BILL PAYN ACCORDING TO BILL PAYN

It’s Wednesday the 24th of May 1922, the day of the second Comrades Marathon, this time an Up Run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.  The start is to be at Toll Gate and it will finish at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg.

The day turned out to be a mild to warm winter’s day and there was a huge increase in the number of runners, up from the 34 who had started in 1921 to 89 in 1922 but over 100 entries!

There were a couple of interesting entries not least of which was Bill Rowan who had won the first Comrades in 1921 and who was, at that stage, living in what was then the Belgian Congo and had travelled to Durban seeking to repeat his win of 1921. There were others who attracted interest as well and two of them were Arthur Newton, a farmer from the Harding area in Southern Natal who subsequently went on to win that year and four times more and who carved a name for himself as one of the great names of ultra-distance running.

Also lining up at the start was Durban schoolmaster, Bill Payn who by that stage had played rugby at the highest level and who decided to tackle this new challenge. Payne had no intention of challenging for the win and was there to challenge himself as so many others have done since then.

A great deal has, over many years been spoken and written about the Comrades in 1922 run by Bill Payn, the schoolmaster from DHS in Durban and I have no doubt that those who have told these stories have added a little bit extra to make his run that much more entertaining and haven’t worried too much if it was totally accurate or not.

I have read many accounts of that somewhat different Comrades Marathons run by Mr Payn that day but it wasn’t until fairly recently that I came across an account of his run as told by Bill Payn himself. At first I didn’t know if it was true and if it was, how accurate it was as it was taken from a book titled “Under the Baobab Tree” the story of DHS written by Jeremy Oddy.

My first job was to try to track Mr Oddy down and to find out if the book is still available.  I searched all the usual places like Amazon but no luck and finally decided that the book is no longer available.  The next problem I had was to see if I could track down the author.  That proved to be a lot easier than I thought and after a couple of years of searching the internet I eventually discovered that Mr Oddy is alive and well and living in Durban just down the road from Durban High School that is such a passion to him. 

A couple of long and very interesting phone calls and I had the permission I needed to reproduce Bill Payn’s story as told by the big man himself (and I believe he was a big man) of how he handled the Comrades Marathon on that mild to warm winter sunshine day of the 24th of May in 1922.

Here is Bill Payn’s story and note how he describes the size of the field that day. There were 89 starters!  I wonder what he would say if he could see the start today?

“I’m not sure how many victims lined up at the starting place at Tollgate that May morning at 5 o’çlock but it was a huge field.  To give some idea of its magnitude it is sufficient to state that my number was 111.  Shall I ever forget that infernal run?  It was not very long before I realised that as I was prey to a consuming thirst I could not refuse any man who offered me any drink along the way.  Long before I got to Hillcrest I was painfully aware that rugby boots were not ideal footwear.  When I got to Hillcrest my feet were giving me so much pain I took off my boots to make an inspection in loco.  Things were pretty gloomy and I was not a little perturbed at the undulation of blisters that had formed.

Some kind person handed me a pot of brilliantine with which I anointed my feet and I then repaired to the hotel and knocked back a huge plate of bacon and eggs washed down by three cups of coffee.  

Pushing on, I arrived at the top of old Botha’s Hill cutting where I found “Zulu” Wade looking a trifle distressed and sitting by the side of the road.  He had a henchman on a motorcycle in attendance on him, and this good fellow was nourishing Wade from a hamper, the piece de resistance was a curried chicken and a huge snowdrift of rice.

We shared it equally, threw the lot down the hatch and then slugged along in happy companionship to Drummond, the half-way house of our Calvary.  Here we bent our steps to a pleasant oasis – the pub – and according to Harold Sulin, I had a dozen beers lined up on the counter. Zulu and I were determined, not so much to celebrate, but to drown our sorrows. But Harold Sulin said “Bill, what are you doing here?  There are only five runners ahead of you.”

I looked at my number 111 and wondered what had happened to the rest of the field.  Zulu’s sorrows, I noticed, had gone down for the third time so he wished me Godspeed and I set out alone for ‘Maritzburg.

Somewhere along Harrison Flats I noticed a frail little woman with pink cheeks, holding a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. “It’s peach brandy” she volunteered, and I gulped down a full tumbler of the brew.  In a second I realised I had swallowed a near lethal dose of the rawest liquid I had ever tasted.  I am still convinced that this charming woman must be given full credit for inventing the first liquid fuel for jet engines.

Fortunately I was facing ‘Maritzburg and I was propelled along my way.  I was too far gone in my cups to ponder whether this assistance was compliant with the laws of amateur marathon running.

When I passed over the Umsindusi Bridge in ‘Maritzburg I was hailed by my wife’s family who were having tea on the verandah.  I joined them in their tea and cakes.  Whilst we were thus happily engaged, two of my “hated rivals” went past and so it was that I ended in 8th position.  In the changing room of the showgrounds, I discovered that the soles of my feet were two huge pads of blood blisters.  My brother-in-law, Wilfred Hogg, with an uncanny insight into my most immediate needs gave me a bottle of champagne for which I was most grateful”.

And so the story of Bill Payn’s Comrades Marathon as told by Bill Payn himself. 

He finished, as he says in 8th position of the 26 finishers and in a time of 10:56. The time limit in 1922 was 12 hours.

The following day when most modern day runners can be found hobbling around the Durban beachfront in varying degrees of stiffness, Bill Payn played rugby in “takkies”.  Comrades veteran, the late Vernon Jones, who knew Bill Payn well said “He was the greatest teacher ever at DHS and had a wonderful influence on countless people. There has never been another Bill Payn.  His funeral created the biggest funeral in Durban’s history. Nothing you can say about him is too much.”

Bill Payn played rugby in 52 matches for Natal and twice for the Springboks. In addition he represented Natal at cricket against the MCC, boxed for Natal against Oxford and Cambridge in 1923 and won the Natal Senior Heavyweight title, played Baseball for Natal against Transvaal in 1930 and got his Natal colours for shot put in athletics.

