EXTENDING THE DISTANCE
IN 1927 I was in Rhodesia, helping to build up the newly-formed Bulawayo Harriers. After the long-distance section had experienced a relay marathon they began to realise that they could do quite decently at this or any other distance did they but train consistently; and both track and weekly road runs—the latter being from six to eight miles—were well attended. In their budding enthusiasm for distance events a day came along when it was suggested that I might have a shot at the 100 miles record. It was pointed out that even if I didn’t beat it I might at any rate set up a temporary figure for other fellows to aim at, and they would willingly spring a relay team to provide the necessary competition. I said I’d consider it.
Until now my standard distance had always been fifty miles for racing purposes, and I had never tried more than a mile or two beyond this. Yet when I reasoned it out I felt sure that with careful planning it certainly ought to be possible to do a hundred, though I will admit the idea made me a bit uneasy because such
a distance would surely mean abnormal exhaustion. However, to get a taste of the medicine I thought I’d venture out for sixty miles. I was always keen to explore all the country I could, and a run of this length would enable me to have a look at World’s View in the Matoppos, some thirty miles away. So I arranged for a morning’s absence from work.
Sixty miles needed preparation, as I well knew, and for a day or two my runs were reduced in length so as to allow me to build up a bit of reserve. Summer in Southern Rhodesia is not unbearably hot, nor is the rain incessant ; fortunately the day I had chosen promised to be quite fine, so I didn’t have to bother over climatic coonditions.
With this somewhat fearsome job in hand I reckoned I must be extra careful, for I had to be back at work the same afternoon. .After a light meal I set out at three a.m. trotting along quite gently at about seven miles an hour in the dark, but I knew the first dozen miles of the road well, as I had been over it several times in daylight. Beyond taking a few coins in my pocket I made no preparation for feeding as I intended to get a meal at the hotel near the far end.
I got along very comfortably and had gone perhaps eighteen miles before it became light enough to get a sight of the country around. There was no fear of losing the road because it was the only one, and after passing a lake which had been made by damming a stream, I spotted the hotel and ran up to it. Only a few of the staff were about, but after a moment’s explanation I was told I could get breakfast in twenty minutes and sat down to wait for it. They were not only punctual but gave me a right good meal : porridge and cream, ham and eggs, toast and marmalade and tea ; after which I felt quite fit for some more work and set off for the last mile or two to World’s View. There was a fairly well-worn track and an occasional signpost, so there was no difficulty in finding the place.
All around were hills ; not the sort you’re accustomed to but ureat rounded chunks of smooth granite with luxuriant jungle in dots and clumps sprinkled about them. I followed the footpath up one of the biggest of these—going up a slope of sometimes 1 in 5 necessitated slow and toilsome running—climbing fairly steeply for perhaps six hundred feet, and at last came out on top where stood a few large rounded boulders, things almost the size of cottages. This is the spot where Cecil Rhodes and one or two other notable pioneers are buried. There I found an inscribed plate let into the granite, also a fine monument to Wilson and his troop who had fought to a finish against a horde of the Matabele.
After a good look round at everything including the scenery— the atmosphere was perfectly clear—I began the return journey. I didn’t call in at the hotel because I funked the publicity, for by this time all the visitors would be up and about. So I bypassed it and again got on to the road to Bulawayo. I was beginning; to get tired and, curiously enough, felt hungry too, but reckoned I’d
manage to roach the nearest store, some seventeen miles further on, where I could pick up something to help me home.
As the day advanced the heat became rather oppressive and I perspired profusely. What I particularly wanted was a drink with plenty of sugar in it, but I had to toil on for mile after mile without this, all the time cursing my folly at having missed the opportunity at the hotel. When at last I reached the store and got my drink I was so tired and feeble that the last few miles into Bulawayo were a long drawn out battle with exhaustion. Really this was my own fault, for had I stopped a second time at the hotel for a refresher, I should not have been nearly so bad. Well, that lesson was rubbed in ; in future any very long runs must be properly prepared for beforehand with regard to feeding requirements en route.
However, I got back all right and managed to get through my work that afternoon, though 1 felt all the time that rest and sleep were urgent necessities. And anyway I had learnt that sixty miles could be just as easily tackled as fifty and therefore, with due precautions, there was no reason why the hundred should not be attempted. It was evident that only a slight reduction in stride and pace was required, together with ample preparation in the way of drinks and food. Yes, I felt satisfied that it could be done, and what’s more that I would shortly have a slap at it.
