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

MAY I HELP YOU AT COMRADES? :

I suppose with the title of this blog I’ll have coaches up and down the country in a terrible state wondering what exactly I’m trying to do by getting into their territory but they needn’t worry at all because I’ve said before, I am not a coach so I won’t say anything about coaching other than just one thing and it’s this. When you decide on a coach, and it doesn’t matter who it is, please stick with the training program offered by that coach and don’t whatever you do jump around from coach to coach because that is a recipe for disaster and probable failure come the big day.

What I’m wanting to do in this blog is to give a few little tips that helped me on the day and leading up to the day when I was running and had nothing at all to do with the way I trained and if you think they may have some merit, please feel free to try them but please do so well before Comrades – as in two months before Comrades – and if they work for you keep doing them until they become part of your normal routine.

Some of them you can only do a day or so before Comrades as in my first suggestion so let’s see what we have.

My thanks to Comrades Marathon for the use of the photographs taken from the Comrades website and as always for their help with my blogs.

EXPO

Before we even get to the start line, we have to go to Expo. This is basically a no option exercise if we are registered to collect our numbers in Durban. It’s exciting with an amazing atmosphere and you can feel and smell Comrades. There are things to see. People to meet. Celebs to bump into and a massive number of products that the manufacturers will tell you will help you get to the finish easier.

expo

Don’t be tempted. Your main purpose for going to Expo is to get your registration done and to have a quick walk around (try to make it a maximum of an hour) and a quick look and to get out of there and to get off your feet and to go and rest.

TRYING NEW THINGS

You don’t want to try anything you have never tried before. The last new thing you tried should have been at least six weeks before Comrades.

Other runners will tell you about “magic potions” they have discovered a week or so before the race that are “guaranteed to get you to the finish at least an hour faster than you planned. THEY WON’T – SO DON’T TRY THEM.

You don’t want to try any new magic “muti” that is on offer at Expo. By all means take them and use them in your training for NEXT year but not for this year. Don’t buy new shoes at Expo and wear them the next day at Comrades. People do this believe it or not. You should know by mid-April which shoes (and any other clothes) you’ll be wearing on the big day.

THE BIG DAY ARRIVES

Finally the big day arrives, you get to the start and you are convinced that you are the only person there who hasn’t done enough training. Every other runner is so incredibly confident. Jumping around shouting to their mates, singing, dancing and generally having a great time.

Eventually the cock crow and the gun and you slowly start to move forward and you look at your watch and by the time you cross the start line it’s already 7 minutes since the gun fired. Got to make that up – and fast. Everybody around you is taking off like a bullet to do the same.

DON’T DO IT. You’ll make up that 7 minutes easily and long before you get to half way and those who tear off will be broken before they reach halfway.

DOWN RUN START

They forget that the first 25km is tough. It’s very, very tough. You climb out of Durban in a steady climb all the way to Kloof which is at the top of Field’s Hill just the other side of Pinetown and many of those who tried to make up those 7 minutes will be broken by the time they get there.

Not you though. You left the start at the nice gentle pace without any panic because you knew exactly what you have to do because you’re only running 20km anyway and you’ve done that plenty of times before.

BREAK UP THE ROUTE

It’s crucial that you study the route and get to know it really well and then break it up into chunks of no more than say, the first 20km from the start and then after that 10km chunks to the top of Polly’s and then the last bit of only 7Km.

Then learn where those landmarks are so that on race day you know that the first 20km is not an issue because you’ve done that dozens of times. When you get there, then chuck that away. It’s done. It’s gone. The next 10km is all you have to worry about. Nothing beyond that. You can run that. You have done it plenty of times. You can do it so why not today?

Forget about trying to work them out from your watch. By 2pm that’ll do your head in but landmarks won’t. Oh, here’s Umlaas Road. I recognize that. It’s the highest point between Durban and ‘Maritzburg and it’s only 2 o’clock – cool!

Don’t even worry about anything beyond that. When you get there, throw that away and then the next 10km and so you go and you don’t run anything further than that first 20km during the entire day and how many times have you run 20km in training?

REMEMBER I TOLD YOU COMRADES IS 90% IN THE HEAD. THIS IS A MAJOR PART OF IT – AND IT REALLY DOES WORK BUT YOU MUST STUDY THE ROUTE AND YOU MUST TRAIN YOUR HEAD.

WALKING

Virtually everyone in Comrades walks during the course of the day but the secret is not whether you walk or when you walk but HOW you walk. Make no mistake, Comrades is a hard day’s work (with apologies to the Beatles) and you will be very tired and you will be very sore and if you are frightened of being either sore or tired then it’s perhaps best if you don’t bother.

