Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

CLIVE CRAWLEY – COMRADES RACE #1

Fairly early during the morning of the 8th of June 2020 my phone rang and it was Comrades Chairperson, Cheryl to give me the very sad news that the first person I had ever met in the Comrades world shortly before I ran my first Comrades in 1968, Clive Crawley, had passed away early that morning.

This is the obituary sent out by the Comrades Marathon Association in memory of an amazing man and true friend I had had for over 50 years.

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The Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) is saddened by news of the death of Clive Crawley. He was 89 years old. Clive was the holder of Comrades Race Number 1 since taking on his very first Comrades Marathon in 1957, having been a member of Savages Athletic Club for just about his entire running career.

 

Clive was the first runner to have earned Quadruple Green Number status in the 1998 Comrades Marathon in a time of 8:36:22, followed shortly thereafter by his friend and fellow teammate Kenny Craig in a time of 10:15:46. Clive went on to successfully complete an epic 42 Comrades Marathons, with 2 Gold, 21 Silver and 19 Bronze medals, with his Gold  medals having been achieved in the 1961 and 1965 Comrades Marathons

 

His best time however of 6:11:19 was achieved in 1971 when he finished in 10th position, during which time Gold medals were awarded to only the first 7 positions.

 

For nearly one and a half decades after retiring from the race in 2000, Clive was a regular at the Green Number facility, handing out Green Numbers to new inductees onto the Green Number Roll of Honour, inspiring runners to even greater heights and continually motivating people to give of their best.

 

Kenny Craig, a very close friend of Clive says, “Fellow Comrades Green Number runner, Lolly Thomson, who remains a good friend of Clive’s wife Trish, was the first to hear the sad news. I was the second. From what I hear, it was a very sudden death and it has come as a huge shock to us.”

 

Kenny adds, “In my 20’s, I must admit that I never really knew him. He was a bank manager when we first started running together. Then it so happened that in 1963, I needed a bank loan of R200 to buy a house, which was a lot of money back then. He approved it without thinking about it. I was baffled and he then turned to me and said, ‘You are a runner, I can trust you.’ We got to know each other over the ensuing 6 decades and ran together every Tuesday and Saturday.”

 

Kenny concludes, “Of all the hundreds of athletes I have run with, he was the oldest survivor. I’m glad I spoke to him on his 89th birthday on the 30th of April. I feel richer for the time spent with Clive, when he lived in Himeville and then in Stellenbosch. It was fun to run with a thorough gentleman and a true legend. When he turned 60 years of age, we ran 60km. On his 70th birthday, we ran 70km. And then when our running days were over, we cycled that many kilometres. Clive lived a life worth living.”

 

CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn says, “We are deeply saddened by the news of Clive’s passing. His Quadruple Green Number achievement of 42 Comrades finishes, especially being the first to achieve such a milestone, best time of 6:11:19, and distinct honour of being the holder of Green Number 1 for perpetuity, is nothing short of phenomenal. Clive’s impact on the race and the inspiration he held for so many Comrades runners has left a void that few could ever fill.”

 

Cheryl adds, “Our thoughts and well wishes are with his family, especially his wife Trish, also a proud Green Number runner. We wish you strength during this difficult time and thank both Clive and Trish for their huge contribution to the Comrades Marathon and running in general. For many years Clive served on the old Natal Marathon Runners Association, a forerunner of today’s KZNA and numerously represented KZN over various distances and age categories.”

 

CMA Board Member, Isaac Ngwenya says, “Clive was a compassionate, caring and wonderful human being. He put runners first and made time for people no matter how busy he was. His organising of the Sani Stagger Race, together with his wife Trish was impressive. There are many notable things about this gentleman that we will reflect on in the years to come and remain deeply appreciative of. I can say that he was someone worth knowing and he will undoubtedly be missed by all. May his soul RIP.”

 

Former CMA Green Number Convenor, Eileen Hall says, “Clive would be at the Green Number facility all day long, handing out Green Numbers. He would take pride in motivating and inspiring runners, with no wish to sit at the VIP facility or anywhere else. Such was his dedication to the runners and taking joy in chatting to Green Number inductees.”

 

Eileen adds, “As a runner, I remember following him, wondering how he got to become Comrades Runner Number 1. He would turn around and say, ‘Please don’t follow me, I’m struggling.’ Only later did I get to know him. I found him to be a dedicated person and a humble human being. He was a reliable and deeply respecting individual, not one to brag of his epic achievements, someone who was a very fastidious and special person who lived for Comrades. We will miss him!”

 

CMA Elder, Poobie Naidoo says, “Clive was an amazing, kind and friendly person who made time for people. He was committed to his running and shared a deep and relentless passion for the Comrades Marathon. It was inspirational to see how much he lived to run Comrades every year. Our heartfelt condolences to Trish and the family. May the Almighty give them courage and strength during this sad time.”

 

Former CMA Board Member, Alen Hattingh says, “RIP Clive Crawley, Comrades Legend Number 1. Clive ran 42 Comrades with a best of 6:11. He was the first man to reach 40 Comrades together with Kenny Craig. We will remember him fondly and miss the inspirational and motivational way in which he touched people’s lives.”

 

CMA Race Director, Rowyn James says, “I got to know Clive through his wife Trish during her days as the Sani Stagger organiser and more recently during my tenure here at Comrades Marathon. Clive was always willing and prepared to assist with the handing out of Green Numbers at the finish for which he will be fondly remembered and dearly missed. I always valued being able to tap into and call on the wealth of wisdom, experience and knowledge that Clive possessed. Rest well Clive, on a race well run.”

 

Fred McKenzie of Westville Athletics Club says, “The last time I chatted to Clive was when receiving my Green Number back in 2013. He was a legend and inspired many of us to aim high and achieve more. I was definitely in the company of legends back then. Our sincere condolences to Trish and his family. May he RIP.

 

Former CMA Board Member, Terence Hoskins, “It is very sad to hear of Clive’s passing. He was a legend and a true inspiration. May his soul rest in peace.”

 

Comrades Coach, Lindsey Parry says, “Such sad news. Another giant of the Comrades Marathon has fallen. It is fitting that later this week we will celebrate the Legends of Comrades of which Clive certainly is one. Rest in Peace Clive, one of the Comrades Pioneers.”

 

Comrades International Brand Ambassador, Artur Kujawinski says, “It’s very sad to hear of Comrades Green Number Legend passing away. May he rest in peace.”

 

Nedbank Running Club Manager, Nick Bester says, “It was always a pleasure to see and talk to Clive and his wife. The last time I saw Clive was at the Sani to Sea mountain bike race and we had a beer together. The Comrades family has lost a true gentleman and great ambassador.”

 

CMA Marketing Coordinator, Sifiso Mngoma says, “Heroes come and go, but legends are forever. Heartfelt condolences for a fallen Comrades Legend. May his soul rest in peace.”

 

NN Ngcobo of KwaMashu Striders Athletic Club says, “On behalf of the KwaMashu Striders Athletic Club, I would like to send my deepest condolences to the family, relatives, friends and all the athletics members. We pray God guide them and heal their wounds in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

PDAC Secretary Colleen McCann says, “The members of Pinetown & District Athletics Club convey their deepest condolences to the family of Clive Crawley on his passing. We share your sadness as we remember Clive.”

 

Emmanuel Lushaba says, “May you rest in peace Clive, we will always remember you and the effort you have shown us in this Long Run.”

 

CMA Novice Hospitality Convenor, Peter de Groot says, “Clive was a true gentleman and a legend who inspired so many of us. I was honoured to receive my Green Number from him in 2006. At the Novice Hospitality facility, we were also privileged to have him so enthusiastically sharing his experiences and his passion for the Comrades with the novices. He will be missed. RIP Clive. Heartfelt condolences to his wife and family.”

Victor Msimango of RBM says, “Sad news indeed, may His soul rest in peace.”

 

Mtunzini Athletics Club Chairman, Paul Mannix says, “Our sincere condolences to the Crawley Family. So many of our runners were inspired by Clive’s accomplishments. May he rest in peace.”

 

Gordon Pillay of Protea Striders Athletic Club says, “Our condolences go to the family of Mr Clive Crawley. Rest in peace and God be with you. From all members of team Protea Striders Athletic Club, we salute you.”

 

CMA Bailer Bus Convenor, Danny Nel says, “My condolences to the family and friends.”

 

Umgeni Water Athletic Club Chairperson, Philani Khumalo says, “Words do not suffice to express our heartfelt sorrow as the running community for the passing of Clive, the legend. Each and every athlete was inspired by what has been achieved by this noble man in athletics. Such a milestone; having run and finished 42 Comrades Marathons was truly amazing!  

Clive’s resilience and perseverance was witnessed in his 70s when he persistently participated in The Ultimate Human Race. He has indeed inspired a lot of athletes, even the generations to come will be encouraged by his great achievements. Our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends.”

 

Former CMA Chairperson, Barry Varty says, “Whereas the future is speculative, the past is factual history. The Comrades Marathon history records the absolute achievements of all who have completed this most admired and cherished South African athletic event. Since it’s inception in 1921, the Comrades Marathon has inspired thousands, and in addition to every winner, many runners have become idols and role models within the Comrades Family and can be aptly referred to as Legends. As a novice, Clive Crawley was my idol.

It was just a matter of time until I met him, where after we became personal friends. Clive provided a comprehensive set of Comrades Marathon news clip scrapbooks. These were copied and added to the ongoing accumulations of history data. The attributes of Clive Crawley, and his contribution to the Comrades Marathon in so many ways, is rightfully recorded in the annals of this iconic event. RIP Clive Crawley. Comrades Marathon idol, role model and legend.”

CLIVE CRAWLEY OBITUARY    Kenny Craig, Clive Crawley, Louis Massyn, Alan Robb

 

Rest well my friend, you’ll be missed. Thank you for your friendship of over 50 years.

 

9 June 2020

Posted in UNOFFICIAL HISTORY

VERY SPECIAL COMRADES FEATS

If you can run and finish the Comrades Marathon within the time limit it’s always been regarded as a feat but, in my saying that to complete Comrades is a feat it could be regarded as something of an oxymoron when you consider that some time ago I wrote that Comrades isn’t hard.  So what on earth am I going on about then?

