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.

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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.

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COMRADES THREE IN A ROW WINNER – DAVE BAGSHAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I asked Dave a couple of things that I hope will give the reader a better knowledge of one of the greatest runners the Comrades Marathon has, in my opinion, ever seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

BAGSHAW 1DAVE BAGSHAW WITH HIS FAMILIAR RUNNING ACTION DURING COMRADES

 

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

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

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

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

BAGSHAW 2  WITH HIS SECOND DURING COMRADES

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

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

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

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

BAGSHAW 4COMING HOME TO WIN THE 1971 COMRADES

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

            “You should have run the Comrades”

            “I did”            

            “Did you finish?”

            “Yes.”

            “What time did you do.?”  

            “5.45”

            “You must have won” 

            “I did”

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

 

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

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

31 May 2019