The 2002 Comrades marathon provided a welcome change of fortunes for Marietjie Montgomery in a year where the family had experienced a number of difficult circumstances that had threatened to disrupt regular and disciplined training.

Her initial introduction to running had come relatively late in life. At the age of 30 she ran her first comrades finishing in 10 hours 30 minutes for the up run. It took 8 years and 2 more Comrades for her potential become more evident. Again on an up run Marietjie ran to her first Silver medal. In early 1999 she adopted a number of changes to her training.

Increased quality work and a reduction in racing prevented a repeat of one of her all-time running lowlights, The Jock of the Bushveldt in 1994, where she totally ran out of steam. Not really that surprising since she was running her 3rd marathon or longer in 3 weeks. Brought up with a ‘never say die attitude’ Marietjie simply continued to the finish, but as a memorable low, it has only ever been equalled by this years Two Oceans Marathon, where she used the event to test out a replacement sports supplement for one of the imported brands that have become impossible to get in the marketplace. Stomach problems not only made the race a ‘living hell’, but also convinced her to look for a totally different supplement.

This test and assess approach, was also part of the change adopted in 1999 which has led her to her career highlight of representing South Africa at the World 100km Championships in France in 1999 and in Netherlands in 2000. The 1999 version rewarded her with a share of the veteran team prize. “The 1999 Championships provided the biggest change, as I learnt about discipline in training and in racing.
The experience of 100km and exposure overseas taught me not to worry who is in the race. You simply have to focus on what you are doing. If you start worrying about who is there, you might as well not go. Its what you do.”

A year later in Netherlands she learnt about pacing. In the early race she trailed all 5 other members of the South African women’s team, but in the final 5kms not only was she leading the team but she had also hunted down all the other veterans listed in the programme. A printing error in the age of the Portuguese runner left her 2nd veteran in the world, but with enough energy to jog back and support her team colleagues.

From here there was only one place to go – Back onto the Comrades road and in 2001 despite the downhill direction which tends to aggravate her back and legs, she ran to 11th place and earned her first Comrades Gold medal as part of the winning Mr Price team.  Few is any positions are more disappointing, yet motivating. “Having ‘tastest’ Gold in 2001 this year I set my sights on individual Gold. I knew I had o focus on this one goal as it gets harder as you get older and I had to do it while I still can do something. In my favour was that I started running late, because it is not chronological age but running age (and distance) that slows you down.” Said the 42-year-old Durban Girls college teacher. “At the beginning part of the year it looked as though all was going to be disrupted by circumstances affecting family members, but thankfully the lord has definitely give me the strength to keep focus and a strong mind. I saw these obstacles as a challenge I had been given”
Montgomery has a similar approach to mixing work in with training “The fact that you need to work should not become a negative thing, but rather be changed to an advantage.” Appointed as the XC coach for the high school at the beginning of the year she trained with the girls in the morning, killing two birds with one stone, and earning the respect and admiration of the girls at the sametime.

So how does she compare her World 100km vests and medals to a Comrades gold? “While the events have similar training and racing requirements, it is an honour to run for South Africa and there are different goals in the events. The 100km is more about the team performance, whereas Comrades is purely individual. That said being second veteran in the World was a special achievement, and my SA Colours still rank as my career highlight.”

More selective in her goals, it seems that Marietjie is set to step-down in distance to focus on marathon and 10km speed, before making another return to the Durban Pietermaritzburg road. The next goal is to be the top SA women finisher in Comrades and the one thing she can be certain of is the support of husband Monty and daughters Stephane and Rochelle. They have played a significant part in two vests and two golds in 4 years and are willingly on call for the next challenge.

Fact box:
Marietjie Montgomery
Date of Birth 17 October 1959
Occupation Teacher – Durban Girls College
Club – Mr Price KZN
Comrades- 6 medals – 3 bronze, 2 silver, 1 Gold
SA Representation: World 100km Challenge France 1999, World 100km Challenge Netherlands 2000.

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