St John's College

At St John’s College, part of our mission is to encourage and guide our students to set academic, sporting and cultural goals - and then to support them to follow through with the mental and physical resilience, grit, determination and commitment needed to reach their goals. Having role models to look up to and watching their peers and teachers overcome hurdles and limiting beliefs is incredibly valuable as our students make their way into the world.

The Comrades Marathon—the ultimate human race—embodies the human spirit of endurance, effort, the value of support, and taking one step at a time. Three of our staff members cemented their status as role models to our students after their inspiring runs at the 97th Comrades Marathon on Sunday, June 9. The race started at the City Hall in Durban and finished in Pietermaritzburg, covering 85.9 km.

Read the inspiring journeys of Suzie Copperthwaite, Ricardo Kutumela and Mark Pickering, who conquered this gruelling ultramarathon. Their motivation, challenges and triumphs are a guide to our own journey, wherever that may take us.

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Suzie Copperthwaite

Suzie Copperthwaite

Fundraiser & Strategic Project Coordinator, Advancement Office

Finish time: 08:34:44. Bill Rowan Medal.

Suzie was inspired to run the ultramarathon by her late father, who was a Comrades Marathon runner. “Running was one of the very best parts of him, and the Comrades Marathon is one of the most influential and vivid memories of my childhood. For many South Africans who grew up in the ‘80s, this story of human endeavour and its power to inspire is genuinely woven into us. Comrades felt like hope and possibility,” she said.

Suzie participated in athletics at school, but she was a relative latecomer to running, only running in earnest in 2022. In 2023, she joined a club with the single goal of completing the Comrades Marathon down run in the same year. “I ran in my father’s number, and it was one of the most extraordinary days of my life. The humanity, support, and friendship in running are like nothing else."

This year, Suzie decided to go for a second consecutive Comrades - what the runners call a “back-to-back” - and from March, she followed a more structured training programme, which she says made a big difference. Her training involved running a total of 1300km from the beginning of the year. The toughest weeks leading up to Comrades saw her running just over 90km per week.

“The most challenging part was the early, dark mornings! Running with great people and their belief in you is important, this has carried me through more times than I can count."

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Ricardo Kutumela

Ricardo Kutumela

Grade 2 Teacher, St John’s Pre-Preparatory

Finish time: 08:33:22. Bill Rowan Medal

Ricardo plans to extend the lessons the Comrades Marathon has taught him — of physical and mental determination and resilience — to his young Grade 2 students. He says being part of the Comrades Marathon journey takes a lot of preparation and requires a strict routine, patience, and trust in the process, no matter how long and tough things may be. “I always encourage my Grade 2 boys to approach any challenge with the same patience and determination. Sometimes, the going will get tough. However, I encourage the boys to be responsible and trust in the structures and processes laid out for them. I have made many mistakes preparing for the Comrades Marathon, and the boys are reassured that it is fine to make mistakes in anything they do — if they learn from them,” he said.

The experiences from the marathon can contribute to developing Johanians who are rightly trained in body, mind and character, he says. “Overall, I would encourage our Johannians and the greater St John’s community to never give up on their dreams, no matter how difficult or daunting the road ahead might be. More importantly, during my Comrades preparations, I learned that the best lessons are learned in failure, and one needs to be comfortable with that possibility. The greatest success comes from one’s ability to have the courage to bounce back from hardship and contribute to the greater good of a community.”

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Mark Pickering

Mark Pickering

History Teacher and Alston Housemaster, St John’s College

Finish time: 11:25:46. Vic Clapham Medal.

One of the biggest challenges Mark faced was finding the time to train between his busy family life and work life. He had to make time to run either before school, from 04h00 to 06h00, or before coaching. “With the support of my amazing wife, Joslyn, over the months leading up to the marathon, I overcame many challenges. I will say that the medal I earned is just as much hers as it is mine. During the race, I found motivation in knowing that I had worked so hard for the opportunity to run this race and took confidence in the hard work I had done and the sacrifices I made. If you don't sacrifice for what you want, then what you want becomes what you sacrifice," says Mark.

“The biggest lesson from the marathon to bring to my professional role is that you must keep wishes for dandelions. Those things in life that you want to do or achieve, you must work for them. My Upper V students who want to do well in the end-of-year History exams will have to put in the training for 'their race'. If they do, then they will without a doubt get a 'medal' that makes the community and themselves truly proud”

Mark says another lesson from the marathon was to be careful about comparing. “Yes, it is a funny story, but it is one with a message: after 5 hours and 25 minutes on Sunday, I went through a water point, and the announcer was so excited to tell us that the men’s winner had just crossed the line in a time of 5 hours and 25 minutes! Knowing that, at that point, I had not reached the halfway point in my race was quite a feeling, quite a thought to process. Luckily, I did because a spectator was holding up a sign saying: 'Good luck, Random Stranger,' to which I shouted back, 'Thank you, random stranger.' We both shared a laugh. After that short five-second break, I was back at it and still running my race and chuffed with how I was doing, as were the random strangers on the side of the road cheering me on as if I was about to win the thing, which we all knew was not the case. So, run your race, run it as best you can, and look out for those cheerleaders next to your 'route,' whether they be parents, teachers, coaches, or anyone supporting you here at St John's. Look out for them and appreciate them when you can, however you can."

On finishing the race, Mark found the messages he received from colleagues, parents, and students congratulating him on finishing the Comrades incredibly rewarding

“I love being part of the St John’s College community, and I am proud to have represented it. The Alston House boys video-calling me from the common room during the House Meeting the Monday after was also something that moved me deeply and made me feel so proud to be a part of their lives and their 'marathon.' The actual Comrades race was so rewarding. Running behind, in front, or next to almost 20,000 runners from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, with a sense of Ubuntu flowing through everyone's veins, is something I will never forget. Sharing a common goal is something that runs true through the Comrades and our wonderful school. It is a celebration of life and South Africa, with the rainbow nation shining bright as a guiding and supporting light and voice through good and tough times."

Congratulations to Suzie, Ricardo and Mark. Running a marathon is more than a physical challenge, it is a journey that builds character and community spirit. We are inspired by your perseverance and excellence. These achievements remind us that with determination and support, we can conquer any challenge. What an inspiration to us all.