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4 July 2019

NEDBANK MARKETING Congratulate Comrades winners

Photo: Edward Mothibi, Khensani Nobanda (Group Executive: Marketing and Corporate Affairs at Nedbank) and Gerda Steyn

Not in the Photo from Nedbank that also congratulated them was Tobie Badenhorst (Head: Group Sponsorships & Cause Marketing at Nedbank) and Kelly Thompson (Sponsorship Manager at Nedbank)


Nike representing Comrades winners with the brand new

Photo: Edward Mothibi, Monde Caluza (Sport Marketing Specialist - Track&Field, Rugby at Nike), Masilo Masha (Sport Marketing Manager at Nike) and Gerda Steyn

National Personalities and Stories

The Gerda and Nick show

When Gerda Steyn crossed the line last month becoming the first woman to run the Comrades Marathon up run in under 6 hours, the first person she embraced was Nick Bester. Not only was Bester the national manager of the Nedbank running club, the team that Steyn runs for, but her coach of now 3 years.

“We met in 2015 at the Comrades marathon two days prior the event at an IAU function and immediately I liked this farm girl,” recalls Bester of his first impression of Steyn. “She asked me if I could help her with her running but I told her that she must break 3 hours in the marathon first and then we could talk.”

It was not long after that that Steyn contacted Bester after breaking 3 hours with 5 seconds to spare with her 2:59:55 at the Cannes Marathon. From there, Bester started to coach her on a day to day basis, first by building on her speed for a faster 10km and introducing her to cross training, something Bester swore on and also which took him to multiple Comrades gold medals and a win in 1991.

In their first year, Steyn finished 14th in both the Two Oceans and Comrades Marathons and then took a whopping 8 minutes off her marathon best to run 2:51:31 in Dublin. Bester saw the immense potential in Steyn and the duo targeted gold in both Two Oceans and Comrades for the first half of the following year.

“She was getting into amazing shape but unfortunately picked up a stress fracture in training for Oceans which was mainly my fault,” recalls Bester. “It was on a fartlek session linked to high pulse on the acceleration parts and she did it on a very undulating route so some of the hard parts were done on very steep downhill’s resulting in her hammering the ground too long on what was already a tough mileage week.”

Steyn had to sit that Oceans out but followed strict rehab and cross training and was then followed by a 5-week crash course through to Comrades to try and salvage some of the hard work that was already done. The result saw Steyn crossing the line in Pietermaritzburg in an outstanding 4th position. One can only imagine what Steyn could have done had the stress fracture not occurred. It was then back to the speed work and Steyn once again sliced another 14 minutes off her marathon best running a 2:37 in Valencia.

2018 came and the plan was to be the same as 2017, minus the stress fracture, and shifting the goal posts considerably. “We were now not talking about top 10, but were looking at winning.” And winning it started with Steyn taking victory in the Two Oceans Marathon convincingly. “After that race, we planned for a 6:15 Comrades which we felt was good enough to win the race, even on the longer course.” And run 6:15 is exactly what Steyn did, although she finished 5 minutes behind Ann Ashworth who had a storming run to take victory.

As with 2017, Steyn and Bester then went back to the drawing board in order to step down and focus on speed to run another marathon. With her victory from Two Oceans, Steyn was afforded the opportunity to run the New York City Marathon, one of the 6 World Marathon majors. Not a fast course, Steyn paced herself evenly and actually sped up in the tougher last section of the course through the hilly Central park to once again obliterate her marathon personal best to run 2:31.

It seemed that every time Steyn put on her running shoes, the personal bests were being knocked off one by one. Two Oceans and Comrades were only 7 weeks apart in 2019 and Bester was not too keen on Steyn running as the main goal was to win Comrades. “We then came up with a program where she did 80% of her Comrades training before Oceans as there was too little time to recover from Oceans as well as taper for Comrades.”

Steyn ended up not only defending her title but also coming with a minute of Frith Van der Merwe’s course record. “If it was not for the Two Oceans changing the route the day before the race, she would have totally obliterated that record.” Many of the top athletics pundits in the Country estimated the route change adding around 4 minutes to the elite runners finishing times than the normal route.

For Comrades 7 weeks later, it was not a case of Steyn just going for the win, but also to make history. “We knew all along the year that Gerda can break the course record so that’s what we planned for. She was to run the first half totally on feel, without looking at her watch and splits to reserve her glycogen that the body uses to run fast and keep her pulse below 160.”

Steyn found herself moving into the lead just after the 30km mark, and the plan for Steyn was to go through the halfway mark in 3:03. Without looking at her watch and running totally to feel, Steyn passed halfway in 3:02 and looked as if she had just started, with her well known smile never off her face.  The rest is now history as Steyn got faster and faster over the 2nd half, resulting in her finishing in an amazing 17th overall position and crossing the line in 5:58:53.