It’s been said many times by many people that if Comrades was easy then everyone would do it but when you consider the number of South Africans who could fall into the category to qualify to run Comrades and you compare it to the total number in the 94 editions of the race that we’ve had since it all started in 1921, the percentage is very small so what on earth am I on about when, on the one hand I say that it’s a special feat to run this race yet on the other hand, I say it’s not hard?

Allow me to try to explain before we look at some of what I think have been very special feats we’ve seen in this event over the years.

I don’t think that Comrades itself is hard and as always, I am talking to those who run between 9 and 12 hours because that’s what I know and that’s where I have been other than two of mine where I dipped under 9  hours and I’ve written previously that the hard part of Comrades is getting to the start.  The training is hard and you need to be both physically and mentally prepared and it’s that preparation that makes it a special feat to run and finish the 90km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in decent condition.

The training takes extreme dedication over at least 6 months (and sometimes longer) and that’s the part that’s hard. That’s the part that makes it a special feat for anyone to finish this race. Race day itself to the ordinary runner who has trained properly is not hard. I always found it to be a great day in my runs, and “they” say it’s something every South African should do at least once and I totally agree but be careful because once it gets into your system, it’s very difficult to get rid of it. Certainly there can be times when you might have prepared properly and on race day you still come undone. It’s happened to me but I’m not alone. That’s when the mental training kicks in and gets you home but you go back the following year to “fix” it.

What I want to look at in this article, and this is not intended to take away anything from anyone who has run Comrades (and I’ve started and finished 14 of them) are the very special feats that have been achieved in this magical event over the years and it’s some of those I want to look at.

There have been some very special feats in Comrades, feats that in some way set themselves apart from the others and in looking at them, the one that immediately springs to mind has to be Bruce Fordyce. Eight wins in successive years, then a one year break before coming back to win his 9th, something that no other male runner has come anywhere near.

                                                        Bruce Fordyce as he’s best remembered                                                                                                                                             

 The closest to Bruce’s 9 wins was the 8 in the women’s race by Elena Nurgalieva, one of the famous Russian twins we got to know so well at Comrades.

                         Elena Nurgalieva during one of her 8 wins

 

Second to Bruce in the number of wins by men are 4 runners who have each won 5 Comrades. Arthur Newton in the 1920s, Hardy Ballington in the 1930s, Wally Hayward in the 1950s and Jackie Mekler in the 1960s.

Fordyce won his 6th Comrades to put himself ahead of all the others in 1986 and that was 33 years ago and since then nobody has come close to 5 wins let alone 9 of them. There have been a couple of 3 time winners since then but 3 is a long way short of 9!

Will we see any other runner achieve this? It’s always possible – anything is possible but if that happens it’s going to be a fairly long time away because 2019 was the start of the new “cycle” with both the winners in 2019 notching up their first wins and those few runners with 3 wins already before 2019 are going to have to work hard to better that to push those up to 4 and beyond.  

Whilst Bruce and the 5 wins group had very special achievements there have been other “very special feats” at Comrades and it’s also some of those I want to look at briefly as well.

I’m going to start by going way back to the first few Comrades. The man whose name will go down in history is Bill Rowan, winner of the first Comrades in 1921. He did a time of 8:59 which by today’s standards is pretty slow but there is a medal named after him if any runner can break 9 hours (they were introduced after I ran my sub 9 races), and that medal is symbolic of the fact that they have run a time faster than the first winner. I wonder how many runners even realise that.

Was 8:59 a very special feat in 1921? When one considers that it had never been done before, and to win a footrace over 54 miles on roads like those they had to use which were dirt almost the entire way, one has to say it was a “Very Special Feat”.

That was the only Comrades that Bill Rowan ever won but that doesn’t matter because he will forever be remembered as the first winner. Rowan ran again in 1922 and finished 3rd after having travelled from what was then known as the Belgian Congo to get to Comrades.

What was so special about those early Comrades that, incidentally, had a 12 hour time limit for the first few years? Well firstly, most of the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban was dirt. It was quite a long time before we saw tarred roads all the way from start to finish. That in itself must have been pretty tough running.

Take a look at photographs of the clothes they wore and at the shoes and you’ll understand why these were very special feats.

Bill Rowan running gear when he won in 1921

 

It’s not only Bill Rowan, the first winner of Comrades we need to salute. I wrote a blog some time ago in which I said that winning this race is no easy job although to the untrained eye it may look that way. The history of the race has literally dozens of names of runners who would dearly have loved to have been amongst those winners that some refer to as “The Winners’ Club” and some of those who didn’t quite manage it were exceptional runners in their own right but on the day, there was always someone better and membership of “The Winners’ Club” never came to them and many of those runners have been forgotten.

Amongst the men who have won, it’s a touch over 50 of them in total and 30 women have yet to win the women’s race.

Go through the list of 5 time gold medal winners who have their name and race number in perpetuity but don’t feature amongst the winners. Most people don’t have the slightest idea who they are, but having said that, to come away from Comrades with a gold medal is a very special feat.

 Arthur Newton in the 1920s

 

Make no mistake, these were all very special feats, but what of those less known that could be called “very special feats”?   An example was the 1940 win by Allen Boyce who finished just under 2 hours ahead of the 2nd placed runner. It’s extremely unlikely we’ll ever see that again.

Another very special feat was by Wally Hayward in 1953 when he became the first man to run Comrades in under 6 hours. That was a Down Run and it was another 7 years before Jackie Mekler became the first person to run the Up Run in under 6 hours. Jackie did that in winning the 1960 Comrades.

Jackie Mekler becomes the first man to run the Up Run in under 6 hours

 

Those two gentlemen who were the first to break 6 hours are sadly no longer with us but they achieved very special feats with those first ever sub 6 hour runs.

As far as the women were concerned, we had to wait 36 years after Wally Hayward did it for the first woman to run the Down Run in under 6 hours and that was Frith van der Merwe in 1989 but it was 59 years after Jackie Mekler broke 6 hours before we had our first woman to run the Up Run in under 6 hours when Gerda Steyn did this in 2019.

Frith van der Merwe after becoming the first woman to run under 6 hours

 

Some might be tempted to say that Frith’s sub 6 hour Down Run in 1989 was no big deal but it’s worth remembering that on the Down Run only three women in the history of the race have run under 6 hours and prior to 2019 no woman had run the Up Run under 6 hours until Gerda Steyn did it with a brilliant run in 2019 so Gerda’s run is certainly a very special feat and is certainly a very big deal when you realise that she is the only woman to have run under 6 hours on the Up Run.

                           Gerda Steyn on her way to the first woman to run sub 6 hour Up Run

 

Alan Robb with his 4 wins was the first man under 5 hours 30 in 1978 and he finished some 19 minutes ahead of the second placed man.

Alan Robb coming home to win

 

David Gatebe was the first, and at this stage, only man under 5 hours 20 and that was in 2016. Whilst Alan Robb’s 5 hours 30 has been broken again on both the Up and the Down runs, Gatebe’s 5:20 hasn’t yet been equalled, or bettered, in either direction and Gatebe himself hasn’t come close to that time again. 2016 just happened to be “his day”.

David Gatebe the only person to go sub 5:20 for the Down Run

 

As I said at the start, merely finishing Comrades is a feat but the performances I have outlined lift it a notch higher and allow me to include the words “Very special” in front of the word “Feats” and these are but a few of more I could mention.

There have been blind runners who have finished having to be led the entire distance either following something like a handkerchief tucked into the waistband of the shorts of the runner in front of the unsighted runner or a cord held between the blind runner and his “guide”. One of the best known unsighted runners was the Late Ian Jardine who was led mainly by Gerry Treloar,   Ian Jardine finished Comrades 14 times whilst unsighted.

Ian Jardine (left) being led by Gerry Treloar during a Comrades

 

We have seen runners having to crawl on all fours across the finishing line when their legs simply “gave in” when they were in sight of the finish line – and still finish in the gold medals.

Another very special feat was Tilda Tearle who won the race in 1993 but then went on to get a triple green number for finishing over 30 Comrades but there are also two men who have won and gone on to notch up a total of ridiculously high finishes. Alan Robb who was 4 time winner has a total of 42 medals to his credit whilst Bruce Fordyce has 30 in in his collection.

Whilst we’re looking at Very Special Feats, let’s not forget Barry Holland and Louis Massyn.  Both have run 47 consecutive Comrades. The question on everybody’s lips is who will get to that magical 50 medals first but quite honestly, I don’t think that matters. The fact that they have both run 47 consecutive medals goes way beyond simply “A Very Special Feat”

                                                   Barry Holland                                            

                                       Louis Massyn                       

 So whilst we salute each and every person who has completed Comrades within the time limit which is now 12 hours, as a feat, do yourself a huge favour and have a look at Comrades history if you want to add the “very special feats” to those of the ordinary runner.

But make no mistake, just to finish Comrades is a feat but train properly and run properly on race day, and it can be a great day out as well as a feat to brag about.

4 November 2019

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES – “THE HAT TRICK CLUB”

In the build-up to Comrades 2019, and in my blog about three time winner, Dave Bagshaw, I happened to mention what I regarded as a Hat Trick, the fact that he had won three Comrades in three successive years and that only five men and three women in total in the history of the race have been able to do this.

Shortly after I published the blog that mentioned the “hat trick”, I received a Whatsapp message from Bruce Fordyce to tell me that he had enjoyed reading the article about Dave Bagshaw (whom he knows) and that he felt proud to be a member of “The Hat Trick Club” – and so the term was born!

In the run up to the race itself, I referred to “the Hat Trick Club” quite a few times on Twitter and especially speculation as to whether we would see a 6th male member of this exclusive “club” if Bongmusa Mthembu won his third Comrades in as many years. Sadly Bongmusa had to settle for second place after a brilliant and tactical run by Edward Mothibe saw him take the win.

So for the next few years anyway, “The Hat Trick Club” will still have just 5 men and 3 women members but who are they and what makes winning three Comrades in three successive years so special?

In a previous blog some time ago, I made reference to the fact that winning Comrades is something very special irrespective of the number of Comrades a runner may have won and that there is a very long list of runners who had finished high up in the final positions but who couldn’t actually win the race and amongst them some extremely good Comrades runners.

