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Balega’s Journey to Comrades Ultramarathon: 3 Reps, 1 Race, 1 Driving Force

This June, we are excited to follow the journey of three Balega sales reps as they take on the biggest running challenge of their lives - the Comrades Ultramarathon. When it comes to ultramarathons, the 87~ kilometer Comrades is known as the world’s largest and oldest race, and on June 9 will see 25,000 people take off from the start line. This year is considered an “UP RUN,” meaning that as the start gun goes off from City Hall, Durban, runners will have 50 kilometers of uphill, 13 kilometers of downhill and 24 kilometers of flat or steady climbing. Runners will have 12 hours to complete the race.

Tyler, Daniel, and Wayne, Balega’s North American representatives for this epic race, hail from all across the USA. Tyler is an Implus territory sales manager based out of Minneapolis, MN. Daniel calls Charlotte, NC home while Wayne lives in Boulder, CO. While they’ve been training all across the country in different climates, at different elevations, and in different conditions, the three have been virtually “training” together. “It’s been really cool to do this with Tyler and Wayne,” said Daniel. “We talk to each other almost every single day. We talk about how we’re each feeling and about the logistics of an ultramarathon.”

We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with each of them individually and talk about what this experience has been like as they prepare to run one of the biggest races of their lives. More from the trifecta below:

Balega Comrades Team

     From Left to Right: Tyler, Bert and Tanya Pictor, Dan, Wayne

Their Background

Tyler Morey (IG: @takeapicturetyler, @implus_midwest) is originally from Wisconsin but moved to Minneapolis to work at a running store. About a year ago, he had the opportunity to join the Implus team and he has loved everything about it -- from interacting with independent retailers, working with buyers, and interacting with consumers at events. As a competitive runner through middle school and high school, Tyler was recruited to run cross country at Clemson and then finished up his eligibility at OshKosh where he pursued an MBA and became an All-American. After graduation, he moved and joined the Twin Cities Track Club, ran his first marathon in 2015, and has slowly started getting more and more into longer distances.

This will be Daniel Matena’s (IG: @rundanman) fourth year working at Implus and eighth year with Balega. Based in Charlotte, Daniel has worked at running stores most of his life. While living in Australia, he went to school for education while also working at a running store. Tyler was a collegiate runner and has run several marathons in his life (including Boston), but has never attempted an ultramarathon before. For a while, even though his wife is very into ultras, Daniel was never really drawn to this distance. However, he said, “If I ever was to run an ultra, it would be Comrades.” And here we are.

Wayne Routten (IG: @this.is.not.wayne) has been with Implus for about three years. He picked up running as a way to stay fit while in college. While he doesn’t have a history of running competitively, after college, he started getting involved in triathlons. Recognizing that running was his weak point, Wayne began focusing more on running. Since then, he’s run three marathons and a race most people would probably put on the same scale of an ultra - a six-hour, 10K vertical race where you do as many laps as you can.

race preparation

Why Comrades?

While all three guys are fundamentally, very passionate runners and very connected to the running community as both a hobby and through their professions, running Comrades means something much more than just another race to add to their run resumes (albeit one of the most famous races out there).

As a brand, Balega has been rooted in the South African community since its inception. To give back to their community, Bert and Tanya Pictor, founders of Balega, started a nonprofit organization called the Lesedi Project, which means ‘light and enlightenment.’ Through the Lesedi Project, Balega has supported the Ethembeni School - a boarding school that caters to physically disabled and visually impared children from all over Kwa-Zulu Natal, Kingdom of the Zulu.

For the past 15 years, Balega has supported the Ethembeni School by raising money for student scholarships, aiding in the funding of a therapy playground and swimming pool, and purchasing a wheelchair-accessible school bus. Through the Lesedi Bead Project, students at the school handmake colorful bead bracelets that are sold next to Balega socks in specialty retail stores in the U.S. All of the profits made from the bracelet sales go back to the school to help fund new developments and benefit the students at Ethembeni.

Daniel said, “Having been involved with the Balega brand for a number of years, and I’ve heard about the school from Tanya and Bert and have seen their passion. I am so excited to share in their passion. For most of my running career, it has just been about doing it for myself. For the first time, I’m doing it for someone else, for a great cause. I’ve been wearing Lesedi beads all day, every day and it’s a good reminder that there's more to life than doing these things for ourselves, we all have an opportunity to give back and help others.” View Daniel’s GoFundMe Page here: https://www.gofundme.com/56-miles-for-the-ethembeni-school-team-balega

As part of their journey to Comrades, Wayne, Tyler, and Daniel have raised money to help fund student enrollment fees for the Ethembeni School for a year. Before and after Comrades, they will go to the Ethembeni School and meet the students who have been the motivating force behind their training. “This is the coolest part of the whole journey. One of the things I’m looking forward to the most,” said Daniel. “It will be really rewarding and will add so much purpose and meaning behind the training. Something I’ve never really experienced before,” said Wayne. For Tyler, he said he is “more excited about meeting the kids than the race itself.” View Tyler and Wayne’s GoFundMe Page here: https://www.gofundme.com/lesedi-project-comrades-marathon

“Being able to take something I’ve done my whole life - running and competing - and apply that to something for the greater good is amazing,” said Wayne. “The Ethembeni School is on the Comrades course, so we’ll give the kids high fives as we run by. After the run, we’ll head to the school to deliver funds in person and meet the children.”