Presently the time came to translate theory into practice. After that sixty-miler I took the bull by the horns and asked the R.A.A. and C.TJ. to arrange for a trial at the 100 miles world’s reord, which was then held by Hatch of America whose time on the track was 16h. 7m. 43see.
I intended to run on the road and of course that wasn’t flat, though the one the R.A.A. and C.U. chose—from near Gwelo to Bulawayo—had no hills worth mentioning, nothing worse than an occasional rise and descent of 100 or 200 ft. By this time I had been nearly two years in Rhodesia and the altitude, around 5,000 ft., no longer caused the trouble of my earlier experiences ; I had learnt that I could run just as far, though not as fast, as ever.
If you want to establish a record you must run against competition, and quite naturally there wasn’t a spate of 100-mile men in the country. So arrangements were made thus. First of all some of the Bulawayo Harriers took a measuring wheel, carefully corrected over a surveyed ten miles, from King’s Grounds, where the finish was to be, along the road to Gwelo till the 100 miles mark was reached. Then another 300-400 yards was added (at my special request) to make quite sure of the distance, and the starting point, a peg, was driven into the verge of the road at the spot.
Then a Harriers’ team of six men were given the job of running a relay to furnish the competition, and I was to try to beat them. As they were all men whose normal distances were between one and ten miles they were, in their own way, taking on just about as big a job as I was, and they knew it. Finally the date, July 12th, 1927, was settled, and accommodation reserved for us all at the Gwelo
Hotel: The afternoon before the race we all motored over to Gwelo, 107 miles distant, and made sure that everything was O.K.
I put away a real good breakfast at the last possible moment next morning and was driven out to the starting point. At 6.10 I was sent off on the long journey, nearly twice as long as anything I had formerly tackled. The relay team left a few minutes later for two reasons : (1) six to one is a tall order and the chances were that they would easily beat me, and (2) I had told the officials that my chances would be better if I could run to my own schedule without having a man on my heels or just in front of me all the time.
It was dark at first of course, but an official ear about fifty yards behind me floodlighted the road which had quite a decent ” dirt ” surface, and I ambled along at a serenely easy seven miles per hour, knowing I had to save every atom of energy lest I should fail from exhaustion. For the first score or so of miles I had to carry on like this while the breakfast settled down ; it was really no worse than a fellow taking a gentle stroll. Now and again one of the cars would go ahead to some marked spot and wait there for me to pass, telling me just how the relay team were getting along, the distance travelled, and the time. After the first few miles it got light and I was able to see something of the country I was running through.
I had two or three drinks from a thermos between twenty-five and forty-five miles and was beginning to feel decidedly hungry and between ourselves, somewhat tired, when we got to the hotel at Insiza, the halfway house, and welcomed the meal which had been ordered and was ready. My fodder was soup, chicken and vegetables, and fruit pie (pastry !!) and J worked it back as quickly as I dared for no time must be wasted. Twelve minutes later I was out on the road again, climbing a gentle gradient on my way to Bulawayo. It came as a surprise to learn that the team were, still many minutes behind, but I took it that they were saving themselves for the ordeal just as I had been doing. That meal certainly helped me along wonderfully and I felt the benefit of it for the next twenty miles. At about seventy, however, I knew that the real struggle was beginning. The sun went down and once/ more a car floodlighted the road while I crept steadily on, feeling that there was still a chance that I might reach the end, though I was in for a real bad time. Still the relay team hadn’t caught me and the thought that I might perhaps beat them after all helped to keep me going as fast as I dared. The officials were most helpful, producing unlimited hot tea from inexhaustible thermos flasks whenever required, and f needed a dose every three or four miles towards the end. And always I found enough strength to potter along at about 6* an hour though every nerve and fibre seemed to be crying for rest.
The end came at last as 1 turned into King’s Grounds to find quite a large crowd gathered there. I must admit I was badly “done in”. so much so that I found it difficult even to talk and answer the many questions fired at me. But they sat me down, put my feet in a bath of hot water to ease them, and gave me a “pick-me-up”, and there we stayed and dtalked it over for more than an hour before I was able to get away and turn in.
The relay team clocked in with a time only a minute or trwo worse than mine, and they too were very tired, and no wonder – Wilson, Watkins and Hendrickson had each run about twenty-six miles! My time was 14h. 43 min., and the improvement on Hatch’s mark was so unbelievable to many of these good people they there and then decided to take steps to send me to England to attempt better time under more favourable conditions. Feeling that I now knew something of what was needed for this type of race, I willingly agreed to try.
And that was how I started on these extraordinary long runs, which ended a year or two later in covering more than 152 miles in 24 hours, which still stands as the record.