In 1976, Bruce Fordyce was a young student at Wits University in Joburg, and against a background of the country being in the grip of apartheid, isolated from the rest of the world and with revolution in the air, decided he needed to take control of his life and give himself a purpose. He challenged himself to run SA’s most famous long-distance race, the 90km Comrades Marathon. A gruelling race, and one he would go on to win five years later, and eight more times after that, too, arguably making him one of the greatest Comrades runners in the history of the race.
He went on to win so much more … the famous London to Brighton three times, setting the world record in 1983 which stood for more than 30 years, the 100km Challenge race in Stellenbosch in 1989 (another world record!), the State President’s Gold Award for Sport from Nelson Mandela in 1997. He’s also launched the Parkrun concept in SA – with close on 200 Saturday morning 5km free timed runs and more than one million registered members.
Bruce still runs – although now with a dodgy knee, saying he estimates he’s run well over 200 000km in his life. His latest achievement … Winged Messenger – a guide, written in the first person, aimed at other keen runners, but specifically novices, which includes his personal 1976/77 training diary (right from his very first jog around the Wits rugby field on June 8, 1976) as well as anecdotes from the time he spent training for that first race.
10 tips from the king of Comrades, Bruce Fordyce
1 CONSISTENCY: Nothing improves our running more than consistent regular running. Regular running, (more than four times a week) builds a wonderful foundation from which to build even greater fitness.
2 QUALITY: Always choose quality over quantity. While (L.S.D) long slow distance still helps, really sharp fitness is improved by running faster or by running hilly courses. Try and run a speed or hill session at least once a week.
3 LOGBOOK: Keep a logbook/training diary. I started recording my running from the first day (a 10-minute jog around the Wits university rugby fields, June 8th 1976). Logbooks serve as a wonderful source of reference, and a source of guidance for the future.
4 COACH: Once we start to get serious, it is advisable to find a reliable and trustworthy coach. I have one regret from my early running days and that is that I was self-coached. I made too many mistakes. A coach would have helped a lot.
5 INJURIES: Every runner gets injured from time to time. It takes great maturity to admit that we are injured and that our aching calf muscle is not just a minor niggle. Confront an injury head-on and find a good doctor or physiotherapist to help correct the problem.
6 DESPERATELYKEENTITIS: Understand that injuries are not mysterious ‘acts of God’. They don’t just happen. We get injured because we push our bodies too hard. We catch an enthusiasm disease which I have named ‘desperatelykeentitis’. This enthusiasm drives us to do too much, too soon, too fast and too frequently. The only cure for desperatelykeentitis is to try and blunt the enthusiasm. Creating a fit runner takes time and patience, rather like the process of creating a really fine wine.
7 REST: For many runners, rest is a four-letter swear word. But rest and recovery are the stepping stones to increased fitness. Never be afraid to have an easy day or even to take a day off running
8 GOOD SHOES: We runners are fortunate in that our sport is relatively cheap. However, it is worth investing in a good pair of running shoes. For the correct advice I always go to a specialist running store. I may pay a little extra but
the advice I receive is invaluable.
9 TRAIN WITH FRIENDS: Our sport is a social sport and we need the company of friends. And besides, shared discipline is a lot easier than individual discipline.
10 DON’T OVERRACE: Training builds our fitness, racing breaks us down. Too many of us want to run marathons and long-distance races as often as possible. The world’s most successful champions are very selective in their racing. They choose two or three major races a year and peak specifically for those events.
Win a signed copy of Winged Messenger
The mistakes. The successes. The progress and journey towards that first Comrades Marathon. Winged Messenger is a training guide and a fascinating glimpse into the life of Bruce Fordyce. You can buy the book for R220 on brucefusion.com, Amazon and Goodreads, or win one! We’ve got three signed copies to give away. Simply hotfoot it over to our Facebook page, find the post and tag a training friend in the comments section. Entries close 30 June.