Poobie Naidoo logged countless kilometres

Poobie Naidoo

Poobie Naidoo

Published Jun 7, 2024


POOBIE Naidoo’s feet have carried him further than most people could ever dream.

His journey, spanning decades and countless kilometres as a runner, particularly in the Comrades Marathon, is a testament to his unwavering dedication, passion and unbreakable spirit.

From the sun-drenched streets of Pietermaritzburg to the gruelling hills of Durban, Naidoo has conquered it all – one step at a time.

The 76-year-old of Town Bush Valley in Pietermaritzburg, the founder of Poobie Naidoo Sports, got into marathon running after failing to get his black belt in karate for the second time.

“Once I started running in the 1970s, a passion was ignited in me and I couldn’t stop,” said Naidoo, who completed 26 Comrades Marathons.

“I realised that when I was running, it allowed my mind to almost enter a different world. An in-depth peace evolves in you. Everything else is forgotten and you appreciate being in nature.”

Naidoo ran his first Comrades Marathon in 1978, from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

“I was 31 years old when I ran my first marathon. I completed it in 9 hours and 5 minutes. It was such an exhilarating experience. I was so proud of my achievement. The roar of the crowd as you enter the stadium is unbelievable.”

Since then, he has competed in 30 Comrades Marathons and completed 26, with 11 silver medals, 13 bronze medals and two Vic Clapham medals.

“Training was extremely difficult. I couldn’t afford running shoes back then, so I used to buy second-hand shoes, which were uncomfortable. I didn’t know anything about running back then. There was no one to guide me. It was trial and error and I was holding onto a full-time job as a pharmacy technician, so I couldn’t find the time to train properly.

"I used to get up at 2am and fit in training. To make myself stronger, I placed two bricks in a bag over my shoulders and ran to and from work. As time went on, running became my life and I became more and more passionate. My lunch times were also devoted to running."

He said his meals, however, never changed.

“I always enjoyed curry and rice. In fact, before the race, I had a huge breakfast of curry together with toast and tea.”

He added that there were plenty of objections at the time he began running – as people of colour were not allowed to participate in certain races.

“Many privileges were denied to us. Sponsorship was not readily available. In addition, I had great difficulty purchasing shoes, as I could not afford to buy new ones, and I wore hand-me-down clothing. Shower facilities and accommodation were also not available. After the race, we had to drive home to shower.”

Naidoo completed his last race, from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, in 2007 in a time of 11 hours and 31 minutes.

Poobie Naidoo

“I was unable to train as you have to train for at least 10 months in preparation for the race. Due to business commitments, I couldn’t participate in further marathons. I was disappointed but I also held memories of all the times I ran. I didn’t know at that time it would be my last Comrades, although I don’t like the phrasing of ‘last’ as I’m not sure that it was."

He said his greatest supporters were his mother, Subbammah, and wife Pat.

“Before marriage, my mother sorted out all my meals. After I married, my wife did so.”

The father of five, who served on the Comrades board for 20 years, said runners these days were fortunate.

“They have coaches and most of the top runners do not work. They have sponsors and the prize money is huge. Companies are lenient with their employees participating, giving them time off and they encourage and acknowledge the health benefits of running.

“When I think back to my early years, I can remember using any shoe I could lay my hand on. Currently with the latest technology, runners are now tested by computer programmes as to whether they are flat-footed, whether they pronate (inward movement of the foot) or supinate (outward movement of the foot) and they are advised on what shoe to purchase. This is done at all specialist running stores.

“Shoes cannot be bought over the counter as in the early years. It’s important to have the right shoes to avoid injuries. Some runners can run immediately in the shoes purchased. This is a personal choice.”

Naidoo supports runners, with his family, at the finish line and presents green numbers to those who have completed 10 or more Comrades Marathons.