Clubs bound to run in their communities

2007-12-08 00:00

RUNNING is often promoted as a sport requiring only shoes, shorts and a vest, with the ability to be done anywhere. This presents a huge advantage over most other sports that require participants to travel to a facility or practice area with expensive equipment. Running is something you can do in any area and community.

Over three decades of running I have some very special memories of training runs through a diversity of areas including the following:

•running over the Golden Gate bridge with Bruce Fordyce, while the bridge patrol chastised us over a PA system for using the wrong side of the bridge;

•running through the after-math of bomb-destroyed Beirut following last year’s Israeli war;

•running on top of the world across Mont Aux Sources listening to Beethoven;

•the whole up and down Sani Pass experience;

•challenging paddle-skiers on a four-day trek between PE and East London;

•the run through Florida’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot centre;

•running in Phidippides’s footsteps through the history of the 254 km Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta;

•a sprint down the original stadium in Olympia;

•the uncertainty yet warm welcome running through Chesterville to Durban with Comrades queen Helen Lucre in the mid-1980s where our agility was tested to the limit when crossing a pipeline over the river;

•seeing and greeting Archbishop Tutu on his early morning run through Constantia in 1986 only to be greeted by him in 1996 when running past his house in Soweto one Sunday morning.

Although Soweto has become a favourite venue when in Johannesburg, there are just so many more runs, home and abroad, but space requires me to terminate these thoughts as each memory stimulates yet another flesh-tingling outing.

The point is that there are few, if any, boundaries to where or when you can run, and a large percentage of the most memorable experiences come not from fast, flat courses, but rather the vibe, welcome and ambience of the local community.

In my opinion it is fantastic news that KZN has taken the step of getting clubs to hold their races in their own community. No longer will a Verulam, Phoenix, or Woodview Club be able to host an event from King’s Park. These events will be limited to clubs based in the area. From 2008 clubs will find routes within their own community areas and this will fill the fixture list with variety and most probably a community spirit that has been lacking in the calendar over recent years.

In past columns I have lamented the constant (and boring?) use of King’s Park, with particular reference to the April to July period where virtually every event has been held around the NMR, beachfront and Durban North course.

It is no coincidence that virtually all IAU ultra-marathon European or World Championships are held in small villages around the world, or that tomorrow’s Illovo Christmas Challenge, held over an extremely hilly course, will probably attract over 1 000 runners — the largest 15 km field of the year. Or that South Africa’s largest marathon, the Soweto Marathon, is held entirely within the South Western Township.

Running in the suburbs may not provide fast times, but community ownership of a race event brings a vibe, the potential of local sponsorship and even investment to local charities and causes.

While many may perceive the London marathon as a big city event, the reality is that it transverses through a multitude of communities, most of whom benefit from the R644 million raised annually for charity by its 35 000 runners. Comrades is also an event that runs through a diversity of communities with many of the most vibrant of supporters along the route. I know that many people involved in the race feel there should be greater support back to these communities.

Ethembeni School is a classic example of the community support that benefits runners in a race. It would be impossible to find a single Comrades runner who hasn’t been moved by the euphoria and inspiration of the vociferous encouragement from the physically disabled students of Ethembeni.

The name means “place of hope”; no matter that it is an up-run at close to 50 km, or, at 39 km on the down run, the pupils in their braces and wheelchairs rekindle the hopes of all participants that they can achieve their goals. And yet how little have we as a sport over the 82-year race history done to repay that unconditional support?

Ironically it was the American arm of South African sock manufacturer Falke that recently recognised and rewarded the support of Ethembeni School with the donation of a wheelchair-compliant minibus. This will ensure the pupils can get to and enjoy their own extra-curricular school activities.

For three years Falke, and sister brand Balega in America, have shared in the Lesedi bead project with the school. “Balega commissioned the school to make beadwork items. Each piece has been named after a pupil and sold at 79 stores in the U.S. The funding for this project is provided by Balega with all the profit from sales going towards pupil education,” says Bert Pictor, MD of Falke SA. Pictor, previously a triathlete from KZN, has ridden many Amashovashova rides and run many Comrades, and knows firsthand the benefit of Ethembeni encouragement.

This partnership is only a sample of how running and athletics can benefit from being adopted by the community and how the community could and should benefit from races being held there by local clubs.

It is gratifying to support the KZNA road commission decision that races must be held in the communities. Not only will it see the flatter, faster courses gaining greater focus from runners aiming to achieve special performances, but it will also bring greater diversity of events, a greater understanding of cultures, and give relief to residents who have continually had their lives disrupted by an almost obsessive use of NMR (or Masabalala Yengwa Avenue, as it is to be known) and the beachfront.

Additionally there is every likelihood clubs will benefit from the greater opportunity of local and community sponsorships, and importantly there is a reciprocal prospect to contribute back into the community.

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