Running a marathon in his backyard recently was just the warm up for the ultimate backyard challenge to come, in the lockdown world of Bennie Roux. Next up was running the Ultimate Human Race, Comrades Marathon, without leaving his property.
Yes, 89 kilometres in the form of numerous laps around an almost 250 metre loop in his own backyard and down his driveway.
Bennie planned to start this challenge at 4am on Sunday, but heavy rain postponed the commencement until 6am, when there was a break in the skies.
“It rained hard, all day.”
He said it was convenient running at home because he had plenty of spare clothes and shoes available; which is just as well because he went through seven shirts and jackets, and four pairs of shoes.
But this run wasn’t all about showing the skill of this great runner from Centurion, it was also about showing the size and generosity of his heart. Through donations from his running community and friends, Bennie raised nearly R70,000 for Con Amore School and Early Intervention Centre in Johannesburg, for intellectually disabled children.
“It was 360 laps, and let me tell you, it was 360 times where I wanted to quit, and 360 times where I wanted to cheat. But raising money for this cause kept me going. It does make me sleep well at night knowing I could make a difference.”
He said fundraising provides an excuse to do “stupid stuff.”
“Otherwise people would just think I’m mad, now they think I’m just a good guy. But deep down, I’m just as crazy and stupid and mad.”
Initially when Bennie was asked how long this back yard ultra took him, he was reluctant to disclose. In fairness, his running training has been a little on the back burner recently.
This guy has 11 Comrades medals to his name, his fastest time being 6 hours 53 minutes.
On Sunday in his backyard he took 10 hours and 39 minutes.
“But because it’s a first, it’s a record. I’m waiting for Comrades to send me my gold medal.”
Bennie changed direction a few times to help prevent injuries, and perhaps fight the boredom.
“Believe me I feel like a train ran over me. Especially the turn in the driveway, that was 180 degrees, that one killed me!”
With the Covid 19 lockdown South Africa is in at the moment, and very few options on television, Bennie said he had a great audience watching his progress for the day, and his friend who lives in the garden flat on the property ran the final 10 kilometres which really helped.
“And the Facebook live feeds were a good distraction.”
The highlight of the day support from his sons, and wife Isabel who is a three-times Comrades runner herself and ran a couple of backyard kilometres with Bennie too.
“They played Chariots of Fire, there was a finish line and a medal, a printed list of sponsors, lots of pancakes and other food and coffee, and Isabel had a map with a figurine telling me how far I had to go.”
For race nutrition Bennie used his usual Tail Wind and 2.0 bars. His loyal Squirrels Nut Butter kept things comfortable too.
“But I didn’t really prepare well fo this, I could really feel it at 60 kilometres, but that’s just like a regular Comrades Marathon. It’ll be nice to be able to focus just on training now, now that there are no races on for the moment.”
Bennie is a familiar face in the ultra trail running scene now, but there are days when he thinks he might like to train for another Comrades Marathon.
“I would want to go sub six hours and 30 minutes.”
But he’s still undecided, as he’s been bitten by the trail running bug.
But one thing Bennie is sure of is that if it wasn’t for the lockdown, he would have never taken up this challenge that a friend suggested.
“For so many years with Isabel and I it’s been about juggling looking after the kids kids and running training, now I’ve realised it’s possible to do both at the same time. There are some positive things coming from this lockdown.”
And one more certainty of Bennie’s; his backyard is now once again just for braais and beer drinking. And no more backyard ultras.