RACES AND TRAINING
By Arthur Newton
Three of the chapters in this book are reprinted with permission of the respective Editors from the papers in which they were originally published :—
” All Work and No Play ” appeared in Athletic Review.” ” A Cheap Record ” is from pre-war World Sports.
” Mere Empty Theory or . . .” was in the April, 1946, number of Athletics, the Editor registering his disagreement with my ideas in a footnote.
Copyright by Arthur F. H. Newton
Other books by the same author :—
“Running.” Published by Witherby.
” Running in Three Continents.” Published by Witherby.
” Commonsense Athletics.” Published by The Publisher, 9, Cottingham Chase, Ruislip Manor, Middlesex.
MY FIRST BIG RACE
ALTHOUGH I had been interested in athletic sports of most kinds and had had a casual bout at many, I had never been in any way what you could call successful before 1922. It was then I took up running seriously with the object of obtaining publicity for a farmers’ cause—I was myself a cotton and tobacco farmer at the time—in which I was greatly interested. Winning a widely-advertised annual race would, I thought, enable me to turn a spotlight on to this cause which would in turn bring about legislation to rectify matters.
My farm was away in the back o’ beyond as you might say, more than five miles separating me from my nearest neighbour. Through study and reading I had long been convinced that any man-in-the-street could do what any other man had done provided handicaps were not too severe, and was determined to have a shot at proving it. Athletics seemed to me to be the quickest way to attempt this. For a start I had to allow for age : real long-distance stuff was about the only thing where I might hope to compete with a reasonable chance. So I got what literature I could on the subject and wired in with training.
On January 1st, 1922, I set out to run two miles, under the impression that that would be no more than a modest start. I managed it all right, but not without a longish stop at half-way. After that I was so abominably stiff that I cut out running for a day or two and walked instead. Then I had another shot at it and found things were getting better ; I ran, with a stop or two, four miles. More walking, followed by more running day after day without a break ; and after five weeks of it I set out to run ten miles in two laps—and succeeded.
This was very encouraging and I settled down to work at it harder than ever. After another five weeks I decided to have a ” trial.” There was a narrow-gauge railway from Harding, my nearest village, to the coast at Port Shepstone fifty miles away and I thought I would try to beat the train over the first twenty-six miles. Taking it easier for a day or two I walked seventeen miles into Harding and spent the night at a friend’s house. Early next morning I started off from the station at the same time as the train, though I followed the road, a course much shorter and hillier than the line.
The route was mountainous and I had very long hills to climb and even longer ones to go down. By the time I had gone a dozen miles I realised I was quite badly tired, but my watch told me I was going so well that I should have no difficulty at all in beating the train if I kept going at about the same rate. So I went on, getting more desperately tired with every mile, till I came to a 500 ft. climb a mile or two from the station where I was to finish.
All went well till I got to a hundred feet from the top—the steepest bit of the lot—and then something mighty near tragedy occurred. I was actually forcing myself to run up a gradient of about 1 in 6 when quite suddenly I was pulled up with an abominable ache around mv heart, so distressing an experience that I knew, without any expert advice, that I had in some way damaged the organ. Even walking was out of the question for a time and I sat down on a rock and waited in the hope that I might recover.
After a quarter of an hour I got up and, walking ever so slowly and unsteadily managed to reach the top, where I took another rest. From there on I continued in the same manner for rather more than a mile till I got to the hotel near the station ; the pain seemed to get no worse provided I travelled at about a mile an hour and, as I did not want a search party sent out to look for me, I decided to get there under my own steam.
Needless to say I did not beat the train on that occasion, though later on I found I could do so at any time. Instead I was driven back to my farm and sat down to think the position out. Evidently my training had not been on the right lines, and I decided to ignore practically everything I had read and start all over again with sound commonsense methods as soon as I had recovered sufficiently. I still had some three months to get fit before the race and thought I might yet be able to manage it. I said nothing about my mishap and wouldn’t go near a doctor, for I knew what his fiat would be :
NO MORE RUNNING.
From then on I dropped all ” speed trials ” and never attempted to run to time : I travelled ever so casually and quietly, training for distance only and leaving speed entirely out of it. At the end of a single month of this the improvement was so marked that I knew I had struck the right sort of preparation for a man of my age. I have since decided that it is the right sort for a man of any age.
