'We look for athletic talent in all our communities and we start training youngsters for marathon running from the age of 15. It takes at least ten years of continuous development for them to reach their peak,' says Nick Bester, National Manager of the Nedbank Running Club, which achieved four firsts in the men's and women's ultra- and half-marathons at the 2017 Two Oceans.
Crossing the finishing line in first place were men's 56 km winner Lungile Gonqa, women's 56 km winner Maryna Damantsevich; men's 21 km half-marathon winner Namakoe Nkhasi and women's half-marathon winner Irvette van Zyl.
'It's our best achievement ever and it has taken many years of supporting our runners to get here. This is what we work for,' adds Bester.
Gonqa has been part of Nedbank's training camp for the past two years. He moved from Cape Town to Joburg to train at altitude and lives in the Nedbank Running Club training house for elite athletes near Zoo Lake.
Gonqa is in the national squad being trained by former Olympic marathon athlete, Hendrick Ramaala, who manages the training of the Nedbank group of athletes who competed in the 2015 Rio Olympic Games. Fifty percent of the Olympic marathon team was from the Nedbank Running Club Olympic programme.
Three of the development programme athletes who performed extremely well in the Two Oceans half-marathon are David Manja, who came third; Thabang Mosiako, who came fifth; and Philemon Mathipa, who came tenth. Now in their early twenties, they have been training with the Nedbank Development Running Club since their teens.
'It's the team effect. You need the team support and buy -in of the athletes, managers, partners and sponsors,' says Bester, who won the Comrades in 1991 and started his running club in 1999. In 2008 he teamed up with Nedbank and took the reins in launching the Nedbank Running Club. Over the past 10 years he has grown the Nedbank Running Club to 4 500 members.
The Nedbank Running Club has 13 clubs nationally, each of which is responsible for supporting runners at all levels and identifying and nurturing development athletes. To grow promising young runners there are currently five Nedbank Development Running Clubs in different parts of the country, including Soweto, Pretoria, Klerksdorp/Central North West, East London and Bloemfontein. They have approximately 350 members.
'It is vital that we look after the next generation by growing our development programmes,' says Bester. 'How else would the sport grow and can we expect to perform on the international circuit?'
The Klerksdorp club has 70 members and an apartment where successive groups of about eight boys, aged between 14 and 18 from throughout the North West Province, live under the care of the club training manager, marathon champion Pio Mpolokeng, who won the Two Oceans half-marathon in 2000 and has been training athletes alongside Bester since 1999.
Three of the development runners he trained competed in the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda in March 2017 as part of the South African national team. They are Joel Mmone, David Manja and Thabang Mosiako. Manja was the first South African man home, taking 34th place, and Mmone was 37th. In January this year Mosiako won the Dischem 21 km run in Joburg in a field of 6 000 runners.
'We identify talent from the school athletics championship throughout the province, and we then hold a training camp where we select seven or eight boys who we feel could go far in marathon running,' Mpolokeng explains. 'We look for talent, strength, speed, willpower, discipline and commitment to both their sport and their schooling.
'With the consent of the boys and their parents, they then move to the apartment from all over North West, and they live here, attend school here and do their training here; all their expenses are paid for by the Nedbank Development Running Club.
'We treat their training and schooling as equally important as we would like them to continue on to higher education after they matriculate. One of the members of our last group in the house, Thabang Mosiako, who came fifth in the Two Oceans half-marathon this year, is now studying Human Resources through Boston College in Klerksdorp while continuing his training.'
The boys are required to be disciplined and there is no tolerance for drinking, drugging or smoking.
From the age of 16 they start training for the 21 km half-marathons. Before then they train for track events – 800 m and 1 500 m, and up to 10 km – as they don't want to push young runners too hard while they are still growing. From the age of 25 they start training for
42 km marathons and progress to 56 km and ultramarathons such as the Comrades
'The older you get, the longer the distance you can run,' says Bester, who won the Comrades at the age of 31.
The Nedbank Running Club focuses on all distances, and 40 to 50 percent of the athletes in the South African national team have come through the Nedbank Running Club's development programmes. The club has several legendary athletes on its staff, including Ramaala.
'Through the work that we do we see the difference that running makes to people's lives', says Ramaala. 'We are currently working on increasing the number of runners with talent and bringing them from all over – from our cities, villages and neighbouring countries – to train with our clubs and build a strong southern African talent base and sense of unity.'
Nedbank Development Running Club Klerksdorp athletes from previous years
Mosala Collins Mabu
Nedbank Development Running Club Klerksdorp athletes for 2017
1 Moses Pogiso Bulwane
2 Otsile Kenneth Owageng
3 Oratile Joseph Mogale
4 Letlhogonolo Ditire
5 Xaba Mavuso
6 Gilbert Tshepang Moilwa
7 Moses Bulwane