That said if you accept that you are going to be tired and sore then you may as well go the “whole hog” and work really hard. In other words when you walk, don’t aimlessly saunter along the road. That wastes very valuable time. Walk with purpose and determination and hurt properly.

Of course it’ll hurt to do that – but it’ll also save you the better part of 30 minutes or even more. Walk like that on hills, through refreshment stations and in fact anywhere you have to walk.

There comes a point where you can’t hurt any worse!

This is part of the mental part of Comrades and remember that 90% of Comrades is mental work. This is the mental work they talk about!

WALKING AND DRINKING

I have often been criticized for telling people to take their drinks at a refreshment station and keep walking and don’t waste time by stopping to drink. I am told that the drink – especially if it is in a paper cup will splash up your nose if you try and drink whilst running.

refreshments

Not if you drink it through a straw it won’t. I used to carry a 15cm plastic tube held under my watch strap at one end and by an elastic band at the other end. Get to a refreshment station, pick up the drinking cup, squeeze the top almost shut, insert your drinking tube and drink while running! NO splash back up your nose and probably about a minute saved. Only a minute! Yes but a minute at 20 refreshment stations is 20 minutes at the end!

CHAFING

I have spent the last several Comrades as a spectator at the side of the road at Botha’s Hill which is more or less the 39km mark on the Up Run and more or less the 50km mark on the Down Run and I am amazed by how many runners are in need of something to stop chafing when they get to us whether it’s Up or Down and it really is so easy to stop and you don’t want to be trying to stop the chafing once it’s already started.

Firstly let me say that in this case I am speaking to the men as I have no experience at all in stopping chafing for women runners.

Men generally chafe in three places. The back of the armpits, the nipples and the crotch.

Ordinary Vaseline applied generously to the armpits and crotch before the start takes care of those two areas and what I found worked very well for the nipples was waterproof plaster cut into a small piece the size of the nipple and applied to the nipple. Be careful not to get it onto the skin around the nipple as the sweat will cause the plaster to come off.

That takes care of the chafing even in the rain.

A lot of runners these days are wearing cycling type pants under their running shorts to stop chafing but I am not able to comment on whether that works or not as I have never used them.

Strangely though, as soon as I started wearing a T shirt under my vest the chafing at the back of my armpits stopped.

HILLS

There are hills in Comrades. In fact there are quite a lot of them. Some of them have names and some of them don’t but whether they have names or whether they don’t on the 4th of June you are going to have to have to get up all those hills and you are going to possibly do a fair amount of walking as you go up those hills. Remember what I said about managing your walking as you climb those hills and it will make life very much easier but many years ago as I was getting ready for my first Comrades, I was approaching a hill and a seasoned runner said to me “Take care of the bottom of a hill and the top will take care of itself”

polly-shortts

I have never forgotten those words and it is the way I climbed every hill in every Comrades and every other run and race I ever ran after that. It’s a simple statement.

Think about it. It really does work and it works well.

“Take care of the bottom of a hill and the top will take care of itself” BUT then manage your walking if you’re going to be walking on that hill.

PHYSIO STATIONS

It’s not an uncommon sight in Comrades to see a runner lying down at one of the physio stations or alongside a family member getting his or her legs rubbed in an effort to ease the pain to make the rest of the trip easier.

In most instances those leg rubs will do nothing other than waste valuable time. Possibly as much as 15 to 20 minutes and imagine if you stop three or four times during Comrades for one of these rubs that won’t help you. That’s an hour that you have wasted. Gone.

There are some genuine cases where muscles are in spasm and a physio is needed to ease those but in the vast majority of cases the rub is nothing more than muscles that are sore from the work you are asking them to do by running a fairly long distance so before you stop for a rub make sure that the stop is one that can genuinely be helped by a physio or whether it will be the waste of 15 or 20 very valuable minutes.

KEEPING WARM AND KEEPING COOL

I’m going to share with you a little trick I learnt from my running days that might work for you but it might not. A word of warning though. Whatever you do, don’t try this for the first time on Comrades day. Try it long beforehand. If it works for you that’s great. If it doesn’t work then throw it away as a waste of time.

It certainly worked for me.

I found that the early mornings were uncomfortably cool, cold even, so as a result I always started off wearing a plain T shirt (unbranded – this is important or you are breaking the rules) UNDER my club vest. I did all my long training runs in a T shirt so this was comfortable for me and at the same time it kept me warmer in the cool early morning. Then on top of that my club vest helped a bit to warm me as well.

