Posted in PERSONAL STORIES

TAKKIES AND CORPSE REVIVER :

What I am hoping to do is to give readers a glimpse into the past at what things were like in those far off days back when I first started running. I have been asked at times to speak at club pre-Comrades evenings and I am always asked to speak about what things were like in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The reaction is worth seeing with the latter day runner amazed at what we did.

I mentioned in my previous chapter that I had met Clive Crawley (race No.1 and Robin Friedeman (race No.111) who had both agreed to help me in my training which they did by telling me that LSD existed and what the letters stood for and that was the sum total of the training advice although, they did give me advice on equipment, but let’s move away from the actual training I covered in my last blog and look at the build up to Comrades Day.

Both Clive and Robin told me that shoes were the first thing I had to get and that the only shoe to get was the good old fashioned Bata “takkie” (plimsole or sandshoe) that I could get at virtually any shop. What I had to do was to take the shoes to a shoemaker in Durban who knew exactly what to do as far as building up the heel to provide cushioning to “protect” you from the jarring of the road as he did this for almost all the Durban area runners. They both suggested that the “takkies” be those that laced to half way to avoid stitching, etc around the toes.

I also learnt from another 1965 gold medallist, Roland Davey, how to “soap” my takkies to stop blisters by mashing left over soap bars from the bathroom into a cream and filling the takkies with this cream and then to put the shoes on and run.

Messy. Very messy, but in all the years I wore soaped takkies, I never had a blister. The soap worked its way into the canvas of the takkie making the inside smooth and taking the shape of your foot. The first time you wore them after soaping them you left a trail of soap suds as you did if you ran in the rain!

Shorts and vests were ordinary cotton and of course when they were wet they held water and your vest looked a little like a mini skirt and if your shorts were even slightly too loose they slipped and I had one Comrades with exactly that and I had to do the last 20 or so Kms holding my shorts up!  Track suits were compulsory because organisers sent you four numbers and it was a requirement that you had a number on the back and front of both your running vest and your tracksuit top when you arrived at registration but I’ll talk about later.

The reason the numbers had to be on the tracksuit top was if it turned cold we wore our track suit tops.

Next job was to get my entry done. No computers in those days so no online entries. You had to find an entry booklet and one of the stockists of these was Kings Sports in Durban. This booklet also had all sorts of tips especially aimed at the novice. None of the tips of any great value it must be said. Race entry was R2 in those years and neither qualifying nor club membership was required.

Those two rules only in your first Comrades. If you ran again in following years you needed to join a club. I had taken the decision to join the club to which most of my new found running friends belonged and on race day proudly sported the colours of Savages. As I had entered prior to joining Savages the race programme brochure shows me without a club.

The race numbers were made of a flimsy cloth and printed in the garage of one the Comrades committee members. The numbers were then posted to all the runners. As I said in my previous blog I was allocated race number 482.

As there were no refreshment stations back then and we needed to drink during the race we had to organise “seconds” and in my case that job went to my Dad in his VW Beetle. In the car we had a cooler box full of ice, two large containers of water (for sponging), a bucket (I still remember, but have no idea why, that the bucket was blue) into which went the sponging water.

Those of us who were in Ian Jardine’s group all drank what was called “Corpse Reviver”.  I think, but I don’t know for certain, that this was a concoction invented by the “Old Man” himself. The ingredients which were all in powder form were glucose (for instant energy), icing sugar (for longer acting energy), salt (to help with cramping) and incidentally my kidneys are still 100% and bi-carb to get rid of wind build up in the stomach and to help with nausea. I can’t remember how much of this powder mix went into a small bottle of Schweppes lemonade so we could drink it.  Certainly not scientifically proved to work but it did – and it tasted pretty good too.

So race day arrived on 31st May 1968 and off to the start and on the stairs of the Durban City Hall were the officials with two huge white boards with the numbers of all the entrants. We were required to show the officials all four of the numbers sent to us through the post and they then marked us off the boards and we were ready to run.

