We chat to Pierre Jacobs, chairman of the KPMG Running Club on this episode of the 32Gi Sports Nutrition podcast. As the club gets ready to shine in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon on Easter weekend in South Africa, Pierre shares his passion for the club, running, development, nutrition as well as the beauty of Two Oceans.
It’s a great pleasure now to welcome a man who is really injected some fantastic impetus into South African running over the last years. It’s Pierre Jacobs who is the Chairman of the KPMG Running Club. Just over two years probably around, they signed Caroline Wostmann last year, beginning of last year.
She went on to win Two Oceans, didn’t manage to defend her Comrades crown, also in their colours she’s won the Om Die Dam back to back, so great things expected from Caroline again this year, heading Two Oceans and Comrades. But first of all Pierre, thank you very much for joining us on 32Gi Sports Nutrition.
Pierre Jacobs: Morning David, it’s a pleasure.
DK: Pierre, first of all, I just want to ask you about the concept. We’ve had supporters of road running in this country for a while but it really has been refreshing over the last couple of years to see KPMG come into that market and to see the support you’re throwing behind athletes. What was the driving force behind that and the continued concept in helping drive South African running?
Where it all started
PJ: David, we started with predominantly a CSI project about four years ago, which is the KPMG Running Academy. Where we have currently 44 black athletes that we source from all around the country, mostly from the rural areas.
Bring them to Vorentoe, put them in a hostel there and then we look after them, from medical expenses, school fees, books and everything else they need, to one, to get an education. Then two, to run properly and it’s yielded over the last three years, nine international athletes. So it’s something we’re very proud of and something very close to my heart.
From that we started an Employee Club and it just built on from Caroline Wostmann, then we also signed a couple of juniors. When I say ‘signed,’ I mean we really support a couple of youngsters, I’m talking ages u15 to u19. We got that going and then Caroline and many other athletes came on board.
At this point in time the club covers from u15 athletes, right the way to Comrades Marathon, pretty much in between. We cover track and field, cross country, as well as the Ultra and the main source for us is, or the main objective I should say, is to give back to the communities, to support a sport where there’s not as much money in as you get with rugby, cricket and football, our three main sports.
It’s also a sport, some politicians would differ from me, that it’s fully transformed and also fully diversified and Trevor Hoole, our CEO, was very adamant from the outset that he would like us to push the women’s agenda, especially, in this space and make a difference there and that is sort of how we started the KPMG Running Club and how it’s developed over the last two years.
Investing in the future coming to fruition
DK: Awesome, great athletes, you do have, of course, the likes of Rene Kalmer who went to the Rio Olympics as well as Jenna Challenor and someone we chatted to recently on the podcast, not female, male, Renier Grobler and he had some great nutritional tips for Comrades. I’ll to that, but Pierre, tell me a bit more about Vorentoe. I know you’ve got the likes of Nolene Conrad within your mix as well and she dos a lot to help drive development. Vorentoe, it really is changing lives for these kids and what have been some of the great stories to come out of the last four years?
PJ: David, there’s actually so many. As I said, if you look at it at the top level, we’ve had nine international athletes over the last three years and these are kids which if you look where we’ve picked them from and where we got them from, there’s no way that without that support and that help, they would have never featured on the world stage. That just would not have happened and that’s one aspect thereof. The second aspect is, last year we had four matriculants and we had 100% pass rate, which was fantastic. We’re also very proud of that and I think if you stand back a bit.
For me it’s to create role models in our society, especially in the rural areas, for parents and other kids to look up and see a success story. See someone from their immediate community who has actually made it onto the world stage, who has got a proper education and can go forward in life.
We also try and look after these kids afterwards as much as we can. I’ve got currently Thumisang Monnatlalaas well as Thandi Sehohle who actually works for KPMG. So they’re doing internships in our marketing department there, so try and look after them like that.
Specifically two stories is Tumi, one of our youngsters, I went with him to the World Championships in Uganda in the cross country two weekends ago. That’s a boy that where we saw a lot of talent and he’s just developed. As a human being, he’s now a young man with confidence and then on the track, this past Saturday in Cape Town, for an u17 boy, aged 16, he ran 8:27 for 3 000m.
We’re teaching him about running tactics and 32Gi is helping us with nutrition, so there is someone who, the future probably would have been no bleak, but not as exciting as it is currently for him. We’ve got one of our youngsters, from Limpopo.
When we got her into the Academy last year January, she was malnourished, we looked at her and we’re like, oh dear, we really need to get this girl to eat something. Yet she tried run, I don’t think in that week she could complete any of the sessions, not even close, but we saw something in her and we pulled her into the Academy and it’s remarkable to see how she has developed into a young woman.
She’s now an u16 athlete and again, she came second in the 3 000m girls u17, running 9:36, which I believe is the same time Caster Semenya ran three weeks ago in Potch. I can probably roll out many of those but as I said, it’s something very close to my heart. I love those kids dearly and it’s just amazing to see them develop and I’m proud to say that we change lives in that respect.
Helping development athletes with nutrition
DK: Pierre, a lot of important things when you bring someone into an Academy like Vorentoe, give them stability, as you touched on, education, of course training, their training regimes, but all of them probably have some form of natural talent. One of probably the key most elements and changes that must happen is diet and nutrition? They’re coming from no base and that must be a key focus for you guys as part of the Academy?
