Posted in PERSONAL STORY

2018 MY VERY SPECIAL COMRADES

I have written about the fact that I’ll be attending my 60th Comrades in 2018 and I have spoken about it and I have also written and spoken about the fact that it’s the 50th anniversary of my first running of Comrades in 1968.

SELFI have often told the story of how as a 9 year old boy I stood at the side of the road in Pinetown and watched the Comrades Marathon for the first time and was immediately captivated by it and I turned to my father who had taken me to watch the race and said to him “when I’m big I’m going to run this” and I have said over and over that I don’t know why I said this to him or what prompted me to say this. Whatever it was it proved to be something that was to define the path of my life in so many ways over the years since then, both in business and personally.

In 2017 I met one of our top women runners, Ann Ashworth, and I discovered that she has almost the exact same story as mine. Her father took her to watch the race when she was very young, younger than I had been when I saw my first Comrades and obviously many years after my experience, and she stood at the side of the road and as the runners came past she turned to her Dad and said “when I’m big I’m going to run this”. Comrades has had also had huge impact on her life.

I don’t know how many people have a similar story to the two of us but I certainly know many people who have thrown themselves into this race and given so much to it.  People who have their Comrades numbers as their car registration numbers or part of their email addresses for example as I have.  Just a small example but that sort of thing but at the risk of boring you to tears please allow me to tell you my story again.

After having not missed being at a Comrades since watching that race which Gerald Walsh won in 1956, on the 31st of May 1968 as a 21 year old young man I lined up at the start of the Comrades Marathon in Durban as a first time runner and 10 hours and 25 minutes later I crossed the finish line in Pietermaritzburg to earn the first of my 14 Comrades medals.

The strange thing is whilst I’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of my first Comrades, I don’t remember much about that day. I only remember about half a dozen or so bits of what happened during the day. I remember a few things that happened before I trotted down into Drummond and looked at my watch (an ordinary wristwatch) and it was 8 minutes past 11 and thinking that was OK and that if I could repeat that for the second half to Pietermaritzburg I’d be fine in terms of the 11 hours we had in those days.

I remember stopping about 200 metres before I got to Enthembeni School to listen to the radio – no TV sets back then – that a spectator had as Jackie Mekler – in my opinion one of the greatest Comrades runners – came in to the finish for his 5th win, a touch after 12 noon and thinking that I could only hurt for another 5 hours because then it would be 5pm and I would either be at the finish or I would have to stop because I would have run out of time and I had done 6 hours already so I and the pain were over half way.

Then I remember very little more until I reached Polly’s.  Going up Polly’s that first Comrades of mine is crystal clear to this day. I knew how I was going to do that. I had planned that over and over before race day.  200 paces run. 100 paces walk. 200 paces run. 100 paces walk. 200 paces run. 100 paces walk and so on whether I was tired or not that’s what I was going to do and that’s what I did and soon the top was there.

POLLYS 1968The result was that Polly’s, and in fact no hill on Comrades or any other race, was ever a problem because that’s the way I handled them all and I’ve often spoken about controlled walking many times over the years.  It’s as simple as that.

Does it hurt? Of course it hurts but it helps to get the pain over much quicker!  Remember the old adage?  If it didn’t hurt everyone would do it!

Back to that first Comrades and I remember nothing more until I came into the grounds of Collegians Club where we finished in those days. I don’t remember hearing any announcer and I don’t remember if there was one. Then suddenly it was all over and the watches had stopped at 10:25.  

4:25pm on the 31st of May 1968 and I had finished Comrades!

I was alone on the track. No other runners.  Just me.  We weren’t given our medals on the day as happens now. We had to attend a “Medal Parade” a few weeks later where they were presented to us or they were posted if runners couldn’t get to the Medal Parade.  The medals were engraved with our name and time.

COMRADES FINISH 1968

I did 5 hours and 8 minutes for the first half and 5 hours 17 minutes for the second half.  Still very proud of that split although I still have no idea what the distance of each half was.  I didn’t care and I still don’t! 

I had trained for four and a half months from absolute scratch to get there but I was very strong mentally because I had given lots of attention to that side of things as well as the physical side and the way I went up Polly’s was proof of that.

So the 10th of June 2018 I’ll be 71 and I’ll be attending my 60th Comrades and at the same time celebrating the 50th anniversary of that first run in 1968.  I find it hard to believe that its 50 years ago but it is and so much water has flowed under that bridge since then but there are two things that have stayed in the same place.

