The WorldGreatest Ultrastreaker
given to Louis by the organizers of the Two Oceans 56K).
Running has its fair share of fanatics. In my previous
article I mentioned Louis Massyn of Odendaalsrus, South Africa, as the ultimate
ultra-runner with 44 Comrades finishes. As a visiting Bostonian this May, I was
invited with some mutual friends to his home a couple days after he finished
his 44th Comrades, which tied him for the record for the most consecutive
finishes. Little did I know that I would enter a museum of distance running.
I am not often one for superlatives, but I will take the
risk of stating that Louis is the most fanatical runner on the planet. He has
saved every pair of running or racing shoes, every bib number worn and every
finisherÛªs medal that he has earned. This in part includes 354 marathons and
300 ultramarathons. He has them all photographically digitized and catalogued
in archival fashion. His Comrades bibs are all framed and wall-mounted in
chronological order. He has additional treasured items neatly displayed on
walls throughout his house. This effort quickly overwhelmed one bedroom and has
now spread throughout his house.
We swapped stories over dinner and some wine, which is
another of his passions. It so happens that he also holds a record of 41
consecutive Two Oceans finishes, a 56K and second largest ultra in the world
held in Cape Town. In commemoration of his 40th finish, Two Oceans created a
special vintage with a wine label capturing his image.
He was first inspired to take up running in 1972 after a church
sermon in which the Bishop compared the Comrades Marathon to some Bible text.
In preparation for his first Comrades, Louis visited a local sports shop
seeking the perfect pair of running shoes to support him during the challenging
89K mountainous run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. He needed to prepare
wisely as this was to be his debut event. That is not a misprint. Louis had not
tested himself in any 5Ks or 10Ks. He would settle for nothing less than the
ultimate South African runnerÛªs goal of completing Comrades as his first race.
He had started training in November 1972 and meticulously logged over 600K in
preparation for the May 1973 event.
The shop owner suggested a pair of high end Adidas that cost
23 rand (about $1.66 USD in current dollars). The purveyor also suggested that
he would need two pair of these premium shoes since 89K was a long way and a
single pair would be kaput by halfway. Louis is no fool and he was not about to
fall for that sales pitch. But his naivety and frugality got the best of him
and he went to a discount sports shop and found another pair for 4.99 rand
(about .36 cents USD in current dollars). He strategized that he could toss the
worn out cheapos at halfway and finish in his stylish Adidas.
Things did not go according to plan. The bargain pair tore
his feet apart and he could not make the exchange for the others as planned.
Nonetheless, he finished with blood soaked sneakers covering his tattered feet.
Louis was now a Comrades finisher and an astonishing love affair with
ultra-running had begun.
As the President of the Goudveld Multi Sport – Welkom Club
with a marathon PR of 2:33, he has inspired thousands on runners and triathletes
to reach for the sky in setting their goals. He shared many other anecdotes
about his running resume in humble fashion as Rita, his wife of 27, quietly
smiled and nodded.
In 2017 Louis will tie the record of 45 lifetime finishes at
Comrades. He looks much younger than his years and admits to feeling the
fitness needed to keep under the sadistic cut-off time of 12 hours (exact to
the second). With a puristÛªs sense, Louis would never consider tarnishing the
history or traditions of Comrades by accepting any exception to their stern
rules (like allowing him to finish over their infamous cut-off).
One future goal after setting his Comrades record is to run
Boston in 2018. I felt a sense of guilt as he mentioned Boston, given his love
for the history of the sport. He has a monument dedicated to his 44 pairs of
Adidas worn in each Comrades. I see a huge PR opportunity for one of BostonÛªs
I might mention that this article was partly written during
my August visit to Cape Town and the famous wine village of Stellenbosch. I was
researching the possibility of purchasing a gentlemanÛªs farm as a potential
retirement retreat to escape our New England winters.