One of my running goals is to beat the oldest Comrades finisher, but this is getting trickier to do. The oldest finisher in 2011, Casper Greef, finished an hour and 14 minutes before me and improved his previous years time, by an hour and 27 minutes. This year he turns 77, no doubt he will be at the starting line in Pietermaritsburg again and my challenge is on!
This past weekend's race I was lucky enough to see some fine examples of these grand grand masters. At the start of the Pretoria race, a cluster of us huddled together for the first kilometer and we noticed a 70 year old go loping by. He looked his age with his leaning style, except he was speeding past us, and I joked to one of my friends that we still have another 30 years of running ahead of us.
We passed the loper several times and as our group dispersed we lost sight of the older gentleman. Around the 15km mark we saw a man wearing a '75' year badge. He had a very young looking physique and hubby joked that he was using his older brothers running vest. After the passing and by passing, my hubby started chatting to him, and asked if he was indeed 75. We gulped as he told us he was 78. Wow!
A 70 year old came trotting past us, and he remarked to us, that he can never beat this runner, and he always catches him at about three quarters into the race.I laughed at the thought that the competitiveness never stops! The jokes flew as he passed us and just before a corner he warned us that we were turning into a very long winded hill.
Turning the corner, I put my head down and started to pepper the gentleman with questions. His running career began in the 1950's and had many stories to tell. I asked him which medal he was most proud of and he said that the year Wally Hayward did a 9h30 something, he was ten minutes ahead of Wally. The following year he was again ten minutes ahead of the legend, but this time, they were both an hour slower. He spoke of his 22 Comrades starts with only 11 medals, and laughed when he said his wife chastises him, when he tells everyone that he didn't get the medal, when he still completed the distance. He told us of the benefits of an 'Epsom salts' bath after a long race, and said he was looking forward to this morning's soak. At the waterpoint halfway up the hill, we thanked him for the lovely distraction and continued to plod on, as he took a breather. He finished three minutes behind us, and still looked rather splendid.
People like these continue to inspire me and encourage me to keep at it. What an amazing sport!