A report of his death in the Daily News was headlined “A WONDERFUL PILGRIMAGE ON EARTH HAS ENDED”

APRIL 2021

2021 A VERY IMPORTANT COMRADES YEAR

As we move ever closer to getting rid of the year many of us will remember as the year that never was, when the world was effectively turned upside down and so many things we held near and dear to us, had to disappear forever and we had to change, and we all had to learn to make adjustments to the way we live and in many cases with difficulty, we will breathe a collective sigh of relief hoping that 2020 has gone forever but I fear we haven’t seen the last of it.

Some things are slowly returning to the way they were before we heard about Covid but some never will. Some still need to be changed and a lot of thought still has to go into the way many things have to change.

One of the things that nobody has yet come up with an answer to it seems, is the question of the big city marathons around the world where thousands of people run shoulder to shoulder for most of the way and the concept of “social distancing” is virtually impossible. We saw a recent example of what happened to the London Marathon where, usually around 40,000 people or more took to the streets of London and “owned” the city for a day in April every year.  The race was moved to November and to an elite only runners’ race in a multi lap (some 19 laps) in a park in London.  It was a good race if one happened to be watching it on TV but it simply wasn’t the London Marathon.  

Let’s look closer to home however and at Comrades. When entries opened for the 2020 Comrades they were capped at 27500. We don’t yet know what the organisers have in mind for the numbers for the 2021 race or even if there will be a race in 2021. The media launch hasn’t yet happened and entries are expected to open early in the new year and both those happenings have been delayed because of uncertainty.

Every day we hear horror stories of the rise in Covid infections from around the world and who knows what is going to happen in South Africa by June 2021, the provisional date set for Comrades 2021. Remember that this time last year, none of us had even heard of Covid and now, less than a year later, it controls our lives.

Comrades 2021 is a very important one because it is exactly 100 years since those 34 tough runners lined up outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to run the first Comrades mainly on dirt roads to Durban and just under 9 hours later Bill Rowan put his name into the record books as the first person to win the race in what remains the slowest time in the history of the race.

The interesting thing is the number of runners to strive to win for themselves a “Bill Rowan Medal” for finishing the modern Comrades in under 9 hours and many of those achieving this have no idea why the medal is so named – and sadly most of them don’t care!

Since then, Comrades has written itself a glorious history and culture, much of which is celebrated in various ways still and runners through the years use much of the events of bygone years to measure their own performances and even as recently as 2018, we saw the introduction of the Robert Mtshali medal named after the first black runner of Comrades and now awarded to all runners who finish between 9 & 10 hours. Robert Mtshali ran his Comrades in 9 & a half hours in 1935 so long before Comrades was opened to all races (that happened in 1975), a medal honouring the achievement of a man in 1935 is now awarded so it took 40 years after Mtshali ran his Comrades for the race to be opened to all races and to women.

Comrades organisers have now put up a plaque at Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg to honour Robert Mtshali.

Ask many of the runners who won a Robert Mtshali Medal since it was introduced how it came about and when Mtshali ran and they won’t have a clue.  That is so sad!

These are just two of many little bits of history that go to make Comrades what it is and hardly a year goes by that something doesn’t happen to add to the magic that makes this event so very special and now with the cancellation of the 2020 race because of the global Covid pandemic it joins the 5 races of World War two as the only times the race has had to be cancelled since it’s inception and some months ago I asked Race Director, Rowyn James whether the centenary of the race would be celebrated even if the race itself can’t be held and he assured me that it would.  

Many of us will be very disappointed if there is no actual race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban on the second Sunday of June in 2021 but there can still be reason to celebrate the centenary and it can still be done with all the glitz and glamour we would expect.  One should just look at the Comrades Race the Legends that Comrades put together in June 2020 that took place instead of the actual Comrades and what an amazing success that was to realise just what can be done if necessary.

A huge part of the centenary celebration, I would think, will take in the history of the race and if runners really want to feel part of it they would need to learn as much as they can about this incredible event. There are, sadly, many who regard Comrades as “just another race on the calendar”.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is startline-1925-e1605857271100.jpg
THE START OF THE 1925 COMRADES

Let me assure you that Comrades is not just another Road Race. It’s more than that. Way more and if we end up without an actual race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, my guess is that the Comrades organisers will still give us plenty to celebrate for the centenary of this amazing event but to get the full benefit please learn as much as you can about it.  It will give you so much more if you do.

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 Winn 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.”

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

 

9 June 2020

BEATEN BY A WAR AND A PANDEMIC

Only two things have beaten Comrades since it started in 1921. A war and a pandemic.

World War ll saw Comrades stop from 1941 to 1945 and the global pandemic we came to know as Covid – 19 brought Comrades to a halt in 2020 and 2021 and with it the hopes and dreams of over 27,000 runners.

The last Comrades before World War ll in 1940 went down in the record books because most runners didn’t think it was going to take place and as a result very few continued training and because a lot of the men who were expected to enter had withdrawn and left to join their units at training camps at various centres around the country the field was left to just 23 who set off on the Up Run that year.

Those who did run are said to have eased back on their Comrades training as they were not sure whether Comrades would take place or not and it was only Allen Boyce already with three gold medals and two of them for second place in both 1938 and 1939 in his collection who took the decision that he was going to give his training his full attention in case Comrades did in fact happen.

Allen Boyce won in 1940 by a staggering 1 hour and 50 minutes a gap unlikely to ever be beaten in the future but that was the end of Comrades until 1946 because of World War ll and since then there has not been much that has threatened to disrupt the race.

We had already had the launch of the 95th Comrades scheduled for the 14th of June 2020, the slogan of which was to be “Iphupho Lami – Dare to Dream” and the field had been increased to allow a massive 27,500 runners to take part, the biggest number ever and the excitement was there both locally and from runners overseas.

Entries had sold out in two and a half days which was something unheard of and the organisers got themselves ready to start preparing for everything and then at the beginning of 2020 a city in China called Wuhan, hardly known to the average South African shot to prominence and we started to hear more and more about it on the news. There was clearly nothing much to worry about because the Americans weren’t too worried it seemed and then we started to hear alarming stories coming out of Italy and then Spain and then the rest of Europe about something that was being called Covid-19 or corona virus and it didn’t take long and it was being called a “global pandemic”.

