I EARNED MY DEFEAT
and again recollections from my races occur to me as ( watch younger men competing, and I daresay some of the lessons I learnt will be useful to the rank and file; if they.do nothing else they may save them from perpetuating similar mistakes. I remember one marathon I made a shocking bad mess of, and judgment had a lot to do with it. I started off carefully enough and found I was going well, so well in fact that after a dozen miles ] felt I ought to be putting a gap between my chief rival, Harry Phillips of Maritzburg (Natal) and myself while I had the vim and inclination to do it. So I purposely extended a bit and before long was a hundred yards or so to the good. I didn’t look back to discover what my lead was for I had already learnt the folly, of
that sort of thing ; it was the spectators along the route who told me the position. Yet at the time it occurred to me that the gain was not as much as I expected it to be. Phillips was a more experienced runner than I, and not much younger either—both of us were in the forties—and I’d have done well to pay more respect to his methods and conduct. He had just carried on at about the same gait without seeming to take any notice of what the other fellows were doing.
For all of a dozen miles I kept in the lead, but the score mark and Harry Phillips arrived together, and I found I could no longer-keep pace with his steady gait. I had to let him go.
Before I had gone another mile it was rubbed in again ; another man, Steytler, caught up and almost immediately left me behind. By this time I was badly tired and could do little more than crawl dejectedly at about seven miles to the hour, but not so tired that I could not curse my folly and make a note that I must never again chance things in this way.
Steytler, however, presently proved to be in even worse condition than I was, and with only a mile to go I was surprised to discover I was rapidly gaining on him. I soon passed him—he was staggering along and finally collapsed at the post—and thereby managed to secure second place, more than a mile behind Phillips. Except for the winner the condition of the competitors was deplorable : five-sixths of us had literally run ourselves to a standstill.
The mistake I made on this occasion (and, I regret to say it wasn’t the first time or the last) is still all too common ; even today more than half the runners in most long-distance events show thoroughly bad judgment. While I was fresh and fit I allowed myself to squander energy to no good purpose and failed to realise that much of it had to be conserved if I wanted to stay the course. Once a fellow is absolutely ” beat,” anyone with a trifle in reserve can overtake him with ease ; recovery on the spot is hopeless, and he is compelled either to drop out or to drag himself along knowing that neither excitement nor will power can add anything worthwhile to his speed. If he attempts to force things he is asking for immediate trouble or disaster, and both Steytler and I went mighty near to it that day.
We all know it’s never too late to learn, and runners evidently find the lesson as difficult as anyone else, for many of them fail time after time because they don’t assess their ability anywhere near its true standard.
This race, which by the way was in Johannesburg, reads like a complete washout, as in fact, from the runners’ point of view, it was. But to be fair to all I must point out that there were extenuating circumstances. With the exception of the winner we were all coast-level men or thereabouts, and were quite unused to the 6,000 ft. altitude of Johannesburg ; never for a moment did we realise how much difference it would make. I suppose some instinct must have warned us, for even in the early stages we were moving at less than our usual racing pace ; under normal conditions
we (including Phillips) would have made a much better job of the event.
With this in mind, then, you might say that ignorance and lack of reasonable caution—we knew what the altitude was and had been warned that we should almost certainly find it a handicap— were the chief faults ; judgment was not so much to blame perhaps seeing we had no similar experience to work on.
You, who carry on where we left off, may profit by our failure. Every fellow who finds he can’t finish his course without real distress is playing the game that I did at Johannesburg ; he has over-rated his ability and his condition will not fail to remind him of the fact. You cannot be too careful; say what }rou like, it’s always better to end a race with a bit still in hand, even if you don’t secure a place, rather than to finish like a ” woe-is-me-I-am-undone ” scarecrow.
Careful work will add continually to your confidence and ability, whereas the reverse is apt to sicken you of the whole business— your physique will keep on telling you in no uncertain manner that the game isn’t worth the candle. If you persist you’ll soon come to believe that your physique is right, and that your mind is solely to blame for urging you to go on.
Caution, then, and careful mental direction must be your resolve at every race you enter for. With these you can always put up a decent show ; without them you will be no better than Steytler and I were in the marathon I’ve just described.