PJ: Absolutely, it’s a big issue. I would love to do more in that space for them. Mark Wolff from 32Gi has been very kind to us and he’s supporting us a lot in that space to supplement their diet. We’ve got then AB who is our Assistant Manager and he’s responsible with one of the chefs for all the food, buying it, making sure that there’s a balanced diet.
Rene Kalmer which most of your listeners should know, we have appointed her, so she’s also now in the KPMG stable and doing wonderful work on two fronts for us. One is to help with core development of the athletes and, it’s actually three. She does a lot of mentoring.
So we tend to find, especially with the girls, we had some issues over the last four years to help them to mature from teenager into adulthood, amongst our black girls and it’s a problem, teenage pregnancy and similar things, in South Africa, I mean the government speaks about it all the time. We experienced a similar problem. Rene has been wonderful in that space to help with the core, help with mentoring these kids from teenager into adulthood and again, just talking to them generally about eating right, doing the right things etc.
She’s also getting more and more involved in Vorentoe. Obviously my time is limited because I do have a lot of things on my plate, so I can see Rene is getting more involved and it really means a lot to her and she’s really passionate about it.
The Magic of Two Oceans
DK: What a great runner in her own right, Rene Kalmer having recently become a mother, so a change of focus slightly, but she has an incredible record at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon and talking about that race Pierre, it really is a fantastic race on the South African calendar, as is Comrades. What do you think makes it so great and what’s your personal relationship with Oceans over the years?
PJ: First, I ran it once, many years ago, I think it was 1993, I ran one in 3:47 and I think I was coming down into Hout Bay, lying in 8th position and then I blew, what one would call ‘spectacularly.’ From there on it was pain all the way. I think the beauty is one thing, but I think it’s like Comrades.
It’s a South African icon and just to be around the expo and around the start and finish line with all the athletes and the families, it’s such a great tradition and people, they just love the race. It’s far and it’s difficult, it’s not an easy run and I think therefore there’s also a challenge but it’s not as far as the Comrades. Even your guys who sort of just get into the marathon, they look at 56km and they’re like: I can try that, but 90km would probably be a bit out of their reach.
I think the accessibility thereof, Cape Town probably the most beautiful city in the world to live in and run in, so it all makes up for a fantastic event and it’s super well organised as well. You come there, everything works like clockwork and it’s just a pleasant day all out, if the weather plays along of course.
KPMG coming strong in 2017
DK: Hopefully we don’t see what happened in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, but generally a little bit later, that really was a freak wind blowing over 18 wheeler tracks. Pierre, lastly before I let you go and get back to all the work that you do get to, the KPMG feel around Oceans this weekend, I know Caroline is coming back expected to run as a training run again, but like last year, and the year before, the race might actually pan out in her favour, despite that. Anything special from KPMG? I know you brought out Colleen De Reuck last year for the first time to come run back in South Africa and what can we expect from KPMG Running Club this weekend?
PJ: David, so Caroline is doing, they call it a ‘controlled training run’ up until a certain point and then depending on how the race pans out, they will make the change, potentially change their tactics at that late point. Caroline is definitely there and they’re going, even in a controlled run, at a very fast pace. That’s one.
Jenna Challenor is our new entrant into the Ultras. Jenna is also in very good shape at the moment. She had a few niggles, which was unfortunate, so she didn’t do all the distance that she probably would have liked but she ran a thirty four and a half 10km in Cape Town two weeks ago, without literally breaking a sweat. I was astounded that she did it so easily.
I think Jenna will be, all things being equal, will be up there. Then we’ve got some other new ones, Mary Khourie who ran 3:41 Om Die Dam in the 50km and probably could have done a faster run there as well. She’s part of this Pretoria stable we have now.
It’s just a group of ladies who started running with Caroline and training with her and there’s Danka Erasmus and Franza Landman and all of a sudden these ladies are running fantastic times, top three hour marathons, it’s amazing to see. There’s a few in that stable. Devon Yanko is coming back from the States to run for us in Oceans and Comrades, although I haven’t personally seen her run, I believe she’s also in good shape. I think the ladies, in the 56km we’ve got quite a few talented athletes that probably will push for top ten and top five positions.
In the men we’ve got Geoffrey Gwebu, he’s immensely talented and his read is in the right space and when he sets his mind to something, he’s quite tough to beat, so I expect him to run up with the leaders. Renier Grobler is again doing a training run but also the fast pace, I think he’ll be solid, it depends on how the front runners are going to go. There’s another potential top ten athlete in the men, so we’ll look out for those three.
Then in the half we’ve got several, Christine Kalmer and Nolene Conrad, Keneilwe Sesing, Danette Smith who just recently won the, last weekend the SA Marathon Champs, so there’s quite a handful of ladies in that race. Men, we’ve got a few that can surprise in the top ten, probably not a winner at this point in time, coming from our stable in the 21km.
DK: Pierre Jacobs, the Chairman of KPMG Running Club, fantastic things they’re doing for development, for senior running and also more importantly with the revival we’ve seen in the last couple of years, women’s running here in South Africa. If you’re going to the Old Mutual Two Oceans, have an absolute blast. From myself, Mr Active, David Katz, we’ll catch up again with you next week.