Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport


My Comrades dream fulfilled

From family tradition to the actual thing, I fulfilled my life-long dream of running the Comrades Marathon.


Winters in the eastern Free State are pretty harsh.

It’s generally freezing cold in the early mornings and there’s every likelihood that a six-year-old boy is going to prefer to sleep in on a public holiday than wake up before the sun is even up. But not me.

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I can’t remember how old I was when I first crawled out of bed, put on my slippers and tracksuit top and lay on the couch watching the start of the Comrades Marathon.

I remember how my dad would chat about the Comrades the day before and ask me if he should wake me up the next morning. The answer was always “yes please”.

In those days, the Comrades was run on a public holiday, 31 May – the old Republic Day.

For many years it became a thing in our house, me and my dad waking up early and spending the whole day gawking at the television, watching these superhumans run a ridiculous distance between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

I watched Bruce Fordyce win Comrades after Comrades. The pre-race talk, of course, was always about whether someone would beat him that specific year.

There were many challengers but he always seemed to come out on top. Eventually things changed and history was made in 1989 when Sam Tshabalala won the race when Fordyce decided not to run.

Wally Hayward finished the race that year, a few days short of his 81st birthday, and Frith van der Merwe broke the down run record.

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The Comrades has produced many wonderful champions over all the years – the current greatest of the modern age no doubt Gerda Steyn, who is simply a phenomenal runner – and it remains “the ultimate human race”.

It has found a permanent place on the calendar among avid South African sports fans and remains the pinnacle of long distance running in this country.

As a small boy growing up in the cold eastern Free State in the ’80s I dreamed of one day running the Comrades Marathon.

It has taken many more years than I thought it would to fulfil that dream and there was a time when I thought the opportunity had passed me by.

But on Sunday in KwaZulu-Natal, I ran from Durban to Pietermaritzburg in well under the 12 hours I needed and “I fetched my medal”.

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