Growing up in the Free State, the 39-year-old father of three from Pretoria says that while he played rugby, soccer and cricket at school, he was never really keen on any of these sports. Instead, he found himself drawn to mountain biking and swimming, preferring the individual endurance sports, but running was not his thing as yet. That changed when his brother ran the Comrades Marathon. “I only started running to prove to my older brother that I was a better Comrades runner,” he jokes. He completed his first Comrades in 2000, finishing in a time of 10 hours 21 minutes, and the running bug had bitten.
Last year he ran his 10th Comrades, posting his best time of 6:53:55 on the Down course to go with his 7:05:38 PB on the Up course of the previous year. However, as impressive as his road running credentials are, it is as a trail runner that Bennie has gained the most attention. As he says, “I became addicted to trail running, and as my running improved, I decided I wanted to become famous for winning races, but for a while my most famous trail running moment was getting stuck on a mountain ledge during a race, waiting for four hours to be rescued, and making the front page of all the major newspapers!”
That was in the 2013 Brauhaus 45km Trail Run near Rustenburg, which Bennie was leading at the time when he and the second-placed runner took a wrong turn. Having lost the trail, they attempted to climb down a kloof by jumping from ledge to ledge, and both got stuck, needing to be rescued later by the Mountain Club of SA. While it was a scary experience for him, due to having a “healthy respect for heights,” Bennie did not let it stop him from returning to the trails, but it does mean that the first piece of advice he gives to beginner trail runners is always “Never jump when lost on a mountain!”