Star distance runner Ashley “Blokkie” Smith, 27, from Eastridge, finished second behind his long-time friend and training partner, Bruce-Lynn Damons, in Sunday’s Heritage Day 10km Race, hosted by Nantes Athletic Club, in Bridgetown.
Although not the result he would have liked, “Blokkie Vannie ’Plain”, as he’s known via his social media handles, says he’s happy with his overall performance and considers Sunday’s race “a testing of the waters” following an injury earlier this year.
“Today was just a fitness test, I recently came back from a lower back injury, so I just wanted to see where my fitness is at and what needs to be worked on,” he said.
“I had big plans for the year, because I lived, trained and raced some of the best runners in the world when I was in Europe for about eight weeks, but had to cut my stay short because of a (pinched) nerve in my lower back, that didn’t allow any range of movement in my legs or lower back area, ” he said.
A member of the exclusive so-called “Dream Mile Club” – made up of runners who had clocked the mile in under 4 minutes – Smith carved his name into the history books when he became the first Cape Town-born runner in 25 years to cross the finish line first in last year’s Gun Run.
Smith looked good in Sunday’s 10km run, taking the lead in the early part of the race, albeit with Damons breathing hard down his neck. The Manenberg runner took the lead at the 3km mark, gradually extending the gap between himself and Smith.
“Ashley is a strong, competitive athlete, who always runs hard,” said Damons. “I just decided to sit behind him and see for how long he can keep the pace. When the pace dropped, I looked at my watch and decided to make my move at 3km, which was earlier than I expected, but I felt good and strong in the windy conditions,” he said.
First to congratulate his friend, Smith had nothing but praise for Damons who crossed the finish line first and in record-breaking fashion for the second consecutive year.
“I might have been a bit over ambitious and over cooked it a bit, but Bruce-Lynn being my teammate for many years, since 2009, I knew I was going have to run hard from the start, if I wanted to give myself a chance at winning,” he said.
“I’m just glad that I came out of this race without any injuries. Of course, injuries have always been a factor, but I guess that’s the sport,” he said.
“I just want to remain injury-free going into 2024, because 2024 is a big year,” he said, hinting at the possibility of vying for a spot on the SA Olympic squad to be selected for next year’s Games in Paris.
Despite Sunday’s disappointment, it’s been a great year, on and off the track, he said.
He said he graduated with an Honour’s degree in History from Maties, signed with Puma, joined TymeBank Langa and won his third national title in the steeplechase. “And, as I said, I also got the opportunity to live, train and race some of the best runners in the world in Europe in June and July, with my best results being my last race in Italy, where I finished second with a niggly back,” he said.