This is the third post in the ‘Running Stories’ series, you can see the others here, here.
I’d like to introduce you to Stuart Wainwright – in case you missed my Comrades Marathon Race dissection, Stuart was the guy who brought our sub-11 hour bus in. Stuart doesn’t only limit himself to crazy races like the Comrades, but competes in the 100 mile Washie as well – “Obsessed? Maybe, but I prefer passionate” is what he said!!
How long have you been running for and what made you decide to start running?
I started running in 2004. I had been playing rugby in the UK, and decided that I was sick and tired of spending most weekends in hospital, so started looking for a new sport.
My dad and I were at gym on Saturday afternoon, and he said that he was running a 21k the next day and suggested that I joined. I agreed somewhat hesitantly… The race was sent the wrong way and turned out to be 24+kms – I nearly died and couldn’t walk for 3 days. The next weekend I ran another one.
In Dec 2004 we decided to do the Two Oceans 56km. I ran the last qualifier for the race in 4h57 (you have to run a marathon in under 5 hours to qualify), once again nearly died, and then ran the Two Oceans a month later in 6h57 (you have 7 hours), experiencing a new level of pain. The rest just fell into place.
What made you decide “I think I might do the Comrades”?
My dad grew up running comrades. He ran 17 consecutive Comrades by the age of 34, and was the youngest to get a green number (10 runs). I never really thought that I would get into running and as a 104kg rugby player, highly doubted it! Things fell into place, and before I knew it, I had to run one with my dad. I brought him back in 2007, after a 16 year break to run his 21st. Now it’s a part of me. It’s what I do. I can’t imagine a life without running.
What made you decide to become a bus driver – and why the sub-11 hour bus?
Last year I took the 12 hour bus. It was for a number of reasons. I was running the Washie 100 miler (160.9kms) in July and felt that Comrades would be the perfect long slow training run. I had also been running in the 1000km challenge and run more than 50 marathons or ultra marathons in the previous 12 months, and felt that the 12 hour bus was safe.
This year I wanted to better my Washie time, with about 15 marathons less than last year and a lot more 100 miler experience, I decided that I was capable of running (or trying to run) sub 9 at the Comrades, but then ruining my chances for the Washie OR I could take the 11 hour bus and get to the Washie with fresh legs – Hence my 10h52m time. It is the perfect training run for Washie, in timing and distance.
It takes a lot of energy to motivate other people on a race of this length, how do you prepare for that?
Honestly, I have very little preparation for motivating people. I kinda just wing it. I try to have as much fun as possible, and offer as much help as I can. Working with another pace setter makes it a lot easier though. After doing it alone for 89kms this year, I had no voice left, and my throat and ribs hurt from shouting at the top my lungs. Well worth it though.
Are there people who help you on the day, running with you and taking the flag when you need the loo?
As I mentioned, I did it alone this year. So, when I needed a widdle stop, I simply slowed the bus, and directed boys to the left, and girls to the right. It was one the funniest sights that I have ever seen on the road… 300 guys all standing shoulder to shoulder having a wee. Would have made an awesome photo!!
If push came to shove I would hand the flag to someone that had been in the bus for a long time, and then catch up with them again…
How does the Comrades compare with other endurance races?
Comrades is the greatest ultra marathon in the world, simple as that – not for its difficulty, but for the entire event. The crowds, the runners, the sheer number of participants, and the unparalleled organisation.
There are races that wouldn’t accept Comrades as a qualifier because they are so difficult. Comrades is supported the whole way by crowds and organised helpers. Other long distance races normally result in a true understanding of the phrase “the loneliness of the long distance runner”, while Comrades is never lonely.
Life is about lessons, what have you learned from running endurance races like the Comrades?
Endurance running teaches you to finish what you start, no matter how much pain, discomfort or misery you are in. It teaches you to work for your goals, and it teaches you to understand what is within reach and what is not. Everyone takes something different from Comrades and the lessons keep coming thick and fast for me. I hope that one day I can run it as an old ballie (South African slang for old guy), and still learn something new about myself.
Aside from what it teaches you about yourself, it shows you what other people are really made of. I have always said that it brings out the real person, and before I get married, I have the condition that my partner will join me on a run, of whatever distance she can handle, to bring out the real person.