Durban and Pietermaritzburg!

The start and finish may have been moved around a bit but Durban and Pietermaritzburg are still where they’ve always been! The distance may have changed a bit over different years but the race is always between those two cities and they’re where they’ve always been! 

I have often been asked what distances I ran in my various Comrades.  I have no idea how far any of them were.  The distance made not one scrap of difference to me nor should it to anyone running Comrades.  I’ve asked a couple of winners if they knew what distance they ran and those I asked also didn’t know. I was told to get to the start before 6am and run to the finish before 5pm as it was in those days – so I did!

 

I’ve missed only three races since 1956 and those were deliberate misses which I did after being at 50 races in succession and I did so because I thought that I had probably got Comrades out of my system by then. Those three were 2006, 2007 and 2008 and by the time the 2008 race came round I was going crazy because I wasn’t there and I even took myself overseas so that I didn’t feel it but it didn’t help. I sat in front of a computer all day in the UK and watched as much of the race as I could that was streamed live via the internet so whilst I regard myself as not having been there, I certainly watched as much of it as I could from 10,000kms away!

I didn’t plan that the two anniversaries (attending my 60th and the 50th anniversary of my first run) would both fall in 2018 and it was only a few years ago that I realised that they do.

Anyway I hadn’t got it out of my system after the 50 years and 2009 I was back at Comrades and have been every year since and as long as I am able to do so will continue attending.  My next target is the 2021 Comrades. 100 years since the first Comrades when Bill Rowan trotted into Durban to win in 8 hours 59 minutes. That’s only 3 years away so all being well I should make that!

My next target after that is 2025. The 100th race.  I was privileged to have run the 50th one and to have notched up my personal best time so to be at the 100th whilst only as a spectator is an important goal. 

COMRADES 1975

I have been involved in many facets of Comrades. I started as a spectator and then a second in the days before refreshment stations when runners had their own personal seconds. I’ve also served on the Comrades organising committee in what was one of the most rewarding of experiences.

BARRY VARTY GREEN NUMBERI spent 18 years on the road reporting on the race “live” into news and sports bulletins for 702 Talk Radio and for many of those same years on arrival at the finish juggled my phone and a microphone as I also handled the stadium announcing as part of that team. It was also during that time that I was asked to handle the prizegiving one year and had the honour of meeting Madiba.  Something I will never forget.

IMG_20160306_100853I brought many great runners home from that announcers’ tower at the finish and if you were to ask me to single out one or two special moments I would have to say the day in 1989 when Frith van der Merwe ran 5:54 to finish 15th overall and set a woman’s time that I think is going to take a huge effort to beat and Bruce Fordyce’s 9th win in 1990.

I doubt that we’ll ever see 9 wins from a runner again, certainly not in what’s left of my lifetime.  I’m not certain that people fully understand what a feat it is to win Comrades once let alone 9 of them. Ask all those great runners who have failed to win whilst trying to do so and there is a long list I could rattle off of really top class distance runners who tried to win but couldn’t.

I’ve often been asked what the attraction of Comrades is that has drawn me back over and over for 60 years and I really don’t know what it is.  I can easily explain the years when I ran.  I can also easily explain the years when I was working as a journalist or stadium announcer but there are many who would say that the remaining years defy logic and I would be hard pressed to argue that. In fact I would have a bit of a problem arguing why I travel to Durban year after year to attend Comrades as a spectator.

Why I sit at the side of the road on race day cheering on a bunch of runners, most of whom I don’t know and those I do know are so busy fighting their enemy “time” that they don’t want to stop and talk anyway.

I don’t know why I go year after year to Expo to look at the same exhibitors offering almost the same things and why I shake my head along with some of the other “old timers” when we see obvious novices desperate to make sure they finish, prepared to try any product on offer that they think will get them to the finish on race day when all they really need to do is to get out there and run to the finish.

I can’t answer any of those questions and I wouldn’t even attempt to do so. It is one of those mysterious things that one is simply not able to answer.  One of those things that one can try to arrive at some sort of logical answer and still not find one, so long ago I realised that there is no point in trying and that I should simply accept that when I stood at the side of the road as a 9 year old boy in 1956 and watched Comrades for the first time that something magical happened.

There’s no debate that over those 60 years I have met some of the most amazing people, some of whom have become lifelong friends but there’s more to it than just that.  There was something so much more that did so much to shape my destiny and the direction of my life in so many wonderful ways.

That being the case, why try to find an explanation?