I thought then that it would be a good idea to look at the members of this exclusive “club” that Bruce Fordyce dubbed “The Hat Trick Club” and how proud he was to be a member of that club.

So who are the members of this “club”?

The first person to win three Comrades in three successive years was Arthur Newton but he went beyond a hat trick of wins with four wins in four years in 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1925. 

There are some who might say that given the small fields in the early days of Comrades that this wasn’t a special feat but as I’ve said there is a long list of runners who were good but just not good enough to pull off the win.  Bear in mind that even Newton was beaten when he finished 2nd in 1926 and beaten by a runner who had finished in second place a few times so the argument that one runner had to be dominant with those small fields doesn’t actually work.

ARTHUR NEWTON RUNNINGArthur Newton in action

 

The runner who beat Arthur Newton in 1926 was Harry Phillips and not only did he beat Newton who finished second that year, but he also set a new “best time” (record) for the Up Run but he could only manage that one win in the years he ran Comrades.

In the first Comrades in 1921, Phillips finished second to Bill Rowan some 40 minutes behind Rowan.

Phillips was again 2nd in 1922 this time behind Arthur Newton. He was again 2nd to Newton in 1925 and he managed just that single win despite what were epic battles against Newton and it was those wins that set Newton apart in the 1920’s and gave him the 4 successive wins and the first “hat trick”.

We had to wait virtually 40 years before anyone achieved three wins in three successive years again and bear in mind some of the great Comrades runners like Hardy Ballington, his younger brother Johnny who had 5 gold medals and a best position of 2nd in 1949 but never won, Wally Hayward who ended up with 5 wins in total but no hat trick (to be fair he never ran three years in a row), Gerald Walsh with two wins and a heap of gold medals, Gordon Baker with 9 starts and 8 gold medals some of which were for 2nd place and Jackie Mekler who won 5 times but not three in three years.

All of these great runners were around in the years before we saw the second person to win three times in three successive years.

It was Dave Bagshaw in 1969, 1970 and 1971 when we saw our second Hat Trick of wins. Dave Bagshaw had his first win and as a novice also broke the record.

BAGSHAW 4Dave Bagshaw crossing the finish line in 1971

 

In 1970 Bagshaw won again and again broke the record and then his third win came in 1971 when he was just short of his own record so a hat trick of wins for him despite some intense competition from people like Dave Box, Manie Kuhn and even Jackie Mekler. Dave Bagshaw was the favourite to win his fourth Comrades in 1972 but he had to be content with second place when he was beaten by Mick Orton.

 

Next to get a hat trick of wins was Alan Robb who won in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Robb was beaten in 1979 by Piet Vorster but won again in 1980 beating Bruce Fordyce in a huge battle for the win.

ALAN ROBB 1978 FINISHAlan Robb crossing the finish line in the 1976 Down Run

 

The three wins had given him his hat trick and it was in 1978 on the Down Run that Robb became the first runner to run Comrades in under 5 hours and 30 minutes.

 

1981 and enter Bruce Fordyce. Bruce actually did a “Double Hat Trick” when he won 8 Comrades in successive years from 1981 to 1988.

Bruce Fordyce crosses the finish line in one of his many wins

 

I have little doubt that he would have made it a “triple hat trick” had he run the race in 1989 but he didn’t run in 1989 after having run (and won) a 100km race against a number of foreign so-called 100km specialists earlier in 1989 in Stellenbosch. He then came back in 1990 to win his 9th Comrades.

 

We then had to wait another 20 years for the next, and at this stage, last member of the “Hat Trick Club”. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 it was Zimbabwean, Stephen Muzhingi who was first home in those three years.

 

stephen muzhingiStephen Muzhingi in full cry

 

Muzhingi was a better than fair runner with a collection of gold medals for finishing in the top 10 both before and after his hat trick of wins.  He won gold medals in 2007 and 2008 before his first win and in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 after his third win so he in effect earned his green number in two ways. Three wins and five golds.

 

There are also three members of “The Hat Trick Club” in the women’s section of Comrades.  The first of them after women were official entrants in 1975 was Lettie van Zyl.

She won in 1976, 1977 and 1978 but before that, Lettie van Zyl had initially been the first woman finisher in 1975. She clocked 8:50 but she wasn’t recognised as the women’s winner when it was discovered she hadn’t met the qualifying standards.

Those who were around then will remember that for novices in 1975 it was a requirement that they qualify by running a standard marathon in 3 hours 30 minutes.

lettie van zylLettie van Zyl three time winner in 1976, 1977 & 1978

 

The honour of being the first official woman finisher in 1975 then went to Elizabeth Cavanagh in 10:08.   Interesting that whilst Lettie was achieving her hat trick of wins, Alan Robb achieved his hat trick in the same three years.

 

Then it was almost 10 years before our next women’s hat trick member came along. New Zealander turned South African Helen Lucre won in 1985, 1986 and 1987. 

Helen Lucre on her way to one of her three wins

 

The interesting thing about Helen is that she only started running towards the end of 1979 after she settled in Pretoria and started running just to keep fit but by the time she finished her running career, she had won every major race in the country. She was also instrumental in starting what has now grown into the Spar Ladies race and also spent many years in road running administration.

 

The last of the women’s hat trick winners – but with four wins in succession – was one of the famous Russian twins, Elena Nurgalieva who managed four wins in four years in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

elena NURGALEIVA                                                                                                                                                                                                   Elena Nurgalieva wearing her yellow number before winning her green number

 

She had a total of 8 wins and although she didn’t emulate Bruce Fordyce with his 8 wins in 8 years and 9 wins in total, her Comrades runs were an incredible performance nonetheless.

 

So in both the men’s and women’s races, our chances of another member, either male or female – of “The Hat Trick Club” is going to have to wait until, at best, 2021 because for both the winners in 2019 it was a first win and either of them would need to win the next two Comrades.

 

I said at the start of this article that we must never and can never take away anything from any winner of Comrades, it’s a fantastic achievement in anybody’s language but three wins in three successive years is very special and not easy to achieve when you consider that only 8 runners have managed it since that first Comrades in 1921 and we have now had 94 Comrades Marathons.

I mentioned the fact at the start that some people might say that it was easier to achieve a hat trick of wins in days gone by with smaller fields but it should never be forgotten that even though the winning times may have been slower than those being recorded in recent years, the competition up front was as intense as it’s ever been and irrespective of when the three wins in three successive years were run, it was a massive achievement.

 

 

June 2019  

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES THREE IN A ROW WINNER – DAVE BAGSHAW

It’s the 31st of May 1969 and the Comrades Marathon winner has just crossed the finish line in Durban to win his first Comrades in a time of 5h 45m 35s and he’s just set a new best time (record) for the Down Run.  It’s the young Savages runner, Dave Bagshaw.

Mention the name Dave Bagshaw however, to the modern day Comrades runner and you’ll probably get a blank stare in return but yet I think he was one of the really great Comrades runners with three consecutive wins to his name in 1969, 1970 & 1971.

Twice he set best times (record), first in his novice year in 1969 on the Down Run and then again in his second year in 1970 when he ran 5h 51m 27s for the Up Run.  In 1971, Dave missed breaking his own record by less than two minutes on what is generally regarded as the longest ever Comrades at 92km.

With his “Hat Trick” of wins he became only the second man after Arthur Newton in the 1920’s – and that was 40 years earlier – to achieve three wins in successive years

 Since his wins, only 3 others have managed a Hat Trick of Comrades wins in successive years, so now only 5 men in total have managed to achieve it in the 93 Comrades that have been held at this stage, and that’s the reason why I would put him in my list of really great Comrades runners. 

The 4 in addition to Dave, who have managed the “Hat Trick” of wins in successive years are Arthur Newton with 4 wins in succession in the 1920’s, Alan Robb in the second half of the 1970’s, Bruce Fordyce with his 8 wins in succession in the 1980’s and Zimbabwe’s Stephen Muzhingi won 2009, 2010 and 2011.

  BAGSHAW 5DAVE BAGSHAW, BRUCE FORDYCE & ALAN ROBB, 3 OF THE 5 RUNNERS TO ACHIEVE A HAT TRICK OF WINS

 

I was privileged to have known Dave and to have been able to run with him many times when he joined the late Ian Jardine’s group (with whom I ran for about 4 years) almost every Sunday morning to run over part of the Comrades route starting at the top of Botha’s Hill to what is now Inchanga Caravan Park, and back.  A total Sunday run, summer and winter, of 32kms.

I haven’t seen or spoken to him for many years and very recently I managed, with the help of Bruce Fordyce, to get Dave’s email address, so I wrote to him and got his response, in which he reminisced briefly about his running days and the people with whom he ran during his all too short a stay in South Africa. 

This year is 50 years since he won his first Comrades so what better time to “chat” to him than now?

I asked Dave a couple of things that I hope will give the reader a better knowledge of one of the great runners of the Comrades Marathon.

 

 

DJ:    I know you’re from the UK originally but where did you grow up and do your schooling?

 DB:    I was born and raised in Sheffield, and attended grammar school from September 1955, age 11. Earlier that year I had spent four weeks in hospital suffering from a blood disease, and the hospital doctors informed my parents I should not do any sports because of the danger of severe bruising and bleeding. Fortunately our family doctor had the view that I should be allowed to do whatever boys my age might want. Twelve months later I had a week in hospital with the same problem, and two days after discharge ran the school cross country race for my age group finishing 21 out of 130. 

 

 

DJ:    Have you had an interest in sport from a young age and when did running come into your life?

DB:    I had always enjoyed running but was unsuccessful as a child, the longest race being 100 yards at primary school. Once at secondary school, I raced cross country, quarter mile, half mile, and mile track races competing for school and club in county championships.

 

 

 DJ:     When did you discover your ability to run the longer distances?  Was that only after you came to South Africa?

DB:      While in London at University (1961 -1964) I ran for the University and continued club running after graduation running 5 and 10 mile races, and a 20 mile race in 1966, finishing sixth in 1 hour 49 minutes. Later that year the Polytechnic Marathon proved too much and poor pace judgement left me exhausted, sitting at the side of the road after 15 miles, when a kind lady pulled up and gave me a lift in her Rolls Royce to the finish.  I had met Jackie Mekler briefly, and later Tommy Malone and Manie Kuhn in 1966 when they ran the London to Brighton, seconding Manie in a race won by Bernard Gomersall. So I knew a little about Comrades before I came to SA.

