News Item

Old Boy Nicholas Bester – Class of 2008


by Michelle Carnegie

Running the Virgin Money London Marathon is a pretty special experience, but when you cross the finish line as the first South African home two years in a row – and within the top 100 runners in a 40 000 strong field – it is an achievement to cherish forever.

Now Nicholas Bester, a South African working as a private banker in the UK, is aiming to make it three in a row at this year’s London Marathon held on Sunday, April 28. However, he admits it might be hard to beat his previous finishing times of 2:42 and 2:35 as the marathon will be run two weeks after he returns from his honeymoon. Nevertheless, he is going to give it his best shot, and aim for a sub 2:40, says the 29-year-old Nick. After all, when does one ever get the chance to run in the same race as the likes of Sir Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge, the best runners the world has to offer? And then of course there is the free beer, which is handed out at most London pubs as long as you show your finisher’s medal, says Nick.

Running bug
Nick’s running journey started at the age of 17 when he realised he might have some running talent after beating his buddy and winning a very competitive 800m race. Fast forward three years later and Nick found himself seconding his fiancée’s parents who were running the Comrades Marathon. “After waking up grumpy at around 3.30am to get them to the start I thought it would be a very long day. However, I ended up loving it, and I just knew deep down inside that I had to do this race one day.”

He committed to running the Comrades Marathon in 2014, and managed to earn a much sought after Silver medal. His running journey grew from there and Nick can boast some impressive PB’s of 8:50 (3km), 15:33 (5km), 33:11 (10km), 70.53 (Half marathon), 2:35 (Marathon), 3:54 (Oceans 56km) and 6:28 (Comrades).

The London Marathon journey
Nick and his fiancée moved to London two years ago mainly to experience Europe. He tackled his first London Marathon on a charity entry from his company, Investec London. Though he had an injury there was no way he was going to turn it down. “I finished in 2:42, which I was extremely surprised with as I didn’t feel like I was in that kind of shape. But having said that you can’t really compare how quick the London Marathon is compared to the previous marathons I had done in SA. The running conditions such as the weather, altitude, flatness and over half a million people supporting really does get the adrenaline going and is a recipe for fast running.”

In last year’s London Marathon Nick managed to achieve the so-called championship time (sub 2.45), which qualified him for an automatic entry. He
was in the best shape of his life and wanted to break 2.30 and finish in the top 100. However with the conditions not being ideal (hottest London marathon ever recorded) it was not meant to be that day. “I did however manage to finish 72nd overall in a time of 2:35 and was extremely happy to have finished in the top 100. Lining up next to Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge was incredible and an experience I will never forget. I got my friends to pass me a South African flag with 1km to go. I ran the last kay with a massive smile on my face, flying the flag proudly and managed to defend my title of being the first South African across the line for the second year in a row.” Last year his friend and fellow Investec colleague David Mathipo was the second South African home in a finishing time of 2.51, and in 2017 Ryan Copeland was the second South African in a time of 2.46.

Could it be three in a row?
Could he make it three in a row this year? “A marathon is a long way and you never know what may happen on the day,” says Nick. “I am working hard this January to try burn off all the extra Mince Pies and Koeksisters I ate in December. We went back to South Africa in December for the first time in 2 years, so I made up for all the braai’s, biltong and beers that I had missed out on. But by the time April comes I should be in great shape if I continue to train hard.”

He is also getting married in March followed by a two-week honeymoon in Mauritius. “Sipping away at cocktails just 2 weeks before the race won’t be the most ideal race preparation so I doubt that I will do a PB. I’ll be happy if I manage to do a sub 2.40. However I am running Berlin later this year at the end of September so I’m hoping to get a PB there and give a sub 2.30 marathon another attempt.”

The most special race
So what makes the London Marathon such a special race? “Firstly it’s the support, it’s like nothing I have ever experienced before! There are over half a million supporters and they go mad for runners, especially if you have your name on your vest and give them a reaction. Secondly it’s the field and the calibre of athletes such as Mo Farah and current marathon world record holder Eluid Kipchoge. They are the best the world has to offer.”

His favourite part of the race has to be running over Tower Bridge. “It’s the most beautiful bridge in London and one of those times in your life when you actually forget that you are running a marathon. You get to take in the beautiful attractions London has to offer. Then the biggest highlight has to be the post-race pints! London marathon runners get loads of free beers at certain pubs after the marathon, simply by showing your medal, so it’s definitely something the thirsty runners (like me) take advantage of. In actual fact, if you had a beer every day at a different pub in London it would take over 10 years to get through them all. So definitely no shortage of beer in this city.”

UK running vs. SA running
It’s completely different, says Nick. “South Africa has much tougher running conditions. Ideally if you running the London Marathon you would want to train in South Africa in the heat, hills and altitude and then come do the marathon here. You. Will. Fly! In winter here the cold actually forces you to run fast just so that you can stay warm. In South Africa I had to drink every 5-8 km’s whereas here I can do a 32km run without a sip of water. Here your long run starts at 9.45am (just as the sun comes up) and when you finish your run, you have a cup of tea to warm up. It’s not so much the cold that’s the issue, it’s the dark. The sun only comes out at around 8.30am and sets at 4pm in winter, so it’s always a bit tougher doing the majority of your running in the dark. There are some beautiful running routes where we stay in South West London including running along the Thames and parks such as Battersea, Richmond, St James, Hyde, Green, Tooting, Clapham, and Dulwich. The club I joined is called Herne Hill Harriers, their colours are red and black stripes so we all look like Dennis the Mennis.”

Nick’s training includes track and long runs he does with his running club while he does his recovery runs by himself.  “I am running the Hampton Court Half Marathon in February and the ‘Big Half’ in March (Mo Farah is also competing in this). This is all part of the build-up for the London Marathon. I do around 100 – 120km per week. I incorporate some cross-training into my schedule. I spin once a week and do a lot of core exercises which I really think has benefited my running. Recovery is just as important. I am always stretching and foam rolling to take care of my muscles. Training can be gruelling and mentally tough sometimes but when everything comes together on race day, each kay in training becomes worth it. I also like seeing the results of all my fellow training partners. It is great to see people you know have worked hard, achieve something they have set their mind too – no matter what their finish time is.”

Advice to London Marathon novices
It’s extremely important to control your adrenaline, especially at the start of a race such as the London Marathon, says Nick. On race day London is buzzing and it’s easy to get carried away at the start and go out too fast.  Control those nerves and make sure you start at a steady pace. There aren’t really any hills that can hurt you, so as long as you get into a comfortable pace and provided nothing goes wrong then you should be able to sustain this the whole race and not hit the dreaded wall.

“Most importantly take in the crowd and just have fun. It is an experience that you are lucky and privileged enough to take part in so give it your best shot and have fun doing it. Once you cross Tower Bridge you have basically passed half way and it’s homewards bound from there. You can spot the London Eye and Big Ben as you get closer to home. Buckingham Palace is the final stretch where you finish on the Mall with supporters shouting for you – enjoy this final mile, and soak in all the excitement and support.”