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 ISN’T HARD :

We’re into March and most Comrades runners should by now be well into their Comrades training and I’ve just read Bruce Fordyce’s latest blog in which he says it’s now time to start training hard for Comrades and I totally agree with him. March used to be when I started the serious stuff in my running days but it’s not the physical training I want to talk about.

I have often been asked by “ordinary runners” – as opposed to the elite or even those running for silver medals – if Comrades is hard and my answer has always been the same.  Comrades isn’t hard. 

By implication, that would mean that Comrades must be easy and I can immediately hear runners and “would be” Comrades runners saying that I must be completely round the bend.  If Comrades wasn’t hard, then everybody would be doing it.

When you consider that in the 92 years we have had Comrades, we have had something like 120,000 different people who have run Comrades (that is something of a guess) and that is only a very small percentage of the total population of the country who could qualify to take part that, so if it is “easy”, why then do so few people actually take part and why have so few people taken part since the race started in 1921?

The answer, I believe, is fairly simple. Getting to the start line of Comrades is hard but Comrades itself, if you’ve prepared properly both physically and mentally, is not hard.

I started off by excluding the elite or professional runners and those running for silver medals etc. because I know nothing about how they feel on Comrades day.  I have never been there so I can’t comment on what it feels like to run Comrades at 5 minutes a km or faster but I can comment on what it feels like when you are running a Bill Rowan or slower because I have run in both those categories and its those runners I’m wanting to “talk” to in this blog.

The first big challenge is to commit to running Comrades, often from having done little or nothing at all in the way of exercise previously in many cases. I know one person who promised himself for 20 years that he would run before he eventually did!

That’s quite a long time to make up your mind!

The problem after you’ve made up your mind to run is that you are still a long way from the Comrades start line and almost immediately second thoughts and doubts start to creep in, and often it’s only the fact that you can’t keep your mouth shut and you’ve told people that you are going to run Comrades that keeps you going. In many cases you elect to shift the goalposts a little from this year to next year’s Comrades in order to give yourself more time. 

The trouble with that is the shift in the goalposts often comes with an easing up on the training and in most cases stopping completely “because my knees are taking too much strain”.  Old rugby injuries you understand!

Where the runner doesn’t move goalposts and the training and racing distances get longer and longer there are other problems that come along.  Pains in places you didn’t know pains could be. Trips to physios and doctors and it’s only the end of March… but we carry on.

We feel better. We have qualified. We’re sometimes even running better times but it’s getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning because it’s getting darker and colder. Some of our training partners have fallen by the wayside.  Old rugby injuries you understand!

We start hearing horror stories about things called Inchanga, Botha’s Hill and Cowies Hill and there’s talk about cut off times and being pulled off the road if we don’t reach certain places by certain times. Our mind starts to do cartwheels.

We go out and buy ourselves a very expensive watch that works out our speed per kilometre, which by the time we get to the 65km mark on race day is going to drive us completely insane as we work out that we’re running at 3 mins 15 per km!  No! That can’t be right!

The marker boards count down in Comrades but nobody told us that. Now we’re trying to calculate our times with that fancy watch and marker boards that count down and so we try again.

Ah! That’s better! We’re doing 25mins per km.  No! Hang on! Now we’re in very serious trouble.

Bottom line – save yourself the money. You don’t need the fancy watch. Use an ordinary wristwatch. You start at 5:30 in the morning and you need to be at the finish before 5:30 in the evening and at certain cut off points by certain times of the day and the organisers tell you what time of day those are.  Keep things as simple as possible!

So where is this all leading me? 

You may not have noticed but I haven’t said a thing about how you should prepare physically for Comrades.  There are plenty of people around who can do that for you.  Some of them will confuse the hell out of you but I leave you to work out which training schedule works best for you – just don’t jump from one to the other.  

Everything I’ve said has to do with that part of you from the neck up!