 

 

DJ:      Your stay in South Africa was relatively short. Was that always the intention to be here for a short time?

DB:     I worked as a volunteer lecturer at a college in Northern Nigeria from January to December 1967 arriving in Durban just before Christmas to visit my wife’s relations. After our voluntary service we had asked for tickets to fly to Durban rather than back to the UK, intending to stay a few months and then return home via East Africa. I met Manie again, joined the running fraternity with Savages, got a job and stayed much longer than we had originally intended

 


DJ:       Had you heard about the road running “scene” in South Africa before you came to live here?

DB:      Yes and I loved the friendliness, support, comradeship I experienced on arrival. I was made so welcome and on joining Savages I remember my wife sewing the SAVAGES name onto my vest by the dashboard light as we were driven to Stanger for my first race in the club colours.

 

 

 DJ:      I have often told people that I had the privilege of running with you on those Sunday morning training runs with Ian Jardine’s group. Those runs were very slow but yet you sometimes joined them.  What was your training strategy in your Comrades build up because it seems that LSD (long slow distance) was part of it? 

DB:      My first few races showed improvement after relatively little running whilst in the heat of Nigeria, but I was constantly getting injured, resting and recovering, racing again, injured again, another recovery, another race and yet another injury. It was suggested I train slowly for a few weeks, take things easy, to maintain strength and fitness while putting little stress on my body. Running with Ian’s group was what I needed. At first it seemed very slow but the friendly chat and humorous conversation made it enjoyable and introduced me to a more relaxed training routine than I had experienced in England. After that I rarely suffered any injury.

 

 

DJ:       It’s 50 years since you won your first Comrades and I remember talking to you at the start that morning and you were very calm despite the fact that less than 6 hours later you will have won and set the record. Despite the calm exterior, do you remember what was going on in your thinking?

DB.      In the 1969 Comrades, most people didn’t think I had the strength or the experience, to be successful. At the start I felt at ease even though I had been awake most of the night with excitement. As usual I felt lacking in energy, hardly able to warm up, but knew I would be fine once we were running. No race plan, but going to play it by ear, and not be overawed by the reputations of others.  As I joined the line-up I found myself pushed to the front rank, and patiently waited for Max Trimborn’s cock crow and the gun.

BAGSHAW 1DAVE BAGSHAW WITH HIS FAMILIAR RUNNING ACTION DURING COMRADES

 

 

DJ:     You were up against some seriously strong competition in your first Comrades with people like Jackie Mekler who already had 5 wins, Manie Kuhn, the defending Down Run champion, Dave Box, a former 100 mile World record holder, Gordon Baker, who had a whole lot of gold medals in his collection. ….and here you were a novice to Comrades

DB:    A novice yes. But I had seconded Bernard Gomersall in 1968, Manie in the 1966 Brighton, and raced Manie, Dave, and Gordon over shorter distances. Most people didn’t give me chance, and I heard a spectator near the Lion Park, seeing me at the front of the group, say “What does Dave think he’s doing? Does he think he can win this?” but I was feeling quite comfortable.

 

 

DJ:     You and the others in the lead pack went out hard from the start but one by one the other big names fell back. By the time you got to Pinetown it looked pretty certain you would win. Did you have that feeling despite the fact that you still had the better part of 20 kms to go? What had happened earlier in the race to lead to that?

DB:    After Drummond, Dave Box and I were running together and as we approached Alverston I noticed that I was a couple of yards ahead, so slowed so we were running side by side again. Then that small gap appeared again so I decided to run at my own comfortable pace, be unconcerned and let others wonder or worry whether they could catch me. Somewhere near the Botha’s Hill Hotel Vernon Jones and his family were watching. His wife and daughter enthusiastically shouted encouragement, while Vernon was very quiet. I found out later that he believed I had blown my chances by taking the lead so early and had been told not to say anything that might put me off.

 

 

BAGSHAW 2  WITH HIS SECOND DURING COMRADES

DJ:   You were always very strong mentally and if I remember correctly, you used that successfully against competitors in races. I remember you telling me how you beat John Tarrant (known as the Ghost Runner in South Africa) in the London to Brighton purely by a mental approach.  Do you remember that year and how you did that, especially with Tarrant?

DB:   In the London to Brighton in 1969 John Tarrant led early on and opened a gap approaching a minute. He set a fast pace and I knew that if he was allowed to settle down and relax he could be difficult to catch, so I didn’t let his lead increase. His second (his brother I think) was informing him of his lead, every mile or two and when it wasn’t getting bigger he increased his pace a little. As he went faster so did I, steadily reducing the gap between us until I caught him and tried to pass. I caught him at 20 miles (1 Hour 56mins 21secs).   He speeded up, I dropped behind then tried again and again he wouldn’t let me pass. This happened several times, and eventually we were running side by side for a mile or two until he yielded the lead, fell back and soon dropped out.  A few weeks later he set a new world 100 mile record.

 

 

DJ:    At one time you held both the Up and Down records and you are one of only a handful of runners with 3 consecutive wins. Did you have a preferred run if you had to choose between Up and Down? 

DB:      Perhaps I had a slight preference for the Down Run for the larger crowds towards Durban, but I appreciated the hills on the Up Run as a challenge and opportunity. When Mick Orton left me just after Drummond in 1972 he gained less than six minutes over the second half of the race. A large gap and I was well beaten yet I think few could have limited the lead as much over that distance.

 

 

BAGSHAW 4COMING HOME TO WIN THE 1971 COMRADES

DJ:     Who was your toughest competition in Comrades and I’ve already mentioned people like Mekler, Kuhn, Box, Baker and Davey…..?

DB:     Dave Box was tough and I always knew he was going to be there if I faltered. And of course Mick Orton.  My time in 1972, was the third fastest Up Run but a long way behind him. (Ed. Note:  Dave finished 5 minutes behind Orton that day and the two faster times to which he refers were Orton’s time in 1972 and Dave’s own time in 1970)

 

 

DJ:     You went back to live in the UK before the 1973 Comrades, but if I remember, you did come back to run again. When was that and how seriously did you take any Comrades after moving to the UK?

DB:    I came back in 1975 for the 50th race after doing relatively little training for two years, running a few road relays, the odd marathon, and two Brighton’s finishing third and sixth when untrained for ultras. I was determined to run well, hoped to be competitive and offer a serious challenge.  Things were going well when I ran a 2.26 marathon on a very hilly course.  Shortly after, in April 1975, I had a fall, all my weight on my right knee severely damaging the patella. Treatment five days a week followed, very limited training, and the consultant instructing that I could start but must not take painkillers and to drop out if I suffered much pain. My hopes shattered, I ran, finished in 7.00 in 82nd place and had a different Comrades experience, enjoying the camaraderie, encouragement and support of those not competing for the gold medals.  When I returned with my silver medal, the medics expressed astonishment as they hadn’t expected me to make it beyond three miles.

 

 

DJ:      You are still running albeit a lot slower than your days here.  Have you never really stopped running after leaving South Africa and if not, did you remain competitive when you returned to the UK.

DB       I continued running a little after a long period of recuperation, and turned to canoeing and skiing. In the early 80’s I ran a few half marathons and marathons, two London Marathons, before a knee operation, and the increasing occurrence of my blood disease proved too limiting. I still run, little and slowly, and enjoy a hill session every Saturday with people over forty years younger, doing fewer, slower, shorter reps.

 


DJ:      And finally, I remember a funny story about a fitting for a suit you went to buy after that first Comrades and the tailor suggesting that you should do some exercise to build yourself up because he was having some trouble finding a suit with the right fit.  Tell me about that. 

DB:   The tailor had commented on my slim build and needed to alter the trousers to fit. The conversation went something like this:

            “You should have run the Comrades”

            “I did”            

            “Did you finish?”

            “Yes.”

            “What time did you do.?”  

            “5.45”

            “You must have won” 

            “I did”

He was astonished and embarrassed and I was offered a free tie.

 

That then is Dave Bagshaw, a man I put into my list of really great Comrades runners and incidentally, one of the nicest people you could hope to meet.  The man who wore race number 303 – aren’t those bullets?  The way this man ran Comrades certainly looked like it!

READ DAVE’S RACE REPORT THAT HE WROTE FOR SAVAGES ATHLETIC CLUB AFTER HIS FIRST WIN in 1969.  CLICK HERE.

 

31 May 2019

 

Posted in UNOFFICIAL HISTORY

COMRADES – MODEST TO MEGA

One dictionary definition of the word modest states “Moderate or limited in size” and whilst Comrades had started in 1921 and was very modest, it had many exciting tussles by those runners winning in those early days and we had the first three of the five time winners in Arthur Newton, Hardy Ballington and Wally Hayward all by the early fifties as well as the slowest winning time set by Bill Rowan in 8:59 when he won the first Comrades in 1921.

bill rowan (2)

We’ve seen a couple of very close finishes. Phil Masterton-Smith beat Noel Burree by 2 seconds in 1931 and Manie Kuhn beat Tommy Malone (who had won in 1966), by just one second in 1967. The biggest winning margin was set by Allen Boyce by almost 2 hours in 1940 but it was really only in 1959 that the transformation to what we have today slowly started.

It was in 1959 that entries went to 100 for the first time and spectators at the finish to around 200.  It was also around that time that we started to see spectator interest from parts of South Africa other than the Durban and Pietermaritzburg areas of this “thing” held annually. 

Runners had been travelling to Natal to take part in Comrades from the early days and there had been non Natal winners (Bill Rowan was the first one) but interest was fairly low.  The same spectators in small numbers came out every year to watch what was simply called “The Marathon” by locals.

It was the sixties when the changes really started to happen and by the end of that decade entries were up to 1000 although it was fairly lonely running at times.

COMRADES 1968

I don’t remember exactly where this photograph was taken but it was during my first Comrades in 1968 and not too many other runners around me.

It was also in the sixties that we saw the first foreign runners in the form of a team of four Englishmen running for the Road Runners Club in England up against a South African team.  The fairly small band of Comrades supporters had always regarded Comrades as a South African owned event so it was a major dent to the ego when Englishman John Smith won the race.

