I have had an association with the Comrades Marathon that goes back over 60 years to 1956 and since then I have been fortunate to have seen history being made many times and I have met some amazing people.
MODEST TO MEGA
One dictionary definition of the word modest states “Moderate or limited in size” and whilst Comrades had a very modest start in 1921 it had many exciting tussles by those eventually winning in those early days.
We saw the first three of the five time winners in Arthur Newton, Hardy Ballington and Wally Hayward, as well as the slowest winning time (Bill Rowan in 8:59 in 1921) and the biggest winning margin (Allen Boyce by almost 2 hours in 1940) up to the time the race stopped for the Second World War but it was really only in 1959 that the transformation to what we have today started.
It was in 1959 that entries first went to 100 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 from the early days and there had been non Natal winners (Bill Rowan was 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 and in the sixties we saw the fourth of our five time winners, Jackie Mekler.
In this section I have included some articles written by people other than me, a bit of history as I saw it and as it affected me through the years. These are just introductions to the stories that are in full in my blog at themarathon.co
COME & RUN COMRADES 1968 WITH ME
I turned 21 on the 16th of January 1968 and on the 18th of January I ventured out on my first training run of exactly 1 mile.
At the end of it I was shattered and had it not been for the fact that I had announced to everyone I knew that I was going to be running Comrades, there is every chance that I would have given up then and there.
It would have been too embarrassing to have done so, so I had no choice but to hang in and prepare for Comrades four and a half months away so I filled in the entry form and got to work.
I had met a few “green numbers” who had given me the benefit of their vast knowledge that there was only one way to prepare and that was by way of this thing called “LSD” or “Long Slow Distance”.
My story of the 1968 Comrades – my first one – is in my Blog: themarathon.co of March 2016
IAN JARDINE – AN AMAZING MAN
I first met Ian Jardine at the beginning of May 1968 on an ill-fated training run from Pinetown to Pietermaritzburg which “the Old Man” (Ian Jardine was called that by many) used to organise every year at the beginning of May along the route and in the direction of Comrades in that particular year.
I didn’t know him when we set off that morning, but I certainly did before that day ended. On reflection I realise that I knew nothing about Comrades – and I mean nothing.
We had started in Pinetown and by the top of Field’s Hill I was running alongside Manie Kuhn who had won the year before. That’s how easy Comrades was! By the time we had done another 30Kms I was so far behind the rest of the group that I had to get into the car and be driven to where they were.
I arrived and was told that “I.J. wants to see you”. In reality he had been blind for years and couldn’t see a thing but nonetheless I presented myself and he said to me “I see we have learnt about Comrades today” – and I had – and so I met the great man.
My story of Ian Jardine is in my Blog: themarathon.co of December 2013
ARTHUR NEWTON’S MISSING CLOCK
The clock presented to Arthur Newton by the Natal Witness for winning the 1922 Comrades is now on display in the Comrades Museum and has had an interesting journey since being presented to the great man but not very many people know the story of that clock and how it eventually ended up in the Comrades Museum.
Newton was a farmer in the Harding area in southern KZN and at some time – and it seems, but nobody is sure when – after winning it, he presented the clock to the Harding Town Board so that the clock could be on permanent display in the Harding Town Hall.
As far as we know it was there for many years until the Town Hall was destroyed by fire in the late sixties and one of the very few things saved from the fire was the Arthur Newton clock.
The full story of how I found Arthur Newton’s clock is in my Blog themarathon.co of May 2015
NOEL BURREE – 2nd PLACE & WITHOUT ANY DRINKS
In 1979 I was voted onto the Comrades organising committee and was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
One of the managers at Wesbank asked me whether it would be possible for Wesbank to have the loan of all the Comrades trophies to be put on show at their stand at the Royal Show in Pietermaritzburg that year.
On one of the show days I decided to go along to their stand to see what had been done with the trophies.
Standing there, I was aware of an elderly couple behind me looking at the trophies and I heard the wife say to her husband “There is the trophy your name should be on dear”.
I told them I couldn’t help overhearing the comment that the lady had made and was interested to know which trophy they were talking about.
