Max profile #1:Hendrick Ramaala, 40, Marathon runner


Ramaala has represented South Africa at the Olympics four times. He started running in his twenties and has never had a coach in his life. Two years after winning the New York Marathon, he set his fastest marathon time at the London Marathon with a time of 2:06:55 in 2006. He is currently in the running for the SA’s Olympic squad bound for London.


After graduating with a law degree from Wits University in 1996, Ramaala decided to run full-time. “I packed my bags and left because I had a half-marathon and a 10 000-metre record here at home. I thought one day I’ll be the best in the world. I wanted to at least die trying,” he says. “In 2000 I started my marathon career and then I focused on the road races like the London Marathons and the New York marathons.”


After deciding to go full-time, Ramaala moved to Europe and to be part of the athletics circuit. “As Africans, we are too far from the circuit. If you want to be part of the bigger game, you go there. Europe is still the home of athletics. You have the full package there: you can run marathons, track and field, cross-country, and you can make a living out of it.”


Ramaala’s London Marathon in 2006 was where he hit his personal best, but he says it was not his best marathon “I could have done better on the day. I’ve always thought I could have run it faster, but I think I never got the opportunity. When I was doing New York I was in control of that race on the day. I was really in good shape. Nobody was going to beat me on that day.”


Because he has no coach, Ramaala relies solely on his own judgment. “You take all the decisions. You’re not going to blame anybody,” he says. “The best thing is to listen to your body. You don’t do as they say, you follow the feeling. When you feeling like you are doing too much, you withdraw and you take a break. You are in charge.” This works for him, because he only began running in his twenties. “I was a late-starter. I’m not advising any youngsters to do what I did. I was mature. For youngsters I think there is a need for a coach.”


Diversify your portfolio. Ramaala is no one-trick pony. “I’ve done the 5k, the 10k, and the half marathon. I have two national records: half-marathon and ten thousand metres.” Explore a discipline’s variables before you see where your strengths match up.“It’s not one race; I built my career slowly. I started with track and cross country, graduated to the road and then later to marathons.”