JOHN SMITH 1962

He led the rest of his English team to four of them in the top five with Jackie Mekler, the sole South African in the top five. Jackie himself told me years later that he misjudged that race very badly and ran like a novice and by that time he already had a couple of wins to his credit!

It wasn’t until the early seventies that interest from the UK was seen again when a team from Tipton Harriers arrived and against all odds, Mick Orton won the race beating Savages favourite Dave Bagshaw who had won the previous three races.

DAVE BAGSHAW

Bagshaw was a superb runner and his wins in 1969, 1970 and 1971 during which he set a course “record” twice showed just how good a runner he was.

Orton was back again in 1973 to defend his title but failed dismally in his attempt to repeat his win, so Comrades became the property of South Africa again when Dave Levick was first home. Levick, from UCT, was also the first university student to win Comrades.

Orton, incidentally had something like an 11 minute lead going through Pinetown with about 20km left to run. He was caught and passed by Gordon Baker and with just a few Kms left it looked as though Baker was going to get that elusive win. He was in the lead and could virtually “smell” home but it was Levick who came through to win, leaving Gordon Baker with yet another gold medal to his collection. In 9 Comrades, Baker had 8 gold medals but was never able to achieve his dream of a winner’s medal.

Orton, after his 11 minute lead with about 20km to go, finished in 5th place.

The 50th Comrades in 1975 was certainly the year that changed everything.

The first thing that troubled the organisers was whether the “old road” could handle more than 1500 runners. It was (and still is) narrow and with seconds’ vehicles on the road, it was a major problem. Organisers limited the field to 1500 with the requirement that novices had to qualify with a marathon time of 3:30 or better. Interesting that we all thought we would have to qualify in under three and a half hours so most of us ran our best marathons at that time.  I ran my three best times when I thought I would have to qualify in under 3:30.

That wasn’t the only thing that happened in 1975. Organisers approached the SAAAU, the controlling body of athletics in South Africa at the time and after numerous discussions, the powers that be allowed Comrades to be open to all races instead of only white males between 18 and 65 as had been the case previously and also to women.

The one thing very few of us could understand and it still remains a mystery to me, is why black runners were required to wear ethnic tags denoting “Zulu” or “Xhosa”, etc.  An embarrassment to everybody.

Comrades survived the seventies and the second half of the decade saw the race dominated by Alan Robb who was the first person to finish the Down Run in under 5:30.

ALAN ROBB 1978 FINISH

All the while the entries grew and at the end of the seventies the roads really were too busy, but there were no further limit on the number of runners, so only one other thing could be done.

Get rid of vehicles from the road and so we saw the introduction of refreshment stations and after a few years a total ban on motor vehicles except those with special permission to be there such as the media.

By this time TV was becoming firmly entrenched in South Africa and in the second half of the seventies, the SABC staged a race in central Johannesburg that was screened live and the numbers of runners started to explode as the sport sparked the imagination of “ordinary people” who took to the roads. 

Then came the eighties and the Fordyce era and Bruce’s persona did a huge amount to swell the fields even more but as we were still in isolation the runners were all South African.

FORDYCE

The early nineties saw the start of the political change in the country and in 1993, the German runner, Charly Doll took advantage, came to Comrades and won it.  1994 and American, Alberto Salazar did the same thing. 

NICK IN COMRADES

After that for a few years South Africans claimed the race back with wins by Shaun Mieklejohn in 1995 and Charl Matteus in 1997 but then came the late nineties and the wave of runners from Eastern Europe and particularly Russia dominated.

By the time 2000 arrived, Comrades had moved another step forward with the appointment of a woman, the late Alison West as Chairperson and marketing got under way for the 2000 Comrades.  The finish was moved to Scottsville racecourse in Pietermaritzburg to accommodate the numbers expected and numbers there were.  

24,000 people entered “The Millennium Run” and at the same time the time limit for the race was increased to 12 hours to allow as many people as possible to finish and earn that precious medal.  Russia’s Vladimir Kotov won the 2000 event and the Russian dominance continued for years.

The race has continued to grow and for the 2019 race there have been 25,000 entrants. The entries sold out in 6 days, such is the popularity of Comrades now.  The 12 hour time limit has given the “ordinary” runner who could never have dreamt of running and finishing Comrades in the 11 hour time limit as it was previously, the opportunity to be part of it.

I’ve seen all but three Comrades Marathons since 1956 and I have watched the race grow and the changes taking place as we moved into the modern era of online entries, the Expo and highly professional refreshment stations providing virtually anything and everything a runner might want. That’s a far cry from the early days when runners had their own seconds and when those seconds were stuck in traffic jams which has always been the case on Comrades day.

I remember in my first Comrades in 1968, my second arranging to meet me in Westville for my first drink – if he could get there, but if not it would have to be in Pinetown.  20Kms to my first drink but I didn’t think anything of it. That’s the way things were then.

So Comrades has gone from a very modest race in 1921 with just 16 finishers of the 34 who started to what we have today where we expect around 19,000 or even 20,000 to start this year.

We have seen the time for the first Comrades which was a Down Run, won in 8 hours 59 minutes to the fastest time for the Down Run set in 2016 by David Gatebe in 5:18:19 and that’s going to take some beating.

DAVID GATEBE

That’s an indication of the way the race has changed and grown.

The medical facilities at Comrades have gone from none in the early days to the biggest temporary medical facility in the world outside of a war, disaster or conflict zone and with radio contact between ambulances on the road and the finish medical facility. The medical facility at the finish has around 45 Interns, 20 or more medical doctors, over 10 specialists and over 20 nurses working in the tent and that’s apart from the medical staff on the road.

Old Mutual Underprivileged Runners Project 2017

Comrades has certainly gone from “Modest to Mega” but was it better back then when things were a lot more “personal” because of the size of the fields or is it better now?  The answer to that is easy.

Yes it is – and the reason I answer that way is because each Comrades is unique. Each with its own stories of the heroes and heroines who win and the “gladiators” who finish a lot further back.

We look forward eagerly to the 2021 race which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Comrades in 1921, but that’s not the only thing we have to look forward to.  2025 will be the 100th running of this amazing “happening” (the race wasn’t run during the Second World War) that we call the Comrades Marathon. 

A “happening” because for the vast majority of the runners it isn’t a race against anyone else. They race against themselves and the clock and it matters not where anyone else finishes. The average runner leaves the racing to the fantastic runners up at the front. Those who re-write the history books every year.

For the rest of the field, it is an event that is much more than just another road race. In many instances it’s a life changing experience that can’t be explained to anyone who has never run it.

For the last 5 years Comrades has been in the hands of its Race Director Rowyn James who has done a fine job with this very special event.

Photo Rowyn James for souv mag

The advantage that Rowyn has is that he is a 15 time finisher of the race himself and he knows what the runners want from every facet of Comrades.

They train for months and complete hundreds of kilometres in training and in races just so that they can go home with that precious medal.

20151130_163928

That’s the “happening” that’s gone from “Modest to Mega in the last 100 years.

 

 

February 2019

Posted in PERSONAL OPINION

COMRADES – THE GREAT LEVELLER :

A little over 50 years ago, shortly before I ran my first Comrades, I read an article in a Durban newspaper entitled “Comrades – The Great Leveller” and over the years since then, I have often thought about that article as various things have happened during this race.  I have seen race leaders with a substantial lead just 20km from the finish end up just scraping into the gold medals or not finishing at all and I wonder how many people, both runners and spectators have ever thought about the subject of that article?

A couple of years ago, Comrades themselves used the theme “It Will Humble You” and I wrote something at the time in which I expressed my thoughts about how this event can in fact humble one.

I was challenged by someone who said that a road race and especially Comrades, can’t humble anyone but yet the very person who challenged me has been humbled by Comrades and when I sit down and think about it, I know of many more people who have been humbled by Comrades.

I am just one of those who has been humbled by this race on more than one occasion but the biggest lesson I got was in 1976 when I was going for my best time. I had trained for it and I knew I could do it but just a few minutes over 3 hours into the race I ran into trouble in the form of cramp.

Prior to that I had never suffered from cramp (as opposed to sore and stiff muscles) while running and this was my 9th Comrades so there was absolutely no reason for it to have happened that day – but it did and I ended up running just over two hours slower than I had planned, and my second half was slower than the winner that year (it was Alan Robb who won in 5:40:39) took to run the entire race.

ALAN ROBB 1978 FINISH

If that is not being humbled I don’t know what is and I know of many runners who can tell you stories of how they “came undone” in Comrades and ended up either not finishing or having serious problems on the road and finishing a lot slower than they had planned. 

I could rattle off a long list of names but I won’t because it doesn’t take a lot of thought to go back through the history of Comrades and to find many of the people who have suffered the indignity of being humbled by this road race.

Comrades is bigger than any of us when that gun is fired to start the race.

So back to where I started when I said that Comrades can be regarded as the great leveller but what exactly does that mean?

Well, as I see it, and this can be seen almost every year when Comrades organisers take the number of people who have entered and publish the jobs and professions of the runners and how many people fall into each category and you’ll find some of the entrants are company directors or well-known surgeons or some other equally elevated profession many of which come with a reasonably high social status.

At the other end of the scale, you find manual labourers, waiters and, sadly, unemployed people but the big thing is that when that gun fires to start Comrades, every one of those people are equal and their position in life and the amount of money they have and their fame mean absolutely nothing.

On the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the top surgeon in the country, if he’s running, could find himself spending many hours running alongside, talking to and bonding with the lowest paid person in the race and what they are in life and the status they might have means nothing at all. Not a thing and in many cases it’s probably unlikely that they’ll even bother to ask each other about their status in life. They have far more important things to think about on Comrades day.

CAMPERDOWN

They are all exactly the same as they struggle together up the hills in Comrades and as they share their thoughts about the race and stop together at a refreshment station for that well deserved drink.

It doesn’t end there though. It is completely possible that the labourer and his boss could start together but it is also completely possible that the labourer finishes a good few hours ahead of his boss. Whatever position the boss might hold in the company compared to that of the labourer means nothing – absolutely nothing – on that road when Comrades is held.

So basically what I am getting at, is that it matters not what position or so-called social status you may hold in life or how much money you might have in the bank and how fancy a house you might live in and how expensive a car you might drive, all those things mean nothing.  On Comrades day everybody is equal where all your wealth and status, or perceived lack of it, count for nothing. 

