then just finally as far, I mean we’ve spoken cross country and time trials at Westville. Do you guys do sort of like morning group runs or are there sort of little pods of people who are possibly training for different races. Whether it be Comrades or if it’s a group of newbies training for their first 10 kilometres?
Club structures to support all
BB: Do you have those sorts of things in place as well around the club?
SW: Yes, we do. You know especially if there’s new runners joining, they always want to start running. You know they can’t just come to the club because as I said the club is only open on Tuesday night. Then we normally inform them that we’ve got, we are quite fortunate, our club has got a track as well.
It’s basically like a soccer field but we do run around the track there and we’ve got training there on Monday nights and Thursday nights and then we run from a shopping centre here in Westville, the Westville Mall. There’s runs on from Monday to Friday in the mornings before work.
BB: Brilliant, so if you want to find out more about Westville Athletics Club I’m sure you’re always looking for new members and welcome new members in. If there’s someone in that area and they’re looking to join a club, how can they get hold of the running club?
SW: Yes, absolutely. I think what they can do is and a lot of people on the net nowadays, we’ve got a website and we’re on Facebook. They can just go onto the Facebook page of Westville Athletic Club and all the information is there.
BB: Fantastic, I’ll put the links in the show notes to this episode as well. Stefan, thank you very much for your time, I love chatting running clubs and finding out about little clubs. I say little clubs, it’s a huge club around the country but it’s good to see you guys are growing and doing such great things, so keep it up and thanks for your time today.
SW: Right, thanks a lot Brad.