Daniel adds, “the heart of the Balega brand is Ubuntu, and I’m really trying to embrace that.”

training for race

What has training looked like?

 For Tyler, signing up for Comrades “definitely changed his goals for 2019.” He had some other running plans and races in mind including a marathon but realized early on that he would need to give his body time to train and recover for Comrades. In general, training for this beast of an ultramarathon has meant, “slowing down my pace more than my typical everyday run.” His overall mentality has been to build endurance while allowing his body to stay fresh in the process.

Daniel’s first impression of Comrades was, “I don’t know how to train for this thing.” Therefore, he immediately started to seek out guidance from friends, including his wife who is a seasoned ultramarathon runner. Daniel’s wife put together a plan for him that detailed how much rest he needed, how long his long runs needed to be, etc. What he’s now figured out is that training for Comrades is very similar to training for a marathon. Similar to Tyler, that has meant slower runs and longer back to back long runs. One fun part of Daniel’s training has been where his runs have taken him. “I travel so much for work that every day I’m in a different location. I try to seek out the state parks or local greenway system whatever city or state I’m in, which has given me a good chance to check out new places.”

For Wayne, while the ultramarathon training “has been tough, it’s nothing too out of the ordinary.” This winter, Wayne focused on backcountry skiing, therefore when it came time to start training, his fitness was still there if not better than normal. In agreeance with Tyler and Dan, Wayne concludes, “teaching my body to run longer distances has been the challenge. A marathon is already really long - this is a different feeling.”

men running

Cross Training

While all three runners admit that cross training is important, they all have their own form about what that looks like. Tyler admits that the fact that he loves running so much is probably, in the end, his downfall. When not running ALL THE TIME, he will occasionally jump on a bike for cross training, but most importantly, he feels that hip and glute strength and mobility training is of the utmost importance. Other things he does for cross training include foam rolling and if possible, scheduling appointments with the sports chiropractor every 3-4 weeks for active release.

For Daniel, due to unfortunate circumstances, he was forced to do some cross training after he fell during a trail race a few months ago. His injury led him to 3 weeks on a stationary bike trainer. Additionally, he implements foam rolling 2x per day which he’s noticed has helped his body a lot. To reiterate Tyler’s advice, Daniel has introduced more physical therapy and regular massages and has noticed the importance of doing strength work. “Last time I did a push-up or sit up was in college,” said Daniel. “Training for Comrades has taught me that if you’re core isn’t strong or if your weak in certain areas then it’s amplified over long distances.”

Wayne agrees with the others and adds, “I do a lot of function fitness on my glutes, which is probably the most important part of your lower half. Core strength between your glutes and core keeps your stride efficient and strong during the longer races.” He tends to do one heavy day of strength training and two lighter days of strength training each week.

Top Tips + Takeaways

Finally, whether you’re gearing up for Comrades, another ultramarathon or your first 5K, below are some tips from Tyler, Daniel, and Wayne that you can apply to any running challenge you’re gearing up for:

  1. Keep your training fun - In the words of Tyler, “Whether that means doing a specific workout that you like, or jumping into other races leading up to the big race, if it keeps running fun for you, do it.” Daniel adds, “Find some people to experience the journey with to keep it fun.”
  2. Keep your body feeling as fresh as you can - “For me, the key is staying fresh and healthy,” said Tyler. Daniel agrees, “Rest, recover and taking care of yourself is a priority. It can be tough to take a rest day when you’re training, but it’s necessary.” Wayne concurs, “listen to your body. If you need to take rests, take rests. It’s better to get to the start line healthy, even if that means being undertrained.”
  3. Increase your volume and your endurance - “Have a plan and stick to your pace - this has been one of the toughest things for me since I’ve just been winging it for years. It’s important that you sit down and look at what you need to do. Stick to your pace and be diligent even if that means running by yourself,” said Daniel.
  4. Play around with nutrition - fuel early and fuel often - “A lot of elite runners don’t think they need to work on nutrition, but anything over 12-14 mile runs I’m starting to add nutrition into the mix,” said Tyler. “Teach your body how to process the stuff that the race you’re running will be providing,” commented Wayne. Tyler adds, “I never thought eating chips would work, but it was a game changer for me. Playing around with the nutrition side of things has definitely been interesting.”
  5. Roll out with massage rollers every time you brush your teeth - “Rolling out for 15 minutes 10 times per week is better than sitting on a roller for an hour once a week,” commented Wayne.

There you have it, these Balega reps are off to the starting line this Sunday, June 9th. Before we wave them farewell, however, we just had to know - what Balega socks will they choose for race day? For Tyler, it will most likely be the Silvers, because, “the tight-knit will be responsive while also providing enough cushion.” For Daniel, it’s going to be a game-time decision of either his Silvers or Blister Resists and for Wayne, he commented, “it’s tough because it depends on the terrain and the shoes I’m going to be running in. However, I’m usually a fan of the Blister Resist Quarters as they tend to hold up, stay soft and prevents blisters.”

We look forward to following their races and posting updates, so tune into the Balega Instagram and Facebook pages to see how it’s going. Happy running and good luck, boys!


Photo credits: Nicole Bush Media, Tyler Morey