Eventually after arguing with my Dad as to whether I was still too young to run Comrades, I got to age 21 in 1968 and in my first real act of defiance now that I was 21 and an adult I said I was going to be running in 1968. I turned 21 on the 16th of January that year and on the 18th of January I ventured out on my first training run of exactly 1 mile.
At the end of it I was shattered and had it not been for the fact that I had announced to everyone I knew that I was going to be running Comrades, there is every chance that I would have given up then and there but it would have been too embarrassing to have done so, so I had no choice but to hang in and prepare for Comrades four and a half months away so I filled in the entry form from the booklet below and got to work.
I have written elsewhere that I had met a few “green numbers” who had given me the benefit of their vast knowledge that there was only one way to prepare and that was by way of this thing called “LSD” or “Long Slow Distance”. The “Slow” part was very easy in my case but one thing it taught me and I remain firmly committed to LSD to this day and it is almost impossible for anyone to shake me on this, is that it builds strength, stamina and endurance and if you are going to be going out there to run the better part of 90kms you are going to need to be able to get out there and run at a steady pace virtually all day. Incidentally here is the page from the 1968 brochure listing ALL the green numbers. Compare the list to what it is today! The 2015 Green Number “Roll of Honour” has 126 pages of names!
LSD was the way I trained for that very first Comrades and that was the way I trained for all the rest of my Comrades and whilst my speed varied as I got faster, the need for strength was, for me, the key to it all and it paid off.
Anyway, let’s fast forward to Thursday, 30th of May 1968, the day before my first Comrades.
In those days there were no refreshment stations so we had our own personal seconds and in my case that job rested with my Dad and his Volkswagen Beetle and the afternoon before Comrades I had to make sure that the car was packed and heaven help me if I forgot to put anything into the car. I never quite figured that out because it was me who suffered if I did forget anything but it was me who was in trouble if I forgot to pack anything! Cooler boxes full of ice to keep the 10 litres of drinking and sponging water cold. The lemonade cold because that’s what I drank the “corpse reviver” in. “Corpse reviver was a mixture first invented by Arthur Newton in the 1920’s but then modified in the 1950’s by Ian Jardine and made up of glucose, castor sugar, bi-carb and salt in the correct measures and then mixed with the lemonade I mentioned. It might sound awful but it tasted very good and it worked very well.
In addition I had to make sure that the bucket and sponge was in the car as well as the “muti” box that had plaster, Vaseline, scissors, salt tablets, disprin (in case but very seldom used), the half-litre jug from which I drank my corpse reviver and of course, Deep Heat which was as useless as a tooth ache, and which I never actually used until the 1976 Comrades and when I did use it, it did absolutely nothing to help the cramp from which I was suffering that year.
I then had to be sure that my running kit was all there and that was my vest with number back and front as well as my track suit with number back and front. That was a requirement and not optional. Our vest and shorts were cotton in those days and that was long before the days of the lightweight nylon type shorts and vests and when our shorts and vests got wet they also got fairly heavy and the vests tended to stretch and they ended up looking something like a mini skirt!
Then it was off to bed.
Race morning and off to the start in Durban.
Incidentally for your first Comrades it wasn’t a requirement to belong to a running club – you had to be a club member if you ran more than once – entry fee was R2 and such things as qualifying was unheard of. I didn’t actually have to qualify for Comrades until my 12th Comrades although qualifying was introduced for novices in 1975, but only for novices.
There were no “goodie bags” or anything else like that. 1968 was well before the days of the Expo so registration at the start comprised couple of large white boards that were situated at the entrance to the City Hall and on which were written the race numbers of all the runners taking part and each of us had to present ourselves to the official at the board and show all four of the numbers I mentioned.
The two numbers on our vests and the two on our track suits had to be shown and the officials at the “registration boards” crossed these off with a thick black marker pen and we were registered and we made our way to the start line to wait for the gun. No seeding pens or anything like that.
This photograph may not have been the start of the 1968 Comrades but gives a good idea of what the start looked like at that time.
One thing that I consider myself very fortunate to have witnessed, was the late Max Trimborn himself giving the famous cock crow. Then the gun and we were on our way. Around 600 of us that year.
I don’t remember very much about the day but the half dozen or so things I do remember are as clear as though they happened yesterday.
We started outside the Royal Hotel in what used to be called Smith Street in Durban and up Berea Road. About halfway up Berea Road there used to be a famous Durban landmark, the Grand Tea Room and by the time I got there Jackie Mekler, Manie Kuhn and company had vanished over Tollgate and were on their way towards Pietermaritzburg and two very sweet old ladies standing at the side of the road chose the exact moment I ran passed them at the Grand Tea Room to say “they must have sent them off in batches this year”, so big was the gap between the top guys and we back runners. How to burst your bubble after you have done no more than about three or four Kms!
From the Grand Tea Room up and over Toll Gate down passed Westridge Tennis Stadium passed The Mayville Hotel (the route in those days) and up to Sherwood and 45th Cutting and on into Westville. In those days we went through the old centre of Westville and not on what is now the R103 so that meant another really nasty climb up Jan Hofmeyer to the Westville Hotel and to where my second met me for my first drink some 10 or so Kms from the start. My next drink after that was somewhere in Pinetown at around 20Km. A little different to the refreshment stations 3kms or so apart in the modern Comrades. Those stops by our personal seconds were assuming they didn’t get stuck in the huge traffic jams we had then so we didn’t have any definite place where we arranged to meet. It was a “more or less” meeting place.
The trip from the start to Drummond is pretty much a blank but I clearly remember trotting down into Drummond and looking at my watch and it was 11:08 and realising I had done 5 hours and 8 minutes for the first half and that all I had to do was to repeat that for the second half and all would be well.
Through Drummond and I caught up to a fairly new found friend, the bearded Charlie Warren one of the true comedians of the road who was not yet wearing Green Number 100, and as we started to climb a hill we made up on a young student from the Free State who wasn’t happy at all and Charlie asked him what was wrong and he said that “this hill is not nice Oom”.
Charlie’s response was “this is nothing, wait until you get to Inchanga” and proceeded to tell the young man all the horrors of the hill called Inchanga for the next 20 minutes or so. As we crested the hill we were climbing, the youngster, by this time, almost in tears at the thought of what lay ahead said to Charlie “where is Inchanga, Oom” to which Charlie replied “That was it”. So another runner learnt the Charlie Warren method of running Inchanga.
Charlie, the young man from Free State and I separated about a Km further and it must have been about 5km further that my next memory of that day is there. I came over a slight hill and a fellow standing at the side of the road shouted “He’s coming in. He’s coming in. Jackie’s coming in”. I stopped next to him to listen to his radio (no TV in those days) and to listen to Jackie Mekler winning his 5th Comrades.
I was thrilled. He had long been my hero but my immediate thought was that what I was going through could only last another 5 hours. It was just after 12 noon. In 5 hours I would either be at the finish or I would have to retire so the pain would be over so it wasn’t all that bad.
I remember nothing more until I got to Polly’s and that long horrendous climb after the second bend just after the bottom and it was a case of “vasbyt”. 200 paces run and 100 paces walk then 200 run and another 100 walk and so on until the top and it wasn’t long and there it was – PIETERMARITZBURG!
I looked at my watch and I knew. I was going to make it – and I was going to make it with around half an hour to spare. Maybe if I really pushed it I would even get there before 4:30pm.
In those days the time limit was 11 hours and it was down into Pietermaritzburg to the Collegians Club and it all happened so quickly.
I entered the grounds of Collegians Club in Pietermaritzburg in something of a dream-world and there was nobody around me at all as I made my way to the field to run around the finish area. It was nothing like it is today where it is cordoned off and there are hundreds if not thousands of people all screaming encouragement as you make your last few hundred metres to the finish line.
I don’t remember hearing any stadium announcer saying anything. It was just me and my thoughts, but there were no thoughts. Me and 89Kms from the Durban City Hall and virtually nothing between there and where I was at Collegians Club in Pietermaritzburg – and suddenly it was all over and the official watches stopped at 10:25:13, my splits 5:08 and 5:17. Nothing too much wrong with that! I had done it!
Thank you LSD. I will never stop believing in you! I still believe in you. I still don’t think that you train to run 90Kms by doing 21Km training runs – but hey that’s what I think!
In those days we didn’t get our medal when we crossed the finish line. That was given to us at the official “Medal Parade” a few weeks after the race when we gathered in Pietermaritzburg and our medal, engraved, was presented to us individually when we were called up. If you happened to be from outside KZN or if you couldn’t get to the Medal Parade, your medal was then sent to you by post.
What we were given was an official document of some sort to say that we had finished and this enabled us to travel to Pietermaritzburg and go to Lambert’s Outfitters in Church Street in Pietermaritzburg and to buy an official Comrades blazer and tie and I did that just as soon as I could after Comrades so that I had mine in time for the Medal Parade. The prices of the blazer and tie are quoted in the race brochure I still have and the blazer cost R17.50, the tie was R1.95 and a wire badge for the blazer another R4.50.
I still have my blazer after 48 years, even though it does look a little sad in its advancing age, but then, don’t we both!