Pierre & Erika, Jacquie, Pikkie and me. Joined by the much younger Bonita who is seeking a single, life-long, male partner and who got much invaluable advice from us wiser, more experienced – OK, old – toppies. Mainly: “Don’t”.
We had gathered in the old home town to run the annual Harrismith Mountain Race, and some us even did just that. In fact, we even won one of the trophies on offer!
Pierre and I? Well, we gave much invaluable advice as wiser, more experienced – OK, old – ex-participants on that subject, too. Mainly: “Don’t”.
We were joined in the advice department by Lyn & Sonja du Plessis, Ina van Reenen and James Bell – all in the giving afdeling, none of us in advice-receiving.
We had to wait in the post-race chill for prize-giving to receive our trophy. Normally we’d have been doing our warming-down exercises at this stage:
OK, its true that Jacquie Wessels du Toit did all the actual winning per se, but still, it felt like a team trophy.
The weekend started off chilly, a full table-cloth blanketing the mountain and a fresh east wind-in-the-willows, as seen in this picture, but it ended off perfect, as per the top picture, taken on Sunday from the top of Kings Hill. ¶ ♫ The robots changed when we drove thru, the clouds dissolved and the sky turned blue . . . . and everybody loves me baby, what’s the matter with you? ¶ ♫
Saturday night at Chez Doep was delicious fresh home-made mushroom soup and bread ala Erika with light smatterings of alcohol and layers of sage advice (yep, more of the same: Don’t), all of which was ignored. Bonita still seeks Prince Charming and Pikkie and Jacquie are going to run again.
Hulle wil nie luister nie.
Hulle wil nie luister nie – invaluable, experienced advice spurned
invaluable – Of great value; costly; precious; priceless; very useful; beyond calculable or appraisable value; of inestimable worth; See?
The people of Harrismith dubbed Michael McDermott ‘The Mountain Goat’. The mountain being Platberg.
Or so running e-zine ‘Modern Athlete’ says of SIXTEEN-times winner of our Mountain Race. Apparently we used to write supportive messages for him along the route of the Harrismith Mountain Race, much like supporters do in the Tour De France. Race organisers would set him up in our local hotel with the room number that corresponded with the win he was going for. Michael became a hugely popular and inspirational figure thanks to his sixteen-consecutive-year winning streak in our rugged annual race.
They go on: Michael’s love affair with Harrismith’s imposing Platberg began in 1978, when he was just 13. “I was alone at home and ran 5km to the Harrismith Harriers clubhouse because I wanted to run that day, but no-one was there, so I ran back home. Then they called me up to ask where I was and came to fetch me. So before the race, I already run 10km,” says Michael, who ran the race and finished 32nd. “Nobody believed I had completed the race, though, because I was so small!” he laughs.
In 1980, he finished eighth and qualified for a gold medal, but had to receive it unofficially, behind the tent, as he was still below the minimum 16-year age limit for the race. A year later and now ‘legal,’ he finished fifth, and then in 1982 he posted the first of his sixteen consecutive wins, an amazing record putting him right up there in the crazy stakes with uber-talented athletes Michael McLeod of England (won the Saltwell 10km sixteen years in a row), and Jim Pearson of America (won the Birch Bay marathon sixteen times).
Michael held the record for the short 12.3km course at 50mins 30secs in 1985 and the long 15km course at 1hr 05mins 05secs as the first winner over the new distance in 1996. It came to an end when he ‘stepped skew’ and tore ligaments in his ankle while well in the lead on his way to a 17th straight win in 1998. Michael Miya took over and won the race in a new record time of 1hr 04mins 06secs and became the first black South African winner. While McDermott was really disappointed, it was also “a relief as there wasn’t that pressure to win after that.”
Michael earned Springbok colours in 1988 for cross-country, and was invited to run a number of international mountain running events in the early 1990s. He won the Swiss Alpine Marathon three times, shattering the course record in 1993. He also represented South Africa seven times in the World Mountain Trophy, from 1993 to 1999, with a best placing of fifth in 1993 in France. http://www.modernathlete.co.za
In “our day” Johnny Halberstadt was the King – wonder where he is today? (Koos: In America: Just sold his sports shop in Colorado).
I strolled the race two or three times in the 1990s – never finished in the allotted time, but always walked away with a medal, ’cause I knew Jacqui Wessels (du Toit) who handed out the medals!
