Man has been running for as long as he has existed here on earth. First and most importantly man had to run to stay alive! We were chased by big predators for miles on end and the better you run the longer you might live! Before man invented the bow and arrow the only other weapon that was used was the stick, and this method was not very effective to say the least....imagine trying to run next to a 500kg beast and attempting to batter it to the ground while staying clear from hooves and horns....This proved a little bit tricky.
But man had a weapon more effective than a rock or a sharp stick....we have an evaporation based cooling system in the form of sweat and as it turns out, a buck can only run for a limited amount of time before it needs to stop to cool the body down, they don’t sweat! The San Bushmen of the Kalahari used this technique to great effect to literally run the Kudu into the ground till it is so hot and exhausted that it has to stop and drop!
So when did I first started running? My first contact with a runner was with Oom Louis Naude, my best friend`s Dad. He was the one who got me into a pair of running shoes by the time I was about 12 years old. I used to visit the Naude`s almost every weekend and the treat would be when we would go away to their farm for the weekend. Those were the best days of my childhood, as this was where I was taught how to drive a car, how to ride a horse, how to milk a cow, how to fire a rifle, and most importantly, how to run. Oom Louis is a veteran of many Two Oceans and a couple of Comrades Marathons. Every Saturday he would run past our house and take a loo break, my dad always joked that he could set a clock to oom Louis toilet breaks!
While on the farm the two of us would run to the river that flowed through the farm, must have been over 10km from the house as the run was always over an hour or so. My first pair of running shoes was a pair of hand me downs stuffed with newspaper to make them fit! I would run behind oom Louis and his sheepdog and show up 15 minutes behind him. One of the toughest runs with him was while he was prepairing for the Two Oceans, and we ran around Kroonstad, and I guess it must have been close on a 21km run, and by the time I got home I was so tired, I crashed and slept the whole day. Oom Louis told my Dad that he was amazed by my run and that I had the talent to be a good runner. So that is when I first started to think about running.
I only really developed into a good runner when I went to high school. I joined the cross country running team and was the only junior in the team. My first race was in Parys, a small town on the border of the Freestate and Gauteng. I remember being very nervous but after a flat Coke and a Bar-One I set off and came 3rd in my first ever official race. I really enjoyed cross country as you never know what the circuit will be like and have to adjust to the terrain on the day. I went to Bloemfontein and ran in the Freestate trails and made the Freestate Team to compete in the SA Champs in Wellington. I did well at SA Champs and finished 5th in my first champs. I did cross country till I was about 16 and then had to choose between that and swimming. I had too many extracurricular activities, I took part in swimming, cross country, high jump, 1200m and 1500m track running, biathlon and lifesaving. I decided to stick to track and field, swimming and biathlon. I did lifesaving on the weekends as this has always been my passion. In the winter it was rugby, my other great love! PS - Well done to the Boks for a great display of rugby this weekend against the Aussies!
I ran my first marathon at the age of 18. Thing is, I attempted my first ever marathon.......in the Ironman Triathlon in Vereeniging. Man, what a massive wake up call, thinking that I am a good enough runner I neglected my running training and focused only on the bike leg of the race. On race day I joined the other swimmers in the Vaal river for the 3,8km, bit nervous but confident. The race started and I shot out ahead trying to get away from the pack of swimmers, and by the time I came out the water I just remember running into the transition area and seeing that hardly any bikes have left the area yet. As I mounted the bike I just heard the announcer call out my race number to the crowed and to my disbelieve I was in the top 10 athletes. I was shocked, but the good news fuelled me and I flew out on the highway heading toward Joburg for the first lap of the 180km bike leg. I did well on the bike for the first lap, but halfway through the second lap I started to feel a bit flat. Bikes started to overtake me and I realized I went out to hard. By the time I finished the bike leg I entered the transition area in somewhere in the 110th position. My legs we wobbly as I started the 42km run and immediately I knew that this was going to be the toughest 42km of my life! Within the first 5km my legs started cramping so badly that I considered just stepping off the course but to my credit I stuck it out and continued on. I laboured through the 42km and if it was not for my second, Bruce, who talked and nursed me through the last 10km,I would never have made it. I finished my first Ironman in 12hrs38min and had tears in my eyes as I crossed the finish line that evening. I went home and could not walk for 3 days and vowed to be back and make sure I prepare well for the next race. Two years later I returned much fitter and wiser and finished in a respectable 11hrs16min. I am hoping to take part in the Hawaiian Ironman in the next couple of years!
During my time in Sun City where I worked as a lifeguard supervisor, I was surrounded by great runners. I had three running partners, Freddie who is better known as Ballas (a story for another day!), Alson a Zulu from Durban, and Marvi Sheehan, a 60+ year old 20+ Comrades Marathon legend! Marvi is an Aussie who left his native land to go and work in the UK as a 16 year old lad. After a couple years in the UK Marvi had enough and went to Egypt for some sightseeing. Marvi being a surfer, heard of the magical right-hander in J-Bay South Africa and decided he was going to make his way down to the Eastern Cape......by foot! Marvi travelled through Africa on foot and paddled across rivers on his surfboard and slept in empty police station cells. Marvi tells of a time when he was paddling across a river in Kenya and the locals on the other side were waving as he approached. Marvi stopped, waved and continued in their direction. When he arrived ashore he found out that the locals dare not go too close to the river in that area as there was a killer croc patrolling the waters and here is Marvi thinking, what a warm welcome from the locals!
Marvi settled in SA and worked for the Durban municipality as a Lifeguard Manager for years and years and we met in Sun City as he helped out in the winter as all the other managers headed up to the Uk for the season. My other running buddy, Alson, a Zulu from the hills of Natal, was probably the best running partner I have ever had. Alson helped me to run a 10km night race in Rustenburg in 36 minutes, my fastest time over 10km ever. I have never managed to go faster than that. We used to run a massive 2km hill in Sun City and Alson named it Inshlangagash – The Sacred Hill. That hill made us very very strong and the fact that we had the odd baboon playing chasing us up the hill also helped the fitness levels improve!
I have had the privilege to run in some of the most scenic places on this planet! Some of my favourite running routes were on the west coast of Ireland where I lived in a small village called Tully, and I ran along the cliffs covered in grass that grows right into the Atlantic Ocean. Some of my other favourite spots include running along the Mediterranean Ocean in Cyprus, Sun City, Lesotho, Cape Town, Simontown and Hermanus just to name a few.
Cape Town - Running up Signal Hill is one of my favorite runs in the Cape. It is a tough run and very steep, but once you reach the top the view is to die for. You have great views of the city bowl, Table Mountain, Camps Bay and Robben Island in the distance.
Running is in my blood and I love it. I am so looking forward to running the Marathon des Sables next years as this will be a great test of character and the will to succeed. As you know I am doing this for children with autism and every step I will take across the Sahara will be for all those families out there who is dealing with this disorder on a daily base, and this is much tougher than any race or marathon out there.
This one is for every person ever affected by Autism.