A family on the road

2013-05-30 00:00

LAST Sunday morning, Maritzburg Runners Group members gathered at their usual training venue for their last training session before this year’s Comrades Marathon. It ended with a prayer session and last-minute motivational speeches.

On Sunday, more than 30 members of the group will be among the thousands of people running the 88th Comrades Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.

Formed three years ago by local athletes who run for different clubs, Maritzburg Runners Group (MRG) now has over 50 members. Among its members are elite athletes who have won gold medals in the Comrades Marathon, such as Bongumusa Mthembu and Petros Sosibo. The group also has many seasoned runners with over 10 Comrades medals each.

Running can be a lonely sport as training and racing is done on your own. Keeping yourself motivated and focused is difficult, and takes a lot of discipline, and preparing for ultra-marathons takes many months. Before MRG was formed, some of the runners ran as a group only during their club time trials or in mob runs. An association of runners from various clubs was unheard of as runners tend to identify themselves based on which club they run for.

Then, a few years ago, many of the runners in the group started to share transport to races out of town.

It was decided that they needed to formalise their association and MRG was officially formed three years ago. They now have an organising committee of passionate and seasoned runners who ensure that there is a daily, weekly and monthly training programme. The committee also ensures that all refreshment and transport logistics are in place every time the group has long runs or travels to races.

Sandile Makhaye is the group’s captain. “He is very dedicated, has good leadership skills and commands all of us like an army commander. When he says that we are doing a five-hour training run at 5 am, we all obey,” said the members.

According to them, the greatest thing about MRG is the spirit of ubuntu and sharing of the little they have. Marathon running is not a cheap sport as running shoes, kit, race entry fees and transport costs to races take a lot out of the pocket if you do not have a reasonable disposable income. Most members of the group come from very humble backgrounds. While every member contributes the little that he or she has, some members of the group are either studying or unemployed, so those who are employed try to contribute more towards refreshments and travel expenses, etc.

One of the biggest benefits of joining the group is the sharing of knowledge. They share tips on how to deal with and avoid injuries, motivation, racing strategies, diet, hydration, recovery and many other things. When a member doesn’t show up at a training session, the others call to find out where he or she is and if he or she is alright. Every year they have no fewer than five Comrades novices among them and they all do well and get silver medals because of the knowledge sharing. The group is a family. They have spent the past six months training together almost every day. “I’ve been running marathons for over two decades, and the past three years have been most fulfilling because of the company and motivation from fellow group members,” said a member.

• Mlungisi Wosiyana is a founder member of Maritzburg Runners Group and will be running his 11th Comrades this year.

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