Veteran city runners gear up for Comrades

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PN E 78YearRunner2 Etienne Creux Seventy-eight-year old Dion Heigers with his medals. Oom Dion is running Comrades for the 23rd time. Picture: Etienne Creux

Alison Rumsey

AGE IS nothing but a number is a fitting saying for Dion Heigers, 78, and Thomas Chauke, 65, who will be tackling the gruelling Comrades Marathon on Sunday to add to their already impressive collection of medals.

Heigers, or “Oom Dion” as he is known to fellow members of the Alpha Centurion Road Runners, will be competing for his 13th bronze medal. Chauke is hoping for his 10th silver.

Oom Dion’s passion for running started at the age of 52 when he took his family to the South Coast on holiday. “My son took me on a 1.8km run and I haven’t stopped since,” he says. For Christmas that year he got his first pair of running shoes. Upon returning to his home in Lyttelton he joined the Verwoerdburg Marathon Club, now known as the Alpha Centurion Road Runners.

He moved to Port Elizabeth for two years where he joined the university’s club. “A guy from the club told me I had potential so I should run the Two Oceans marathon. I didn’t even know what it was,” he laughs. He has since run the Two Oceans 21 times and the Comrades 22 times, earning himself 12 bronze medals in the latter.

Hanging proudly in the living room are photographs of him posing in his club gear with running legend Wally Hayward, friends and family. Oom Dion credits his family as his biggest supporters. Club members are also very encouraging, especially along the route.

PN Thomas Chauke9533 Thomas Chauke, 65, prepares for his 29th Comrades Marathon. He plans to finish the race in under eight hours. Picture: Phill Magakoe INL SA

He runs 10km every day except Sundays. “You need a day’s rest to recover.”

Leading up to a big race like the Comrades, he’ll compete in three to four marathons and ultra marathons, running a total of 1 300 to 1 700km. He also makes sure he eats healthily.

Come Sunday, Oom Dion will run with a friend. “Rather run with someone; not alone. There’s nothing worse than looking behind you and seeing no one and looking in front of you and seeing no one.”

Something he will never forget is running through Botha’s Hill.

“Kids from a special needs school in the area stand along the side of the road cheering as we run past.

“Most of us usually high-five them as we go past. It’s a huge highlight for them. We’re kind of like their heroes.”

For Sundays race he’s not worried about the clock – he just wants to finish before the 12-hour cut-off.

He doesn’t see himself hanging up his running shoes soon. “There’s nothing more satisfying than running into that stadium at the end of the race.”

This morning, Chauke, who still has a full-time job as a security guard at O’Hagans in Lynnwood Road, will travel by bus to Pietermaritzburg where he will run his 29th Comrades marathon.

He ran his first Comrades in 1983, at the age of 29. He received a bronze medal followed by nine silver medals, 15 bronze medals, two Bill Rowan medals and one Vic Clapham medal. Proudly he recalls that he ran his best time in 1991 when he ran in a time of six hours, 53 minutes and nine seconds. This year he is hoping to finish the race in about eight hours.

Chauke, who now lives in Menlo Park, grew up in Limpopo where he enjoyed running, even as a child.

He joined the Pretoria Marathon Club and runs 10km to 15km every day. Confidently, he says: “I’ll keep running until I can’t run any more.”

Unfortunately Martin Coetzee, 80, of the Magnolia Running Club, will not be running for his 20th bronze medal this year. Three weeks ago he fell off a balcony, injuring his back and ankle, forcing him to be a spectator this year. He missed the cut-off time by nine minutes in 2011.


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