I Was Sure It Was Intelligence

Tim Noakes says it’s cowardice!

I have always stopped (way) shy of really pushing my body. My mantra is a firm “No Pain, No Pain”. Intelligence or cowardice? Intelligence, of course, IMNSHO.


. . . . Noakes tells the central-governor story in a narrative form that’s almost, well … almost readable. I’m not saying the paper is easy-going, certainly not for the faint-of-heart. And I’m sure there are vast parts of it that I don’t understand—it appears to have about 150 references, many of them from the last year or two of research.

Still, the quotes from great athletes are always entertaining. Roger Bannister says: “The great barrier is the mental hurdle.” Former marathon world record holder Derek Clayton says: “The difference between my world record and many world class runners is mental fortitude. I ran believing in mind over matter.”

Apparently Noakes does as well. In the provocative last section of his paper, he writes that the “illusionary” symptoms of fatigue are what separates the marathon winner from the runners-up. The first time I read this section, I couldn’t help but think about the people with illusionary thoughts who are often locked up in mental wards. Of course, Noakes isn’t saying that fast runners are crazy. Only that their thoughts are illusionary in the sense that they “are entirely self-generated by each athlete’s brain and so are unique to each individual.”

Noakes closes by quoting Vince Lombardi, who said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Noakes believes, however, that Lombardi got things backwards. Noakes writes: “My unproven hypothesis is that in the case of a close finish, physiology does not determine who wins. Rather somewhere in the final section of the race, the brains of the second, and lower placed finishers, accept their respective finishing positions and no longer challenge for a higher finish.” The winner’s brain simply doesn’t give in.

In other words, according to Noakes, cowardice produces fatigue.

Sadly, I believe him. My brain explains to me in firm, no-nonsense terms that it is pointless pushing any harder and in fact it’s time to take a short break. And I always obey.

Running is Impossible


Harrismith Mountain Race – Again

Years later I was training for Comrades and thought it would be a good idea to persuade Dizzi and Jon Taylor to join me in another go at the mountain-goatish course.

Someone took pics, unfortunately, which showed Dizzi running spritely and the old boys shuffling ignominiously.

– Dizzi comes steaming past –

One old goat in indecently short shorts, me in Savages strip No. 451 and modest attire.

Ever since, Jon has sworn this is the race that gave him arthritic knees. I think his shorts were too short so his knees caught cold and gave him kneasles.

We eventually finished with knees like jelly after the downhill section. Dizzi asked ‘What Kept Us?’


Don’t Call Me Comrade

I tried. Well, I made a less-than-worthy attempt. My heart wasn’t in the training. I could never quite see the glamour or ‘worthiness’ of shuffling furtively round the dark streets long before sunrise, but I gave it a go. I even tried the flaming hot running shorts Phil Greenberg gave me in the hopes I’d speed up a bit.

I joined a club – maybe that’s where I went wrong? I joined Westville with their red & white hoops ‘caterpillar’ outfit whereas historically I was more suited to be a black-&-white Savage with a Zulu shield, knobkierie and spear on my chest. Years before, I had been Savage No. 451, so maybe I should have stuck to that? Westville gave me number 159738b or something – I don’t think they valued me like Savages did. That probably put me off my stride a bit.

Comrades 2013

Anyway, I shuffled and I shuffled and I ran all the races including two 42km marathons.

Here’s an example of a ‘short’ training run in windy, hilly Westville, starting at our home. We took turns hosting our short runs at our homes, with tea n cake served afterwards. This is the run I worked out for the training team:

Walk up River Drive

R into Elvira

R into Rockdale across highway bridge

R Severn – down

L Mersey

L Rockdale – UP for 500m !!

Back all along Rockdale

R Tweed – Done 4km at this point

L Thames – down

R Conway – down

L Constance Cawston – UP & UP

L Somerset – UP & UP (becomes Frank)

L Cochrane (becomes Cleveland – UP) – 6,5km

L Rockdale

R Rockdale (that’s right, Rockdale again !)

R Broadway – UP

L Neville – 8,6km

L Westbrook – down, then UP

L Harrison – UP

L Springvale

R Lawrence

R River – 11,5km

Then eventually the big day arrived and I hadn’t arranged anything so I took myself off to Maritzburg to my folks. Early the next morning my Mom dropped me off at the start – long before sunrise. More dark streets – but now with crowds of lunatics milling around the red brick city hall.

comrades start

Some guy crowed like a rooster and a gun went off in the dark and nothing happened. Minutes later still nothing had happened. The chatter of the would-be runners had changed to an excited murmur but nothing else had changed. Eventually we started shuffling at a very slow pace, slower even than my training pace, and some long time later we crossed the START line. The START line! I was tired already! I think I was in Batch ZZZZ.

