Ham­lett chas­ing a hat-trick

Com­rades coach knows his run­ners in­side and out, believes they will win

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MAT­SHE­LANE MAM­ABOLO

CAN­NOT put in what God left out.”

John Ham­lett, his cute York­shire Ter­rier on his lap, is talk­ing about what it takes to be a Com­rades cham­pion. The TomTom Ath­let­ics Club coach is renowned as a “Com­rades king­maker” hav­ing trained no less than four win­ners of the Ul­ti­mate Hu­man Race.

“There’s re­ally no clear com­pe­ti­tion for us this year,” Ham­lett says, “Maybe Te­boho Sello. But I re­ally be­lieve we will win it again this year af­ter we won the last two.

“Any of Gift (Kelehe, the de­fend­ing up run cham­pion) or David (Gatebe, last year’s record-break­ing win­ner) can break the up run record ... This year we have a team good enough to dom­i­nate the top five.”

And he should know what good enough is, Ham­lett hav­ing not only run the Com­rades in the past him­self but also hav­ing spe­cialised in train­ing run­ners for lo­cal road run­ning’s holy grail for many years.

“To win the Com­rades you need to be a dis­ci­plined and com­mit­ted ath­lete. Of course, it’s key that there’s an essence of tal­ent there, af­ter all I can­not put in what God left out, can I?” he laughs, star­tling the yorkie – named Ruab – to wake up and leave his lap. “Tal­ent, though, is but a small per­cent­age of it all.”

It took him 10 years to get Kelehe to win the Com­rades, he ex­plains. And even then, the man from Mafikeng had been run­ning for nearly all his life.

“Gift and his brother, An­drew (2001 Com­rades cham­pion), used to run to school. So, run­ning is a nat­u­ral ef­fort for them and work­ing with such peo­ple makes it a lit­tle eas­ier. You can’t have a guy who is be­ing forced to run and think you can make a Com­rades cham­pion out of him,” Ham­lett said.

Proper train­ing, the right nu­tri­tion and psy­cho­log­i­cal strength play a ma­jor role, too.

“It is not a one size fits all, as some peo­ple seem to think. Train­ing for in­stance, has to be in­di­vid­ual spe­cific and you can only know what to do for each ath­lete from hav­ing spent years and years work­ing with them.”

The TomTom team will be go­ing to Dur­ban today hav­ing been in camp for eight weeks run­ning dis­tances of 250km to 270km a week. That they chose Dullstroom, he says, is be­cause “at an al­ti­tude of about 2 000m, it is an ideal place to train. I’ve heard peo­ple ask why we don’t go to Lesotho, but Lesotho is too high and too steep.

“The iso­la­tion is also very good for the ath­letes to be fo­cused on the job. We don’t just al­low peo­ple in the camp, no vis­i­tors who can con­tam­i­nate our food. We’re that care­ful.”

Hav­ing done their best in the build-up, what hap­pens on race day is of the ut­most im­por­tance. “Be­cause I know each of my ath­letes, we man­age each one’s needs on race day in­di­vid­u­ally. From pre­par­ing their drinks and know­ing when to give each one their own. That’s very im­por­tant on the day be­cause it doesn’t help to have a Fer­rrari that is tuned and then have no petrol, does it,” Ham­lett says.

The psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pect of the race is also very im­por­tant.

“We watch a lot of Com­rades movies and we dis­cuss tac­tics from them. So, when they go into a race, my ath­letes usu­ally know things such as when to break from a group or a com­pe­ti­tion. Hon­esty is key and they know they can share what­ever they are feel­ing with me. But I also know them and while David, for ex­am­ple, is a quiet man, I am able to tell when he has some­thing on his mind,” Ham­lett says.

His yorkie is no doubt in sync with him. For when Ham­lett got ready to take his run­ners for a fartleks ses­sion af­ter the in­ter­views, Ruab was at his feet, un­do­ing his shoelaces.

“It’s his way of telling me I shouldn’t leave him be­hind,” Ham­lett says.

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