Before the race there was talk of this being Steyn’s last Comrades for a few years, as she would look to improve on her marathon time and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. “Her desire and common sense will determine what she will do going forward and not what the rest of the World wants her to do.” With a system that has proved fruitful in both ultras as well as the marathon distance, there is no reason why Steyn cant continue to do as she has and still make the Olympic team for next year.

Whilst others are churning out super high mileage running weeks, Steyn is the complete opposite. With a program that consists of low mileage, her highest week was 140km, cross training, massage, correct nutrition and gym, Steyn is always a lot fresher and recovers much faster. “Her typical week is not so much a secret but it is not to be discussed. It is very similar to what I followed for my 9 Comrades gold’s.”

The winning recipe one can clearly see is that Bester believes in her and the feeling is mutual from Steyn, which equals to success. “We will always make a list of all the positive things before a race and eliminate the negative. We also keep it simple and won’t be doing scientific tests to measure her VO2 max and things like that because we believe that will put a limitation to her career.”

Being a coach is a very demanding position and one that Bester does not take lightly. “Athletes normally don’t listen and will always deviate from the program without telling you and then they get injured. Gerda is the complete opposite and she is committed 100% and is an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Currently there are no limitations as to what Steyn can achieve, and with Bester in her corner, continues to get faster and stronger. A wise man would not bet against Steyn defending her titles next year as well as donning the green and gold in Tokyo 2020. As Bester had already said, there is no limit to what she can do.


Jackie Mekler (Comrades Race No.9)

The oldest surviving Comrades Marathon winner has passed away at the age of 87. Jackie Mekler was not just a runner and a winner, he was the last of the Comrades Great 5-time Winners who completed The Ultimate Human Race 12 times.

Jackie ran his first Comrades Marathon in 1952 finishing in 7th position. He won his first Comrades Marathon in 1958 and went on to claim further victories in 1960, 1963, 1964 and 1968. He holds 10 Comrades Gold medals, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze.

From the age of 9, Jackie grew up in the Arcadia Orphanage in Parktown, and it was at the age of 13, that he started sneaking out in the early mornings to go for a run. He found freedom in this and spent this time dreaming of becoming a famous athlete.

He was expelled from the orphanage in his teenage years and went to stay with his father in a boarding house. He managed to secure a job at a printing company as an apprentice printer.

Jackie joined the Germiston Callies Harriers at the age of 16 and was running marathons by the time he was 18. His love for the Comrades Marathon started at the age of 20 when he entered his first Comrades race.

Following his first two runs, Jackie took a break from the Comrades in order to pursue the standard marathon and to represent South African on numerous occasions in international competition during which time he held the world 50 mile record and earned a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games.

Returning in 1958 for the Up Run, Jackie completed the course in 6:26, a full 45 minutes ahead of second place. Over the next decade, he would go on to win the race a further 4 times.

1960 would be the year that would cement Jackie in our history books forever, as it was the year he became the first runner to break the 6-hour barrier on the Up Run, something that had taken 4 decades to achieve. His time of 5:56 was not his fastest though, with his best time of 5:51 again winning the race in 1963.

Of Jackie’s 12 runs, 11 placed him in the top 10 and 9 of those placed in the top 3, a phenomenal achievement.

The recent publishing of his book, Running Alone, which was launched at this year’s Comrades Expo, was met with great enthusiasm, support and admiration, with the first print of the book being sold out within three days.

CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn says, “Jackie Mekler was a very dear and lifelong friend to my husband and I. His book, Running Alone, recently launched at the 2019 Comrades Marathon Expo is the inspiring true-life story of an absolute gentleman, 5-times champion and legend, who triumphed over adversity, lived a good, kind, humble and honourable life, and was a role model and inspiration to generations of runners.  We are filled with gratitude that Jackie finally completed the book, which was many years in the pipeline, this year, in a sense completing his life’s legacy.  To his dear wife Margie and daughters Bronwen and Kate our sincere condolences.  Rest in Peace Jackie, you have completed your journey with distinction.”

CMA General Manager, Keletso Totlhanyo says, “It was an absolute pleasure to meet Jackie Mekler and to know how much of support he has been to the CMA. He was a humble and respectable person who always made time for the Comrades Marathon and continued to support the race, even in old age. He was a true ambassador for our race and we will miss him greatly. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and all runners who knew him.”

Former CMA chairperson, Peter Proctor, says, “Jackie was such a good friend and mentor to so many Comrades Marathoners of all ages over the years, whether a contender, a midfielder or an aspirant finisher. Jackie always had a word of advice or encouragement to anyone who asked. He has been to the Comrades Finish and VIP lounge for many years, always with a smile and a joke to tell. He had an effervescent and bubbly personality; and was a true gentleman of the Comrades Greats, with never a bad word spoken about anyone.”

