Running Comrades for the first time

03 Jul 2014 12:10
Jean-Loup Fenaux
Focus on a race

Niandi: So Leslie in a nutshell how did your first ultra and Comrades go?

It went really well. It went better than I expected. I finished it in the time I wanted and I didn’t get any injuries and I didn’t suffer and I enjoyed myself. Of course there were moments when it was difficult but basically it’s a wonderful race and I loved every minute of it.

Niandi: What did you think about the route?

The route was lovely – I liked it because it was varied. It takes you up and down. You don’t get bored on a Comrades route – the scenery changes constantly. There is so much to see and the supporters are fantastic. I loved the views – the route was great. The last few kilometres coming into Durban were tedious because you ran on the motorway but that is the only way you can get to the finish but overall the route was great! I loved it!

Niandi: And the spectator support?

They’re marvellous – everything was marvellous. From the small children who line up on the side of the road and who want to touch your hands, they’re so sweet. And the women dancing, so enthusiastic, really joyful and singing songs to the Afrikaners who were sitting there with tables out, barbecuing, with coolers, knitting, listening to radios like they’d just transferred their living room to the Comrades race. The whole thing was just a feast to watch – I loved it! The supporters were wonderful and every time you looked hesitant or lost everyone would come and get you and try and propose things for you, try and help you. Everyone was just adorable. A wonderful route of supporters – I loved that!

Niandi: Can you describe the start?

Leslie: Like all race starts you’re smashed up into a pen with all these people you don’t know but it’s different for several reasons. First of all the night start makes it mystical. Then Shosholoza* which gives you goose bumps even if you’re not South African and even if you’re not African. Everyone’s singing around you, then the Chariots of Fire and then the famous rooster crow. It just went with that whole aura of this mythic race. Then the gun going. The start was very touching, very poignant, very strong. I had very strong emotions at the start.


Niandi: Did you see any other barefoot/VFF runners?

Leslie: Very early on in the race I saw a South African gentleman. He was barefoot – it was his third or fourth race. In the whole race I met 3 South African barefoot runners and several VFF runners all male and all foreign from Germany, the Netherlands. I didn’t see any other women though although you saw one. But not that many considering there were 15 000 of us running.

Niandi: You met Zola Budd one of your idols who came in 7th lady! Why was this so special to you?

Leslie: Because she’s amazing. After all this time she’s still breaking records. She looks terribly fit. She ran barefoot in the past. I could never ever even claim to be near her league but for someone who runs barefoot it is always fantastic to meet someone like Zola Budd, who broke records running barefoot, who is an icon and continues to be one. It was an honour to meet Zola Budd

Niandi: You also had the opportunity of meeting Jo Meek, a UK runner who came in 5th lady in 6.47! Tell us about Jo!

Leslie: Jo is wonderful – she’s fun and doesn’t take herself seriously. She has a great sense of humour. She’s so toned – you can just tell that she’s made to run. She’s all muscles, small, lithe and wiry. She has a wonderful smile. We had a great night – we were invited to a real South African braai and she ate for 6 and so did I by the way. (Giggles) You can tell when I eat for 6 but you can’t tell when Jo eats for 6. I didn’t see her at the end of Comrades but you did Niandi and you said she looked quite fresh. But we bumped into her at the airport and we took some pictures and she dashed off to catch her plane because she was late. She ran like a maniac so obviously running Comrades had no effect on her. She could probably run it back to back no problem in the same day. She’s amazing. It was great to meet her. I can’t wait to meet her again.

Niandi: You’ve also met Bruce Fordyce the Comrades King. Can you tell us a little about him?

Leslie: He is probably one of the sweetest persons I have ever met and has a great sense of humour. He doesn’t take himself seriously for such a champion and is funny in a goofy way. He actually calls himself the Mr Bean of running and it suits him because he does have a goofy style to him. It doesn’t take anything away from the fact that he’s an amazing athlete and one of South Africa’s best sports ambassadors in the way that he makes people laugh and he brings them together. It is thanks to him and thanks to you that I ran Comrades. He was so encouraging and so positive, so enthusiastic. I just got hooked. And I’ll be back – I have to be back.


Niandi: How did you train for this?

Leslie: I started training in February. I started with a 60km training run which we did together near Paris and at night. I wanted to do 3 marathons. I was only able to get 2 marathons in and a few 30km training runs and I trained the best I could. I work, I fly. It’s not always easy to get a lot of time. I didn’t feel I was trained enough for this but I’m pleasantly surprised with the results and the after results. I was in some sense ready.

Niandi: Do you want to back next year for the up run?

Leslie: Definitely! I’ve got to do the back to back. It’s the 90th anniversary of Comrades and I guess I’m hooked. You see all these runners – you see on their bibs the number of Comrades they do and you see people who have done Comrades 30 times. You see these little old wiry ladies, all hunched, just running along the Comrades course and you think My God it’s just amazing. And you want to be part of this whole thing because it’s an institution.

Niandi: What are the weather conditions like?

Leslie: The sun was very merciful this year. Last year apparently was very hot. The weather was great – we had a little bit of cloud cover. We didn’t get too much sun. I was thirsty and drank lots but it wasn’t unbearably hot. It was cool in the morning –there was no frost. For me it was just an ideal run.

Niandi: What do you think about the organization?

Leslie: I think it was terrific – you have feed stations every 2km with abundant amount of everything you want. The seeding batches were very well organized. A Comrades official took me to the international tent at the finish. Everyone was charming and helpful. Officials and non-officials – even the supporters. Everyone seems to get involved – it’s like this national volunteers day. Everyone is at Comrades’ disposal on a Comrades race. I love it – it’s a wonderful feeling.


Niandi: 3 words to describe the Comrades race

Leslie: Spirit, Enthusiasm and Challenge

*Shosholoza is an Ndebele folk song that originated in Zimbabwe but was popularized in South Africa. The song is a traditional South African folk song that was sung by Ndebele all-male migrant workers that were working in the South African mines in a call and response style. The song is so popular in South African culture that it is often referred to as South Africa’s second national anthem.