“That one there” she said pointing to the Anderson Trophy for the second person home. “That’s interesting” I replied. “What year was that?”
The old man then chipped in and said “It was 1931 – a long, long time ago young man” (which I was at that time)!
“Noel Burree finished second that year – but I thought he was dead” I said inserting my foot ever so gently into my mouth.
“No I’m not dead” the old man said very seriously.
He told me the story of the 1931 race that has the second closest finish – just 2 seconds – in Comrades history in my Blog: themarathon.co of May 2015
THE DRAMATIC FINISH OF 1967
By the time 1967 arrived Tommy Malone was one of the firm favourites to make it two wins in a row and along with Durban favourite, Manie Kuhn, the media did their job of getting the public worked up with the inter provincial rivalry between what was then the Transvaal where the defending champion was from and Natal where Manie Kuhn, who had never won the race but who had a collection of gold medals, was from.
This is perhaps one of the most famous and talked about photos in Comrades history and the saddest part of it is that Tommy Malone is possibly better known for coming second in 1967 than he is for winning the 1966 Comrades by the biggest Up Run margin since his win in 1966.
Tommy himself told me the story of that day in my Blog themarathon.co of June 2015.
1975 A WATERSHED YEAR
The 50th Comrades was run in 1975 and is still known as “The Golden Jubilee” and a huge amount of fanfare came with the announcement of a “special medal” to celebrate this.
The Golden Jubilee wasn’t the only thing that happened for the 1975 race. The whole build up had all started in the second half of 1974 when the organisers who at that time were a sub-committee of Collegians Harriers, decided to take a proposal to the main Collegians Harriers club, to whom Comrades belonged in those days to get permission from the South African Amateur Athletics Union (SAAAU) that the race should be open to all races and also to women.
The rules were clear. People of colour and women were not permitted to compete in the same athletics events as men.
Some of the things and changes that happened in 1975 are told in my Blog themarathon.co of April 2015
REFRESHMENT TABLES. WHAT’S THAT?
1979 was probably one of the highlights of my long association with Comrades. I found myself on the Comrades committee which at that time consisted of just five people.
Along I went to my first committee meeting and discussion revolved around the fact that following a part ban on seconding vehicles because of traffic volumes, that 1979 should be the year of a total ban other than those vehicles with express permission to be on the road.
The discussion went along well and then I was told that I was responsible for refreshment “tables” (I don’t think they had the exalted title of “stations” at that time), and I was given a few rather tatty files used by the chap who had organised a few of these tables the year before with the partial ban.
It actually turned out that they weren’t much use to me anyway as I set about organising the refreshment “tables” for the first year of a total ban on seconding vehicles.
I didn’t have a clue where to start but the way Comrades refreshment stations started is in my Blog themarathon.co of May 2015.
AN ENGLISHMAN PRAYS FOR RAIN – AND GETS IT!
I have been privileged in the many years I have been associated with Comrades to have met most of the winners from the sixties, seventies, eighties (not difficult there with Bruce) and the nineties but missing from my list of winners I have met, is 1965 winner, Bernard Gomersall who came home in record time in the wettest race in Comrades history.
One man who does know Bernard very well, Tommy Malone, who has raced against Bernard in the London to Brighton but never in Comrades (Tommy won in 1966) and I asked Tommy if he would be good enough to contact Bernard and to get his story for me.
Tommy didn’t hesitate and for that I thank him and what Bernard told me is in my Blog: themarathon.co of September 2016.
60 YEARS IN 1241 WORDS
After the dust has settled on the 90th Comrades Marathon in 2015, I thought it might be a good time to have a look back over the 60 years since my relationship with Comrades started on 31st May 1956. I haven’t been at all 60 races. I missed three of them but 2015 was the 57th time I had been at Comrades.
I have been fortunate to have done many things in Comrades over that time (except win it of course) beginning as a spectator, moving on to the job of seconding before the days of refreshment stations then to actually running the race 14 times and then serving on the organising committee before I moved on to a radio journalist reporting on the race over 10 times for Radio 702 and also the job of stadium announcer, also for a period in excess of 10 years.
