'I'm looking not just to be a number, but to go and do well' - Renier Grobler ready for 100km Champs
One of the unfortunate consequences of the change in the 2022 Comrades Marathon date from June to August, is that it now clashes with the IAU 100 km World Championships. Taking place in Germany on Saturday 27 August, the 100km champs usually includes a South African team boasting some of the country's finest Comrades runners. For example Bong'musa Mthembu, Gift Kelehe and David Gatebe all of whom have won The Ultimate Human race guided SA to the team gold at the 2016 edition. The absence of Comrades champions this time around opens the door for other promising ultra marathon specialists to make a name for themselves on the global stage. Renier Grobler is one of them.
"I'm very happy. It was actually a dream to get SA colours and to compete against world's best in 100km. It's my first 100km champs and as you rightfully say, some of the big names are not there," he told #TheTopRunner on a chilly highveld morning in his hometown of Pretoria. "It gives us top 20 or top 30 Comrades runners a chance to go there. And I think we've got so much depth in our ultra running that we will still be competitive and do well there."
Having earned nine consecutive Comrades medals (8 Silver and 1 Wally Hayward), 39-year-old Grobler holds two top twenty finishes with a best of 5:49:53 when he took eighteenth position during the 2016 Down Run. That pedigree over the world's most loved ultra marathon is what piqued the interest of the Athletics South Africa selectors who chose him to represent the country alongside former SA 50km record holder Jonas Makhele, Mahlomola Sekhonyana, who finished fourth at the 2019 Comrades Marathon, Zukile Vellem, Craig Cynkin and Bongelani Mkhwanazi.
"That year when I was eighteenth in the Comrades and ran a 5:49, there was an Australian behind me who came nineteenth and that year he came eighth overall at the World 100km Champs. So it just shows how competitive Comrades is. And us as runners as well can do well there as a team," said the Murray and Roberts Running Club athlete who is the holder of a 2:24:38 standard marathon personal best run at the 2015 Dubai Marathon.
Perhaps the one key difference between the 90km run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg and the IAU World 100km Championships is that Comrades is a point-to-point race run over notoriously hilly terrain, whereas Grobler will be forced to run laps on a flat course on Saturday. The father of two says he has prepared himself for this important mental shift.
"Normally it's 10 x 10km loops, but this year they said it will be 13 x 7,5km loops and then a 2,5km loop. So I have prepared like that. I've done two long runs like that. For example I did a 55km run on a 5km lap and then I also did a 44km where I did a 4,4km lap ten times. So it is harder to run laps, I think it tires you mentally. But I'm up for the challenge and I'm well prepared. I'm actually looking not just to be a number, but to go and do well," he smiled.