Most people would be delighted to have run 90 km in just over 12 hours, but it’s the ‘just over’ part that disappoints local GP Charlie Hew who would possess a medallion marking the completion of the Comrades Ultra-Marathon in South Africa had he been a mere eight minutes faster.
At least he had the satisfaction of breasting the finishing line, for until recent times any runner still on the course after twelve hours faced locked gates at the stadium. This year’s winner, it might be noted, completed the course in just five-and-a-half hours.
Dr Hew is not complaining, however, as the South African weather in June was unseasonably hot and humid: “I didn’t train enough in the heat,” he says over a bottle of water and a chai latte in a Lismore café, having just finished a morning 20 km run.
Moreover, he had never run 90 km before – his longest training run, he says, was 56 km, which just happens to match his age.
Dr Hew took up running seriously about five years ago, giving up cycling because of safety fears (see our special feature on Northern Rivers cycling). In the process he has inspired his four adult children and his wife, Kim Kerr, a fellow GP, all of whom now run. He is now a seasoned marathoner who looks forward to his next 42.2 km outing – the Melbourne Marathon in October - and his weekend pavement pounding with the active men and women of the Lismore Runners.
Despite club members’ enthusiasm for pulling on the joggers, none could be persuaded to go along for the Comrade's Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of Durban, so Drs Hew and Kerr (the latter observing, not competing) headed off for an event that began in 1921 and today is billed as “a South African institution, internationally recognised for the body-sapping challenge it poses and the camaraderie it fosters among its thousands of participants”.
“True enough,” Charlie Hew says, adding that while he came within a whisker of beating the 12-hour limit he did achieve two of his three identified goals, getting to the start line and making every one of the depots along the way, albeit by only 15 minutes in the case of the last one.
Around 16,000 runners competed, 60 of them Australians whose mentor was a Brisbane enthusiast named ‘Digger’, now in his sixties, who has completed 15 Comrades.
Would Dr Hew consider a re-run in the hope of beating the 12-hour window?
“Certainly not,” he responds, although the same answer applies to any suggestion of scaling back his running.
Melbourne is coming up, then there’s the possibility of next year’s North Face 100 (that’s kms) in the NSW Blue Mountains and the Gold Coast Marathon, and of course a nice social run next weekend... and the following one, and the one after that.