Most people spend their golden years stopping to smell the roses but 74-year-old Boet van Zyl spends his feeding an insatiable hunger to lace up and hit the ground running.
To call the Edgemead senior an avid runner is a gross understatement. Boet has participated in more than 200 marathons and 25 Cape Town Cycle Tours. Every kilometre is accounted for in a log book he has kept since he started running in 1977. The pages of the thick A4 hardcover book are yellowed with age and there are only a few empty ones left. Boet has filled the rest with painstaking records of every race he has competed in.
He welcomed Tabletalk into his beautiful home where he lives with Margaret, his wife of 51 years, and spoke candidly about his experiences as a runner and changes he’s seen in the sport in his 39 years of running.
“Today’s craze is trail running and mountain biking. In the 70s, the craze was to lose weight by putting on a pair of takkies and going running. Everybody was doing it. It was a cheap sport. My first pair of running shoes were a pair of Asics Tygers that I bought for R12,” says Boet.
The first time he went for a run he only made it 1.5km down the road before he had to walk back. This is hard to imagine when looking at Boet who is tall and lean.
“I couldn’t move for a week,” he laughed.
But with a strong attitude and a fearlessness of pushing the boundaries, Boet competed in his first Two Oceans marathon only a year after taking up running.
“That’s when I really became serious about running. I missed the cut-off by 15 minutes, so I didn’t get a medal, but I felt fantastic. It was an unbelievable experience.”
He points out the changes he’s seen since his first Two Oceans.
“No cars are allowed on the route now, but back then your wife could drive next to you and your kids would jump out to give you water whenever you needed it. Today, Coke is the main sponsor but back then it was Pepsi. Everything was recorded manually with stopwatches. Now we have timing chips that read your time. It’s great.”
Although warmed up for this year’s Two Oceans Marathon, which takes place over the Easter weekend of March 25 and 26, Boet was saddened by the death of someone he believes put the “Two Oceans on the map”.
Chet Sainsbury, former race director of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, died on February 23 after suffering from cancer.
Mr Sainsbury was buried on the day the Tabletalk visited Boet who insisted the article revolve around his “twin brother in running”.
Boet places a page with two columns on the table. In each column, is written the milestones accomplished by each man during his running career.
“We share the same birthday, which is 12 April 1942, and started running at the same age of 35. We both have belonged to only one running club all our lives, him to the Celtic running club and me to the Spartans running club,” he says.
Both ran their first Two Oceans marathon in the same year although they only officially met many years later.
“Chet put the Two Oceans marathon on the map. He built it from a small race to an international race. For the past 38 years we have had a running and cycling friendship.
“I feel terrible about his passing. It brings home how vulnerable you are in your old age.”
When asked what his proudest moment has been, one expects his reply to be his best marathon time, but instead Boet, who has three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild, says it was cycling with his grandson, Adrian Maritz, in the then Cape Argus Cycle Tour.
“My grandson was the youngest person to finish the Cape Argus Cycle Tour at eight years old,” says Boet proudly.
The two also took part in Sunday’s Cape Town Cycle tour.
“Besides a sore bum I’m fine. My gandson beat me but age is on his side. He’s 28 and I’m 74 after all,” he laughs.