That’s when I started thinking fu-uck! and I’m afraid that thought didn’t really leave me all day. I knew my pace was slow by the people around me: None of the runners looked like young skinny blonde Wits students, nor like Russians – and if they did look African they looked larger and rounder than me. Also the few spectators about weren’t saying ‘Well Done!’ or ‘Go! Guys!‘ NO, Instead they were saying Move Along! in a rather critical, nagging tone of voice, I thought. No ‘You’re looking good!’s Weird that.

This was confirmed when I passed under a banner that said ‘HALFWAY’ – Half way meant I only had 3km (Plus a Marathon) to go. Springbok rugby captain Wynand Claassen recklessly shot off a gun which left gunpowder residue on my scarlet Westville Running Club shorts. Well, if that wasn’t a pointed ‘Move Your Arse’ hint! Who the hell did he think he was? He had run the race but he’d never won the race, his father had.

En route I caught up with a few long-lost friends: Jacques-Herman du Plessis from Harrismith days; Rheinie Fritsch from army days. Also Aitch and 5yr-old Jessie and 1yr-old Tommy met me in Botha’s Hill for a family reunion. They were all a bit cool though, a bit offish, I thought: after a while enjoying standing and chatting to them they all said, ‘Haven’t you got something to do today?‘ and sent me on my way.

So I shuffled and I shuffled and then my spirits rose at a sudden thought! I started to think maybe there had been a collective coming to their senses, as there were no other runners around nor any spectators. Maybe I had got the wrong day? Or maybe everyone had just gone home to a hot bath and a cold beer?

But no, the spectators returned. Trouble is they were all packing up their deckchairs. And so the slow torture continued. Shuffle, shuffle. Suddenly a few cops jumped in front of me holding reflective tape as I shuffled under the N3 below 45th Cutting, just before the onramp (usually an offramp) onto the Berea Road section of the N3 into town.

Go Home, they said, We need this road for tomorrow’s traffic. You’ve had eleven hours, they said, and you’ve only done 82km. Where have you BEEN?

So I went home to a hot bath and a cold beer. Look, about this heading: Actually, you can call me Comrade, I’d love that, but only in a liberation sense, not in a shuffling sense.


So now I’m also guilty of this:
“How do you know if someone has run a marathon?”

“They’ll tell you.”


The guys in my pics are Dave Williams, Kingfisher and Savages mate; and Dave Lowe, Westville runner; Both have done OVER FORTY Comrades – 41 and 42 respectively to be precise. That is Seriously Certifiable! I told Dave ‘Jesus’ ‘John Cleese’ Williams just the other night at Ernie’s wake “You know you can stop now, right?” and he said no, he failed to finish last year for the first time ever, so this year he’s going to repeat his 42nd Comrades. Bleedin’ ‘ell!

My Education Proceeds Apace

Two versions of “pace” on this morning’s school run:
Tom – Dad, I PACED him (telling how he had run around some hapless defender on the rugby field).
Faatima – I have to learn to PASTE myself when running (telling how she runs with her 18-Comrades-medals Dad).

I learn a lot on the school run . . .

Beating a Not-So-Hasty Retreat

The Dundee (pronounced DinDear locally) athletic club and the Dundee Hysterical Society run a 21km foot race called the Isandlwana 21 or The Fugitives’ Trail half marathon every January on the closest Sunday to the 22nd which is when the homeland-defending Zooloos routed the wickedly-invading Poms in 1879 and gave them a well-deserved smack on the snoot. After this thrashing Mrs Queen Vic dished out her Crosses by the dozen like smarties to cover up their embarrassment. A fig leaf for the Empire’s nakedness, I say. ‘Have one of her crosses, mate, just don’t tell her what actually happened, mKay?’

The race starts on a hill overlooking the Isandlwana mountain and ends at Rorke’s Drift.

I went to run it one year and it was very special: Half the club members manning the water tables dressed as Zulus in full regalia, and half dressed as pith-helmeted, redcoated Poms. Some of the former were pale and some of the latter dark, to add to the hilarity. I was appropriately dressed in my Savages Club black n white vest with my number 482 on show. This was quite a while ago, shortly after the actual battle, I spose. When I joined Westville Club in the 21st century I was given number 8754357808F. I don’t think they valued me like Savages did.

The oke who started the race looked like a drunken Pommy colonel, his nose as red as his jacket. He had no gun, no whistle nor no trumpet. He had a moustache, and he rambled on about who had done what to whom in 1879 – a potted history in which I think he underplayed the extent of the well-deserved smack on the snoot. And then, when the ‘off’ time arrived, he shouted:


‘Course, in my specific case, all the Zooloos running that day were well ahead of me. Nevertheless, just like Mrs Queen Vic, the DinDear athletic club dished out Victoria Crosses liberally that day, even to slow coaches.


redcoats n zulus

The race result was something like this photo above.

We crossed the Buffalo river at Rorke’s Drift and finished at the famous mission of the same name:

I think the finishers medal is rather special – a cross between a Victoria Cross and a Zulu shield:

My VC from Isandlwana 21km

I later gave mine away to a great cause.