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‘Grown up’ runners take Comrades to new heights

  • SportRonnieDribben
On Sunday, Maurice “Maish” Rosen competed his 36th Comrades Marathon, sneaking under the cut-off time with five minutes to spare. A couple of hours after his 18th or 19th Comrades “up” run (he isn’t entirely sure) he was having a slap-up meal at the hotel buffet, with soup, chicken, beef, and all the trimmings.
by LUKE ALFRED | Jun 13, 2019

This coming weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, he will be running his usual 29km, feeling no apparent ill-effects from what he calls “a gruelling” uphill run in the Comrades of the previous weekend.

Such commitment to his sport and his routine would be remarkable in a man half his age, so it is incredible to learn that Rosen is a sprightly 65. “I have a sweet tooth, and I drink the very occasional glass of wine or draft beer,” he says. “I find that I can just run it off.”

Without really trying, Rosen has become something of a minor celebrity in recent months. In his guise as a dedicated Comrades man, he appears in a YouTube advert for a non-alcoholic lager that has received 60 000-odd hits. Strangers now recognise him in the street.

“People found the advert inspirational and emotional,” he says on the day after the Comrades. “People came up to me and commented during the race. I even had one guy say – I think he must have been in his forties – ‘When I grow up, I want to be like you’.”

Rosen is a smart choice to feature in an advert as a Comrades Everyman because he ran his first Comrades as a 25-year-old way back in 1979. “I couldn’t walk for five days afterwards,” he says, pointing out that the bug didn’t bite immediately.

There was a four-year interval between his first and second race, whereupon he began to get into the Comrades groove. He loves the race, he says, for its camaraderie and fun, its colour, and its pageantry.

“Standing at the top of Polly Shorts in his tracksuit pants during my first Comrades was none other than the famous Wally Hayward,” he remembers. “’Let’s run to the end,” he said to us, and so we did.

“How can I put it? He sort of took a shine to us.”

Back then, the race was different. There were only 1 400 to 1 500 athletes, and seconds were allowed to accompany runners on motorbikes. Everything was more ramshackle, more amateurish, and more relaxed.

Although the event now is exponentially larger and more streamlined with no seconds allowed, its soul has remained intact, according to Rosen. “Comrades has retained the magic,” he says. “It is an unbelievable day, and an unbelievable event.”

In spite of the Comrades brotherhood, there is still a race to be run, and Rosen learned early in his apprenticeship that he’s a tortoise rather than a hare. “’Speed kills’, that’s what I tell the youngsters when I’m asked for advice,” he says.

He certainly practises what he preaches, preferring the slow and steady approach to one that’s more demanding. There’s also an element of self-preservation in his decision not to belt out from the front.

“My times have slowed significantly in the past four or five years,” he says, although there’s no thought whatsoever of not running in next year’s down race. Indeed, he sees no reason why he shouldn’t complete 40 Comrades all told.

While Rosen’s horizons are still open, the same cannot be said for Ronnie Dribben, who ran his 30th – and in all likelihood, his last – Comrades on Sunday in a shade over 10 hours. “I’ve decided it might be my last one,” says Dribben, a mere spring chicken at 60. “It’s been fantastic. I’ve done a 7:04 up run and a 7:04 down run. You know what they say, it might be time to get out while I’m at the top.”

Dribben has suffered from a couple of setbacks in recent years which might have something to do with his decision. He had a significant knee operation “five or six” years ago, and there have been complications with his chest more recently.

“I’ve had breathing issues,” he says, “so I’ve done a fair bit of my training for this latest race on a treadmill. The guys joke. They call me a bit of a Forrest Gump. They say I’m the only guy who trained for this year’s Comrades by ‘running’ a 42km race on a treadmill!”

It all began more than 30 years ago for Dribben, when he found himself eating poorly and was 20 kilograms heavier than he should have been. Regular exercise and healthy eating changed all that, as he ran the first of his 30 Comrades in 1989.

Thirty years later, and he’s likely to call it a day on what some call the greatest ultra-distance race on earth, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to become a couch potato. Far from it. He has ambitions to continue with his Iron Man events and, who knows, he might in time reach 30 of those.


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