Keeping pace with Comrades royalty
Believe me, you would too if you’d managed to keep up with Gift Kelehe for a 13km run on the undulating roads of Dullstroom with its incredibly thin air.
Granted, John Hamlett’s elite Entsika AC runners were on their “easy run”. But easy for a group made up of a former Comrades winner, a couple of gold medallists and comfortable sub-seven-hour runners is a proper tempo run for this social runner.
And so it was with a huge smile that I got to the gate of the Critchley Hackle Hotel, ending the run having never looked out of place among six men who are going to tackle the 87km run up from Durban to Pietermaritzburg next month chasing sub-six-hour targets.
I, on the other hand, would be delighted with dipping below the 7:30 mark to have that silver medal dangling around my neck.
Dullstroom is coach Hamlett’s favourite place to camp, with his five Comrades champions having been made from there.
I first visited in 2017 when I did a 5km fartlek session with the team, stopping early in the run as I had to return to Joburg.
Last year, Hamlett was loath to allow anyone near his athletes lest we passed on the flu bug.
While he was equally vigilant this year – no shaking hands with the athletes please, he barked the night before - he agreed to us joining the morning run.
As he always does, The Colonel got us to gather for a pre-run prayer before letting us off.
Kelehe took the lead as usual and pretty soon him and Thando Ngcobo had opened up a 200m gap on us. Of course it was not a race, and Gordon Lesetedi – Entsika’s best performer in last year’s Down Run – was content to have us follow.
I stayed at the back, conversing with my homeboy Surprise Makofane as the coach and the rest of the media crew travelled on the other side in the cars.
I’d not exactly asked Hamlett what the plan for the run was, but I kept expecting the pace to increase. After all these are elites, and the pace we were doing felt very comfortable for me. I thought it surely should be too slow for them.
When we took the turn off the main road, I feared for my life. In the distance I could see the road – going so high up it could well have been leading to heaven.
What had I gotten myself into? But I looked just in front of me and got on with my running. All I could see was blue and white tops emblazoned Entsika. The word means ‘pillar’ and I decided to make that my pillar of strength to see me through.
But I need not have worried for the pace never really increased and I kept up, to the clear shock of my media colleagues who occasionally got out of the cars to take pictures and videos of the runners.
I was beginning to enjoy the run and was actually looking forward to climbing the next hill ahead when Hamlett instructed that we make a U-turn.
I decided to push up a little to the front just so I could be closer to Kelehe in the lead and I did so for a while until a short climb leading to the turn into the main road. That was the only time I really felt I was struggling but after that it was essentially a cruise to the end.
The Strava on my good old trusted Samsung Note 4 – yes, I run with that ancient brick of a phone instead of a watch – reported that I had done 13.19km in 57:47 minutes at a pace of 4:23/km.
Should I be able to complete my run at that pace on June 9, I will bring home a very good silver medal at the highly impressive time of 6:21:21 – a top 100 finish surely.
Now wouldn’t that be grand? No doubt, Hamlett, Kelehe and the rest of the guys would be delighted at having done their CSI for the year.