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Bruce Fordyce – The Ultra Runner

As the countdown to the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2019 begins, Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan catches up with the legendary ultra-marathoner Bruce Fordyce, an astounding 9 time champion of the Comrades.

Over a cosy chat, Bruce reveals the facets of one of the most gruelling races in the world and what made him do it.

Capt: What exactly is the Comrades all about?

Bruce: It is a run that was conceived in 1921 by Vic Clapham, a WW I veteran, to commemorate his South African colleagues killed during the war. Vic, the survivor of both the war and a 2,700 km march through the then German occupied East Africa, dedicated the event to their memory as a frontier of endurance.

Capt: Wow! That is almost a hundred years old. So how does the ‘comradeship’ work with the participants?

Bruce: That is the sad part. Many of the athletes I have run with and, in fact, most of the competitors, are sadly unaware of the legend behind the event. In fact, its constitution states its main objective as ‘celebrating mankind’s spirit over adversity’. At the end of each year’s race, the buglers play the ‘Last Post’. Unfortunately, very few seem to even recognize the tune, leave alone understand its significance as a tribute to the fallen.

Capt: That is quite sad. Still, do tell us about your experiences with the Comrades over the years.

Bruce: Well, I started as a kind of social runner in the first couple of years, but from the third year on, finding my timings improving, I got a bit more serious about it. And with my first win, there was no looking back. It can get pretty lonely; many a time there is no one near you, unlike the flatter marathons where runners bunch up together and then someone breaks out of the crowd. Here, there is no crowd, and me, especially as defending champion over the years, I had to keep looking for a contender to compete with.

Capt: This is an up and down race as I recall reading. What exactly is this?

Bruce: This has to do with running up and down from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and back. The route alternates every other year.

Capt: So which, in your opinion, is tougher? The up, or the down?

Bruce: Well, it’s obviously the same thing, but different runners look at them differently. You just don’t think about it and take it in your stride. Speaking for myself, I have fared better in the ‘up’ run, having won it 6 times against 3 of the ‘downs’.

Capt: What special preparation does the Comrades require, as opposed to normal marathons?

Bruce: It’s not much different actually. If you look at it, the Comrades is probably the oldest and the toughest ultramarathon in the world. I took each year as a project, planned the run and timings and, importantly, made sure I didn’t take too much stress in the first half.

Capt: I see that your wife Jill is accompanying you. Jill, do you normally do this? And do you run too?

Jill: Oh no. It’s not often that I accompany him. And I do run, but not to compete. Bruce does the serious running; I enjoy the 10Ks. We have travelled the world together though, and I try and make the best of my interests along the way.

Capt: And your experiences in India? With marathons and other interests?

Bruce: I see that India is becoming a big name in marathons and similar running events. I have come here several times. In fact, I brought a team down from South Africa way back in 2007; unfortunately, we did not give a great account of ourselves. But it’s great to be back and see the participation increase year after year.

Capt: Alright. Enough about running. What else do you look forward to in India? Jill, your turn now.

Jill: Oh I love this country. I would love to see a lot of wildlife, nature…

Capt: Wildlife? Hailing from Africa, the world’s safari destination?

Jill: Each country is diverse and that is what attracts me. I am also a history lover and India has so many exotic locations on offer.

Bruce: I have a deep interest in archaeology and history and India is so diverse in both. Any visit would be a bit vacant without these.

Capt: Bruce. Back to running and a final question for you. What would your message be for aspiring long distance runners?

Bruce: Long distance running is like making fine wine. It takes time, patience, and a lot of effort. You have to learn and get accustomed to the process. Yes, get used to running; running well and running controlled.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Meeting a Legend – Linford Christie

Sandilya Venkatesh caught up with legendary runner, Linford Christie in New Delhi and he can’t stop smiling. 

Linford Christie is as large a man in person as his name is in the world of athletics. When he walks into the room he casts a shadow befitting his 6ft 2 inch frame which even at 57 years is in excellent shape.  I found a fitting definition to describe why he is a considered legend on Wikipedia

He is the only British man to have won gold medals in the 100 metres at all four major competitions open to British athletes: the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
I got a chance to catch up with him at a small dinner organised on the sidelines of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2017 which he attended as the PUMA Legends Brand ambassador. The first thing I spoke to him about was his disqualification in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics, where he was a favourite to win and was to be his swan song. I did regret leading with that statement of course, but the incredibly composed Christie fielded it with a beaming grin and poise. He did regret that he could not run that race, but chalked it up to the travails of the job – “That’s the sport – it happens sometimes” he said with such comfort and ease that one would think that it didn’t matter.
Training to be Christie
Fortunately, I moved on to his training and nutrition. With 3 – 6 hours of training every day, his routine was a grueling schedule. So much so that he would want to give up the sport every time he completed a meet. But like all good sportsmen, he would get back to the sport to continue the good work or I wondered aloud if he was a masochist? He laughs it off with equal ease. Interestingly, his nutrition was not anything much different during training as it was off. He doesn’t touch alcohol as expected. But he also doesn’t touch red meat and actively dislikes beef steaks. His primary protein sources are chicken and fish.
He continues to be built like a body builder – in his active years he was considered one of the most muscular sprinters and an example of a power athlete. Even though he was in full sleeved shirts or sweat shirts through out the weekend, his biceps were clearly visible and the size of shot puts. To the question on current fitness and exercise routine, he talked about how he is completely injury and pain free and continues to lift weights like people half his age in the the gym. That wasn’t surprising at all!
The legend now
For now, he enjoys contributing to the sport in the form of coaching and training. When asked about the nature of the sport and how it has changed, he talked about how everything has become so scientific these days and how that has unfortunately led to a lack of longevity of athletes. Usain Bolt however was the exception but also someone who, because of his sheer dominance of the sport, simply suppressed everyone else. Even though sprinters like Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin were all outstanding athletes, they were unable to shine due to Usain’s undisputed presence, he opined.
He now spends a lot of time with “Street Athletics“, a sports initiative to get under privileged children into sport. For someone who has achieved such great heights in his sport, he is incredibly humble and down to earth. Talking to him, gives you a sense that you could win the Olympic gold too – if that’s not inspiring, then what is?
If you want to read more about Christie’s achievements you can visit https://goo.gl/GJcKK2
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandilya Venkatesh is the founder of Eventjini and the Executive Editor of Finisher Magazine who is always excited about running and making others run.

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