Alfred Motaung is a fascinating man. On the outside, he is known for being quiet, modest, and impeccably polite. He is always pleasant, works hard, and makes sure to greet everyone, every day, with a big smile.
But spend a couple of minutes with him having a chat, and you will quickly discover that underneath lies an absolute powerhouse of discipline, and a deeply focussed mind. Alfred should actually be writing this blog himself – I have never had a conversation with him where he doesn’t drop a quiet bomb of philosophical wisdom within five minutes! This is a man who knows where he is going – and in this case, it’s the 90km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, in the 90th Comrades marathon.
The Man Inside The Shoes
Born in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal on 11 January 1969, Alfred spent his childhood as a herd-boy for cattle in his home-town of Nquthu. He now lives in Germiston with his younger brother and son. But he still calls KZN his home, and visits every month or two to see his wife and adopted son.
He always had a taste for running, and was a keen participant at school. As an adult, however, Alf had a preference for the martial art of Kobujutsu (the one with the sticks), for keeping fit and learning self-defence. He practised this for 10 years, and it wasn’t until 1999 that running caught his eye again, in the form of a casual fun-run.
This was a turning point in Alfred’s sporting career: at this race, he met some fellow runners (“Runners are very friendly,” he remarks), and first learnt about the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon: the world-famous Comrades.
Alfred Gets Serious
He had soon joined a running club (CX Athletics), and two years later he ran his first qualifying marathon, which would lead to his first attempt at Comrades. In the beginning, his support network was small; running was not a common thing in his community. His wife wondered at him investing so much time in this sport when he could have been at home instead, and was startled when he devoured his food after a training session. Everybody else thought it was a waste of his time: “What are you chasing??” they would ask, bewildered.
His first Comrades experience was a surprise for Alf, to say the least: he had no coach, no training programme, and no idea what to expect. He struggled through in inappropriate shoes, and got into a bit of stomach trouble when he accepted some Spirulina from the water-givers along the way (he had never tried supplements before). He laughs about finishing as the sun was starting to set.
But Alfred is like a bulldog when it comes to seizing a challenge – he still remembers losing out on a place in the school team, and turned that disappointment into a lifelong motivation to succeed. So he quickly got wise: what information he couldn’t pick up from his fellow athletes, he sought in books and magazines like Runners World. He joined Germiston Callies, a club with a better training programme. Still, he only got a formal coach in 2010 – he says it was his best race yet.
When asked “Why running?”, Alf explains that he enjoys the unique challenge of a solo sport. “If you cheat, you cheat yourself,” he says. “There is nobody to hide behind.” But ironically, running has helped him to become more socially at ease, in all areas of his life. “I’m a naturally shy person, and running was a way to overcome my fears.” He also says there are limits to how far you can progress in sports like soccer, and even martial arts, but with running you can go as long and as far as your legs will carry you.
The Big Banting Build-up
In terms of diet, Alf is not a fussy eater – he finds supplements expensive and frustratingly ever-changing. He follows no strict eating plan. For carbo-loading before a race, he eats potatoes (and some supplements that he has eventually come around to accepting!).
But when work colleague Kim started talking to him about the Banting diet, Alfred really got on board with a vengeance. Like any challenge, he could not resist, and flung himself straight into it from day one – causing some concern for Kim, as the race was only two months away!
And (thankfully) so far, so good: Alf did his usual run on Monday, and says he can already feel an improvement. “I felt great. I felt the power inside me,” he says excitedly. He’s finding the diet pretty easy to adapt to – with typical Alf-like discipline, he has cut out the carbohydrates, fizzy drinks and snacks he would indulge in on his commute by train. “It’s the same foods – meat, and eggs, and stuff – I just eat more of those now.” He doesn’t find it more expensive than his previous everyday eating regime… which basically consisted of “anything that’s available”.
Onward and Upward!
We asked Alf if he has any mantras or philosophies that get him out of bed to train on the cold mornings, and push him to reach the finish line. His face lights up: “I am destined for greatness! If I don’t do it, nobody will do it for me. I am a learner, and I want to learn from this. Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” (Do you see what we mean about the wisdom bombs?!)
After our first little interview for this blog, Alf sent Kim and me a message on our blog’s WhatsApp group: “Thanks guys, for your commitment and support on my journey to a healthy and unique lifestyle. With you alongside me any challenge will be a stepping stone to success. Keep up the good work. I’m very proud of you.” Alfred, it is us who are proud of you. You would never admit it, but you are a local hero. Thank-YOU for letting us stand (run) by your side!