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Marathon Man is road warrior

Date Released: Fri, 10 May 2013 16:20 +0200

I will run till I drop, 65-year-old tells reporter, Adrienne Carlisle


Ric Mapara turned 65 last week. In just three weeks' time, the slight, sinewy man with his trademark grizzled beard sets off on his ninth gruelling 90km Comrades Marathon. His routine is daunting.

It's still pitch dark when he wakes up at 4am. He stretches his muscles before setting off in the cool, crisp air on his daily 30km run.

The only sound is the rhythmical, slap, slap, slap of the soles of his running shoes hitting the deserted tar road. "That is the best feeling in the world," he says. "I enjoy being alone on the road. You are free to explore the worlds in your mind." Mapara also does cross-training on his racing bike and completes a 50km ride at least three times a week.

Despite all the training, he says he is not yet physically fit enough for the Comrades. "But I am mentally fit and that's what you need more than anything," says the long-legged sexagenarian runner. He is delighted that this year's race is uphill from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.

"Uphill is easier on my old knees than that downhill run," he quips. He has honed his mental fitness by completing hundreds of competitive runs over the past few decades. He has 23 Two Oceans Marathons, 22 Buffs Marathons and dozens of other competitions under his belt. "You have to have the goal in your mind and then the mental and physical fitness follows."

Hundreds of medals dangle in a display cabinet high on the wall of the popular Eric's Pub in Xolani - testimony to extraordinary goal-setting and mental and physical fitness. Below the cabinet, dozens of photographs line the wall going back decades.

In almost every photograph Mapara is running. He is pictured running alone, with fellow competitors, his grandchildren or his "laat lammetjie" teenage daughter, Nyasha. A framed article shows a picture of Mapara being congratulated by Two Oceans record-holder, Frith van der Merwe, for completing his 20th marathon two years ago.

He completed the 56km in the very respectable time of 5:36:31. He managed the 90km downhill Comrades in 9:35:03 last year - well ahead of many younger men and women. A certificate from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture commends him for his life-long dedication to athletics.

A picture on the wall shows him receiving special recognition in 2008 after completing his 20th Buff Marathon. For that he earned his permanent competitor's number 58. In 1985 he completed the marathon in 2:50:54. Some 23 years later he had added just an hour to that time and managed the marathon in a credible 3:56:50.

Mapara seldom sits still. There are always customers to be served at Eric's Pub. He wakes up at 4am every morning - whether he likes it or not. "I just wake up at that time. I always have. I can't help it. I don't need an alarm clock. Even if I have been working till 2am - I wake up at 4am," he says shaking his head.

Born on a farm outside Port Elizabeth, Mapara attended Newell High School in the city but never completed matric for financial reasons. Instead he became a barman at the Railway Hotel in North End in Port Elizabeth. He then moved to Grahamstown where, over 18 years, he worked his way up from a wine steward at the old Grand Hotel to the position of shift manager.

He then moved to East London where he worked in the sales department of a major consumer goods company for some 17 years. Seven years ago he and Pumza, his wife of some 46 years, declined a transfer to Durban and instead returned to Grahamstown to open their own pub. He now runs for the Rhodes University Athletics Club. But running isn't his only skill.

Years in a pub have turned Mapara into a brilliant darts player. Photographs show him and his team winning many darts tournaments. Despite juggling his demanding business with his running, Mapara seems relaxed. His hours are long and the work is never done. Customers need to be soothed, served and conversed with.

Floors need to be cleaned, glasses washed, stock counted and ordered, and money banked. And, of course, he has to go for his run. "I feel so good when I run. If I run in the mornings I feel good for the whole day. If I don't, the day goes badly." He says he began running in his late twenties after being talked into joining in a local fun run.

And he has never stopped. "It is something major in my life. I don't do it for the competition. I don't do it for money. I just do it to feel good. I will never stop. I will run till I drop." STILL GOING STRONG: Eric Mapara running in the 'world's most beautiful marathon' — the Two Oceans in 2011

Picture caption: PRIDE AND JOY: Hundreds of medals hang in a cabinet in Eric Mapara's pub in Grahamstown

Picture Source: TIM PLASKET

By ADRIENNE CARLISLE

Source: Daily Dispatch

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