It was during the time as stadium announcer I had the honour of meeting the Late Nelson Mandela whilst I was doing the prizegiving. That will go down as one of the really major moments in my life.
So what is this section all about? What I would like to do is to summarise the 60 years since I first met this race and I do this in my Blog themarathon.co of July 2015 in something like 1241 words.
ALISON WEST, A REMARKABLE WOMAN
I was fortunate to have known Alison West a long time and I was also fortunate to have been able to have called her a really good friend and it was a privilege to have been able to have worked with her on Comrades matters.
We lost Alison to cancer on 22 December 2009 and I asked her husband, Pete, to write something about this remarkable woman that Comrades and all of us lost and who was the first woman to have held the position of Chairperson of the Comrades Marathon Association.
What Pete West wrote about this very special lady in in my Blog themarathon.co of December 2015
BOB DE LA MOTTE – RUNAWAY COMRADE
Whenever any conversation about the greatest Comrades runner never to win the World’s greatest Ultra starts, one name that always comes up is Bob de la Motte. The man who ran a 5:26 in the 1986 Comrades and finished in 2nd place and that time – even today – would have given him a pretty fair chance of a good win.
One of the strange things though, for me, is that of all the many top runners – and winners – I have met and come to know well over my years of involvement with Comrades, Bob is not one of them.
We have never actually met but through Twitter and by email and despite never actually having met him, I have enjoyed our exchange of conversations and I regard Bob as a friend despite never having actually shaken the man by the hand.
I asked Bob to jot down a summary of his Comrades story and it’s on my Blog themarathon.co of February 2016. You’ll also find Bob’s story in his book “Runaway Comrade”.
THE HISTORY OF COMRADES MARATHON HOUSE
by Brian Swart
Once upon a time, there was a patch of open grassland and trees where a kaleidoscope of creatures frolicked in the sun.
It was little more than a staging post… way, way out in the country… a distant two kilometres from the heart of the city… a place of comfort, in out-of-the-way Maritzburg, where tired travellers rested their weary bodies, and exhausted horses, as they made their way to and from the bustling cities of Durban and Johannesburg.
Today… …It is the home of the Comrades Marathon Museum… a truly Grand Old Edwardian building…. standing tall and proud above the surrounding buildings. It is a fitting tribute to the biggest, and greatest, ultra-distance road race in the world.
Number 18, Connaught Road, Pietermaritzburg.
For the full history of Comrades House visit Blog : themarathon.co of May 2016
TAKKIES AND CORPSE REVIVER
I have been asked at times to speak at club pre-Comrades evenings and I am always asked to speak about what things were like in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The reaction is worth seeing with the latter day runner amazed at what we did.
Shoes were the first thing we had to get and the only shoe to get was the good old fashioned Bata “takkie” (plimsole or sandshoe) that we could get at virtually any shop. What we then had to do was to take the shoes to a shoemaker in Durban (can’t remember his name) who knew exactly what to do as far as building up the heel to provide cushioning to “protect” you from the jarring of the road as he did this for almost all the Durban area runners.
The “takkies” had be those that laced to half way to avoid stitching around the toes that could cause blisters. You can clearly see the “takkies” in this photo of me entering the finish at Collegians Club in Pietermaritzburg at the end of my first run in 1968 – and yes – my knees are wrecked today!
There were no refreshment stations back then and we needed to drink during the race so we had personal “seconds”.
In my second’s car we had a cooler box full of ice, two large containers of water (for sponging), a bucket into which went the sponging water.
Those of us who were in Ian Jardine’s group all drank what was called “Corpse Reviver”.
The ingredients which were all in powder form were glucose (for instant energy), icing sugar (for longer acting energy), salt (to help with cramping) and bi-carb to get rid of any gas build up in the stomach and to help with nausea.
The correct amount of the powder mix went into a small bottle of Schweppes lemonade so we could drink it – and it tasted pretty good too!
The full story of how we went about our preparation in those long ago years is in my Blog: themarathon of March 2015