South Africa is part of the “globe” surely but still nothing was happening here or anywhere else in Africa it seemed – then it started.

By March the Americans and the Brits were taking very real notice of what this “pandemic” seemed to be doing but still nothing too much in the southern tip of Africa but we started to hear things and then towards the end of March, we were all glued to our television sets as our president told us just how serious this pandemic was and what had to be done to slow it down even though it wasn’t doing too much damage at that stage and South Africa found itself in “lockdown” so that we could prepare for what was coming, a new experience for us all.

The regulations were stringent. Restaurants had to close as did theatres and other places of entertainment but we then heard that sports events were being affected by the “lockdown” and our national cricket and rugby teams had to cancel overseas tours and we couldn’t leave our homes or exercise in groups and running was affected so what about Comrades we all asked?

The Comrades organisers put out a media release saying that they were going ahead with the planning but unfortunately the media release was incorrectly read by many of the important people and in a flash we had cabinet ministers and suchlike people coming on TV saying Comrades would not be happening without the permission of the controlling body of athletics in South Africa.

The problem was that at no stage did Comrades say that THE RACE would go ahead as planned but rather that the ORGANISING would go ahead. When one considers that it takes virtually a full year to organise this event it then all makes sense but for a short while a lot of unhappiness all round until the confusion was resolved.

Eventually in mid-April a further media release, this time from the controlling body of athletics came out saying that Comrades would be postponed to a future date still to be announced and that – other than announcing a complete cancellation – was all that could be done at that stage. That made sense because we had no idea what this virus was going to do.

It was beyond the control of the Comrades organisers but not all runners saw it that way and many took to social media saying that the Comrades Marathon Association owed it to runners to tell them what was going to be happening. The fact that they couldn’t do this didn’t matter, some people thought that Comrades organisers were duty bound to tell runners something that was impossible for them to do.

The other thing that happened was that the organisers said that if it did take place the latest it could take place was the end of September but that was also not acceptable to all and runners then started deciding on dates for the race and some were quoted in the media giving the “perfect date” with reasons when it should be held, the dates which didn’t agree with those thought by the organisers.

The country however remained in lockdown and slowly – ever so slowly – restrictions started to be eased but we all remained very frustrated, not so much because we had no answer about Comrades but because some of us fall into the so-called “high risk category” of over 70 years of age and “experts” in the field of viruses started to suggest that those of us in that category should perhaps remain in lockdown until the end of September!

Then eventually on the 14th of May the joint media release came from Comrades and ASA telling us that Comrades 2020 was cancelled and was definitely not taking place that year so all the confusion, all the uncertainty and all the anger could finally be laid to rest.

So for the second time in the very long history of this incredible event, it is being cancelled for a reason beyond the control of the organisers but it is still the organisers who will take the anger and abuse levelled at them by many runners and by many members of the public.

Those of us who love this race – and I am certainly one of them – are very disappointed about the cancellation but we need to understand that this is not the fault of the organisers nor of the athletics body nor the government and that it’s been said over and over that just as it was a World War that stopped Comrades once before, so has a war, this time against an invisible enemy, done exactly the same thing again and just as the race came through the last war that stopped it and it survived, so it will do so again this time.

May 2020

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

THE LADIES OF COMRADES

SINCERE THANKS TO THE COMRADES MARATHON ASSOCIATION FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHS

It was in 1975 during the running of the Golden Jubilee Comrades that women were permitted to run officially for the first time and since then we’ve seen some fantastic performances.

Before we move forward from 1975, let’s first go back to the days when women were not permitted to run officially but some ran as unofficial competitors. One small thing though before we move onto the stories, you will notice that the heading of this article refers to “ladies”.   Many years ago when I was still a radio reporter covering road races around South Africa and a couple in Europe, I referred to the “ladies” and I was severely taken to task and told in no uncertain terms by a race official (can’t remember who it was) who said to me that there were no ladies in any road races and that they were women.

Women were running and I should stop referring to anything other than women. I did have a major problem with that as I had been using the term “ladies” for quite a few years and even in this article I keep swapping between “women” and “ladies

The first woman to finish Comrades – in an unofficial run – was Frances Hayward in 1923. It was the third running of Comrades and the second Down Run. She took 11:35:28 seconds to do the distance and she managed an unofficial 28th position of the 30 men who finished. “After the race, Miss Hayward said:  

Frances Hayward – first woman to run Comrades – 1923

“Now that I’ve done it, I think it’s too much for women.  I think it’s the last 10 miles (16km) that kill” 

It seems that nothing much has changed since then in terms of those last 16km!

The difference then is that the route between Pietermaritzburg and Durban was almost all dirt road!

1928 saw the time limit lowered to 11 hours (it had previously been 12 hours) and it stayed at 11 hours for many years only changing for the first time in 2000 to 12 hours.  It then went back to 11 hours for two years but was soon changed again to 12 hours where it remains today.

It was almost 10 years before we saw a woman completing Comrades in both directions when Geraldine Watson was the first woman to do this.  She won the Down Run in 1931 and then the Up Run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg 1932 and was then back again for the Down Run in 1933 when she ran her best time of 9:31. I can’t find any record that she ran again after 1933.  

Geraldine Watson. The first woman to run 3 consecutive Comrades – 1931-1933

For many years The Geraldine Watson Trophy was awarded to the last runner home in the time limit.

After Geraldine Watson it was a fairly long time before we saw women running again as they were still unofficial. I remember Maureen Holland, with whom I did a fair amount of running in the late 60s and early 70s, being the first woman home in three consecutive years but not recognised because she was still unofficial.

Interesting that for quite a while she was reflected in the results on the Comrades website but her name has since been removed as all her runs were prior to women being allowed to run officially.

In 1975, Comrades organisers approached the controlling body of athletics in South Africa to have the race open to all people irrespective of race or sex. I was a member of Collegians Harriers at the time and Collegians were the custodians od Comrades before the formation of the CMA and the heated arguments at the Harriers AGM about whether the approach to the controlling body should be made. Eventually sanity prevailed and permission for the race to be open was given.