All that matters is that you all get to the finish and the fancy house in which you live and the fancy car you drive and your big salary aren’t going to help you to get to the finish ahead of the runner who has none of those things.

Go to the finish or even sit at the side of the road to watch the race and watch the runners and nobody asks them how much or how little they earn when they offer to help each other to reach their goal. Those runners are simply “comrades” together on that day.

Imagine what a wonderful place South Africa would be if everybody in the country behaved towards each other in the same way as they do on Comrades day. 

I don’t think it matters whether you’re a gold medallist or whether you scrape home just before the 12 hour gun, on Comrades day I believe everyone is equal and I think it can best be summed up by Caroline Wostmann who won the women’s race in 2015 and had that awful run in 2016 and although she finished second, something that many people would be happy to do, she said   “When I crossed the finish line I learnt that winning is not about coming first but rather about challenging yourself to the limit, pushing the boundaries and walking away from the experience a better, stronger person.”

Every runner has the same distance to cover, the same hills to climb, the same refreshment stations to use and the same stiff and sore legs.  It matters not one bit who or what you are on Comrades day or what colour skin you might have because every single person in that race (and I’m not talking about athletic ability here) is exactly the same. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that Comrades is the great leveller.

Posted in COMRADES ADVICE

RESPECT COMRADES. IT’S FUN BUT NO JOKE :

So your Comrades entry for 2019 is in and you’ve had confirmation from the organisers that they’ve received it – so now what? 

Easy.  All you now have to do is to run a qualifier before the beginning of May and pitch up at the start of Comrades on the 9th of June, but is it really that simple?

With the right approach, I think it is, and I honestly think that the right approach is not hard to achieve.

During the last couple of years I’ve asked myself the question, more than once, whether my relationship with the Comrades Marathon is a passion or an obsession.  I don’t really know what the answer is because the two words are pretty closely related except that one of them conjures up thoughts that are not quite as nice as the other but look at the dictionary and you will find that the word “emotion” features in both definitions so I guess it doesn’t matter too much which it is.

Suffice to say that I have a pretty deep feeling about that strip of tarmac between KZN’s two cities and I am not able to explain it but ridicule the race or don’t treat it with the respect it deserves and I won’t treat you with the sympathy you would perhaps like if you run it and come horribly “unstuck” during the race. This isn’t something new. I’ve felt this way going back as long as I can remember to my very early days to when I first started running Comrades.

Go into Comrades with no respect for the race, come undone and suffer badly and it’s your problem and you’ll get no sympathy from me and I was sitting thinking about the way I feel about people who take part in the race and who, especially in their first run, don’t take it seriously.  It doesn’t often happen to people who have run it more than once. Those people have learnt that Comrades deserves respect and they give it the respect it deserves.

I have often heard novices say they are really scared and my reaction is always that they shouldn’t be scared of Comrades but if they are properly prepared both physically and mentally for Comrades they need to respect it but not fear it. To my mind there’s a very big difference.

I have never feared Comrades but I have certainly respected it.  I have run it 14 times, finished it within the time limit all 14 times and respected it every time and I believe that’s how I was able – even when I suffered badly – to finish the race and to go home with my Comrades medal every time a ran.

Some people regard it as something of a giggle when they enter and right up to the start and even into the race and perhaps even as far as the first 30km or so and until they start to hurt just that little bit when the first of the hills starts to “talk” to them and there is a tiny change of opinion. Comrades has put people into hospital and ICU with such things as renal failure and which sadly in some cases has even claimed the lives of runners who have gone into Comrades perhaps not as prepared as they should be because they think they know better.

In days gone by when we were asked where Comrades started the answer was always “at the 60km mark because anyone can run that. It’s the rest of it that’s the problem” and that’s always been and still is the case.  I was driving between Durban and Pietermaritzburg recently and when I got to Cato Ridge I had visions of my own Comrades days of getting there and remembering what it felt like to be there and that sometimes that feeling of despair knowing there was still over 25km to go and that I was tired but at the same time I was fit and had trained for this.

I heard recently about one entrant who had a longest run of a qualifying marathon in a time of around 4:14 which she considered made her a fast runner and as a result she intended starting Comrades fairly fast. She had no intention of studying the route or listening to anyone talking about the dangers of the first 25km of the Up Run or the first 20km of the Down Run because she felt she didn’t need to do this.  She also saw no need to run any other long runs in preparation for Comrades. She had done a 42Km run and done it quickly!   Somebody should have mentioned to her that a 4:14 marathon isn’t exactly quick and that it’s pretty average and slightly slower that 6 minutes per km!

Unless she is Supergirl in disguise, that particular lady was going to be in for a very long and painful day on Comrades day if she is able to make it past the 60km mark which seemed doubtful.  I had a problem feeling sorry for her. That sort of arrogance didn’t deserve any sort of sympathy.  The problem however is that she could have become a negative statistic that Comrades really doesn’t need. I have no idea whether she finished that year or not.

I have often heard people say “If Comrades was easy then everyone would do it” but not everyone does it because it’s not easy.  Speak to cyclists and many will tell you that they stick to cycling because it’s easier than running.  I am an avid Twitter follower and there was a Tweet I really enjoyed by someone I don’t know that appeared that read

“Running is stupidly hard.  It’s worth doing once in a while to remind oneself how good an idea the bicycle is”

He said it – not me!

I know one young lady who, a couple of years ago claimed to be very fit and I think she was, so she entered for, and completed, the Iron Man in Port Elizabeth.   I’m told that this event is very tough and you are quite something if you can complete it.

About six weeks later she took part in Comrades. She ended up in ICU in hospital for 4 days with renal failure.  No problem with Iron Man. Comrades put her into ICU.

Comrades is not a joke and it should never be treated as a joke.  I have seen some very sick people at the finish of Comrades.

The Comrades doctor told me that the majority of the people treated in the medical tent at the finish of the race suffer from exhaustion as a result of under training yet we see runners year after year treating this race as something of a joke.

 

The wakeup call on Comrades day I would imagine, is when you realise that after your qualifier distance, you are only at around half way, and you have the same distance to do again and then a little bit more all on the same day.  Sure you need to be mentally strong but if you are physically weak for distance running from not training properly, then your mental strength has nothing with which to work.

In 2016, the Comrades banner was “Comrades – It Will Humble You” and there are thousands of us who have been humbled by this race and who have prepared properly and it’s still happened.

I clearly remember the 1976 Comrades and I was probably fitter than I had ever been.  I had run my best ever in 1975 and I was aiming to do even better in 1976. It was a Down Run and I was on schedule at Cato Ridge at around the 30km mark but by the far end of Harrison Flats, just a few kilometres further I felt a niggle in the muscle at the top of my right knee that definitely shouldn’t have been there.

I wasn’t too worried about it, but by the time I got to Drummond I had decided to adjust my finish time by an hour that would still give me a comfortable 9 hours although the muscle was getting worse.

Alan Robb won his first Comrades that year and I ran the second half quite a bit slower than Alan had run the entire race because of that muscle at the top of my knee and that in the year I was aiming for my best ever Comrades.

I understand fully what the 2016 Comrades banner read “Comrades – It Will Humble You”.  It certainly humbled me in 1976.  I was over two hours slower than the time I knew I could run and the time I had set out to run all because of a muscle at the top of my knee.

The question I ask myself then is how am I supposed to feel about these people who have no respect for this thing which is something that for me is such a passion and for which I and so many others who have run that road many times have such respect?

If you’re reading this and you’re going to be running your first Comrades this year and fear is starting to build up as you read, please don’t let fear be there. I have said to many runners and particularly to many novice runners that they shouldn’t fear Comrades but they should certainly respect it.  That they should respect it whether it’s their first Comrades, their 10th Comrades or their 20th.

I have taken people to see Comrades as spectators.  People who have never seen the race before and the reaction has been amazing but usually along the lines of “how do they do it”?

It doesn’t matter how many times one has run it, one should always respect it because Comrades is bigger than any of us and it deserves our respect.

 

November 2018

Posted in PERSONAL OPINION

TO WIN COMRADES :

The more I have written about Comrades in this blog and in other articles over the years and the more I have spoken to winners over the years the more I have realised just what an enormous achievement it is to win Comrades.

Think about this. At the time I write this, we have had 93 Comrades Marathons starting with that very first one way back in 1921 and we have had just 51 different men’s winners.

Pause for a moment to let that sink in.  In 92 races we have had 51 different winners. That tells us just what an enormous achievement it is to win Comrades. Only 51 men have been able to win this race.

Obviously there have been the multi race winners but that takes nothing away from those who are single race winners when you think of the very long list of those who would dearly love to win this race but have just not been able to do so.  Those who have had to be content to go home year after year with a gold medal but no winner’s medal.

Make no mistake though, to go home with a gold medal is still something pretty special.

The trouble is, that whilst it is very special to win a gold medal or a collection of gold medals people tend to forget the person who finishes second, no matter what the sporting event is.

To demonstrate what I mean, Hardy Ballington, who was a five time winner and who is remembered for that achievement, had a younger brother John, who won 5 gold medals in Comrades with a best position of second in 1949.  Does anyone remember that?  

He wore race number 26 and that was long ago reallocated to the late Ian Jardine who turned it green so even the “honour” of getting a green number for John’s five golds for the number he wore was lost because things were different.

Green numbers were first introduced in 1972 so John Ballington’s number 26 had been reallocated long after he stopped running and long after the concept of permanent numbers for 5 gold medals was even thought of.

I have tried to find somewhere that John Ballington’s 5 gold medals are recognised and I haven’t been able to do so.  He wasn’t a winner – he came second and had a collection of gold medals!

I think also of that fantastic runner from Collegians Harriers in Pietermaritzburg, Gordon Baker. Many runners from the modern era won’t even know the name.  Gordon ran Comrades nine times and won eight gold medals but just couldn’t win the race itself.  The result is that today he’s basically forgotten by most people except those of us who knew him from way back when. 

I have been privileged to have met many of the winners since the sixties and when you speak to these chaps they’re ordinary people and most of them quiet and unassuming – until you see a few of them gathered together and you realise that there’s a bond that holds them together.

