Legends of the race

2013-06-04 00:00

FORMER Comrades winners Shaun Meiklejohn and Alan Robb had contrasting days on the road at Sunday’s 88th Comrades Marathon.

Meiklejohn, who is 52 later this year, still has a competitive spirit burning in his soul and produced an outstanding effort, finishing 74th overall in 6:46:42, good enough to be the first master athlete home. It’s been 18 years since his victory in the 1995 down run, yet he produces phenomenal runs year after year, setting targets and goals which thousands of runners can only dream of.

“It was a great day for me and everything fell into place. The weather was a challenge and quite harsh in the last 30 kilometres, but I can’t complain,” said Meiklejohn.

“It was a race of virtually two even halves for me. I went through halfway in just under 3:20 and was six minutes slower in the second half. I had a great first half and paced myself well.”

In 2011, Meiklejohn was 89th in 6:39. He had hoped to better his time this year, but the stats give an indication of his consistency over the distance. He does not have 10 gold medals for nothing and he won the masters category by a healthy 12 minutes, after his strongest rival Vladimir Kotov pulled out of the race after about 20 kilometres, with an injury.

“It left the category wide open and I made certain of winning the title with a strong run up Polly Shortts,” he said.

Meiklejohn was running to raise funds for the Pietermaritzburg Community Chest and was confident his target of R10 000 had been met.

“I’m not sure what I have raised to date as there are still two days remaining for people to donate,” he said. “I am confident though that I have reached my target and possibly done better.”

This was Meiklejohn’s 25th run and he will definitely be on the road in a year’s time. “My style is more suited to a down run and my win was in a down. I’m not getting any younger and I’m grateful my body can still produce these kind of runs,” he said.

Four-time winner Alan Robb was emotional in crossing the line in 10:43:17 for his 40th consecutive finish. “It was my worst time by far,” he said yesterday.

But it didn’t matter. It was a finish and a true legend never gives up, despite the odds. And what odds he had on the road. “Going through halfway in about 4:20, it was going well. Then, from the top of Inchanga, I started feeling nauseous and slowed right down,” he said. “I soldiered on and from about 12 km to go, started feeling dizzy and light headed.”

Robb couldn’t put his finger on what brought these symptoms on, but he did say this year was the least training he had done for the run.

“It’s been a tough year and I knew I wasn’t fit,” he said. “From the bottom of Pollys, with about nine kilometres to go, I walked to the finish. A club mate of mine and a strong bloke from Walvis Bay joined me and pulled me through. It was not a good day at the office, but after 40 years, I cannot complain.”

It was an emotional moment as Robb entered the stadium. He remains one of the most popular Comrades figures and is adored by all involved in the race. He received a rousing welcome and admitted he had tears in his eyes and did not feel great.

“It was tough without my late wife Merle, who would have loved every moment of the occasion, despite my condition,” he said.

“She lived for this moment and unfortunately could not celebrate with me. I finished with a runner from Roodepoort, who I had met a few days before the run and we happened to meet again before the finish. He had lost a son in a car accident so our emotions ran high.”

Looking forward to a well-deserved rest, Robb said he would hang up his running shoes for a few months and enjoy some mountain biking and canoeing.

“Forty runs is a great milestone and I will see how much longer the body lasts. I turn 60 in October and will be back next year. It’s in my blood and I have to start challenging Dave Rogers, who finished his 45th run yesterday,” he said.

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