Two women started although the first woman home that year was declared to be unofficial after a problem with her entry. That year, novices had to qualify in a marathon in under 3 hours 30 and there was something wrong with the qualifying. Whether she didn’t qualify or not I don’t remember. Elizabeth Cavanagh finished in 10:08:00 and goes down in the record books as the first official women’s winner.

BETTY CAVANAGH FINISHING IN 1975

From 1976 to 1978 it was Lettie van Zyl who won three in succession.  In 1977, she broke the Up Run time set two years before and then set a best time (record) for the Down Run in 1978, the year incidentally, that Alan Robb became the first runner to finish Comrades in under 5 hours 30 minutes.

lettie van zylLETTIE VAN ZYL – winner 1976-1978

 

Two years later in 1980 on the Down Run and we had started to see bigger fields, it was Isavel Roche-Kelly after whom the women’s medal introduced in 2019 is named who set a new best women’s down run time of 07:18:00 and in doing that was the first woman to earn a silver medal (no gold medal for the winner at that time) for finishing in a time under 7hr 30min.

isavel roche-kellyISAVEL ROCHE-KELLY

Isavel won again in 1981, this time in 6:44:35, the first woman under 7 hours. Sadly Isavel was killed in a cycling accident in Ireland soon after this.

The interesting winner of the ladies race in 1982, was Cheryl Winn, the last lady to get a silver for winning and who many years later went on to become the Chairperson of the Comrades Marathon Association, the first time that the winner of either the men’s race or the women’s race achieved the distinction of being elected as Chair of Comrades.

                                                                    CHERYL WINNING                                    CHERYL WINN COMING IN TO WIN 1982                                                                      

It was Lindsey Weight who was first home in both 1983 and 1984. In 1983 (an Up Run) she ran 7:12:56 and in 1984 it was 6:46:35 to set a new Down Run best time.

LINDSEY WEIGHT (2)LINDSEY WEIGHT WINNING 1984

 

1985 saw the next of the multi winners of the lady’s race when Helen Lucre won in 6:53:24, beating the winner of the two previous races, Lindsey Weight who had to be content with 2nd place. Helen went on to win the next two races in 1986 in 6:55:01 and 1987 in 6:48:42, the second lady to win three in a row after Lettie Van Zyl did it a decade previously

 In 1988 we saw Frith van der Merwe home first in 6:32:56, a new best time but the best was yet to come for Frith because in 1989 history was made for the ladies when Frith ran the first sub six-hour women’s Down Run in a record time of 05:54:43 to finish in 15th position overall. That time still stands as the best Down Run by a woman 40 years later. Frith went on to win three times in total but they weren’t in successive years.

FrithVanDerMerwe_1989ComradesVictory-768x253 (2)FRITH VAN DER MERWE AFTER HER 1989 WIN

 

In 1991 Frith was again on the winner’s podium for the last time when she came home in 6:08:19, the second fastest Down Run time by a woman after her own run two years earlier. In 1997, Ann Trason, the America runner was the second woman to go under 6 hours on the Down Run with her 5:58:25.

Only three women have run under 6 hours on the Down Run, the third one being Tatyana Zhirkova, the Russian runner in a time of 5:58:50. That was in 2005 and there have been no women under 6 hours on the Down Run since then. The first woman to go under 6 hours on the Up Run was still 14 years away but more on that later.

The 1990s saw the first of the Russian women winners when Valentina Liakhova won in 06:41:23 in the Up Run of 1994.

It was the Russian twins, Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva, however, who captured the imagination of the running world and the public and still today people ask if “the twins” are running. Elena won a total of 8 Comrades while her sister managed 1st place in 2007 and 2009 but several 2nd place finishes behind her sister.

THE NURGALIEVA TWINSTHE NURGALIEVA TWINS

 

By the time we got to the “Twenty-teens” we started to see South African women dominating Comrades once again after a spate of foreign, mainly Russian, winners in the 1990s and early “noughties”.

The first of the “good” Up Run times by a South African was in 2015 when Caroline Wostmann ran 6:12:22 to win comfortably although that was almost exactly three minutes slower than the best Up Run time set by Elena Nurgalieva. It was 9 years before Elena’s time for the Up Run was improved by Caroline from the 6:09:24 the Russian had run in 2006.

CAROLINECAROLINE WOSTMANN – WINNER IN 2015

Caroline once again looked set for the win to make it two in a row in 2016 but just a few kilometres from the finish, the cramps that had been bothering her all day started to make their presence really felt and at one stage her legs gave in completely and she ended up on all fours in the road just a few kilometres from home.

This gave the lady in second place, Charne Bosman the opportunity to pass Caroline to take the win in 6:25:55, so two South African lady winners in two years.  Charne, incidentally has been a women’s gold medallist every year that she’s run the race since her first Comrades in 2013. 

CHARNE BOSMAN – 2016 WINNER

 

In 2017 it was the American distance runner, Camille Heron who won in 6:27:35, not an especially fast time given that the previous Up Run in 2015 had been 6:12 but Camille had led the race from start to finish and was some 4 minutes ahead of second placed Alexandra Morozova, the Russian runner.

camille finishCAMILLE HERON – 2017 WINNER

 

In 2018 it was the turn of Ann Ashworth who was home first in 35th position overall in a time of 6:10:04 and that was on the longer Down Run route with a new finish at the Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban. This time it was close to 91km and the third longest Comrades in the history of the race.

ANN ON THE ROADANN ASHWORTH NEARING THE FINISH IN 2018

 

Some 5 minutes behind Ann in second place was Gerda Steyn who had been the pre-race favourite in many circles for the 2018 Comrades but nobody had taken much notice of Ann in the build up to Comrades when she deliberately kept a low profile.

Gerda’s turn to make history was still to come and she didn’t have to wait too long.

It came in 2019 when she was the first woman to get home on the Up Run in under 6 hours, running a 5:58:53 and finishing in 17th place overall. She ran a near perfect race to take that win. I had the opportunity to chat to Gerda after the race and you could be forgiven for thinking she hadn’t run at all. That’s how fit she was and an indication of what a brilliant run she had.

gerda winsGERDA STEYN WINNING COMRADES 2019 IN UNDER 6 HOURS

 

It’s not only the ladies themselves where the interest lies because the Comrades medals won by women has an interesting history too.

