16 May

Barry Holland is gearing up to make a piece of history by completing his 46th consecutive run and becoming the all-time leading medal winner of the Comrades Marathon. David Knowles caught up with this determined and driven man to find out more

There are sporting moments that live in the memory forever – but there are some that shape a person’s life. In 1967, the sporting gods had a little fun in Durban, creating the first dead-heat in the Durban July when Sea Cottage and Jollify couldn’t be separated. In the same year Comrades Marathon history was rewritten with the closest ever finish when Manie Kuhn beat Tommy Malone by one second after Malone had fallen at the finish line, allowing Kuhn to surge past and breast the tape at Durban’s Drill Hall.

It remains the most dramatic finish in the race’s colourful history but it left an indelible mark on a 15-year-old Northlands boy who was at the finish and saw the drama unfold. This year, that same lad, now 66, sets out to make his own piece of Comrades history by setting off to complete his 46th consecutive run and become the all-time leading medal winner.

It takes a serious press on the rewind button to realise that Barry Holland ran his first Comrades in 1973 and has never missed one since. After watching that 1967 finish, he had itchy feet, but had to wait until he turned 18 to be allowed to enter.

“Being a Durban boy Comrades was in my DNA, but it was another matter whether I had any running acumen to undertake such a daunting run,” said Barry. “I started running around Durban North but couldn’t find any motivation, so after two weeks I gave up. The following year, aged 19, I tried again, this time going for three weeks before throwing in the towel.”

As the saying goes, it was third time lucky when Barry decided to have one final go at “this running thing” which, over time, he began to find rather stupid, asking himself why and what he hoped to gain from it.

“Again, I was on the verge of giving up when I came across a group of about 30 runners called the Regent Harriers. It was a life-changing moment and at age 20, I completed that first Comrades and have not stopped since,” said Barry.

A more than useful 7:52 on his maiden journey – a down run – convinced Barry he had finally tapped into what has proven to be a more than average running ability. “Running is all about time and that is what has kept me going through the years,” said Barry. “There is always that voice that says you can do better, and being young when I started, I learnt as I went along and trained for certain goals which I knew were not unrealistic and which I could achieve.”

That first goal was achieved in 1976, another down run, when Barry crossed the line for his first silver medal in 7:09 (7:30 being the silver medal cut-off). It was the first of 22 silver medals which includes seven on the trot from 1985 through to 1991 and eight from 1996 to 2003. That 2003 effort was Barry’s last silver as he dashed across the line in 7:29:56, a mere four seconds before the cut-off.

“Having got silver, the next challenge was to break seven hours and I finally achieved that in 1989’s down run, clocking 6:46. My best ever finish was two years later in the 1991 down run when I gave my all to finish in 6:29,” said Barry. “That saw the famous Holland roll across the line and the stretcher bearers taking me away where I just needed to gather my wits and realise what I had accomplished. Nothing serious.”

It’s amazing that Barry – who has run most of his Comrades in the colours of Jeppe after moving to Johannesburg for many years and returning to KwaZulu-Natal in 2012 where he runs for Dolphin Coast Striders – has survived with the same engine, never having a hip replacement and running on original parts.

“Records are there to be broken but the highlight this year is running with my daughter Kathryn on her first run. That is an important milestone for me – we completed her maiden Two Oceans this year, crossing the line together in 6:20. She was in good hands as I notched my 31st finish,” said Barry.

Being one of the older Comrades characters, Barry still uses the old 11-hour mark as his benchmark when it comes to finishing, but as the years pass, he is getting closer to using that extra hour to keep his medal tally growing. “Last year I finished in 10:54 but if I had to use the 12 hours, then why not. It still counts as a finish,” he said. “This year will be a slow run but who cares what the clock says with my daughter at my side.” *


Holland Facts

■Barry’s wife Debbie has completed 20 Comrades Marathons.

■Has logged up roughly 155 000km in marathons and training runs, closing in on four times around the world.

■Has run London, New York and the Greek Marathon, from the village of Marathon to Athens.

■Hates the gym – if a runner, then you run.

■Was in the printing trade but now works as a race organiser and director.

■Hopes to run his 47th Comrades with his son Ross, currently studying at Stellenbosch.

■Will keep running until he doesn’t enjoy it anymore.

■Not committed to reaching 50 Comrades medals – take one year at a time as it does not get any easier.

■Has won the Natal Ironman medal for completing Midmar, Dusi and Comrades.

■Comrades advice? Plan your race and race your plan.


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