Veteran Photo to have a go at Comrades glory

Published Mar 23, 2024


AT 44 YEARS of age, you’d expect road runner Rufus Photo to be slowing down and considering life beyond the sport he has chosen as his profession. That though is not the case for the man who hails from Ga-Chokoe village in Moletjie, near Polokwane in Limpopo.

Photo, who runs for KwaZulu-Natal-based Black Diamond AC, is dreaming big. Way too big, some would argue.

“I want a podium finish at Comrades Marathon this year,” Photo says during an interview with Independent Newspapers ahead of today’s Makoro Village Marathon in Ga-Molepo. “And I am going to use this race as part of my training. I will be doing the full marathon just to see where I am before I start proper high mileage training in April.”

Photo’s objective of finishing in the top three at the Ultimate Human Race in KwaZulu-Natal on June 9 is not a far-fetched dream he suddenly woke up with. After all, he finished fifth in last year’s Down Run, in the process setting a new best time for the 40 to 49-year-olds’ category.

That he improved on a time set by the legendary Vladimir Kotov, who won the Comrades three times in his 40s (42 in 2000, 44 in 2002 and 46 in 2004) gives Photo the confidence that he could – just like good old wine – be mellowing with time.

“I am improving a lot the older I get. I ran last year’s Comrades as a veteran of 43 years old, but I improved on a time I ran when I was 36. Two years ago I ran a 2:19 marathon at 42, that’s a time I last ran 10 years ago. And I realised that I got faster due to running and training with guys much younger than me.”

Having smashed a 5:21:47 in last year’s Down Run to finish fifth and be the first veteran to cross the line, Photo would love nothing more than another fantastic race in the run up from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.

And he is tired of finishing in fifth place, his best position in the Comrades on three occasions – all of them on the down run. He has four gold medals from eight finishes out of 10 starts, the first of which was ninth place in the 2013 Up Run.

“Fifth place clearly likes me. But I don’t love it back. I want a better position. I want a podium finish, and who knows I could even win it.”

A fellow Limpopo province athlete and former Comrades champion Ludwick Mamabolo believes Photo has it in him to emulate him, and has called on the province to support him by organising a training camp. At the launch of the Makoro Marathon, Polokwane mayor John Mpe – whose foundation is organising Saturday’s race – promised he would help the athlete.

“I am still waiting to hear from the mayor about how they will support me with the camp. If I can have about six weeks of a well-organised training camp in a place conducive to great training, I know I will do well at Comrades. All these years, I’ve only ever trained here at home in the village. I’ve not had organised training camps like the other runners I have been competing with,” he said, in reference to how other clubs send their athletes to camps of about two months in high altitude areas such as Dullstroom, the Drakensberg and Lesotho.

Yet he still managed to produce some impressive results.

“Over the years I’ve had to do trial and error with my training programmes and sometimes I’d get it right and sometimes not. But lately I think I have found what works. What has really helped me is that I begun seeing a psychologist after that first gold medal and that has helped me with mental strength. It really came in handy last year when I went to Comrades with uncertainty as our club then (Murray and Roberts) was closing down.”

Photo ran last year’s race as a way to market himself to other clubs and it paid off as Black Diamonds noticed and signed him up.

“It was very tough last year because I lost out on about R75 000 which I would have earned as club bonuses for my fifth place finish as well as being the first veteran. But I was happy that Polokwane Municipality mayor John Mpe gave me R50k for being the first runner from the province and the Capricorn District to finish the race,” he said.

As he reflected on his Comrades runs – two of them DNFs (Did Not Finish) after he raced suffering shin splints and flu in 2017 and 2018 – Photo says nothing beats being properly trained.

“I learnt the hard way over the years, and in 2022 in particular I had a bad run (finished 24th) because I over-raced. We had just come out of Covid and I was trying to make up for lost earnings and I went to just about every race in a quest to make money. But I paid dearly for it at Comrades. Last year I cut down on races and I really trained well, that’s why I had such a good race. Those boys who beat me did so just because they are much younger and faster. But had it been a 100km race, I would have won. I had the fitness and the stamina to keep going.”

He has no intentions of changing things this year and he goes to today’s Makoro Marathon intent on doing a solid three hours’ work-out before he can race the Mall of the North Marathon in Polokwane.

“Thereafter, I will do the Durban International Marathon, which is a club requisite before hopefully going into a camp for at least six weeks building up to Comrades.”

Veteran Comrades winners are a rarity and should he manage to be victorious on June 9, Photo will add his name to that special list of such, which includes the trio of Kotov, George Claassen and Wally Hayward.

“My aim is to run 5:30 in the up run. If I can do that at my age, I will be very happy and I am feeling that I am much stronger than before. I am not even thinking about quitting, at least not now. Maybe I will start thinking about it after I have turned 46.”