The T shirt I wore at Comrades I started wearing in April so that by the time we got to Comrades I was perfectly comfortable in it. I didn’t buy it a few days before race day and wear it.

As it started to get warmer my T shirt started to get wetter and now it started to play another role. It started to hold water and started to cool me down. Again this didn’t bother me because I was used to wearing it on my long training runs and I was used to running in a fairly wet T shirt. The advantage during Comrades was that I kept my T shirt wet and the hotter the Comrades, the wetter I would deliberately keep my T shirt and as a result the less I felt the heat. The only slightly uncomfortable time was around 3pm when it started to cool down and my T shirt was still wet but that didn’t last too long. The advantages far outweighed that slightly uncomfortable half hour.

 

MY HAT- MY SPONGE
Usually in your “goodie bag” at Expo you are given some sort of headgear. Either a peak or a cap of some sort which bears the Comrades logo and possibly a sponsor logo. If these are not what you are used to wearing, don’t wear them. Get yourself an unbranded (it must be unbranded or you are breaking the rules) hat NOW that is comfortable and get used to it and wear that.

In my very early Comrades, I hadn’t yet learnt the value of keeping my head cool but in later years after some experimenting I found that the thing that worked best for me was the fisherman’s type “bucket hat” which could easily double up as a sponge if need be. Again I kept my hat wet and my head cool.

I also used this in even later years to carry an actual sponge. A piece of Velcro sewn onto the side of the hat and another piece of material to wrap around my sponge with a piece of Velcro that held that and also held it onto my hat so I didn’t have to bother with carrying it. I attach a photo of what I am talking about and I hope it’s clear enough to see what I am talking about.

comrades-1985

 

I hope these few tips that I have picked up over my years at Comrades may be of some use to some of you and even if one or two of you benefit I will be pleased. As I said though, if any of them, such as the T shirt under your vest is something you might try, please do it now and not on Comrades day for the first time.

Some of them may sound really silly but as I have said many times before, Comrades is not about how fast you can run on the day. It’s about how much time you don’t waste on the road on the day.

 

March 2017

 

 

 

 

TOMMY MALONE – THE FLYING SCOT :

Tommy Malone was a young man when he came to South Africa in 1962 and he answered the call of the Comrades Marathon four years later. He wasn’t really known beyond the running world in what was then the Transvaal and a few runners in Natal but it wasn’t very long before the diminutive runner from Coatbridge between Glasgow and Stirling in Scotland soon became known as the “Flying Scot”.

It’s 50 years ago exactly since Tommy Malone won his Comrades Marathon as a novice so what better time than to chat to Tommy about that day on the 31st of May 1966 and the lead up to it.

DJ:      When did you first start running and what was it that attracted you to Comrades? 

TM:     When I was 16 I started all disciplines in school and I developed a liking for cross country. I came to South Africa in 1962 and in the 1963/64 cross country season won 13 from 15 events at inter club events and then made South African team in 1964 and ran against then Rhodesia in Bulawayo.

I read everything possible about running and eventually started following Jackie Mekler’s career after his second place to Scotland’s Joe McGhee in the 1954 Empire Games Marathon. I had been in touch by letter with Joe McGhee while I was still in Scotland but when I came to South Africa I decided to try to get in touch with Jackie Mekler which I did and I met up with him and I have been friends with Jackie ever since, over 50 years now. Obviously with my interest in Jackie’s career and then getting to know him and getting into road running Comrades was always going to follow, and it did.

 

DJ:      Despite a fair degree of success in races in the 5 months leading up to Comrades 1966 starting with the Magic Trophy in Pietermaritzburg you were relatively unknown to the general public prior to Comrades 1966 where you came in as a novice. Tell us about your race successes in the first half of that year.

TM:     I went down to Pietermaritzburg in January for the Magic Trophy which was a very tough 32Km and I won that and after the race Manie Kuhn came up to me and introduced himself and said that he had heard through the grapevine that I was thinking of running Comrades and that if that was true he had a friend in Johannesburg who would be happy to come round and break my legs. That was the start of a lifelong friendship with Manie despite many fierce battles on the road. He was a good man and I still miss the many laughs we shared whenever we got together.

In 1966 and prior to Comrades,  I also ran the SA Marathon Champs in Bloemfontein and despite not being 100% well I managed to finish in third place there. And then six weeks before Comrades I ran in, and won the Korkie that used to be run from Centurion to Germiston and in that race I broke Jackie Mekler’s record.

