‘Mr Running’ - John Hall - a great gift to the city

2017-01-11 06:02
PHOTO: jonathan burton ‘The Witness’ Maritzburg City Marathon organiser John Hall and his wife Elieen.

PHOTO: jonathan burton ‘The Witness’ Maritzburg City Marathon organiser John Hall and his wife Elieen.

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ASK most people how they are and the answer is always the same - busy.

The question is how do you define busy? When it comes to one man in Pietermaritzburg­, he thrives on being busy, is driven to do things and always raises his hand when something needs to be done.

John Hall could rightfully be called “Mr Running” in Pietermaritzburg such is his connection with the sport, his contribution and massive involvement. He is known throughout the province and beyond and many athletes will only run a race or event if Hall’s name is associated with putting it all together.

Born and bred in Maritzburg, Hall attended Athlone Primary School and matriculated from Maritzburg College in 1971. He is currently the man in charge of his own painting, renovating and floor sanding business, yet he still finds time to put together and be involved in anything to do with running in the city. With his wife Eileen, he has harboured hopes of retiring to the Cape but, by his own admission, “I will work to lunch time on the day of my funeral”.

Hall played cricket and rugby at school, going on to be a solid 135 kg prop for the Collegians U20 side and second team. He finished his rugby days in the front row for a university side known as Pistol Dawn in 1988 and again, while playing rugby, he still found time to play waterpolo for Seals and play badminton for Hermits Badminton Club. However, his main sport was target shooting.

“I started in 1973 and have represented Carbineers since, being team captain in 1983. I started service shooting [combat rifle] in 1997 and have been awarded KZN A and B honours, represented South Africa in the president’s team, the SA veterans’ team and managed the SA junior team and the SANDF Reserve Force team to the UK Bisley, where I was also manager,” he said.

“That was a sport I loved.”

But it’s in running circles where his name is held high. As a runner, he has completed three Comrades Marathons (1976, 1990, 1991) and three Washie 100 Milers (160 km in 1991, 1992 and 1996).

“My dad ran seven Comrades and was recovering from a cancerous growth when I said I would run with him if he pulled through. He did and I had to honour my word, finishing that 1976 down run in 10:21.

“There were about 3 300 starters, we collected our numbers from ladies at a table at the start … and the start saw Mick Winn firing a gun while on the bonnet of a car, before jumping off and joining the race.”

The next day, Hall turned up for rugby practice. “The lads never believed I had run the day before and I had to bring my medal to the next session to prove I had.”

However, it is the Carbineers Athletic Club that has been blessed with his presence and contribution. He founded the club in 1991 and has served as chairperson since. Having been RSM at Carbineers and with the Drill Hall needing to be resurrected, he got to work, using his military training to realise his vision.

“There were security problems, the fence was more down than up and it was a place people avoided. My vision was to create a facility that families could use, a facility that stood tall and proud, something Maritzburg could be proud of and by getting the right people on my side, people willing to be involved for no financial gain or reward, we began the journey,” said Hall.

Hall’s golden child is The Witness Maritzburg City Marathon, which incorporates the standard marathon distance of 42,2 km, a half-marathon (21,2 km) and a 10 km on the day. It is a two-lap marathon and one of the most popular on the local running calendar.

“Our race is the most popular Comrades qualifier and is an event that starts on a Friday evening with a music concert and continues throughout the weekend with various events, including a whole bunch of races for children over varying distances.”

Numerous charities are involved, including the Pink Drive and the Community Chest and next year, the SPCA is on board with a dog walk.

“We even have our own marathon flame. In 2010, we joined AIMS [Association of International Marathons] and went to Athens to see the flame of Marathon burning at the tomb of the Marathon warriors,” said Hall. “ … We heard that every year, races around the world can bid to have the flame at their race and we made 2012 our goal.”

That wish came true as Hall’s Maritzburg City Marathon got the nod ahead of the Boston and Prague marathons. “There was a whole procedure in bringing the flame to Africa, the first time it had come to the continent, and we organised for it to be carried from Durban to Pietermaritzburg along the Comrades route,” he said.

“We selected KZN Comrades icons to bear the flame, the likes of Clive Crawley, Dave Rogers, Bongmusa Mthembu, Willie Mtolo, Tilda Tearle, Cheryl Winn and many others … We now light our flame on the Friday evening of our race weekend every year.”

Hall’s achievements and contributions to society are countless. He has been on numerous committees, chaired different organisations, contributed to community service and even got Eileen on his side with the administration of the Comrades Green Number Club included in her activities while she still enjoys being a primary school teacher.

These are special people and Pietermaritzburg is blessed to have them. They give tirelessly and their reward is to see others enjoying the benefit and fruits of their contribution.

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