That crucial 90% of Comrades from the neck up that needs to be very well prepared to get you through from Pietermaritzburg to Moses Mabida Stadium on the 10th of June.  The legs and the physical training only account for 10% on Comrades day.  We’ve been saying that for more years than I can remember.

I remember being told as a very young Comrades runner 50 years ago that if my legs could get me through 60km, they could get me through 90km.  The other 30km is up to your head but if that hasn’t been prepared properly you are in for a rough day.  We’ve always said the Down Run actually starts as you get into Pinetown!

I’m certainly not by any stretch of the imagination a hero of any sort when it comes to running Comrades but I started 14 of them and I finished all 14 inside the time limit which in those days was 11 hours and not once did it even enter my mind during the worst of my runs to stop and get into a car.

In the 1971 Down Run I started with what we later found out was ITB but at the time we had no idea what the pain at the side of the knee was so I ran. Or at least I tried to run but by the time I got to Pinetown I wasn’t able to run so I had only one thing I could do and getting into a car wasn’t the one thing. Walking to the finish was the only option I had, so I did that and I got home in a touch under 10 hours and I put that down to the fact that I was strong mentally and I always worked on that preparation in all my Comrades.

That day in 1971 if I hadn’t prepared mentally there is simply no way I would have finished and it was only that mental strength, that got me through in what I regard as a fairly respectable time in what I have very recently learnt is regarded as the longest ever Comrades distance-wise.

The longest ever Comrades and I walked from Pinetown, effectively with a leg that wasn’t working but my head was!

If you have put in the distance in your legs and you have done at least one but preferably two or three runs of 60km or maybe a bit more, your legs will see you through on “the day”.

So how do you prepare mentally for Comrades?  There are just a couple of things to do before race day. Those 60km runs in your legs go into your mental “bank account” and count big time on Comrades day when you remember that at the end of those training runs you felt “pretty OK” to face further distance so now your physical is taken care of and you can focus on the mental preparation that literally hundreds of Comrades runners ignore at their peril.

So what do you do to train mentally?

The major thing is to get to know the Comrades route. This is easy if you live in KZN and get to run on it regularly and things like Inchanga, Botha’s Hill and Cowies Hill become regular parts of your training runs.

Not so easy if you live far away and the first time you see the route is on race day or the day before.

I have done a detailed description of the route and it’s available on another chapter of this blog. Study it and get to know it.  Not just a passing glance. Read it several times so that when you get to know the various places where you are.

Then the crucial thing you must do is break up your Comrades into small pieces.  There are usually seven time based cut off points (including the finish) and the longest is usually no more than about 19km or so.  Whatever you do, don’t stand at the start thinking you have to run 90km to Moses Mabida Stadium in Durban.  That will just blow your mind.  

Stand at the start and think that all you are going to do is your 19km run (or whatever the distance is to the first cut-off) and that’s all.

You have all run 19km and much more in training so that’s not an issue at all so your longest run on Comrades day is 19km or so.  The next cut off is about 11km further so that’s your next run.

So that means that your first run on Comrades day is about 19km. Your next run is about 11km and so you go for the rest of the day.  Don’t worry about anything other than the run you’re busy with.  No point in stressing about Inchanga when you’re in Camperdown!   Concentrate on Camperdown when you’re in Camperdown!

So on Comrades day you will end up doing seven little runs.  That’s all it is. Seven little runs! That’s not too much to ask of anyone.

One long run of 90km is a huge job – but seven little runs.  That’s no big deal!

The great thing about these cut off points is that Comrades tells you where they are and then they put up huge big boards about 1km from the cut-off point to let you know it’s up ahead. 

So all you have to do is to learn to identify the landmarks of the cut-off points and then tie them back to the route description I have given you.  Six of them on the route!

This is getting easier and easier all the time!  That’s why I say Comrades isn’t hard.

Do the hard work before the 10th of June and enjoy Comrades day.  That’s what it’s there for.

 

 MARCH 2018