SA COMRADES VETERANS TO TACKLE THE LONDON MARATHON
by Michelle Carnegie
17 April 2019
Between the two of them they’ve run 31 Comrades Marathons and 13 Two Oceans Ultra’s. So, it’s fair to say when it comes to South African road running, they’ve pretty much ‘been there done that’. But one thing they’ve never tackled is an international marathon, and the obvious choice of course is the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon.
In a bit more than a week from now Greg James and partner Chrissie Williamson will line up at the 39thrunning of the London Marathon to take on a whole new running experience. And what will make this race even more special is that Chrissie’s brother, Blake, will be on the start line next to them. Blake, who lives in Edinburgh, won a ballot entry on his first time entering. As many know, runners sometime enter year after year without any success in the ballot. Blake on the other hand was fortunate enough to get in first time!
When it comes to running, Greg, Chrissie and Blake are no newbies to the sport. Greg, who has been running for over 20 years, has completed 11 Comrades Marathons and 11 Two Oceans 56km Ultra’s. He has also completed the Midmar Mile three times and finished the grueling Cosmos 3-in-1 (a marathon at 6am, a half marathon at 13:00 and 10km at 17:00 all in one day) three times. The 62-year-old business developer from Edenvale started running back in 1997 after he stood on the side of the road and watched Comrades runners taking on the grueling 87km journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. “The bug bit and I decided to try the sport. I joined a running club and took part in my first official road race. I enjoyed it, but especially enjoyed the people who were part of it (runners and helpers).
Chrissie, who grew up in Scotland, played football all her life. Her running journey started when one of her teammates roped her into a 10km relay. “It was awful, the kilometre boards never seemed to appear,” says Chrissie, a 52-year-old PA from Edenvale. But the bug bit and she was eventually roped into Comrades after a few drinks and “the all too common bravado at Grandslam Sports Bar”. She has run this gruelling race consecutively from 1998 to 2017, completing 20 Comrades Marathons. She’s also completed 14 Cosmos 3-in-one races. And in between all this she found the time to fit in a full Ironman in 2007. Though she smashed the race, she sold her bike on the plane back from the race as she decided she did not like the cycling leg.
Chrissie’s brother, the 48-year-old Blake, who works as an accountant in Edinburgh, is also no newbie to running. “I have been running for around 19 years and find it a great way to relax from a hectic, demanding but enjoyable job.”
He completed the New York Marathon in 2005 and describes it as an incredible event. “The company I was working for at the time entered a team of around 70 runners. From a champagne reception at the British Consulate on arrival, to running in the iconic city and then a post-race dinner with the team, the entire weekend was tremendous. My wife travelled with me and my mum travelled from South Africa to support me. So, it was a really special experience.”
The Road to London
Both Greg and Chrissie have been keen on running the London Marathon for some time. “We decided to target London because of what we have heard from those who have been – the vibe, the organization, the spectators, the route,” says Greg.
With Chrissie’s family living in Scotland the London Marathon was the ideal choice. The couple booked a sporting package and decided to rope Blake into the joining them. “My sister thought it would be great if we could run the marathon together. So, I entered the online ballot, not really expecting to get a place as so many people I had spoken to had entered the ballot on several occasions and were unsuccessful. I was thrilled when I received the email informing me I had a place in the marathon and at my first time applying.
“Although when training in the Scottish winter there have been times when I thought that maybe it would have been nicer If I had won the other ballot I entered around the same time, which was for the Scotland vs Ireland rugby world cup match in Japan instead of the marathon (I think my wife prefers that I was unsuccessful with the rugby tickets as travel to London from Edinburgh is significantly cheaper than travelling to Japan).”
The trio plan on running together and have no finishing time in mind. “The experience is more important than the time,” says Greg. They are looking forward to the entire experience, from race registration to receiving the medal at the finish. They plan to tour the city on sore legs after the race and enjoy some short runs in Scotland and Canada (with family).
“London is a great city and I am fortunate to live an hour’s flight away. The main experience for me is the race and being surrounded by friends and family both running and supporting us,” says Blake.
Upon finishing a cold beer is top of mind for all three of them. “I’m planning to give Chrissie a well-deserved hug for getting me through the race, shake hands with Blake and celebrate an end to long distance running,” says Greg.Chrissie is looking forward to a beer in The Gypsy Moth pub and experiencing a big city marathon whilst seeing family and loved ones.
They will first be visiting Chrissie’s family in Scotland before leaving for Canada to visit Greg’s son, daughter and granddaughter. Then it’s back to London before they return home.
The trio all plan to continue running, albeit with different goals in mind. Blake has suggested to his family that when his 12-year-old daughter turns 18, she should run the marathon with her mom and dad. “I received a mixed response from the family, but not a definite no,” says Blake.
Greg and Chrissie are planning on running shorter distances whilst giving back to the sport they love so much.
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