Remember the year we did it after “peaking” at Pierre’s home the night before – about 3am. You remarked as you crossed the Start Line (not the Finishing Line) – “I think I’m under-trained”. The hangovers were monumental. As we strolled past the adoring, cheering spectators, one guy was heard to remark “Daai mal ou het sy verkyker om sy nek!” That was you! (Koos: Actually, it was Wimpie Lombard and he said “wadafokmaakjymedarieverkykers?” You’ve forgotten: Afrikaans is always one word).
The year Karin Goss and I did it, (circa 1998) we were so last that even the Coke truck had packed up and left by the time we strolled into Die Groen Paviljoen! We were so busy ‘phoning the whole world from the summit that we forgot to be competitive. Jacqui insisted on giving us medals, but drew the line at Gold – we had to be content with Bronze. Don’t know why she was so strict – there were a few Golds lying in the bottom of the box.
Was Alet de Witt the first lady to compete?
Love – stroller Sheila Swanepoel
Jacquie replied: Sheila, I think you forgot that when we allowed you to go through the finish banner after cut-off time, there was a breathalyser test for the finishers. This you seemed to have forgotten! Legal limits are 0,24 milligrams per 1000 millilitres. Finishers (at sunset) with this reading all get GOLD.
Unfortunately your readings were 0.60 . . . hence the Bronze medal. 😉
All the best (hope you enter the Mountain Race again this Year).
Kind Regards – actual finisher Jacquie Du Toit, ex-Mountain Race high-up official
Kar Goss got excited: Hey Sheils
I think we must do it once more!! Seriously!
What comes after bronze?? And is there a medi-vac chopper available?
Thanks for the interesting article Koos!
Happy Women’s Day everyone.
Love- (Sheila-like stroller) Kar Goss xx
JP de Witt reminisced: Sheila, As far I can remember my Mom Alet and Mavis Hutchison did the race around 1969 / 1970. Koos Keyser won it five times 1964-68. Wally Hayward (five-times Comrades winner) won in 1952.
actual finisher JP de Witt
Pikkie Loots committed: Sheila, For what it’s worth – I’m seriously considering doing it this year… if anyone wants to join me, perhaps we can motivate each other 🙂 **(Hushed silence from the sundry assorted 60-somethings – *sound of crickets*)**
And yes, there is a ‘medi-vac’ chopper 🙂 I was running the race in about 1985-ish, when a runner from Welkom dislodged a rock on One-Man’s Pass. The rock fell onto his thigh, cutting and damaging the muscle. Tony Perry, a fellow runner from Newcastle, and I were immediately behind and below the unfortunate gent. With the help of two of his team mates we carried him to the top. Another of his team mates went ahead to tell Doc Mike van Niekerk that we needed a casualty to be taken off the mountain. By the time we got to the top, both Mike and the chopper were ready….
Tony and I missed out on our silver medals by about 10 minutes (silver time was 1 hour 40 minutes). I moved to Cape Town and never ran another mountain race! So I still only have a bronze. [PS! Mike asked the committee to award Tony and I silver medals, but they must have had a shortage that year 🙂 ]
Footnote: Michael McDermott was at school when he joined our running club in Newcastle, in about 1979… there were a few ‘windhonde’ in the club at the time, but pretty soon he was chasing and beating most of them on the shorter runs. There were a few Harrismitters I saw regularly at races: Pieter Oosthuyzen and Koos Rautenbach, I especially remember, as I often chatted to them at races.
Has anyone from Harrismith ever won this besides Volschenk? and btw, I thought it was Koos Keyser who was the big hero winner of our school days? (Koos Swanepoel – not Keyser: True that. Koos Keyser won five times in a row).
PS: Note I said ‘doing’ the mountain race… no commitment to running it at this stage, but that may change on the day 🙂
Love to you all – actual finisher Pikkie Loots
Pikkie, you must shine up! The year I strolled it with Sheila, Pierre and Ilse we got silver medals. OK, to be fully honest we gave those back to Jacquie and settled for (unearned) bronzes, but we DID briefly hold silver. So shine up, mate. Try harder.
(and just for the record, I do have four legitimate finishes from pre-rinderpest days – once, I got a medal with a handy bottle opener attached). I ran without binoculars in those days.
It was 1981 and we were new in Durban. We decided to watch the Comrades Marathon, an 89km exercise in insanity being run “up” from the coast at Durban to the heights of Sleepy Hollow that year. Those days it was easy to follow the race: You just got in the way, parked wherever and got out whenever you felt like shouting encouragement to the possessed. Early in the morning we stood near 45th cutting and soon the runners arrived. Near to us was a short old bald whispy-haired fella shouting enthusiastic encouragement and giving two-thumbs-up to virtually every runner, some of whom – quite a number – seemed to recognise him.
