I first met Ian Jardine at the beginning of May 1968 on an ill-fated training run from Pinetown to Pietermaritzburg which “the Old Man” used to organise every year at the beginning of May along the route and in the direction of Comrades in that particular year. I didn’t know him when we set off that morning, but I certainly did before that day ended.
On reflection I realise that I knew nothing about Comrades – and I mean nothing. We had started in Pinetown and by the top of Field’s Hill I was running alongside Manie Kuhn who had won the year before and was second the year before that. That’s how easy Comrades was! By the time we had done another 30Kms I was so far behind the rest of the group that I had to get into the car and be driven to where they were. I arrived and was told that “I.J. wants to see you”. In reality he had been blind for years and couldn’t see a thing but nonetheless I presented myself and he said to me “I see we have learnt about Comrades today”.
As I came to know him over the years that followed I learnt that was his “stock phrase “I see” when in fact he could see nothing at all.
Anyway, back to that awful run of mine and “Mr Jardine” (I never dared call him anything else as I was just 21 at the time) was very nice about it all, gave me some pointers, told me to try to run the rest of the way to Pietermartizburg, which I wasn’t able to do but to present myself the following Sunday morning at the top of Botha’s Hill to join them and in the few weeks left to Comrades, they would teach me what I needed to know.
I duly did that and with just a couple of weeks left to the big day I finished my first Comrades in 10:25, and so began an association with Ian Jardine and his “Sunday School” that lasted for the next four or five years.
What was so remarkable about this man though? In 50 years of running the legendary Ian Jardine clocked up a total of 110 794km of which over 50 000 were run after the age of 50.
Before switching to running as a first love at the age of 52, he had played rugby 2nd league), hockey and tennis (1st league) and had played cricket for Transvaal and baseball for South Africa. The last 50 000 miles of Ian Jardine’s running were done with the help of friends who acted as guides because he was totally blind for many years before his death in 1976. I admire those who “led” him for Km after Km because I did it on a few occasions and it was a very hard job and to do it over the distance of Comrades must have been an amazing feat in itself. In the time I knew him, Gerry Treloar was his main “guide-dog” and Gerry himself a remarkable man who had been chairman of Savages Athletic Club in Durban for some years.
The Sunday morning “school” ran week after week over the same 32km route from the top of Botha’s Hill to what is now Inchanga Caravan Park and back and running with the group was just so easy. We stopped for tea and toast supplied by Mrs Jardine at the halfway and it was disappointing when we got to the end, such was the pure joy of running.
The group had more natural comedians than any other I have ever come across and as one of the youngsters in the group we simply had to do two things. Run and laugh. In that group were Nick Raubenheimer, Charlie Warren and Jack Usdin who were the three funniest men I knew and a whole group of others who contributed with their quips. We were also joined on occasions by winners like Dave Bagshaw and gold medalists like Dave Box and all these seasoned veterans who were more than happy to impart their running knowledge. It was one of the regulars, Malcolm Hean who taught me to run up hills when he said to me “Take care of the bottom of a hill and the top will take care of itself”. I have never forgotten that and have passed that on to many a frightened novice in the years that followed.
Ian Jardine never went anywhere without his amazing wife and second, Eleanor, who always had a smile and a helping hand for any struggling runner and that beige coloured Valiant – and if I remember correctly, the registration number was ND 903 – was regarded as a “saviour” by many of us on a long lonely road.
When I met him and ran with him the “Old Man” lived at what was called Anderson’s Farm and what is now Inchanga Caravan Park and actually in a caravan parked next to the old farmhouse. Alongside the caravan was a pole attached to which was a metal wire which had been carefully measured and which “I.J” would hold onto and run for a specific length of time to give him his daily run. The fact that he was running in a circle didn’t matter as he couldn’t see and it was safe as there was nothing over which he could trip and fall.
In the fifty years up to 31 December 1972, Ian Jardine ran about 110,000km. In the ten years between the ages of 51 and 60 he ran about 38,000km, between 61 and 70 he covered around 50,000km. His highest mileage for 24 hours was 160km, for one week just over 500km, for one month (October 1965) 1100km, and for one year (1964) 6000km. These figures are particularly amazing when you consider that a blind man had been guided a total distance of some 80,000km, or almost twice around the world over all sorts of roads without as much as a sprained ankle. That was his faith in his friends who led him and I am honoured to have been one of them.
Ian Jardine entered Comrades 14 times and completed it every time. His best in 1965 when he finished in 8 hours 38 minutes. He won the Founders Trophy for the oldest finisher, 13 times, 10 years in succession from 1960 to 1969. When he reached the age of 65, he was banned from running Comrades as that was the upper age limit in those days, which in hindsight was really rather foolish as he would most certainly have been able to complete Comrades well inside the 11 hour time lime we had in those days for a good few years more.
All his running was done in his own time, with no encroachment into office or business hours.
‘Tackies’ were used throughout his running career, each pair averaging something over 1600km. Arthur Newton, by trial and error, and over 150 000km found the best drink on the road was lemonade, sugar and salt. The “Old Man” improved this drink by the addition of bicarbonate of soda and called it “Corpse Reviver”.
I incidentally used it very successfully in my first few Comrades and by the way, it also tasted very good!
Ian Jardine died of cancer in late January 1976. A truly remarkable man.