The famous cock crow by Max Trimborn who instead of firing the starters gun in the 1948 race, gave a loud cock crow to start the race. In 1968 he was at the start as usual and he gave the crow himself and along with a normal starter’s pistol, off we went.

About 15km up the road I met my Dad for my first drink and sponge and then after that more or less every 10km assuming he didn’t get stuck in a traffic jam on the route,  so I had something to drink about 8 times but in sufficient quantities that I didn’t dehydrate.

I finished in 10:25.

Posted in PERSONAL STORY

IN LOVE WITH A STRIP OF TARMAC

A few people on hearing that I am writing this have asked me why and the answer is very simple. I have had a relationship with Comrades for 60 years and God willing it’ll be a lot longer.

This is not the story of the Comrades Marathon. It’s not the story of the winners of this great race although some of them feature. It’s not the story of those who battled over the nearly 90kms of road between Kwa Zulu-Natal’s two cities to scrape home in time to have that precious medal thrust into their hand as they eventually managed to get home with just minutes to spare. It’s not the story of those who didn’t manage to finish the race for whatever reason. It’s not the story of the race organisation although my involvement does feature in the organisation. It’s not the story of the glamour and glory of the road.

It’s my story of my involvement over 60 years, the years that bring us to the 90th running of a race in 2015 that started way back in 1921, and beyond it, the idea of a man who some said was crazy. Such a pity that Vic Clapham is not here to see what his crazy idea has grown to become. A crazy idea that saw just 16 runners complete that first Comrades in 1921.

My greatest wish is that I’ll still be around to see the 100th Comrades considering that I ran the 50th one in 1975 which in itself was a watershed year in Comrades history. If I am still around for the 100th Comrades, that’ll give me a personal tally of 67 Comrades I will have attended. I have missed just three of them since 1956 and all three deliberately but it didn’t take me long to realise that Comrades is such a part of my life, that I have no doubt that as long as I am able to be on that stretch of “Old Road” to watch runners over those very nearly 90kms, I will be there.

In putting this together I have tried to remember all the people I’ve met or the things that have happened to me and I am sure that there are many things I will have forgotten since it all started for me on 31st May 1956.

Many people have asked me over the years whether Comrades was better “then” or whether it’s better “now” and my answer is always the same. I sum it up in just one word – “YES”.

Do I have any regrets?

I do have a few and at the top of the list is the fact that I was never able to run Comrades with any of my children. A couple of them have thought about it over the years and quickly got rid of the thought. My son has said to me that the thought of driving 90km let alone running it just blows his mind. One of my daughters threatened to run it and I even went so far as to persuade Comrades to give me the number next to mine but she never got there.

Yet another daughter has not had any desire to run it but yet when the 2015 Comrades comes round, she will be at her 35th Comrades – and she turns 38 in September 2015! More about her involvement with Comrades in later “episodes” as she played an integral role at one stage.

So how did it all begin, this passion or love or obsession with what happens between Durban and Pietermaritzburg every year.

It started fairly early in the morning of Thursday 31st May 1956. I grew up in Pinetown which is some 20km west of Durban and on the Comrades route and my Dad woke me and asked me if I wanted to go with him to watch “The Marathon”. That’s what it was called by the people in KZN (Natal in those days) and the word “Comrades” had not really gained much popularity at that stage.

Living not far from the Old Main Road in Pinetown, the “Old Man” and I walked up to what was known as “Cross Roads” to watch what he tried to describe to me as a running race from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. I had a vague idea of where Pietermaritzburg was but a fair idea of Durban and that was quite a long way away to a 9 year old, which I was at the time.

We didn’t have to wait too long before the first runners came into view. I stood there in awe as they passed us and after all the runners, from the leaders to the tailenders had “gone through”, I turned to my Dad and said simply “When I’m big I’m going to run The Marathon. Little did I know what those words would mean in the years that lay ahead and what impact “The Marathon” would have on my life.

It’s that “impact that I want to share over the next episodes of my story. What I have seen. What I have done. How the race has changed in so many ways yet how the fascination and passion I have for it has never waned.

I hope you enjoy my story and I hope you can feel a little of what I do when we get to the end of it.