When women first ran officially from 1975 they could only earn a bronze medal but that had all changed by the time Frith van der Merwe ran that brilliant Down Run in 1989.

From 1979 to 1982 a Silver Medal was awarded to the 1st Woman (the last winner to get silver was Cheryl Winn in 1982) then in 1983 a gold medal was introduced for the first lady home but it wasn’t until 1988 that gold medals were given to the first 3 women and in 1995 this was increased to the first 5 Women and eventually in 1998 gold medals went to the first 10 women home to match the number of gold medals earned by the men.

The Isavel Roche-Kelly medal was introduced in 2019 for any women who finished outside the top 10 but broke seven and a half hours. This in effect means that no woman can win a silver medal any longer with the very special medal now recognising the feats of the women.

There has twice been the debate as to whether a woman could earn a gold medal that would usually go to a man if she happened to finish in the top 10 overall. The first time this debate raged was in 1989 when Frith van der Merwe finished in 15th position overall and then again in 2019 when Gerda Steyn ran herself into the history books with her sub 6 on the Up Run and 17th position overall.

Whilst I use the word “overall” it’s actually incorrect as technically, Comrades is made up of two separate races, the men’s race and the women’s race which for the sake of convenience are run at the same time.

Most of the big city marathons around the world have two distinctly separate races but the time limit for Comrades and the hours of daylight on race day, makes that virtually impossible and possibly dangerous because of traffic, hence the two races being run together.

One very promising thing with the ladies is the improvement we’ve seen and are continuing to see in women’s running in South Africa, firstly that South African women are once again winning Comrades but also in the times being run, not only in Comrades but in standard marathons as well.

I have little doubt that the time will come when we see women in the top 10 overall at Comrades and I can only hope that the race organisers will have made it completely clear if that happens that there are two separate races and that 10 gold medals will go to the first 10 men even if more than one woman happens to beat one or more men and finishes in the overall top 10, but also gold medals to the top 10 women in their race.

 

1 August 2019

MY MEMORIES OF JACKIE MEKLER

I was deeply saddened on the morning of the 1st of July 2019 when I heard the news that Comrades great and 5 time winner, Jackie Mekler, had passed away at the age of 87.   What made it even worse was that I had spent time with him at Comrades this year less than a month earlier.

JACKIE MEKLER    Jackie Mekler. Superb athlete and absolute gentleman

 

Jackie had been my hero when I was a child and when I was a teenager watching Comrades in those early days of the late 50’s and early 60’s and when he won his 5th Comrades in 1968 it was the year I ran my first one.  By winning that year, Jackie became only the 4th runner to win Comrades five times and I remember clearly where I was at the exact moment that happened.

JACKIE IN No 9Jackie in Comrades wearing his famous race number 9

I had come through Drummond and over Inchanga and was heading towards the Enthembeni School when a spectator at the side of the road shouted “He’s coming in. Jackie’s coming in to win Comrades”.

I stopped where this spectator was and whilst I didn’t have a clue who the spectator was, I stood with him and listened on his portable radio to the commentary by the SABC’s Michael Toms of Jackie Mekler coming in to win his 5th Comrades.  I looked at my watch and it was just after 12 noon.

My hero had done it!  He had joined that elite group of Newton, Ballington and Hayward as the only runners to have won 5 Comrades.  It would be another very nearly 20 years before anyone else achieved that when Bruce Fordyce won his 5th in 1985.  We all know that Bruce went on to win 9 of them, 8 in succession.

It was a special day for me, the 31st of May 1968. Jackie Mekler had won his 5th Comrades and I had finished my first one – albeit it almost four and half hours later. For some strange reason, and I have never known why, I felt a special bond between Jackie and me and I still do because of the 1968 race, despite the fact that it was still many years before I would meet him in person.  I mention this about Jackie Mekler  that I published in January 2016.

The following year in 1969, Comrades was one of very mixed emotions for me. I took a little under 2 hours off my time of the previous year and I was thrilled beyond description, and Jackie Mekler was tipped by those “in the know” to win his 6th that would have put him as the man with the most wins ever.  

That 6th win didn’t happen for him though, as Jackie had problems on the road that year in what was his last competitive Comrades, and he had to be content with his 3rd place.

My mixed emotions, apart from my own run, were because whilst I had wanted to see Jackie get his 6th win, Comrades 1969 was won by a friend of mine, Dave Bagshaw, with whom I had done quite a bit of running because he was a regular visitor to Ian Jardine’s Sunday morning group and that’s where I ran my weekly long runs.

Dave had won in 5:45:35 to set a new best time (record) for the Down Run, the first of his three successive Comrades wins.  He set a new best time for the Up Run in 1970 as well and just missed beating his own Down Run time in 1971.

Fast forward to the 90’s and I had, by that time, stopped running having been forced to do so because of a back injury that turned out to be permanent, but what had happened after my 14th Comrades was that I had become involved with Radio 702 and I was a regular at road races all around South Africa, giving details of road races that were being held.  I had got onto 702 by pure accident (but that’s a story I have already told elsewhere) and through hard work I had managed to get 702 (and not me) to the point of being regarded, in many places, as the voice of road running, particularly in Gauteng, but Comrades every year was the highlight for me on radio.

This had come about mainly because we were virtually everywhere reporting races but at the same time I got to know a lot of the top runners and at some stage during the 90’s an absolute thrill when I was introduced to the man who had been my hero in the late 50’s and into the 60’s, Jackie Mekler.

My initial thought was that he wouldn’t really have too much interest in me. After all, I was a very mediocre Comrades runner (although all 14 were under the time limit of 11 hours at that time and 9 of them had been under 10 hours and 2 of those 9 were under 9 hours) but instead I found a genuine, sincere and humble man who had time for everyone he met and I have always regarded myself as a friend of Jackie’s after that first meeting as I saw him regularly almost every year after that.