Presently the race I was training for was only a week away and once more I walked into Harding. There I took the train for a hundred and fifty miles to Durban, where I stopped with an old friend, putting in a few days of very light work before the Comrade’s Marathon (54½ miles) had to be fought out. A real good breakfast at 5 a.m. and we—my host was also a competitor—set out for a gentle three-quarter mile walk which brought us to the starting point. At six, in the dark of the winter morning, we were lined up—nearly ninety of us—across the road near the Old Toll Gate and the Mayor, after a few words, fired the pistol and sent us on our way. This was May 24th, 1922, Empire Day, and of course, well in the winter of the sub-continent, so it was quite chilly though not actually a frost.
Nearly all the runners streaked off, presumably to warm up a bit, but I had learnt my lesson very thoroughly and sauntered along quite casually, being the last man—quite a hundred yards behind the rest—at the tail of the procession. After a mile I was still a couple of hundred yards behind, but then there came the long climb to Mayville and Blackhill and, keeping to the same steady trot, I crept up and passed quite a few who were walking. This went on while we worked our way up one long rise after another and by the number I passed I realised I must be getting well towards the middle of the field.
Miles and still more miles of climbing—we had to rise more than 3,000 feet beyond Drummond, a village about halfway—and always I was slowly but surely overtaking competitors. A steep dip down to Drummond Hotel and I felt pretty sure I must be among the first dozen. What I did not know was that several had become so exhausted that they had dropped out.
After Drummond there was a tremendous hill, the Inchanga Bank, which has since been detoured, and I had to take things very quietly indeed as I was already pretty badly tired and knew that I should have to be more than particularly careful if I wanted to reach the other end. But things were playing into my hands. Only three or four men were still ahead, and of these the two best runners, who had been first and second the year before, had so raced against each other—they had been more than an hour ahead of mo at one time—that they were both pretty well played out.
My careful climb up the Inehanga Bank had just done the trick ; at the top I passed last year’s runner-up lying beside the road being massaged—the former winner I had passed unknown while he was being massaged inside the hotel. Once over the top I had enough left to settle down to a steady 6½ miles an hour again. I was getting terribly tired but, on hearing that I was rapidly overhauling the leader I felt I had just got to stick at it, though I made a sort of mental note that I ought never again to be called on to put up such an abnormal exertion.
When Maritzburg was only twelve miles away I caught up with the actual leader and was able to appreciate the fact that if I was tired he was even more so : this was tremendously encouraging though I felt so exhausted that even then I wondered whether I should last out to reach the tape. I heard afterwards that this man dropped out about a mile further on ; he had set out in the morning without any breakfast under the impression that a meal inside would do more harm than good to his condition for racing. So now I was all alone and knew that I had only to stick it a bit longer to make sure of a win.
But I had reckoned without that last big hill, or at any rate had under-estimated its fearsomeness—something like a 500 ft. climb with a mile and a quarter to do it in, and the steepest part at the very top. It is called Polly Short’s Cutting. I crawled up to the really steep part all right and then stopped dead, deciding that no matter what it cost I could not go a step further. At the same instant I considered that if I permitted this sort of thing I could say goodbye to any self-respect I ever had. The stop lasted no more than two seconds and once more I was slowly, ever so slowly, working my passage up that hill.
The top at last and, thank Heaven, there was Maritzburg four miles ahead in the hollow ; only downhill now and I should soon be there. A very welcome easy downgrade for a couple of miles and then pretty level going, with a swarm of cars and cycles behind and—I guessed there would be—a crowd ahead. Crowd wasn’t the name for it. As I approached the City Hall with a mile to go to the finish at the Sports Ground, the people swarmed up so suddenly from every side that I was only just able to get through with the aid of the police.
One more mile, all gently down hill, and then round the corner into the Showground track for the finish. Good Heavens, what a multitude ; thousands of people intensely concentrated on watching that final lap. Even then, although more tired than I had ever believed possible, I was still able to feel distinctly embarrassed. But at last I saw the tape ahead and ran to it in a tumultuous roar of cheering from all sides to get a handshake from the City Mayor. Time : 8 hours 40 minutes. I had won by nearly half an hour.