February 2018

Posted in PERSONAL STORY

COME & RUN COMRADES 1968 WITH ME :

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in PERSONAL STORY

COMRADES – PASSION OR OBSESSION?

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!

Posted in PERSONAL STORY

MADIBA, TOP RUNNERS & ME

This is not the story of the Comrades Marathon. It’s not the story of the guts and the glory of the road.

This particular part of the story of my relationship with Comrades is not in any way intended to be a name dropping exercise at all. I am simply mentioning the people who, through Comrades, came into my life and had an impact on it.

One thing I clearly remember about my first Comrades in 1968 was that as we ran up what was then Berea Road in Durban the field was already spread out and the leaders passed Tollgate by the time we were half way up Berea Road and there were two elderly ladies standing at the side of the road watching “The Marathon” and one of them said to the other “They must have started them in batches this year”. By that time the leaders and eventual winner, Jackie Mekler were over the top of Tollgate and on their way to Pietermaritzburg.

Jackie was my big hero in those early days before I started running Comrades myself and he had already won it four times so it wasn’t strange that I should have stopped about 8km after Drummond to listen on the radio (no TV then) to commentary of Jackie coming in to win his 5th Comrades.

The following year Jackie didn’t win nor did he ever win it again but those 5 wins were enough to put him into the history books and into my book of heroes. Little did I know that in later years, when I was with Radio 702 that I would meet the five time winner and get to know him fairly well.

I have had the privilege of meeting four of the five male runners who have won the race 5 times or more. Hardy Ballington, Wally Hayward, Jackie Mekler and Bruce Fordyce.

The following year after Jackie’s fifth win it was the turn of Dave Bagshaw in 1969 to win Comrades and he won three in a row. Dave lived in Pinetown as I did and he would often join the “Jardine Sunday School” for some LSD (and it was slow) but during the week he trained very hard on his speed and to even think about running with him was out of the question.

I was transferred to Pietermaritzburg in late 1971 and it wasn’t too long before I met Mick Winn who was Chairman of Collegians Harriers and who would later go on to become Chairman of the Natal Marathon Runners Assoc and then the South African Road Runners Assoc and it was during this time that Mick persuaded me to make myself available to stand on the committee of Collegians Harriers and during my time at Collegians I started meeting more people who would go on to be Comrades winners.

Derek Preiss who was the winner in 1974 and 1975, I knew well and he was in fact out on a run with a good friend of mine, Bill Sim and he wasn’t feeling well so he turned home and left Bill to run on alone and whilst running on the pavement a car left the road and killed Bill.

Piet Vorster was the winner in 1979 and the first Pietermaritzburg winner since Reg Alison in the late 40’s. I remember in March 1979 a few of us from Collegians had gone away for the weekend to run the Stanger to Mandini race and we were all sitting around chatting about who we thought would win Comrades that year and very quietly Piet’s wife said, Piet’s going to win. Piet was running well that year but wasn’t one of the favourites.  Strange but after that, I didn’t for one minute doubt that Piet would win and as history shows, Mrs Vorster was right.

It wasn’t until after I stopped running and my radio years with Radio 702 started, that I really got to know some of the really big names in running and these included people like winners, Tommy Malone, Manie Kuhn, Alan Robb (four wins), Nick Bester, Andrew Kelehe, Shaun Miekeljohn, Alberto Salazar (the American who ran only once and that was in 1974 and won it) Charl Mattheus and of course Bruce Fordyce.

Heading the list of people I met through Comrades has to be former president, the late Nelson Mandela. He was the guest of honour and handing out the prizes for the 1996 race and that was one of the many times I was stadium announcer. That particular year I had been asked to do the announcing of the prize giving for both the stadium and the SABC and found myself on the stage less than 10 metres away from the great man.

I had asked the official Comrades photographer, Ivor Ginsberg, to be at the ready in the event that I should get close enough to Madiba to get a photograph with us both in it but it looked as though that wasn’t going happen as he was at one end of the stage and I was the other end. Meanwhile, Ivor was signalling frantically that I needed to move closer to Madiba because he wanted to take a photo because the light was fading and flash photography was not allowed because of the President’s eyes that were so bad after working for so many years in the lime quarry on Robben Island. I have been to that quarry and I have never seen anything with such reflection so easy to understand the condition of his eyes.

Eventually the chap from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund asked me whether I had met the President and if not whether I would like to do so. No hesitation. I was taken across the stage to meet him and it was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced and I still remember it as though it was yesterday that is happened. As he took my hand to shake it, he said to me – and I will never forget the words – “It’s an honour to meet you”.