That bond that says “We’ve won Comrades” and they don’t have to actually say a word, it’s just there.  A magic in the air that you can feel and almost touch. 

I heard Bruce Fordyce recently refer to the Winner’s Trophy jealously as “Our Trophy” and he made it clear that they don’t actually want just any name on that trophy and if your name is on there you have to earn the right to have your name there and he wasn’t being big headed about the way in which he said it although he had every right to be so. 

It’s a very special club and not just anyone can join and from what I’ve seen as an outsider looking in, it doesn’t matter how many Comrades they’ve won to be recognised by the members of that “special club” they all seem to be equal in each other’s eyes.  All that matters is that they’ve won.

I have had people tell me that it was easier in the “old days” to win Comrades when the fields were smaller and slower but I think that’s rubbish.  Maybe the fields were smaller and slower but there were challenges of different sorts that made winning just as big an achievement as it is today.

Some of the biggest winning margins were recorded in “the old days” when the fields were very small but so too were the two closest finishes in the history of the race when fields were much smaller than they are today so that sort of throws that argument out the window.

I remember that after the 2016 Comrades I organised a dinner with Alan Robb and Tommy Malone and the reason for the dinner is that it was 60 years since the year I had first seen Comrades, 50 years since Tommy had won his Comrades and 40 years since Alan had won his first Comrades so I thought that it had some significance – the 40 – 50 – 60 year celebration.

TOMMY MALONE 1966 FINISH

It was a very pleasant evening indeed and with Tommy’s daughter and son-in-law who were also present and who have also run, there was a total of something around 80 Comrades medals between us but the focus was on Tommy and Alan who were winners. The rest of us didn’t really count.

At my 70th birthday party last year the theme was Comrades Marathon (could there have been anything else) and amongst the guests there were a total of exactly 100 Comrades medals and that included two winners.  They were the two people on whom the attention was focused. The rest of who had run just happened to be there and it was my birthday party!

Winning Comrades is a huge achievement.

I have seen 59 Comrades Marathons at the time of writing this and I am looking forward to seeing my 60th in June this year and recently I was given an old DVD of the 1979 and 1982 Comrades which were won by the late Piet Vorster and Bruce Fordyce respectively.

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I sat watching this DVD and I was reminded again of the speed at which those two guys had to run to win Comrades.  It’s simply mind blowing and I have seen a lot of Comrades and I still marvel at the speed at which the front runners go and for the distance at which they have to run it.

For many years when I was reporting the race for 702 Talk Radio I was on the road alongside the front runners and it was fascinating to see the strategies  and to watch as one by one they faded and the favourites came through. Then you would hear comments such as “Fordyce is starting to make his move” or “Fordyce is starting to come through”. 

bRUCE WINS

Bruce was an amazingly strategic runner and from where I was, it always looked to me – and I may well have been wrong – that he let the others come back to him.  Sure he seemed to increase his speed a bit in the second half but the others did most of the work for him – or so it seemed as I watched and I have heard him say this in talks he has given. He let them come back to him.

I remember one year I had that great athlete Sydney Maree as a passenger in the 702 car with me and we were on Harrison Flats following the leader who was on his own out in front and Sydney said to me “Do you think he’s looking good”.

I said “Nope. He’s just blown. Watch. In about 1km he’ll be walking and in 2km he’ll be out”.  That particular runner was another who thought he was going to win when he was some 30km out but who wasn’t even going to go home with a medal of any sort and he didn’t!

It’s a huge achievement to win Comrades and not just anyone can do it!

After the 2016 Comrades when David Gatebe became the first person to run under 5:20 and we were told that his average speed was 3 minutes 33 seconds per km for the entire 89kms someone asked me at what speed I had run in my best Comrades.  Not knowing the exact distance of the 1975 race when I ran my best time of 8:29 I guessed it was around 5mins 50secs per km and I am pretty damn proud of that. It was a huge effort for me.

DAVID GATEBE

But when you think of David Gatebe’s 3:33 per km you suddenly realise just what an incredible achievement it is to win Comrades.  At my best I wasn’t able to run even one km at David’s speed let alone 89 of them one after the other!

So before you watch Comrades from in front of your TV and grab for another beer as the winner comes in and you salute him as though what he’s done was no big deal or you hear about his win when you still have the better part of 40km still to go on your journey to Moses Mabhida Stadium on the 10th of June, pause for just a moment to consider exactly what this man and all the winners before him have done.

It’s one hell of an achievement.

Will this year’s winner become the 52nd winner or will the number remain at 51 because on the day, there is nobody new who is able to qualify to get his name on the trophy that Bruce Fordyce jealously regards as “Our Trophy”?

And rightly so. It’s very special that trophy.

 

April 2018

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

PIET VORSTER – ALMOST DIDN’T START TO COMRADES CHAMP

Ask me which are the highlight years of my Comrades involvement years and there are many but one of them will be 1979 for a variety of reasons not least of which is that I was on the Comrades organising committee when it was still organised by a sub-committee of Collegians Harriers and made up of just 5 of us and it was also the first time in 30 years that we had a Comrades winner from Pietermaritzburg.  The last time that had happened was when Reg Allison won in 1949.

The interesting thing is that this was in fact the first ever win by a Collegians Harriers runner as the club was originally known as Maritzburg Harriers Athletic Club. During 1950 the club became a sub-section of Collegians Club and only then the name changed to Collegians Harriers so when Reg Allison won Comrades in 1949, Collegians Harriers didn’t actually exist.

Piet Vorster went into the record books as that first Collegians Harrier and many would say against all odds but was that really the case?  Those of us in Collegians Harriers firmly maintain that it wasn’t against the odds. After many years I caught up with Piet and we went back to those far off years when this all happened.

Piet Vorster 20170615_165606

DJ:      Before we get to Comrades 1979, how many had you run before that and how had you gone in those?

PV:     I ran my first one in 1971 whilst still at university in Pretoria and then it was on and off until I got to 1978 and finished in 4th place in the year that Alan Robb ran that brilliant sub 5:30 and I realised then that I should really take Comrades seriously. The year before that though, in 1977 I had finished 24th and that was the first bit of encouragement I had.

In total I ran 14 Comrades over a 24 year period.

           

DJ:      I’ve seen one author who has written that it took you 7 years to win Comrades.  What did he mean by that because it doesn’t sound like it to me? 

PV:     I have absolutely no idea because until my 24th place in 1977 and my 4th place in 1978 I hadn’t really taken Comrades that seriously and it was only after those two and in particular the 1978 4th place that I realised that I had the potential to win Comrades. So that I took 7 years to win Comrades I don’t know about, unless he’s saying that it was 7 years from the time of my first one to my win, but even that isn’t right because it was 8 years and in my early years of Comrades the thought of gold let alone winning didn’t even cross my mind.

 

DJ:      That same author also said that your build-up to Comrades in 1979  hadn’t been all that impressive but I remember differently that you had some good pre-Comrades runs and that you had a convincing win in the Arthur Newton 56km at the end of April. 

More importantly I remember that a bunch of us from Collegians Harriers went up to Blythedale Beach for the weekend for the Stanger to Mandini race on the North Coast that was very popular back then and we were sitting around in one of the chalets talking about Comrades and who we thought was going to win and your wife very quietly nodded in your direction and said “there’s this year’s winner of Comrades”. 

Do you remember that and had you already decided that you were going for it that year because after that comment I certainly had no doubt at all who was going to win.

 

PV:     I don’t remember that weekend and as a result I don’t remember that comment from my wife.

Again I don’t understand the unimpressive build-up to Comrades. I was very happy with my build-up to Comrades and I remember that Arthur Newton win and was very happy with that and in fact very happy with the way all my training had gone until the upset right at the end.

 

DJ:      If we fast forward to race morning and the upset you mention. It’s widely reported that you almost didn’t start because of a painful Achilles tendon you had picked up a couple of weeks before and you had a jog around the block before the start with no pain and you decided to start.  Is that basically what happened?

PV:     No, but partly correct. It wasn’t actually a jog around the block at the start, but what happened was that about three weeks earlier, a group of us were on what was probably our last long run of about 40Km and I felt the discomfort in the tendon so between then and Comrades I gave it lots of rest but on Comrades morning I still wasn’t sure so I went for a run to test it.

I did a run of about 4km on Field’s Hill where I was staying with my brother who was also my second and I could feel it wasn’t quite right and when I got back to my brother’s house, I said to my brother that I wasn’t going to run. My brother insisted that I should at least start and I could always withdraw if necessary but I had come too far and trained too hard, not to start so I went to the start and from there I lined up and started.

 

DJ:      So now the race starts and Johnny Halberstadt takes off like a man possessed. What was going through your mind because he went through Drummond in record pace and you were 2nd at that stage.

PV:     I was 5 minutes behind him going up Botha’s and my seconds told me that I was closing the gap on Johnny. I was running comfortably and my plan was to carry on at the pace at which I had trained and that was what I was aiming to do. I knew that if I could maintain the pace I was doing I would be fine. I wasn’t chasing Halberstadt. I was running at the pace at which I had trained and was maintaining that and I was on schedule and the Achilles was forgotten.

 

DJ:      In the stretch between Cato Ridge and Camperdown you saw Halberstadt for the first time since the start and you were still strong. That must have given you a huge boost.Piet comrades

PV:     It definitely did despite the fact that I had been getting the messages on what he was doing for the previous 10kms but when I actually saw him then I knew that I had got him.

 

DJ:      I don’t think any of us will forget that TV footage of you looking down at him lying in the grass as you went past him. Did you know it was all over then or were you concerned he would or could come back at you?

PV:     I knew it was all over. I knew he couldn’t come back at me. I was strong and relaxed and running at my own pace and I got nothing from my seconds to alert me that I should be worried about anything. Polly’s lay ahead of me and I took that without any problem at all.

 

DJ:      The first Pietermaritzburg man in 30 years to win Comrades and the finish was in Pietermaritzburg and that was home.  I was in the finish pen that year when you came in and I know how I felt but I can’t begin to think what you must have felt like.  Do you still remember it all these years later?

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PV:     Strangely, I didn’t feel anything different from any other Comrades finish – at that stage – when I crossed the finish line. What I had done only started to sink in some time afterwards and the following day and in the days after that and then I was very grateful that it all worked out for me that day.