Jackie never, in my opinion, regarded himself as anything special because of his 5 wins but in my eyes and in the eyes of many people involved with Comrades, he was something very special.  He will always be remembered, not only for his 5 Comrades wins but also as the first man to break 6 hours on the Up Run

JACKIE 1968 WINJackie Mekler breasts the tape in 1960 Comrades – the first man under 6 hours on the Up Run

When I got to the 60th  Comrades I had attended in 2018, I phoned Jackie to ask him how many he had attended as I was keen to find as many of the people as possible who had attended as many, if not more than me.  I thought that Jackie could well be one of those bearing in mind that he ran his first one in 1952 finishing in 7th place that today would have won him a gold medal but in those days he was the first person outside the six gold medals awarded then.  I had attended my first one in 1956 so that in effect gave him a four year start on me.

I chatted to Jackie about what I was looking for and he told me that he honestly didn’t know how many he had attended as he was not at Comrades at times during the 1950’s (some of the reasons given in his autobiography) despite coming back for his second run and first win in 1958.  He said simply to me that he thought I had been at more of them than he had which disappointed me because I would very much like to have been 2nd or 3rd behind him in the number attended and to be able to say that only Jackie Mekler and maybe one other had attended more Comrades than I had. 

It turned out that Brian Swart who is very well known in Comrades circles has in fact attended 4 more than I have but whether Jackie attended more than I did, I don’t know.

I saw Jackie at Comrades 2018 and he congratulated me on being at my 60th race and I hadn’t said anything more to him about the matter. I was absolutely “gobsmacked” that the great man of Comrades should have remembered such an insignificant thing.

Fast forward another year to about early May 2019 (I am not sure exactly when it was) that Jackie phoned me to ask if I would help him with making known, through my activity on Twitter and any other social media, the fact that his autobiography titled “RUNNING ALONE” would be launched at Expo for Comrades 2019 after he had spent the better part of over 30 years writing it! 


I told him it would be an honour to do so and that I had a friend who writes under the name of “The Running Mann”, Stuart Mann, and I would get him involved as he has a large following on both Twitter and with his blogs.

Our conversation ended with two things I’ll never forget. The first of them was when Jackie asked me if I would be attending Comrades 2019 and when I said that I would be there, his response was “enjoy your 61st”.   Why and how Jackie remembered that is beyond me yet he did but that’s was just the kind of person he was.

The other thing he said just before our conversation ended was that with the book launch he was worried, and in his words “I wonder who even remembers Jackie Mekler”.   I assured him that many, if not most runners remembered him and one of the things that had kept his name known was a race in Pretoria named after him.

I then called Stuart who said that he would be thrilled to help although he had never actually met Jackie.  He managed to put that right at Comrades 2019 and one of Stuart’s prized photos was taken with Jackie at his book launch at Expo.

JACKIE AND STUARTStuart Mann, The Running Mann, with Jackie at Comrades Expo 2019

All of Jackie’s successes in the running world are told in his book and he won at almost every distance from 10km to 100 miles and at one time he held the world records for both 30 miles and 40 miles and it’s a book well worth reading if anyone has any interest in road running.

The book launch at Expo 2019 was very successful and when I asked Jackie on Comrades day whether most of the buyers had been older runners and former runners, I was very surprised when he told me that a large number of books had been bought by people who had probably not even been born when he won his 5th Comrades.

This thrills me as I am one of those “older former runners” who has a passion for the history of Comrades and the fact that so many young runners have an interest in Jackie Mekler and his achievements makes me very happy.

jackie mekler at expoWith Jackie at his book launch at Expo 2019

 

I spent some time with Jackie, both at Expo and also on Comrades day and on Comrades day we were chatting about nothing in particular and everything in general and I spent a good time with him.

Just three weeks later, my hero and my friend had gone.

Goodbye Jackie Mekler. You were a great athlete and an even greater gentleman.

I’m going to miss you at Comrades every year.  R.I.P.

 

9 July 2019

COMRADES MARATHON 1969

The following is a report on the 1969 Comrades Marathon which was written by Dave Bagshaw who was running his first Comrades.  The report was written for the newsletter of his club, Savages in Durban.  

One interesting thing about this report is that after Dave wrote it, he hasn’t looked at it again until about two weeks ago when I asked him for a copy.

At this stage, Dave Bagshaw is one of only 5 men who have been able to win Comrades in three successive years. On two of his three runs he broke the record (best time) and on the third one as just 2 minutes outside his own record.

************************************************************************************

I arrived at the starting point in front of Pietermaritzburg City Hall about fifteen minutes before the start of the race.  I felt nervous.  I suppose over seven hundred other runners felt the same way.  For each of us this race was the culmination of months of training and now we were face to face with the big test.

For my own part I was very apprehensive.  Even though many friends had expressed confidence in my ability to do well I doubted that I could last fifty-four miles with men like Dave Box, Jackie Mekler, Manie Kuhn and Gordon Baker.  All these and many others had years of distance running behind them.  In contrast I’d only run my first marathon nine months before.

Nevertheless I had confidence that I would survive the distance.  Even though my training had been lighter than that of most of the stronger runners it suited me and had paid off in my other marathon races.

My early morning preparation for the race had been a little confused.  I intended rising at 3.30 a.m. but after a rather restless interrupted sleep for most of the night I slept soundly towards the end and did not wake until 4.30 a.m.  After loosening up exercises and a visit to the bathroom, I ate a light breakfast without much enthusiasm.  Then off to the start.

It was a cool morning and the odour of liniment hung heavy on the air in front of the city hall.  The bustling crowd was enormous and I had difficulty locating my seconds but eventually found them.  Last minute instructions were exchanged and I went out onto the road to stand in the front rank.  No problem here.   In a race this distance people have no illusions about the need for a fast start unless they have hopes of finishing well up so the faster runners are pushed to the front.

Shortly before 6.00 a.m. the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg presented Gordon Baker with the baton containing the message for the Mayor of Durban.  Then Max Trimborn gave his famous cock-crow, the gun fired, and the race had begun.

There was no sudden rush at the start.  This was to be a test of strength and stamina not so much of speed and a few seconds lost at the start were unimportant.  However the field soon opened out and, leaving the city via the main street, John Tarrant was leading followed by a group including Box, Mekler, Baker, Bill Brown (8th last year), Roland Davey, Olaf Vorster, Eric Renken and myself.

