I have had people telling me that I have OCD about Comrades. Others have described it as a passion, but allow me in this chapter to tell you the story of my daughter, Merran, and then you can decide whether we both have OCD or whether we both have a passion for Comrades, or both.
Merran will be 39 years old in September 2016 and on Sunday the 29th of May 2016 she was at her 36th Comrades, her first one before she was yet a year old.
I grant you that for the first few years of her life she had very little say in the matter but now as an adult, a wife and a mother, she’s still there every year and I have no doubt at all that is some sort of record. I have thrown out a challenge to anyone who can beat that and no takers so we’ll take that as a record. I also have little doubt that even after I am long gone that she will be at every Comrades.
Between us then we have been at 95 Comrades in total with the 91st race on 29th May 2016. Another record perhaps?
As far as Merran is concerned, she has not just been a spectator at Comrades all those years when she was in her teens and now as an adult. In the early days and once again now, she had been and is now once again a spectator but she played an integral role in getting news of the race through to the listeners of Radio 702, and as she started to grow older, she got to know the route as well as I do. She got to know the rules of Comrades and the way in which to best prepare for, and run Comrades. In fact had I not needed her on race day to help me, who knows, she may have been my only running child.
It wasn’t until the mid-nineties that her real involvement started. By this time I had stopped running because of the permanent injury that had affected me but I was well and truly part of the media then, having been involved since the mid 80’s. Those 80’s days were very difficult times to cover Comrades as cellphones had not yet come to South Africa and one year we found a company in Pietermaritzburg that had a system that by radio we contacted them and they then “patched” me through to the studio for my report. Pretty antiquated but it worked.
It’s very important to understand that the role of the written media and that of the electronic media differ significantly. The electronic media is “immediate” and therefore needs to be “live” and that applies equally to radio and television. The problem I faced is that I had to try to do the job with only one car on the route, that I drove as well as doing my reporting (we didn’t broadcast but only reported into news and sports reports), and just the help of my wife, Diane to write down information on pre-prepared sheets. Where we were what distance, and the lead runners and Merran travelling with us in the car so that she could back up the information Diane was taking down. One thing that did take my attention off the road and the runners and the traffic was the fun I used to have sticking the nose of our boldly branded Radio 702 news car in front of the television cameras much to the extreme annoyance of the TV crew.
I realised after a couple of years that Merran’s knowledge of Comrades was such that she was actually wasted in the news car and I made arrangements with the organisers for her to accreditation to travel on the media bus. She had to wrap up very warmly because in the early morning cold, particularly on the down run from Pietermarizburg, as she was exposed on the top level of the media truck.
What then happened was that Merran would phone the race numbers of the leaders to Diane and she would look them up from the list we had been given by the organisers. What often happened as a result of this is that we had an advantage over the other radio stations who had to rely on their vehicles to fight their way through the traffic to get to the front and were often blocked from getting to the lead pack by the very media trucks on which they could have relied.
We then discovered we had yet another problem. We couldn’t get to the women and who was leading that race further back in the field, but we had communication between the front truck on which Merran was freezing but doing a great job, and the truck further back following the women. As a result she was able to get info from the other media folk on the “women’s media truck” who by now had accepted her as a “colleague”. She, in exchange for this information and with her intimate knowledge of the route, was able to give the rest of the media On her truck, (all written media) this information, route details, landmark information, etc. and everyone was happy.
When I had to break away from the lead procession to get to the finish to see the leaders coming in, I still had Merran sending information back to Diane who in turn was giving me the info I needed.
The result of this “family team” working for Radio 702 were often significantly ahead of other radio stations.
I was unbelievably happy when, after one Comrades, the boss man of the national radio station, called my News Editor, Chris Gibbons, to ask how many vehicles we had had on the road and Chris told him we had just one with one person on the press truck. He congratulated Chris on our job well done saying that we had beaten them with their 20 reporters throughout the race.
A very proud day in my radio days.
At the same time that I was reporting the race for Radio 702 I was also stadium announcer and again Merran played a major role on the announcing tower, assisting Diane to identify runners coming in at the finish so that I could announce them, but I still don’t know whether Merran and I have a passion for Comrades or OCD about it!
I’m happy with either because we both love this race!