Doctors on the run

06 October 2008

Making history: Dr Clare Stannard (right) was named the official winner of the women's race in the first Medical 10 back in 1978, but she says she was pipped by another runner (left in picture) whose name is not recorded in its annals because she hadn't registered.

30 November sees the 30th running of the Medical 10, a race started by a group of medical doctors - many from UCT - back in 1978. Here UCT graduate and staffer Dr Sydney Cullis gives a potted history of the event.

The first staging of the Medical 10 was in 1978, and was as a result of a letter to the South African Medical Journal in June that year by Hendrik Muller, a senior physician in Cape Town. He pointed out that a group of doctors in Finland had organised a race for medical practitioners over 10km, who felt that it would add some credence to recommending a healthy lifestyle to their patients if it could be shown that they practised what they preached. The race was organised by JP van Niekerk, then deputy dean of the Faculty of Medicine - later dean - and now managing editor of the South African Medical Journal, and Tim Noakes (then a PhD research fellow in Professor Lionel Opie's department). Metropolitan Life Insurance Company sponsored the event.

It was run on 9 December at UCT, and was won by Bob Jamieson, then a radiologist in private practice and now still doing sessions at Victoria Hospital, in 44 minutes and 56 seconds. (As a handicap of one minute for each year of age over 40 was allowed, it gave him a handicap time of 32 minutes and 56 seconds.)

According to the results list, the fastest female runner was Clare Stannard, then and still an oncologist at Groote Schuur Hospital, in a time of 37 minutes and 5 seconds for 5 kilometres - but she thinks she was beaten by a runner whose name was not included in the result list.

The two organisers, Tim Noakes and J P van Niekerk, both managed to finish under the 40-minute barrier. At the other end of the field Trevor Borchers, a urologist in Cape Town, and Martin Gregory, now a nephrologist in Salt Lake City, were the last two of the 82 entrants to complete the course.

In 1982 the venue was moved to the University Sports Complex in Pinelands and the Pfizer Pharmaceutical company took over the sponsorship. In 1988 Pfizer withdrew their sponsorship but, thanks to the intervention of Adrian Morison, a paediatrician at Victoria Hospital, Warner Lambert Pharmaceuticals took over and the race moved to their facility in Main Road, Retreat. But the 1988 event only took place in February 1989.

By now it had become established as part of the calendar of medical events in the Western Cape, not least because of the amusing commentary provided by ear, nose and throat surgeon John Steer. It had now grown to over 200 runners plus a group of walkers from the Cardiac Rehabilitation Unit. While it continued to be funded by Warner Lambert, (which after 1994 reverted to Pfizer), an entry fee was charged. This was donated to the Victoria Hospital to cover projects that were not normally covered by the hospital budget.

At the end of 2004 Pfizer gave up the sponsorship. It was taken over by Afrox Heathcare, but there was no time to organise the event in December 2004 so it took place in February 2005. The venue moved to the Western Province Cricket Club sports complex in Newlands and the club's running section took over the organisation.

When Afrox sold its healthcare interests to Life Healthcare, they took over the sponsorship and Victoria Hospital continued to receive the proceeds of the event - last year over R19 000 was donated, which enabled them to acquire a washing machine for their endoscopy unit. At this stage entry was opened to the nursing staff and paramedical disciplines.

The race retains its uniqueness of being run on a handicap basis, but in order to give the scratch runners more chance, the handicap has been cut from one minute to 1/2 minute for the over 40's. Despite this they have not been able to beat their aged colleagues - last year it was won by 65-year-old dentist Francois Hofmeyr.

This year's event is at 06h30 on Sunday, 30 November. It is hoped that as many as possible of those who ran the first race in 1978 will be able to be present - at least for the breakfast if they are not able to run or walk the route.

Entry forms for the 2008 event can be obtained from any Life Healthcare hospital in the Western Cape or Mathilda Mallinson or Life Healthcare website.

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