SA RUNNER'S WORLD MARATHON MAJORS DREAM: NEXT STOP, LONDON MARATHON
by Michelle Carnegie
21 February 2019
She only started running two years ago. In fact, she ran her first marathon at the age of 56. But come April, Johannesburg runner Karen Brough will be jetting off to the Virgin Money London Marathon, followed by the Chicago Marathon in October and the New York City Marathon in November. And if all goes well Karen would have completed all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors by April next year, a feat that only a few South Africans have accomplished up to now.
In between all this Karen will also be lining up at the Two Oceans Ultra, a week before the London Marathon. But if someone can do it, it seems this 58-year-old grandmother can! Since she started running, and especially lately, she is a regular podium finisher in her age category at major road running races. She also recently joined the newly established and highly competitive Murray & Roberts Running Club.
In her younger years Karen never really took to running, though she was exposed to the running scene from a very young age. Her father is the legendary South African runner Caspar Greeff, who has run 38 Comrades Marathons, 26 Two Oceans and who will be lining up at this year’s Two Oceans Half Marathon at the age of 84!
Karen preferred to rack up thousands of kays on her bike, raising more than R1million cycling from Johannesburg to Maputo, Johannesburg to Cape Town and Johannesburg to East London. On top of all this she conquered Kilimanjaro, completed the Annapurna Trail in the Himalayas and walked the El Camino from France, across the Pyrenean Mountains to Santiago in Spain amongst others.
“I fell into running unintentionally. I have always wanted to do a full IRONMAN. I could swim and cycle with ease, but soon realised my dream would never come true if I couldn’t run a marathon. In November 2016 I laced up and ran the RAC 32km Tough One. I had set my sights on running a marathon within the next year.”
In January 2017 she entered her first marathon and finished it in style in 3:39. “I was elated, and soon found myself being convinced to enter the Two Oceans Ultra,” says Karen. She competed 2 more marathons (3:27 and 3:30) in the lead up to Oceans. She was on top of the world when she crossed the line in 4:56.
She continued running races and pursued new goals, one of them being the Dublin Marathon (3:34) in October 2017. Unfortunately, a few niggles set in before the race which resulted in Karen experiencing some pain while running. “When I returned home, I faced the music when I was diagnosed with a pelvic stress fracture as a result of doing too much running, too soon. I was devastated. From November 2017 until May 2018 I was an injured, frustrated and sometimes grumpy runner.”
When she recovered, she chose to focus on her half marathons and speed, which resulted in an initial sub 1:40 half marathon followed by a sub 1:35. “Being chosen to represent Central Gauteng at the SA Champs was certainly the highlight of coming off the back of a tumultuous injury. Achieving a 3rdplace in my age category and bronze medal gave me the confidence to participate in the Berlin Marathon at the end of 2018.”
Six Star Medal
It was at the Berlin Marathon last year where Karen learnt more about the Six Star Medal. Achieving these medals means a runner need to complete all 6 of the World Marathon Majors, which consist of the Tokyo Marathon, the Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon.
“I was instantly obsessed, and researched it heavily, learning that only 8 South Africans have achieved the sought-after accolade to date. 15 South African runners have earned 5 of the 6 Stars. Berlin was already in the bag. I knew instantly that it is a challenge I could not walk away from. I knew this was going to be a serious undertaking, so I found myself a great coach, Barry Maitland-Stuart, and have started to train with these goals in mind.”
Karen has secured entries for most races. “For Chicago and New York, I received guaranteed time entries because of the marathon times I have run in my age category. Getting my London entry proved trickier as the only eligible runners in age categories are London residents. The lottery is insane to try get in to, so I opted for a Charity entry and I am running for Whizz-Kidz. This is a charity which empowers disabled kids by providing them with wheelchairs. I have raised over 2000 Pounds already, and my aim is to raise another 1000 Pounds before the race.
“For Boston I will qualify based on my marathon times. The most difficult one to secure will be Tokyo but I believe it is achievable. If you are a woman (regardless of age) you are regarded as semi-elite if you do an IAAF gold standard marathon in under 3:30. My aim is to run London in roughly that time this year.”
From Two Oceans to London
Karen will be tackling the Two Oceans Ultra on 20 April, roughly a week before the London Marathon on 28 April. “I would like to do a 4:39 at Oceans and a sub 3:30 or better at London.”
She will be travelling to London on her own as her husband will be joining her later in the year in Chicago and New York. “I love London, it is one of my favourite places in the world. To be able to run a marathon through the streets of this historic city with the world’s best marathon runners will be a humbling experience. I have watched it on TV several times and look forward to the crowds and support, the vibe and the cheer while I am out there. It is a dream come true.”
After the marathon Karen will be touring Scotland and Wales. “It’s the first time I will be doing anything like this on my own – I am quite excited.”
Karen’s training seems to be on track. “I am working on a Personal Best Marathon of under 3:20, which I hope to achieve before Two Oceans. I am very pleased with my training thus far. Barry has helped me with my confidence. He is not only teaching me new running strategies, but also helping me to work on the mental side of running. I know that under his guidance, and with some hard work, my dreams will become reality. Prior to my injury I would just run and run and run as often, as hard and as far as I felt like. I never understood how my body works and how training and over-training impacts performance. Now I have a structured program with quality sessions and long slow runs. For the first time since I started running, I am having fun.”
Six Star Dream
Though definitely not an easy feat, Karin believes it is achievable to fulfil her dream of obtaining her Sixth Star next year.
“The first and most probably biggest hurdle is actually getting entries into any of the 6 Majors. Luckily, I am able to run in times that qualify me for the time-based entries, or I would have to enter the lottery with thousands of international athletes.
“It’s also really expensive travelling on Rand/Dollar, Rand/Pound and Rand/Euro exchange rates, and the Sports travel packages are exorbitant. Charity entries make it even harder, as the economy is already crumbling, most people and corporates would rather invest in local charities, let alone US or UK based non-profit organisations.
“Another major factor is being marathon-fit and staying injury free. A marathon is not something to laugh at. It’s still 42,2Km on your legs on the day. As runners we all know, that you never know what race day holds. There are lots of variable factors that will contribute to someone achieving the Six Stars, so it isn’t as simple as entering a race and showing up on the day. I knew it would be a difficult undertaking, but my Dad taught me that nothing comes easy, and I am not scared of hard work.”
“Running has taught me many things. It has made me realise how fortunate we are that we have legs and are able to run. I wake up every day and I am so thankful for a new day. Many people cannot walk let alone run. As a runner, you can only rely on yourself to get to the end of the course you are on. Nobody can run for you, although the support of others is a vital component of your success. Life is much the same. I love how dynamic running is – there are so many shapes and sizes running the same race, with dreams and goals of their own. Running made me realise, we are all the same. When we are out there, we are simply runners. Running has certainly opened the world up to me, I have been fortunate enough to travel, and to meet amazing people, make new friends. And I belong to a club that believes in me.”
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