 

DJ:      A win and a record and just two seconds short of becoming the first man to break 5:45 for the Up Run but very little recognition is given to you for your win these days.  Does that disappoint you – even a little bit?

PV:     No – not at all. I got all the recognition I deserved after my win. If you win Comrades you’ve won it and that’s something you live with for the rest of your life and it never leaves you. One thing that struck me as very strange after the race is that some media, both television and some written media, referred to me as a virtual unknown who had won and that after I had finished 4th in Comrades the previous year!

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                This photograph taken after the race with 2nd placed Johnny Halberstadt on the left, Piet in the middle and Bruce Fordyce who finished in 3rd place on the right.

DJ:      Clearly someone hadn’t done their homework!  After that win. Did you come back again and give it another full go because we were starting to go into the Fordyce era and even Alan Robb could only manage one more win against him. Did you retire from competitive Comrades running soon after that?  I know you moved to the Cape but did you carry on running Comrades from there or did you call it a day?

 

PV:     No, I didn’t retire from Comrades. I got two more gold medals in years shortly after that but I didn’t run in 1980 simply through a lack of commitment but I had a 3rd place in the Dusi Canoe Marathon behind the late Graeme Pope-Ellis and second placed Andre Hawarden in 1980.

I also didn’t run in 1981 but then came back in 1982 and had a full go on the Down Run and finished 6th for a gold medal and then 7th in 1983 then after that, it was a case of as and when I felt like it until 1996 and that was my 14th and last one.

 

The story then of the man who set the record in 1979 of 5:45:02 and beat Johnny Halberstadt who finished 2nd and Bruce Fordyce who was 3rd and the man who was the first Pietermaritzburg winner in 30 years and the man who, on Comrades morning decided not to run because of a slight niggle to his Achilles Tendon until told to at least start by his brother who was also his second and the rest – as they say – is history!

Sadly Piet contracted Motor Neuron Disease a couple of years ago and today is wheelchair bound.  At Comrades 2017 he was a guest of honour and one of the past winners who was presented with his Winner’s Blazer at the prizegiving, something that Comrades introduced a few years ago and Piet made the trip to Pietermaritzburg for the awarding of that blazer.

Piet also was given the job of awarding green numbers to certain of the runners who had won their numbers and as a result had joined the Green Number Club along with Piet and many others of us who have qualified by running Comrades 10 times.

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Research is ongoing into MND and as we are right now there is no cure and the research is obviously very expensive and should there be any readers of this blog who wish to make donations in Piet’s Vorster’s name to assist with this research this can be done by electronic transfer to:

MNDA of SA,

Account Number: 270629130

Standard Bank of SA Ltd

Rondebosch Branch Code: 025009

Ref : Piet Vorster – Comrades Marathon

Swift Code (essential for International Transfers): SBZAZAJJ 02500911.

Please make sure to notify the Secretary by email as they want to know where donations have come from. The email address is mndaofsa@global.co.za and it is very important to them that they know where donations have come from.  Obviously anonymous donations will also be gratefully received but it is important that the reference is shown for all donations.

 MNDA will gratefully accept donations of any amount as this is a question people always ask.  Every little bit counts.

 

June 2017

 

 

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

SHAUN MEIKLEJOHN – THE QUIET COMRADES HERO :

One of the things that I have found that Comrades winners have in common, is that they are humble and one of the those who best fits this profile has to be the man who won Comrades in 1995 and who stands in third place in terms of the number of Gold medals he has won with 10, and that alongside Jackie Mekler and just behind Alan Robb who has 12 and Bruce Fordyce who has 11.  Shaun Meiklejohn has 10 Gold medals and very few people know this because Shaun is so quiet and humble about his Comrades achievements and apart from saying that he won Comrades in 1995 he says very little else about his Comrades achievements.

I decided the time had come to find out more about this man so I asked him to tell me something about himself.2016-07-05-PHOTO

DJ:      Where are you from?

SM:     I was born in Pretoria, but I have lived in Durban where I did my pre- and primary schooling, Carletonville where I did my high schooling and I matriculated at Carlton Jones High School in Carletonville.

I went back to KZN to Pietermaritzburg to varsity then back to Carletonville after national service where I worked as an assistant accountant on Western Deep Levels Gold Mine and then back to Pmb where I currently live in Hilton.

 

DJ:      What attracted you to running?

SM:     It was only in 1981 when I went to university that I joined some of my fellow students who had run Comrades in 1980 with the intention of lining up with them that year. It was really just something to do in our spare time, no real attraction at that stage, it did work up a thirst and would we quench that with ice cold beers!

My first Comrades was in 1982. In 1981 I qualified with a 3:50 marathon at the old Richmond Marathon but was knocked off my motor bike going to lectures one morning so I watched from the side-lines. Bruce Fordyce (black armband) and Isavel Rosch-Kelly won that year. I was hooked after that and I didn’t even run!

 

DJ:      Did you have any other sporting interests as a child?

SM:     I was a really keen soccer player and even got Western Transvaal colours U16. I started playing golf in my last couple of years at high school and got my handicap down to 5 at one point. I also enjoyed playing squash & hockey up until I left school.

 

DJ:      What are you by profession?

SM:     Financial Director at Innovative Shared Services

 

DJ:      Do you have any hobbies or sporting interests other than running?

SM:     I still manage to squeeze in a round of golf, no official handicap, but on a good day I’m an honest 14. I also love to watch the Sharks and Bokke performing at their best, which seems to be a struggle these days.

 

DJ:      People remember you first for your Comrades win in 1995 but I remember you quite a while before that when you suddenly burst on the scene in the colours of Carlton Harriers and you had everyone in quite a stir because of how much they thought you looked like Bruce Fordyce.

SM:     Folk first took notice in 1989 when I had moved back to Carletonville and trained properly after finishing 17th in 1988 running out of Queenstown, I had set a top 10 as my goal and led the race until the top of Cowies Hill, Sam Shabalala won that year and I finished 5th. Bruce was in the commentary team that year having won the Standard Bank 100km earlier in the year in Stellenbosch. There was a bit of chirping in the studio if I remember correctly…. I must have looked like a younger version of Bruce back then, ha ha …

 

DJ:      You had been in gold before your win in 1995 but to eventually cross that line to win must have felt amazing! Is it possible to put it into words?

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SM:     I had 5 golds at that point and even a 2nd place to Nick Bester in 1991. In 1995 I decided to run “full-time” from January and put all my eggs in the Comrades basket. It paid off, I was so confident in my build up and mental preparation that I asked Julie, my wife, at the start if “I looked like a winner”! The race was amazing, I felt in control all the way, running my own race and not panicking when Charl took off after Cowies Hill. I passed him going up Tollgate and opening a 1 minute lead by the finish, I was on such a “high” running into the stadium realising what I had achieved.

 

DJ:      Your Comrades performances are quite remarkable. In 28 runs you haven’t gone slower than 7 hours have you?

SM:     I have twice. In 1982 I did 7:17 and 2003 I was 7:15, all the rest under 7 hours

 

DJ:      Your 28 years at Comrades haven’t been in succession and you took a break. Do you think that made a difference and allowed the “old” legs to recover slightly?

SM:     I took 6 years off after 2003, feeling physically and mentally stale and running the last few with niggles. The break allowed my body to heal without a doubt but I had put on around 15kgs so it was a struggle to get running again, it was only after I embarked on a proper eating plan eliminating wheat, dairy, sugar and alcohol, did I shed the weight and I was back in 2010 with a 6:45 …

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DJ:      Do you intend carrying on running Comrades and getting up to 40 Comrades and beyond? Only one other winner has run 40 Comrades and that’s Alan Robb.

SM:     I don’t think so, at this stage I’m taking one year at a time, enjoying my running, if my body allows then 30 seems like a good time to reassess.

 Finish5

DJ:      How have you managed to balance your running with your business life and family life so successfully?

SM:     It is all about finding the balance, which may mean running at 4:00am so I can get kids to school on time and also making a few sacrifices along the way, in the really competitive days our social life would take a back seat, fortunately I have a really supportive wife and kids that understand my passion for running, even now in my “Master” years.

DJ:      You finished 4th in the 100Km world champs in Japan in 1994. A great performance. Did you find that very different from something like Comrades. A lot of people say that the 100Km is a completely different thing and interesting that it was the year before you won Comrades. Then in 1995 you did the same thing again.

SM:     I was really keen to attempt the 100km distance, I just felt that that little extra distance may suit me. I ran Two Oceans that year in 3:21 so was in good shape, finishing in 6:26 and missing Bruce Fordyce’s SA 100Km record by about a minute. The 100km is not too different from Comrades, the hills in Comrades make up for the slightly shorter distance so if you can handle that you can deal with anything that a 100km event can throw at you, just the support in the form of spectators and drinks is very poor at those other events so you really need to be mentally tough!

 

DJ:      Then in 1994 you won the London to Brighton. So the mid 90’s were good to you.

SM:     I felt that I needed a confidence booster going into the 1995 Comrades so I chose London to Brighton, I had a good 100km under the belt and South Africans have a good track record at the event. It was tough, again little or no support and a hill called “Ditchlings Beacon”, the equivalent of Polly Shortts to greet you around 80km into the race.

 

DJ:      For the last 4 years you have won the Master’s category and this year second by something like 42 seconds. What is it that enables you to just keep going year after year and is this still a target?

SM:     It’s the competitive spirit I guess, I try to get the best out of myself on the day, if its good enough to be first that a bonus, it gets tougher every year now as I reach the mid-fifties!

 

DJ:      Finally, your focus at Comrades now seems to be much more on charities. Tell us about that.

SM:     I would love to do more; there are so many kids that, due to circumstances beyond their control, land up getting involved in activities that get themselves into trouble. Running, in fact sport in general is a great way for them to lead a fit & healthy lifestyle and for those with talent to reach greater heights in terms of personal achievement. I work together with my running club, Save Orion AC, on various projects within local communities to assist those in need.

 

If you would like to look at the blog with all the details of Shaun’s charities you’ll find it at  Meiklejohn.co  so go and have a look at the work he’s doing and give him your support.

28 Comrades to his credit, 10 Gold medals and all the rest silver and only two slower than 7 hours. That’s not too shabby a record. Shaun we salute you!

July 2016