Pete van der Merwe, who has been the voice of the Old Mutual Om die Dam Ultra Marathon for 15 years, picks this year’s top contenders.
Respected and celebrated in the Om die Dam and marathon running fraternity, commentator Pete van der Merwe is an institution of the race. Every year, he picks his favourites.
“The runners I have chosen as favourites consistently perform well at Om die Dam, as well as at other big races. They approach events like Om die Dam well prepared and with the right attitude.
“It’s always fun to interview these runners. They’re very marketable individuals and tend to be crowd pleasers as they’re fun to watch and are regarded as athletes that run intelligently,” says Van der Merwe.
Salome Cooper, Born 2 Run Athletic Club
3rd 2016, 5th 2014 & 6th 2012 ODD 50km; 10th 2016 & 10th 2014 Comrades
Salome Cooper believes that what separates Om die Dam from other great marathon races is the strong camaraderie among the runners and the great vibes at the water tables. “A challenging route also helps set Om die Dam apart from other ultra marathons,” she says.
The veteran isn’t going for the win this year, but has hopes to be among the top five, and perhaps go for a category win. “I expect the competition to be tough and challenging as there is a lot of great young upcoming talent among the women competitors.
“My training has been going well, I am grateful that I’ve been able to build a solid base without any injuries.”
Cooper plans to start at a comfortable pace and to run even splits on the second half.
She advises new runners: “Have an easy start, as the second half of the race is challenging, specially Saartjies, but what’s most important is to keep going and to enjoy it.”
Lastly, Cooper doesn’t believe in race “hacks”. She says the only way to achieve a time you want is through hard, consistent training.
Julanie Basson, Born 2 Run Athletic Club
4th 2014 ODD 50km, 10th 2015; 10th 2016 OMTOM 56km, 4x Comrades gold medallist (2012, 2013, 2014 & 2016)
Basson, another veteran to make Van der Merwe’s list, says the Om die Dam is arguably the toughest ultra marathon of the year.
“For me the fact that the Om die Dam race is the first ultra marathon of the year makes it difficult, mostly from a mental point of view. It is a well organised race and attracts athletes from all regions. If you’re a Comrades runner, it makes you realise how much work is still needed to get you to Comrades.”
She has been runner-up twice at the Om die Dam, but Basson’s goal this year isn’t the win.
“I use the race mainly as preparation for Comrades. With a lot of great younger runners making their appearances at ultras now, my focus probably shifts more towards the veterans category now.”
She has her take on who to keep an eye on. “Salome Cooper is really in excellent shape this year, so I would probably bet my money on her. But also don’t forget about Lesley Train – she is a very consistent strong performer and also in good shape this year.”
Basson has been training hard since January, after a break during the festive season. The Comrades gold medallist feels she entered Comrades too relaxed last year, and has learned from the error. She says training is going well and she hopes to be in good shape for the Om die Dam.
Her advice for novice runners is short and simple.
“Be consistent in your training. There will be days when the legs just don’t want to go and there will be days when you feel tired. But those days build character and mental toughness. And trust me – you will need the mental toughness for Saartjies – a tough, long hill around 40km into the run.
“There are no shortcuts in running. You have to work hard to taste success. But success tastes oh-so-sweet!” says Basson.
Basson and Cooper will have their work cut out for them, though, as 2016 Om die Dam champion and 2016 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon winner Caroline Wöstmann recently confirmed her participation in the 2017 Om die Dam. Wöstmann was a surprised but elated winner last year, crossing the line in a time of 3:38.38.
Ludwick Modibe Mamabolo, Nedbank Running Club
2nd 2015 ODD, winner 2003 (still holds 2nd fastest time in ODD history – 02:49:55); 2012 Comrades champion & 6x Comrades Gold Medallist out of seven starts; 2009 & 2016 OMTOM 56km gold medallist.
In the men’s race it should come down to another duel between Ludwick Mamabolo and Fanie Matshipa. Mamabolo believes Om die Dam is a special race for runners and spectators alike because “the route is so unique, and running around the dam is great”. Once again, his rival for first place could be 2016 Om die Dam winner, Matshipa. Last year Matshipa won the title in the colours of Samancor Chrome Athletic Club, but this year he will run in the green of the Nedbank Running Club.
Although Mamabolo had his last win at Om die Dam nearly 15 years ago, the 39-year-old is gunning for the top spot this year. Mamabolo knows he is going to encounter some tough competition that won’t make this year a walk in the park.
He doesn’t give much away when he speaks of race strategy. “I am just going to be running my own race this year at Om die Dam,” he says with a smile.
When it comes to advice for new Om die Dam runners, Mamabolo says Saartjies Nek is a portion of the race that must be treated with caution, but a thrilling race awaits.
— Arrive Alive (@_ArriveAlive) May 6, 2016