 

DJ:      Apart from the races what sort of training did you do and did you turn to anyone for advice on Comrades 

TM:     I logged 6 months from 1 Dec and did 3200kms as Comrades training in that period including races. I ran 7 days a week and sometimes twice a day. My long training runs were 30Km, 56Km and one 64Km and a lot of it alone. I did do a few runs with 1957 winner Mercer Davies. One strange thing though was that despite my very long friendship with him I never ran any training runs with Jackie nor went to him for race advice that I can remember.

 

DJ:      The field was small in those days – probably not much bigger than around 500. What was your strategy from the start?

TM:     I approached it with caution. I had no pre race strategy and decided to rely on how I felt on the day. I was acutely aware of the fact that I was the novice and that I was surrounded by experienced Comrades runners and at a function the day before the race, one of the pre race favourites, Frikkie Steyn made no secret of the fact that he was going to win in 1966. He actually never won Comrades although he was a Gold medallist. I was also very aware of Manie Kuhn and his Comrades credentials and the fact that these guys all knew the route well and trained on it so I decided that I would go out in a group with them.

 

DJ:      You ended up with a very big gap between you and second placed Manie Kuhn at the finish – some 18 minutes. When did you start to make your move and when did you realise that the race was yours?

TM:     At around Bothas Hill, I was around 5th about 2 minutes off the pace and saw Jackie Mekler who was standing at the side of the road and said “Keep it going Tommy the race is still young”. I could never in my wildest dreams imagine that the man who had finished second to Joe McGhee at the Empire Games in 1954 and at that stage four time winner of Comrades (he would still go on to win it again) would be standing at the side of the road encouraging me.  

At Harrison Flats my second said to me “Do you want anything”? and my reply was “I want Manie Kuhn”. Manie had at that stage led the entire way and I had made my way up to 2nd place.

By the time we reached Camperdown I had caught him. I didn’t bother to slow down or to say anything to him as I passed him and there was no exchange of any sort between us. I eventually reached the downhill section towards the Tumble Inn and a spectator on a motorcycle came up alongside and my second asked him where Kuhn was and we were told that he was about 4Km behind. That meant that in some 12Km I had moved 4Km ahead and I hadn’t increased my pace so Manie was in trouble. 

DJ:      It must have been fairly lonely running out there – particularly with the size field and being an up run with few spectators until you actually got into Pietermaritzburg. 

TM:     Not through the towns. There were lots of spectators there but between towns very little in the way of people. There was one amusing incident that happened although it wasn’t very amusing at the time. I was running up Polly’s and as I didn’t want to run on the camber of the road I moved to the centre of the road and anybody who has run Comrades will know that the camber on Polly’s is severe, when an over enthusiastic marshall came rushing up to me, finger wagging and told me that if I didn’t move to the edge of the road and run facing the traffic he would immediately disqualify me!

I immediately moved to the side of the road and when I got to the top of Polly’s I was met by two motorcycle traffic policemen from Pietermaritzburg who then escorted me whilst I ran – in the middle of the road – to the finish!

I ran into the finish some 18 minutes ahead of Manie Kuhn in second place and that is still the second biggest winning margin in the last 50 years and the biggest on the up run in the last 50 years.

A PHOTO OF TOMMY’S WINNING “TAKKIES” WHICH HAVE BEEN BRONZED WHICH HE WORE IN HIS 1966 COMRADES

DJ:      You had two competitive Comrades and then you didn’t run Comrades for some four years before coming back to complete your remaining 8 Comrades for your Green number. Whilst you ran all of those in silvers what many people don’t know is that it was injury that took you out of competitive running.

TM:     Sadly yes. Both my Achilles Tendons gave in after the 1967 Comrades and I couldn’t run Comrades again for 4 years and then when I did come back it was a case of hobble more than run the way I used to run but I have still been involved with running in many ways since then.

 

DJ:      Looking back over those 50 years since your win in 1966, you must have seen massive changes to Comrades. You come back virtually every year.  The attraction is obviously still huge to be at Comrades.

TM:     I’m coming up for my 50th Comrades that I’ll be attending this year and it’s the meeting up with old mates and seeing people like Jackie Mekler and Mick Winn and others and swapping Comrades “war stories” from years gone by is really great and that’s what’ll keep me going for as long as I’m able to do so.

 

 

There are always less published stories about Comrades and the one from Tommy’s Comrades win is fantastic.

Sitting in faraway Scotland, his Mum, Elizabeth, was biting her nails wanting to know what was happening to Tommy in this road race at the southern tip of Africa and she had an idea. She picked up the phone and called the Glasgow Herald and got through to the Sports Desk. The call we’re told went like this.

“I wonder if you could help me please. My son was running this race in South Africa today…………

(interruption)

You must be Mrs Malone! Tommy won the Comrades Marathon today”.