HOEDSPRUIT – The van der Meulens are really not your average family. Tom and his four boys have made history, and the beginning of their story has been captured in the world famous Comrades Marathon magazine for being the first ever father and four sons to sign up for the race in May 2016. Look out for them on the day.
According to Hanlie and Tom, who have raised their four boys to be adventurous and sport orientated, it was the staff at Mariepskop Primary that spiked the interest in running in their boys and inspired the love of running in all of them. ‘Cross Country was a way to get fit and compete with the rest, striving for first place, and, more often than not, running away with bronze, silver or gold,’ Tom says in his casual manner.
Tom’s first Comrades was a dare, to prove to his friends that a strong mind was more important than to be super fit in order to finish Comrades. ‘That was in 1991. After that I did three more and I thought 2015’s Comrades would be my last,’ he adds. ‘I think this is a unique experience to have my four sons participating together and practising together for this event. Although we live far apart we run together when we meet up and share our training experiences on WhatsApp. The mother of our family, Hanlie, also joins in on shorter distances.
‘For me running has become a way of life. Every morning I take the dogs for a run before people rush off to work. I think it is a great privilege to have the health to be able to run and while it lasts I will keep going. I do not follow a strict programme, or a special diet,’ Tom explains. During marathons I eat everything that is supplied at the water points and do not take anything to eat with me. My goal at Comrades is to finish with a bronze and without pain’.
The oldest son, Carel, admits that he was the last of the five to accept the challenge. ‘For me it seemed to be such an unreal distance to finish, especially if you have limited time for training. I accepted the challenge because of how special it would be to be able to finish the race with my brothers and father. I've been running on and off my whole life, but never these extreme distances. I have now already completed my first marathon and qualified for Comrades.
Next in line is Dirk. ‘I’ve enjoyed running since primary school and find it a really good way of unwinding. At Varsity I had a friend who ran the Comrades a few times and I trained with him. At that time I knew that one day I would attempt the Comrades but did not aim for a specific year. I was encouraged by my younger brother, Thomas, who ran the Comrades last year and challenged us to run the Comrades together. My father agreed to join in on condition that we all did. And so we decided’!
‘Ever since I can remember the idea of Comrades fascinated me’ explains Thomas, son number three. ‘It must have been because my father had done it and I sort of idolised him. As a young boy, I would dig my father’s medal out from the cluttered drawer next to his bed. It was just lying there – like it was no big feat to have achieved. but when he spoke about the experience it was clear that it was one of the proudest moments in his life.
‘When a work colleague asked me to be his training partner for the 2015 Comrades I jumped at the opportunity,’ explains Thomas. During the week I trained with a head lamp and my trusty husky, Max, and at weekends I did the longer runs with my colleague. My father also entered for the 2015 Comrades. Although we didn’t run together, it was a very special experience to be able to wait for my idol at the finish line!’
‘I managed to finish my first big C in 9h14min, just missing out on a silver medal and learning some very valuable lessons. I didn’t think I would attempt another Comrades, but when my brothers wanted to do it I agreed to join them, on condition that they all entered and my father entered – silently hoping that they would not.… But they did, so here we go again!
Marno, the youngest, remembers that when his brother and dad took on Comrades, the family tried to encourage them and understand what they were doing, but made no sense of it! Mamo continues, ‘Who on Earth puts himself through 90km of misery! They ended up doing really well, which made me realise that Comrades might not be so bad, rather more of a life defining challenge. Since then it has become exactly that: a humbling family challenge!’
‘I am still a novice at marathon running, although I did do athletics at school. I hope to push through to a silver medal, but I will be more than satisfied with a bronze or finishers for my first Comrades,’ ends Marno.