Tarrant was setting a good pace and had a lead of fifty or sixty yards after the first mile.  I was at a loss as to what to do because I seemed to be running slowly.  For a moment I was tempted to move off after Tarrant then I glanced at Mekler, the most experienced runner in the race, apparently unconcerned by the fact that Tarrant was ahead.  No one else seemed interested in chasing John so I decided to follow the approach of my more experienced fellows and let him go.  By the time we left the street lights of Pietermaritzburg behind we could not even see him on the road ahead of us.

I found it necessary to run at the front of the leading group to avoid tripping people in front with my long stride.  My confidence increased on finding I could keep up with the leaders easily.

After seven miles I discarded the jersey in which I had started the race.  It was still cool and I remember hoping the overcast sky would shelter us from the sun all day.

The leading group maintained a steady pace down Polly Shorts and up the long climb to Umlaas Road.  At Camperdown (14.7 miles), reached in 1 hour 37 minutes, Box, Mekler, Baker, Davey, Brown, Vorster and I were still together, Davis and Renken just behind and Tarrant four minutes ahead.  Even hearing the size of Tarrant’s lead did not seem to perturb anyone.  Everyone seemed to have settled into a rhythm and there was obviously going to be no excitement or radical changes in front positions for some while.  At this point Manie Kuhn (1967 winner) was a minute behind.  A slow starter, Kuhn usually moved up to the front in the middle of the race.

The 11 and a half miles from Camperdown to Drummond were uneventful until we reached the foot of Inchanga.  I still felt comfortable and worked to vary the pace a little and lose some of the group.  Box obviously had the same idea.  Together we led up the one and a half mile climb and by the time we were over the top and beginning the steep descent into Drummond we had achieved our objective.

At Drummond (26.2 miles) in 2.51 hours, Box, Mekler, Baker, Vorster and I were left together.  Still no sign of Kuhn whom I expected to catch us about here (in actual fact he was 4 minutes behind).

Beginning the climb out of Drummond I noticed the others dropping, Mekler seemed unhappy (I learned later he changed his shoes which were giving him trouble) and Baker and Vorster seemed to decide the pace was too fast.  I hoped they were wrong.  I felt good, running very relaxed and took my first sponge to freshen myself up.

Two miles out of Drummond we caught Tarrant.  He was really struggling (suffering from stomach trouble) and dropped back to finish 28th in 6 hours 55 minutes 46 seconds.

Box and I were now out in front alone.  Both of us seemed to be running easily and the stiff climb up Alverstone presented no problem.  However shortly after Dave Box seemed to be losing ground on me.  We had been running side by side and suddenly I found myself alone – with Dave 10 yards back.  I was striding well and so, with twenty miles to go, I decided not to wait but to keep running my own pace regardless. 

Many were the warnings I’d been given by old Comraders about the seven miles from Drummond to Hillcrest.  “Don’t worry about losing a few minutes on those hills” was the advice, and here I was running out ahead of the field.  I knew many of those just behind would think I was committing suicide running so fast.

I really began striding out.  It had got warmer and I was drinking frequently but conditions were still favourable.

In Pinetown, with thirteen miles to go (4.24) I had a six minute lead over Dave Box (4.30) who was followed by Rencken (4.31) Davis, Baker (4.32) Davey and Mekler (4.33).  Encouraged by the fact that I had such a big lead, and the large crowd in Pinetown, I climbed Cowies Hill striding powerfully.

I felt fairly confident I could win but felt no elation at the prospect.  An error of judgment even then could have cost me the race.  I was more concerned over the fate of the team trophy, the Gunga Din Shield.  I knew we, Savages, were first, second and sixth, but what of our fourth scorer? Germiston had Mekler and Davis well up.  I had to stay ahead.

From Pinetown to Durban the run was uneventful except for one incident.  After a short distance on a dirt road we had to climb three steps up to the main road again.  This after 49 miles hard running.  I couldn’t make it, fell forward and went up on all fours.  Then back to running rhythm again.

The streets were crowded the last five miles and I was told I’d be well inside Gomersall’s course record.  My seconds were working hard now.  I was still running smoothly but I wanted drinks, sponges and salt tablets more frequently now it was getting hotter.

The crowds were thicker closer to the DLI grounds where we were to finish.  The baton containing the message to the mayor was thrust into my hand as I ran up to the tape. 

BAGSHAW COMING IN TO THE FINISH OF THE 1969 COMRADES

 

Then it was over I could stop running.

By the time Dave Box finished, twelve minutes later, I felt recovered.  Elation at my victory kept the full effects of fatigue at bay for several hours.

Dave finished, suffering from large blisters on both feet.  Four minutes later Jackie Mekler came in.  Shortly after Drummond stomach trouble had slowed him down and he’d dropped to eleventh, seventh in Pinetown, he moved through well to take third place.  In my opinion his was a magnificent effort.  To have a bad run and yet put up such a good performance further enhances his reputation as a great runner and competitor.

I was fortunate.  I had the sort of run that every runner dreams about – trouble free, no bad patch, no struggling, no blisters, just a gradual tiring towards the end.

Throughout the afternoon streams of runners arrived in Durban.  In all 587 out of 703 starters completed the course within the time limit of eleven hours.

For the first time in the history of the race two runners from the same club finished inside six hours and Savages became the first club ever to win the Gunga Din Shield for the fifth year in succession.

 

Dave Bagshaw 1969

YOU CAN GET TO DAVE BAGSHAW’S LIFE STORY BY CLICKING HERE.

HOW LONG & WHAT SPEED IS LSD? :

It’s important to understand that this article is not aimed at the people who are in line for a gold or even a silver medal at Comrades.  I have said many times that never having been in those exalted positions, I am not qualified to comment on or give advice to those runners.

 

I have just read a very good article written by Bruce Fordyce about the fact that April is the most crucial training month for Comrades and I totally agree. 

FORDYCEBruce on the way to one of his wins

 

I dug out my own logbook from days gone by and every April was my big distance month – and it paid off.  The year I ran my best – and remember that my best was only 8:29 (so hardly a threat to the winner), I did two runs over 60km and one over 50 in April and then another of just under 60km in the first weekend of May.  I have always been a firm believer in LSD.

