The Comrades Marathon Association is saddened by news of the death of former Comrades runner and athletics administrator, John Cohen, last week. He was 85 years old. John shared an enormous love for The Ultimate Human Race, achieving 22 Comrades Marathon finishes, which included 13 Silver and 9 Bronze medals between 1969 and 1993.
He accomplished his personal best in the 1976 Comrades in a time of 6:50:00.
John had a notable impact on the running scene in KwaZulu-Natal. Some of his contributions to road-running include serving as Secretary and Vice President of KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA), formerly known as the Natal Amateur Athletics Association.
John also served as the Chairperson of the Ladysmith Athletics Club for several years.
However, many athletes will fondly remember John for organising the 52km Bergville to Ladysmith Arthur Cresswell Marathon for many years at a time when the number of participants in that event compared to that of the Comrades Marathon.
John was an honoured member of the Comrades Green Number Club and took pride in his Permanent Number 191. He also attended the Comrades Expo last year wearing his famous Green Number Jacket.
John is survived by his four children, David, Michal, Tanya and Marc. Tanya and Marc had qualified and were due to run #Comrades2020 as a tribute to him.
Marc, who applied for and has since inherited Comrades Permanent Number 191, reflects on his Dad’s running days, “Running was a religion in our family with many constants. The traditional 5am training runs, the long Sunday run and breaking in the new Bata tekkies running shoes every year.”
Tanya, David and Michal remember, “Our mom Leonie was there for every one of Dad’s races and of course he always hobbled for the next 2-3 days post-Comrades and not forgetting the blisters. Dad lived to run. His logbooks tell the tale and when last reported, he had run more than two times around the world, approaching the 100,000km mark. Race Number 191 – what a legend!”
The children recall their Dad’s Comrades runs, “Without a doubt, Comrades was his favourite race. Each Comrades was a different animal – weather, temperature, food the night before, preparing all the seconding drinks, when he would need corps reviver (glucose powder, bicarb, sprite), how much glucose in the Coke; making the glucose water, filling all the plastic squeeze bottles; when to have the Sustigen on hand, what clothes to start in, when to take the top layer off, only x miles to Polly Shortts, Fields Hill was tough, where is Race Number 178 – Doug Hamilton (Doug was his main running companion who twice finished Comrades in 12th position!); how far ahead is Bruce Fordyce, damn I feel bushed, the cramps (bring corps now)!!”
On their Dad’s Bergville to Ladysmith Ultra, “We remember Dad always having a crowd of runners sleeping in the house (largely in sleeping bags on camper beds but mum and dad fed them well) the night before the Bergville. This included Bruce Fordyce on the odd occasion. The drive out to Bergville to the start, the cosmos flowers everywhere, each seconding station being a different set of volunteers and scrambling to restock towards the end of the pack, the prize giving at the end and of course trying to make sure the seconding experience surpassed Comrades! Dad always ran the race in addition to organising – such was his dedication that on many years straight after the race he would get on a drip which did wonders allowing him to return straight to race organising and the prize giving ceremony!”
CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn says, “John’s love for ultra-running is evident in his achievements in the Comrades Marathon as well as his noteworthy contribution to road-running as a dedicated administrator at what is currently KZNA; as well as years of selfless duty to the Ladysmith to Bergville Arthur Cresswell Marathon. As organisers of The Ultimate Human Race, we are well aware of the commitment and dedication that goes into organising and hosting a renowned road-running event. We take our hats off to John for his passion and dedication to the sport of athletics. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and running mates. May he rest in peace.”
4-time Comrades Winner and Quadruple Green Number Athlete, Alan Robb says, “I remember John well, especially from my early days of running Bergville to Ladysmith in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I stayed with him on three occasions. He was a really great guy who went out of his way to help fellow runners. I think he was a founder member of Ladysmith Athletic Club and did a lot for the race and road running in KwaZulu-Natal. Condolences to the family. RIP John.”
Former Comrades runner and radio news journalist, Dave Jack says, “I’m saddened by the passing of yet another of the well-known members of the running world from my early days. Although it must be the better part of around 35 years ago when I last ran the Bergville/Ladysmith Ultra and around that time that I last saw John Cohen, I still have vivid memories of a well organised event under his direction. I remember John as an above average runner with a passion for the sport and with a collection of very respectable Comrades times. John also had a passion for his club, Ladysmith Athletic Club and if memory serves, he was instrumental in the founding of the club and served as its Chairman in the early days.”
Dave adds, “John also put a lot of time and effort into making the Arthur Cresswell Marathon from Bergville to Ladysmith one of the leading ultramarathons in the country at that time and was considered as one of the best after Comrades. He also dedicated a lot of time to the administration side of road running, not only to his own club but to the KwaZulu-Natal province as a whole and travelling from Ladysmith to attend meetings in either Durban or Pietermaritzburg was part of his regular routine. In addition to his contribution to road-running, he was also a very successful businessman and director of a large business in Ladysmith. He will be missed.”
Yvonne le Tourneur of Sports Adventure Tours says, “Sincere condolences to all family and friends. John’s amazing dedication and commitment to The Ultimate Human Race and the running community leaves a strong legacy. RIP John #191.”
Angie Narayanan of Community Chest says, “Community Chest extends its deepest and sincere condolences to the family of John Cohen. It’s truly inspiring to learn that John has not only completed 22 Comrades Marathons which included 13 Silver and 9 Bronze medals between the years 1969 and 1993, but it’s even more motivating to learn that in 1976, he completed his Comrades Marathon with his best time of 6:50:00. John is truly a legend and as we bid farewell to a Comrades Marathon Hero, we hope that his legacy and love for sports will continue for many more generations in the future.”