I was completely blown away. He then thanked me for what I – and 702 – had done for the Children’s Fund that year and I had worked hard on air to make it known and to get the word out of the charity drive. Then he smiled and said “How’s Debra – give her my love” referring of course to Debra Patta the well-known journalist with whom I worked at the time at 702.

After I came off the stage at the end of the prizegiving I told Dan Moyane (now eNCA morning anchor and former 702 news and morning show presenter) and with whom I was sharing the stadium announcing that year, what he had said to me in thanking me – and Dan’s immediate response was “He knows exactly who you are because he listens to 702 whenever he’s at his residence in Pretoria”.

It was an amazing experience.

Posted in PERSONAL STORY

IN LOVE WITH A STRIP OF TARMAC

A few people on hearing that I am writing this have asked me why and the answer is very simple. I have had a relationship with Comrades for 60 years and God willing it’ll be a lot longer.

This is not the story of the Comrades Marathon. It’s not the story of the winners of this great race although some of them feature. It’s not the story of those who battled over the nearly 90kms of road between Kwa Zulu-Natal’s two cities to scrape home in time to have that precious medal thrust into their hand as they eventually managed to get home with just minutes to spare. It’s not the story of those who didn’t manage to finish the race for whatever reason. It’s not the story of the race organisation although my involvement does feature in the organisation. It’s not the story of the glamour and glory of the road.

It’s my story of my involvement over 60 years, the years that bring us to the 90th running of a race in 2015 that started way back in 1921, and beyond it, the idea of a man who some said was crazy. Such a pity that Vic Clapham is not here to see what his crazy idea has grown to become. A crazy idea that saw just 16 runners complete that first Comrades in 1921.

My greatest wish is that I’ll still be around to see the 100th Comrades considering that I ran the 50th one in 1975 which in itself was a watershed year in Comrades history. If I am still around for the 100th Comrades, that’ll give me a personal tally of 67 Comrades I will have attended. I have missed just three of them since 1956 and all three deliberately but it didn’t take me long to realise that Comrades is such a part of my life, that I have no doubt that as long as I am able to be on that stretch of “Old Road” to watch runners over those very nearly 90kms, I will be there.

In putting this together I have tried to remember all the people I’ve met or the things that have happened to me and I am sure that there are many things I will have forgotten since it all started for me on 31st May 1956.

Many people have asked me over the years whether Comrades was better “then” or whether it’s better “now” and my answer is always the same. I sum it up in just one word – “YES”.

Do I have any regrets?

I do have a few and at the top of the list is the fact that I was never able to run Comrades with any of my children. A couple of them have thought about it over the years and quickly got rid of the thought. My son has said to me that the thought of driving 90km let alone running it just blows his mind. One of my daughters threatened to run it and I even went so far as to persuade Comrades to give me the number next to mine but she never got there.

Yet another daughter has not had any desire to run it but yet when the 2015 Comrades comes round, she will be at her 35th Comrades – and she turns 38 in September 2015! More about her involvement with Comrades in later “episodes” as she played an integral role at one stage.

So how did it all begin, this passion or love or obsession with what happens between Durban and Pietermaritzburg every year.

It started fairly early in the morning of Thursday 31st May 1956. I grew up in Pinetown which is some 20km west of Durban and on the Comrades route and my Dad woke me and asked me if I wanted to go with him to watch “The Marathon”. That’s what it was called by the people in KZN (Natal in those days) and the word “Comrades” had not really gained much popularity at that stage.

Living not far from the Old Main Road in Pinetown, the “Old Man” and I walked up to what was known as “Cross Roads” to watch what he tried to describe to me as a running race from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. I had a vague idea of where Pietermaritzburg was but a fair idea of Durban and that was quite a long way away to a 9 year old, which I was at the time.

We didn’t have to wait too long before the first runners came into view. I stood there in awe as they passed us and after all the runners, from the leaders to the tailenders had “gone through”, I turned to my Dad and said simply “When I’m big I’m going to run The Marathon. Little did I know what those words would mean in the years that lay ahead and what impact “The Marathon” would have on my life.

It’s that “impact that I want to share over the next episodes of my story. What I have seen. What I have done. How the race has changed in so many ways yet how the fascination and passion I have for it has never waned.

I hope you enjoy my story and I hope you can feel a little of what I do when we get to the end of it.