Like most little boys, I ran everywhere. But it was only when I started training for the Comrades that I truly learnt how to run.
I won my first race when I was about four years old. My mum still has the photograph, which you can see above. My white-blond hair stood out alongside the Malays, Indians, Chinese and Gurkhas with whom I went to school. Little was I to know that my hair would be a Comrades trademark decades later.
While I was at school, I carried on running and continued to be one of the best athletes on sports days. But then I went to university and simply stopped. After watching a TV programme on the 1976 Comrades, I started running again. My first run was 10 minutes around the Wits University rugby field at night (because I didn't want anyone to see me). I coughed and spluttered for at least half an hour afterwards.
I ran on my own for 6 months, rapidly getting fitter. In January 1977, I joined the Wits Athletic Club. I will always remember my first Comrades Marathon. It was a wonderful day for me, but I certainly had no idea that, one day, I would win it.
As I ran down to Little Pollys I heard a radio announcer saying Alan Robb had just won in a new record time. I hated him. I still had an hour to go on that hard, hot road.
As I entered the stadium for that wonderful final lap, I felt tremendous joy. Like many Comrades runners, I also vowed never again... but changed my mind the next day. In the next few years I would learn how to train to win it. And the rest is history.
I ran my first Comrades when I was only 22. At 26, I had won my first one. 8 more wins were to follow. And many more Comrades!
I have often wondered why I possess such a successful Comrades record. One of the most important reasons, I believe, is that I am primarily a coward. I am scared of pain and terrified of the long, bitter struggle in the second half of the Comrades. For this reason my approach to racing the Comrades is similar to my approach in training for the race - I exercise extreme caution.
Happily for me, I believe that Comrades favours the timid. In short distance races, a courageous run is often rewarded with victory and spectacular times. However, in Comrades, it is invariably rewarded with failure. I have also come to the conclusion that running a truly great Comrades is an art more than a science. You have to feel your way through the race, pitting your strength and energy against the course. It takes years to learn the art, and even the most experienced runners sometimes fail. I have.
One thing's for sure. Running the Comrades began as a personal journey, something undertaken to prove to myself I could do it. I never expected it to become such a public story. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I have loved every minute of the journey and still hope to run in the Centennial Comrades (knee and family allowing).
For me, running is more than just a passion. I believe it has the power to make a difference.
When Paul Sinton-Hewitt first asked me whether I'd like to be the South African Country Manager for his free 5 km timed run, called parkrun, I didn't take him too seriously. In fact, it took me about 7 months for Gill and I to organise the first event at Delta. Little did I know that it would reignite my passion for running in a way I never expected.
I thought parkrun was just about running 5 kilometres in the fastest time possible. But it's not about that at all. It's actually all about enhancing communities. Bringing them together. Bringing them a way to share a healthy pursuit in safe, friendly and usually very pretty natural surroundings.
It did begin as a timed run. but South Africa has helped changed its shape... by welcoming walkers as well, of all shapes and sizes. These days you'll see walkers - not just runners - of all abilities at parkrun. Youngsters who have dreams of breaking world records, old couples who walk holding hands, parents pushing prams, dad's patiently coaching their young daughters. Young, old, fat, thin, fit, only just beginning. parkrun embraces them all and gives them the space to enjoy a moment in time where they can join others who're also enjoying the outdoors.
Bruce Fordyce and Wally Hayward at the 1987 Comrades finish.
May 30, 1977
MY FIRST COMRADES
My first Comrades was the most exciting, inspiring and terrifying physical challenge I had ever faced. I finished 43rd in 6:45. Not a bad run for a novice, but I would have to run a lot faster to achieve that position nowadays due to the vastly improved size of the field. Inspired, I continued to improve for the next 8 years.
May 30, 1979
COMRADES NO. 3
The 1979 'Up' Comrades Marathon will always be my favourite race. lt was the year I first realised I had a talent for long-distance races over hilly courses. It was the year I first struck gold. And it was the year I realised that it was actually possible to run up Polly Shorts. Since then, I have won the race and I have run faster, but 1979 remains my favourite race, because it was the year I learnt the most about myself.
May 30, 1982
COMRADES NO. 6
The 1982 down run was the toughest Comrades Marathon ever for me. Apart from being extra long - 91.4 km (56.8 miles) - I had a mid-race, 20 km duel with Alan Robb. That is the hardest I have ever raced, and I am not ashamed to say I was a broken winner at the end of the race. Because of that experience I developed my weight-training programme for future down runs.
May 30, 1988
COMRADES NO. 12
I went to the start of the 1988 Comrades as one of the hottest favourites in the history of the race. I was fairly confident as my training had gone well, On race morning, I rose excited and keen for action. As I looked down Pine Street near the front of the throng of runners, I just wanted to get out there and race. You can never say you're going to win. But if your training has gone well, you can predict your finishing time fairly accurately. I ended up being the first runner to break 5 and a half hours running up.
November 11, 2011
MY FIRST PARKRUN
The first South African parkrun was held at Delta Park in Johannesburg. There were only 26 of us lined up at the start. If someone had told me that four and a half years later there would be 78 different parkruns (and many other venues clamouring to start their own) and almost 400,000 registered parkrunners, I wouldn't have believed them. Today it's a passion. I love it even more than I loved the Comrades, and that's saying something.
May 13, 2016
OUR LATEST PARKRUN
Century City, across the bay from Cape Town, was an incredible success. Though we don't have a favourite (there are just too many fantastic parkruns in South Africa), this one is truly spectacular. It wends its way through the shops, past a bird sanctuary and, if you're getting weary of those things, offers stuffing views of the iconic Table Mountain. What's not to like!
May 27, 2016
PRE-COMRADES PARKRUN BROKE RECORDS WORLDWIDE
It shouldn't really have come as a surprise, but it did... the North Beach parkrun was inundated by familiar faces and international first-timers on the day before the 2016 Comrades Marathon. We took over the boardwalk and the atmosphere was incredible. What a joy it is to be involved with parkrun. Watch this space to find out where the newest event is happening. Coming soon!