Proctor adds, “I had the honour and privilege of escorting Jackie down to the Finish Line to fire one of the cut-off guns in 2018, which he was so proud of doing. Once done and we were standing having photographs taken, and he whispered to me, “This will be my final chapter at Comrades and what a moment it has been!” You will be very sorely missed but never forgotten. Rest in peace.”

Former CMA Chairperson, Barry Varty says, “Memories of Jackie Mekler date back to my Comrades infancy, when like so many novices, I was in awe of the Legends of the road of that era. I have been privileged to have personally met Jackie and so many other legends in the ensuing years. Jackie has crossed the line in Triumph, "Running Alone" for the last time. His Legacy will be perpetual, missed by family and friends, but remembered forever in the annals of the Comrades Marathon. As we say on the road, ‘Carry on Jackie, we'll catch you later’.”

Former Comrades Winners and Quadruple Green Number Legend, Alan Robb says, “This is really sad news. A true gentleman, rest in peace Jackie. From all your club mates at Germiston Callies.”

9-time Comrades Champion, Bruce Fordyce says, “Jackie Mekler was one of the true legends of the race but more importantly in later years, he was an elder statesman of the race, a role he filled with dignity, humility and grace. He was an inspiration to all of us and I am proud to have called him a close friend. Goodbye Jackie Mekler!”

Comrades Quadruple Green Number Legend, Clive Crawley says, “To hear of Jackie’s passing is very, very sad. We are devastated. I have just finished reading his book which I bought at the Comrades Expo. Deepest condolences from my family and I.”

Nedbank Running Club Manager and former Comrades Winner, Nick Bester says, “We are sad about another loss of a great Comrades Champion so soon after Tommy Malone. Our condolences to his family -From Nick Bester and the Nedbank Running Club.”

Jetline Action Photo’s Johanna Ginsberg says, “How very sad, a legend, an example to all of us. I remember him so well in the Green Number tent congratulating the runners who received their Green Number and telling them what an amazing achievement it was. Sincere condolences to his family, friends and the Comrades community at large.”

Comrades runner and personality, Arnold Geerdts says, “It was as we all got to know him. The small man with the big heart. The children’s home product that rose from such humble beginnings to become a five-time Comrades winner, record setter and world record holder. He completed 32 ultra-marathons of which he won an astounding 13, including the Pieter Korkie and London to Brighton. His world records (set on the track) were for 30, 40 and 50 miles. The 80km record was a speedy 5 hours 24 minutes and 57 seconds set in 1954 wearing Bata tennis tekkies. Running success despite, Jackie become a force in the printing industry after having started from humble beginnings and ran one of the finest printing houses in the country. Jackie, I am sure you and your beloved teammate, competitor and friend Wally Hayward have already set off for a few runs up there. Soon you’ll have organised a few races too. Can’t wait to run with you when I see you again.”



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Race Results

Helalia makes it 3 in a row

Helalia Johannes made it 3 Spar Grand Prix victories in a row alongside 3 new national records as the Nedbank running club green dream team athlete stormed to victory in Durban in dominant fashion.

The 38-year-old athlete from Namibia has been in fine form this year, setting national records each time she has stepped onto the road, from 10km through to the marathon. Staring it perfect conditions, Johannes was already out in front after 1km, with teammate Teshome Nare, a junior still at 17 running as hard as she could to stay on the Namibians heels. At this stage, Irvette Van Zyl was 15 meters back, still flying at that point.

2km was reached in 6:15 and it was just before 3km that Johannes slightly injected more pace to drop Nare as she went through in 9:18.  With Coleen De Reuck’s long-standing course record of 31:38 from 2000, talk was already heated as to not if she would break the record, but by how far the record would be broken.

Halfway was reached in 15:26 and once Johannes made her way past the Kingsmead cricket stadium heading to the finish, many were eager to see if she could dip under 31:00.  With 1km to go, Johannes had to dig deep, entering the Kings Park outer fields in a flat out sprint, crossing the line with her hands in the air in 30:59. It was the fastest time ever run by a female on the roads over 10km in the Country.

Behind her, Nare held on for 2nd in 32:36 with Van Zyl 3rd in 32:57 making it a 1-2-3 for the Nedbank team. In the grandmasters category, Olga Howard from Nedbank Western Province took a convincing win in her category in a fast 44:54.

Over 15 000 women took to the streets in what is dubbed as the most beautiful road race in the World. With her victory, Johannes now has a commanding lead in the overall Spar grand prix series and the question now is not who can beat her, but how much faster she can go!