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.