Sports & Fitness

Comrades: A long and winding road

Comrades: A long and winding road

On the eve of this year’s Comrades Marathon, we speak to running partners Elsa de Beer and Paul Norman (both taking part for the 5th time), offer advice to first-timers and give you a taste of a few of the Lowveld’s most memorable races – who knows, it might inspire you to get off the couch!

Elsa de Beer

Runners are the first to admit they’re the worst junkies – once the bug has bitten, there’s no turning back. They need their daily fix and find life unbearable without it. “It’s my way of staying sane,” says Elsa, a hairdresser at Artistic Hair Studio in Sonpark. “The only way to cope with work, home and kids.”

The mother of two young boys, she’s always been the super-sporty type and was once a professional and club hockey player, as well as being an ace at action cricket. Although she used to jog, the intensity of her training increased after her youngest was born and she joined a club about five years ago.

“Once I was with LVCC and started meeting other runners, it became serious,” she says. She runs five days a week, and goes to the gym on the other two. When we meet up with her, she’s in full training mode, and very aware of staying healthy. “For two months before the Comrades, there are no hugs and kisses,” she laughs. “I keep my distance.”

A healthy eater anyway, she says she does watch her diet before any marathon, especially this one. “You become much more aware of what nutrients go into your body.” She also trains much, much harder and says she gets tired during the run-up.

Not that she would consider giving up the race. “It’s the same story every time: you come back and say ‘Never again’. By now, nobody believes me anymore.” This year’s down run suits her down to the ground and she’s hoping to do a sub 9-hour race.

Like anyone who’s ever competed, she confirms the amount of pain and suffering involved. Your mind literally has to overcome a body that’s screaming to stop, just stop! “You’re not the same person at 60km as you are at 30km,” Elsa says. “At first, you’ll see runners waving and smiling at the cameras; during the ast few kilometres, all you see are the backs of people’s necks – your head is literally hanging on the ground.”

This will be her fifth Comrades and the third she’s doing with running buddy, Paul. Her husband, who has also started running in the meantime, will be doing his first. She says he’s terribly excited yet petrified at the same time, no matter what advice she gives him. “Actually, he’s driving me insane,” she laughs, “All he wants to talk about is the Comrades – I’m slightly over it by now.”

Elsa’s advice

  • Run consistently, even if only a short distance a day
  • Don’t get panicky about lists of things you should and shouldn’t be doing – trust your own training programme and body
  • Be aware of viruses and bugs going around – no hugs and kisses!
  • Your takkies are very important – you don’t do the Comrades with new or unfamiliar shoes
  • Just chill and relax. You will make. It will happen.

comrades 2015 finish

Paul Norman

When Paul came down the steps in a pair of takkies, shorts and t-shirt early in 2010, his daughter Amber wanted to know what on earth he was doing. “Going for a run,” he answered. Her reaction? “Yeah, right dad…”

His drinking buddies had more or less the same reaction, hosing themselves at the mere suggestion. But Paul had a 40th birthday coming up in July and his beer boep was worrying him. “A serious beer boep,” he emphasises. Pretty determined, he started telling everyone he was planning on doing the Comrades the next year. “This was before I had even done a 21K,” he laughs. “They were all ragging me – nobody thought I was serious.”

Barely making a 1,5km jog on that first morning, he still persevered. Further inspired by a brother-in-law completing his first Comrades, Paul did his maiden marathon, the Rudaman’s Kaapsehoop 3 in 1, at the end of that year. And in 2011, the Comrades.

It was also more or less during this time that he and Elsa started running together. Part of the same club, he offered his help when she entered the ultra-marathon for the first time in 2012. In the beginning, he says, she was

helping him as she was definitely the stronger partner. Having a running buddy you’re comfortable with is a great motivator and comfort, they agree, in a sport which is essentially solitary. “It’s nice to have a person you can rely on,” he says, “someone who’s there in the morning.”

To Paul, the rewards of getting fit and adopting a healthier way of life. “It’s great once you start noticing the benefits,” he says. “It becomes a lifestyle – you’re aware of what you eat and can feel it when you’ve had a couple of beers too many.”

His advice to coach-potatoes-slash-potential-runners is to start small, but to make a start. “Like eating an elephant,” he smiles, “Do it in small bites. Don’t have the end goal in mind, but simply persevere – you’ll get there.”

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