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.