But what exactly is LSD?  It stands for Long Slow Distance and not the stuff that was freely available at Woodstock in 1969!  So what is “Long” and what speed is “Slow”? 

A lot of runners these days regard a 20km or a 25km as LSD and sometimes even as little as 15km!  I don’t think that’s LSD and neither do some of the runners who should know about these things.  In his article to which I referred at the start, Bruce Fordyce says that a “long run” should be between 40 and 70km.  I asked Bruce what he considers as being the speed that an average “slower runner” should be doing in a race that is being treated as a training run and we fully understand that many Comrades runners take part in races during April and May for a variety of very valid reasons.  Bruce tells me that he thinks those runs should be an hour slower than race pace and then it’s a training run and as Bruce says “It’s about time on your feet in April”. So if you are a 4 hour runner for the marathon, do the 42kms in close to 5 hours. 

If you’re a 4:45 runner in a marathon, it would be difficult to slow down by an hour in a race over a distance of 42km so listen then, to the advice from Ann Ashworth the 2018 Women’s Comrades Champ, about the speed she suggests for a good training speed in April.

ANN FINISH LINEAnn Ashworth breaking the tape to win the women’s 2018 Comrades

 

She told me that she tells her athletes to “run at conversational speed, in other words they must be able to hold a normal conversation throughout the run”.  This is great advice because it covers any runner at any speed ability. What Ann is saying is that if you are battling to talk in normal conversation terms, you are running too fast for a training run!

Ann tells me that she thinks the right thing is about 3 (or maybe even 4) runs of 50km to 60km in a Comrades build up in April.

When I think back the “conversational runs” were pretty much the way I ran in all my long training runs. They were considerably slower than my race pace, we didn’t bother with the time it took us and the group I was running with, chatted, laughed and joked the entire way. Some of the jokes had been told before but we laughed again anyway!  I remember doing training runs on the Comrades route from Pietermaritzburg to Pinetown which is around 65km and taking around 8 hours to do them depending on seconding stops and that sort of thing.

We certainly weren’t in any hurry but you have no idea what a boost those long runs gave me. It meant firstly that my legs could do that distance so they were taken care of for Comrades day because I have always said that if your legs can do 60 or 65kms they can certainly do the 87km needed for Comrades this year.

It also gave me a huge mental boost knowing that I could do the distance without any stress and I could go into Comrades knowing that barring any major problem I would have no trouble getting to the finish in the 11 hours we had available back then and if I did have a major problem as happened in 1976, I still had time.  1976 was a shocker for me with severe cramp from before half way but I still managed 10:06.

It’s important to remember that I was never a top runner in my Comrades running years but I started 14 of them and finished 14 of them and didn’t need medical attention at the finish of any of them, and that included the 1971 Comrades that we’re told was the longest Comrades of them all where I finished in under 10 hours despite the fact that I was forced to walk the last 20 km because I had ITB in the days before we knew what ITB was!  That walk of the last 20km wasn’t a physical thing at all.  It couldn’t be because my knee was wrecked.  The LSD training kicked in when the “90% of Comrades is above the neck” part had to take over.  On that day in 1971 it certainly did.

A short while ago, I read a training tip by Comrades coach Lindsey Parry where he advised that if you have Comrades in mind that you shouldn’t be racing any marathons or ultras from now to Comrades and there are a few of both categories on the calendar.

LINDSEY PARRYComrades coach Lindsey Parry

 

What he said was “No more racing. This applies to marathons and ultras. They should not be raced and you don’t want to be chasing seeding in your peak training block. For those who need to qualify, you should aim to run at the minimum possible effort to qualify and use the race as a training run.”   Sadly many runners will ignore that very sound advice.

So what is LSD during the month of April that is so important to get into your legs and to spend time on your feet?

I think that depends to a large degree on individual runners and the times you are able to run in Comrades but one thing I do know is that LSD is not 15km or 20km or even 25km as some runners think.  Don’t think that running three or four half marathons in April and nothing much more is going to make your Comrades day easier. I don’t believe it will.  It may get you to the finish but it will in all probability also get you a visit to the medical tent at the finish.  In chatting to the man who heads the medical facilities at Comrades, Jeremy Boulter, he tells me that the majority of those needing attention in the medical facilities at the end, finish in the last two hours of the race and in most cases are undertrained.

I’ve been on the road in recent years and seen the looks on the faces of the runners in the “Rescue Busses”.  They might have avoided the medical tent at the finish but they have also avoided that precious Comrades medal and in many cases (not all I agree) that’s as a result of inadequate training.

In the article that Bruce wrote and to which I referred at the start he says the thinking behind long runs, is that they build the stamina, endurance and strength that is so essential for Comrades and I agree with him.  I doubt that you can do that on 20km or 25km runs alone.  In my running days I did the long training runs to build my stamina, endurance and strength – both physical and mental and it worked – 14 times!

The important thing to understand is that we don’t all have the ability of a gold medallist or even a silver medallist if we are the average runner and that one should therefore, aim to do whatever is within your ability for your own LSD runs.  I know that when I was running long runs at the weekend, I would never do more than one long run over a weekend.  I knew my limitations.  Some people have said that had I done two long runs over the same weekend, my times would have been a lot better but I don’t think so.  I wasn’t built to do that sort of running and I’m not convinced that back to back runs over a weekend for the average runner is a great idea anyway, but that’s my opinion.

So bottom line is that April is the biggest distance month in the build up to Comrades. It’s not a good idea to race any marathon or ultra but instead treat them as training runs. 

So if you’re wanting a good day on the 9th of June, listen to what Bruce Fordyce says about training runs when he says it’s all about time on your feet. Listen to what Lindsey Parry says that you shouldn’t chase a PB or better seeding in April.  Listen to what Ann Ashworth says when she says that your training runs should be at a pace where you can hold the conversation with your fellow runners throughout the run.

It’s not too late to get those long runs in for Comrades. Do them this month and you won’t regret it. Most people running Comrades this year have a 42km under their belt already as a qualifier so to run three or four long runs in April shouldn’t be a problem.

 

 

APRIL 2019

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