Once the last stragglers had passed we started to head off to Dave’s green VW Beetle, but noticed the old bullet seemed lost. Can we help you? we asked. Do you know the way to the finish? he asked. Sure, and we’re going there, we said, wanna come along? I’d love that, he said gratefully, and that’s how two complete Comrades ignoramuses ended up driving Wally Hayward in the back of a Beetle to the finish of the 1981 Comrades – a race he had run five times AND WON FIVE TIMES!
Well, you couldn’t spend a morning with Wally without hearing a whole bunch of tales and we milked him for more and fell under the spell of this warm and unassuming bundle of energy. At the finish we sat on the grass and heard an announcement that some old bullet who won the race decades ago was there and was going to do a lap of honour. The wonderful brave soul – I think Phil Masterson-Smith, the 1931 winner – shuffled slowly around the track to tremendous applause, none louder than that coming from Wally who watched intently, quivering like a bird-dog with a huge grin and a wistful look in his eyes. I winked at Dave and snuck off to the announcer’s tower and told them we had the 1930 winner Wally Hayward with us, and could they make a fuss of him, too?
They could indeed! And so, 51yrs after first winning the race Wally hit the track, totally surprised – but also totally chuffed – and ran that 400m with a smile like a truck radiator and his knees flying past his ears looking for all the world like an escaped ostrich! I bet his 400m time would have been way up there among the quickest ever for a 73yr-old!
Yes, Wally had won in 1930, then again in 1950, ’51, ’53 and 1954! He had run this crazy ultra-marathon only five times in all and won it every time he entered, the last time at the age of 45, a record which still stood in 1981. It was only broken much later – in 2004.
It took us a while to find him after his lap of honour, celebrity that he now was, but yes, he still wanted a lift back to Durban please.
I s’pose he didn’t know the way!
Six years after we enjoyed this magic day, Wally ran Comrades again, thirty three years after his last run and shortly before his 80th birthday. He ran a magnificent race, beating half the field and beating the winner Bruce Fordyce on an age-handicapped calculation. Bruce himself mentioned and emphasised this after the race.
Wally’s memoirs were published in time for the 1999 Comrades by a wonderful friend of mine, fellow Comrades runner and Dusi paddler Bill Jamieson. He titled the book: “JUST CALL ME WALLY”.
89km in 9hrs 44mins just before his 80th birthday.
Dave Simpson wrote to me on seeing this post: Hi Pete, Well this does bring back memories – 33 years ago at that! Actually, we originally only planned to go as far as Fields Hill. When Bruce Fordyce past us outside the Westridge Park Tennis Stadium, with his bunch of early race ‘klingons’ and yelled out ‘Walleeeee’ as he strode past the great man – we knew we were dealing with someone special. The rest you’ve said. Great story. Hood
Me: I’d forgotten that! It was Fordyce’s first win that year. The first of nine. In the back of my mind I thought we did know there was something special about him, but we weren’t sure who he was. When he asked for a lift, did we already know who he was?
Dave again: No, we did not know who he was. When he asked for a lift, he told us that he was there with his mate, who wanted to follow his son who was a plodder at the back of the field. Dear Wally just assumed that we, like him wanted to watch the front runners. As it turned out, Wally was wrong – we just wanted to be with Wally!
Among many other running achievements, Wally had also won the Harrismith Mountain Race. After the race, in typical generous Wally style, he called ‘The toughest race in the world!’ – just what we Harrismithians wanted to hear!
The Wally Hayward medal
Wally Hayward died in May 2006 at the age of 97. In November, the Comrades Marathon Association announced that a new medal, the Wally Hayward medal, would be presented to runners for the first time in 2007. These special medals are awarded to those runners who fail to earn Comrades gold medals – awarded to the first 10 men and women finishers – but still come in under the six-hour barrier first broken by Hayward in 1953.
Wally Hayward was one of the greatest ever Comrades runners, with five wins in five starts over twenty four years, then two more finishes, up to fifty eight years after his first run. Comrades Association chairman Dave Dixon said in announcing the new medal, ‘He had a remarkable Comrades career, and is still the oldest person ever to finish the race.’
thanks to brandsouthafrica for some of the info here – read how Wally was branded a professional and barred from winning more Comrades; thanks also to Bill Jamieson’s book ‘Just Call Me Wally.’ Bill was a great character, Comrades runner and fellow Kingfisher Canoe Club member. In his later years we would meet and he’d regale me with his stories and his worries. A lovely man.
Years later, Dave Simpson met another SA sporting icon: