The following is a report on the 1969 Comrades Marathon which was written by Dave Bagshaw who was running his first Comrades. The report was written for the newsletter of his club, Savages in Durban.
One interesting thing about this report is that after Dave wrote it, he hasn’t looked at it again until about two weeks ago when I asked him for a copy.
At this stage, Dave Bagshaw is one of only 5 men who have been able to win Comrades in three successive years. On two of his three runs he broke the record (best time) and on the third one as just 2 minutes outside his own record.
I arrived at the starting point in front of Pietermaritzburg City Hall about fifteen minutes before the start of the race. I felt nervous. I suppose over seven hundred other runners felt the same way. For each of us this race was the culmination of months of training and now we were face to face with the big test.
For my own part I was very apprehensive. Even though many friends had expressed confidence in my ability to do well I doubted that I could last fifty-four miles with men like Dave Box, Jackie Mekler, Manie Kuhn and Gordon Baker. All these and many others had years of distance running behind them. In contrast I’d only run my first marathon nine months before.
Nevertheless I had confidence that I would survive the distance. Even though my training had been lighter than that of most of the stronger runners it suited me and had paid off in my other marathon races.
My early morning preparation for the race had been a little confused. I intended rising at 3.30 a.m. but after a rather restless interrupted sleep for most of the night I slept soundly towards the end and did not wake until 4.30 a.m. After loosening up exercises and a visit to the bathroom, I ate a light breakfast without much enthusiasm. Then off to the start.
It was a cool morning and the odour of liniment hung heavy on the air in front of the city hall. The bustling crowd was enormous and I had difficulty locating my seconds but eventually found them. Last minute instructions were exchanged and I went out onto the road to stand in the front rank. No problem here. In a race this distance people have no illusions about the need for a fast start unless they have hopes of finishing well up so the faster runners are pushed to the front.
Shortly before 6.00 a.m. the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg presented Gordon Baker with the baton containing the message for the Mayor of Durban. Then Max Trimborn gave his famous cock-crow, the gun fired, and the race had begun.
There was no sudden rush at the start. This was to be a test of strength and stamina not so much of speed and a few seconds lost at the start were unimportant. However the field soon opened out and, leaving the city via the main street, John Tarrant was leading followed by a group including Box, Mekler, Baker, Bill Brown (8th last year), Roland Davey, Olaf Vorster, Eric Renken and myself.
Tarrant was setting a good pace and had a lead of fifty or sixty yards after the first mile. I was at a loss as to what to do because I seemed to be running slowly. For a moment I was tempted to move off after Tarrant then I glanced at Mekler, the most experienced runner in the race, apparently unconcerned by the fact that Tarrant was ahead. No one else seemed interested in chasing John so I decided to follow the approach of my more experienced fellows and let him go. By the time we left the street lights of Pietermaritzburg behind we could not even see him on the road ahead of us.
I found it necessary to run at the front of the leading group to avoid tripping people in front with my long stride. My confidence increased on finding I could keep up with the leaders easily.
After seven miles I discarded the jersey in which I had started the race. It was still cool and I remember hoping the overcast sky would shelter us from the sun all day.
The leading group maintained a steady pace down Polly Shorts and up the long climb to Umlaas Road. At Camperdown (14.7 miles), reached in 1 hour 37 minutes, Box, Mekler, Baker, Davey, Brown, Vorster and I were still together, Davis and Renken just behind and Tarrant four minutes ahead. Even hearing the size of Tarrant’s lead did not seem to perturb anyone. Everyone seemed to have settled into a rhythm and there was obviously going to be no excitement or radical changes in front positions for some while. At this point Manie Kuhn (1967 winner) was a minute behind. A slow starter, Kuhn usually moved up to the front in the middle of the race.
The 11 and a half miles from Camperdown to Drummond were uneventful until we reached the foot of Inchanga. I still felt comfortable and worked to vary the pace a little and lose some of the group. Box obviously had the same idea. Together we led up the one and a half mile climb and by the time we were over the top and beginning the steep descent into Drummond we had achieved our objective.
At Drummond (26.2 miles) in 2.51 hours, Box, Mekler, Baker, Vorster and I were left together. Still no sign of Kuhn whom I expected to catch us about here (in actual fact he was 4 minutes behind).
Beginning the climb out of Drummond I noticed the others dropping, Mekler seemed unhappy (I learned later he changed his shoes which were giving him trouble) and Baker and Vorster seemed to decide the pace was too fast. I hoped they were wrong. I felt good, running very relaxed and took my first sponge to freshen myself up.
Two miles out of Drummond we caught Tarrant. He was really struggling (suffering from stomach trouble) and dropped back to finish 28th in 6 hours 55 minutes 46 seconds.
Box and I were now out in front alone. Both of us seemed to be running easily and the stiff climb up Alverstone presented no problem. However shortly after Dave Box seemed to be losing ground on me. We had been running side by side and suddenly I found myself alone – with Dave 10 yards back. I was striding well and so, with twenty miles to go, I decided not to wait but to keep running my own pace regardless.
Many were the warnings I’d been given by old Comraders about the seven miles from Drummond to Hillcrest. “Don’t worry about losing a few minutes on those hills” was the advice, and here I was running out ahead of the field. I knew many of those just behind would think I was committing suicide running so fast.
I really began striding out. It had got warmer and I was drinking frequently but conditions were still favourable.
In Pinetown, with thirteen miles to go (4.24) I had a six minute lead over Dave Box (4.30) who was followed by Rencken (4.31) Davis, Baker (4.32) Davey and Mekler (4.33). Encouraged by the fact that I had such a big lead, and the large crowd in Pinetown, I climbed Cowies Hill striding powerfully.
I felt fairly confident I could win but felt no elation at the prospect. An error of judgment even then could have cost me the race. I was more concerned over the fate of the team trophy, the Gunga Din Shield. I knew we, Savages, were first, second and sixth, but what of our fourth scorer? Germiston had Mekler and Davis well up. I had to stay ahead.
From Pinetown to Durban the run was uneventful except for one incident. After a short distance on a dirt road we had to climb three steps up to the main road again. This after 49 miles hard running. I couldn’t make it, fell forward and went up on all fours. Then back to running rhythm again.
The streets were crowded the last five miles and I was told I’d be well inside Gomersall’s course record. My seconds were working hard now. I was still running smoothly but I wanted drinks, sponges and salt tablets more frequently now it was getting hotter.
The crowds were thicker closer to the DLI grounds where we were to finish. The baton containing the message to the mayor was thrust into my hand as I ran up to the tape.
BAGSHAW COMING IN TO THE FINISH OF THE 1969 COMRADES
Then it was over I could stop running.
By the time Dave Box finished, twelve minutes later, I felt recovered. Elation at my victory kept the full effects of fatigue at bay for several hours.
Dave finished, suffering from large blisters on both feet. Four minutes later Jackie Mekler came in. Shortly after Drummond stomach trouble had slowed him down and he’d dropped to eleventh, seventh in Pinetown, he moved through well to take third place. In my opinion his was a magnificent effort. To have a bad run and yet put up such a good performance further enhances his reputation as a great runner and competitor.
I was fortunate. I had the sort of run that every runner dreams about – trouble free, no bad patch, no struggling, no blisters, just a gradual tiring towards the end.
Throughout the afternoon streams of runners arrived in Durban. In all 587 out of 703 starters completed the course within the time limit of eleven hours.
For the first time in the history of the race two runners from the same club finished inside six hours and Savages became the first club ever to win the Gunga Din Shield for the fifth year in succession.
Dave Bagshaw 1969
YOU CAN GET TO DAVE BAGSHAW’S LIFE STORY BY CLICKING HERE.