1922 Comrades – “On a bleak May morning”


[Submitted by Janeen de Klerk]

My 90 year old aunt – always an encouraging supporter of my running – sent me an article that appears to have come from a number of sources that includes the Comrades website, Wikepedia and the Maritzburg College Old Boys Association website. So acknowledging these articles I thought the story of Bill Payn may provide a few laughs to many nervous runners about to run Comrades.

Comrades legend, springbok, and war veteran Cecil (Bill) Payn was born in Harding in August 1893 he taught at a Durban boys school for 40 years and also served in the army during both world wars. He was a remarkable athlete and played Springbok rugby. By all accounts, he was very generous and even left money for his friends to have a drink after his funeral.

He came 8th in the 1922 Comrades Marathon – it was a down run and mainly on sand and gravel roads and had a field of just over 100 athletes- herewith follows a very humorous abridged version of his description of the run:

“On a bleak May morning, I toe’d the line at the start when some civic dignitary fired a pistol and then very sensibly buggered off back to his warm bed. When the shot rent the air, off we sped – like a crowd of Armenian refugees fleeing from the wrath of the Turkish army. Shall I ever forget that infernal run? It was not very long before I realised that I was prey to an all consuming thirst, so claimant indeed, that I could not refuse any man who offered me a drink. At Hillcrest my feet were giving me so much pain that I took off my rugby boots and found a mass of blisters had formed on the soles of both feet, some kind follower provided me with Brilliantine with which I anointed my feet and then repaired to the hotel for a huge plate of bacon and eggs. This done and much refreshed I ran up Botha’s Hill where at the top I found a friend who was also taking part, but he was in a very bad state so we sat down next to the road and exchanged notes and took stock of ourselves and the situation we were in. I fear that we did not move with the freedom of young athletes but rather resembled two old ducks, suffering from some distressing gynaecological disorder.”

“Fortunately, at that stage my friend’s supporter arrived on the scene with a wicker basket which contained a delicious curried chicken set on a huge bed of rice. This we shared equally and then set off together in happy companionship for Drummond and here we bent our steps to a pleasant oasis – the pub – where I lined a dozen beers up on the counter determined not so much to celebrate a victory but rather to drown our sorrows. Whilst we were busy at this, one of the camp followers arrived on the scene and urged us both to continue as there were only five runners in front of us. My friend could not continue so I set off alone for Pietermaritzburg.”

“Somewhere along Harrison Flats, I noticed a frail little woman with pink cheeks standing at the side of the road. She held up in one hand a bottle and in the other a glass. I stopped, and with old world courtesy bowed low saying,`Madame, your servant to command’. `Tis peach brandy’, she volunteered `and I made it myself’. I gulped down a full tumbler of this home-made brew and in a second realised that I had swallowed a near-lethal dose of the rawest liquid I had ever tasted. I am still convinced that to this charming little woman must go full credit for inventing the first liquid fuel for jet engines. Fortunately, I was facing Maritzburg and I was propelled along the way. I was too far gone in my cups even to ponder on whether this assistance did not breach the prescribed laws of amateur marathon running.”

“On the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg I was hailed by my wife’s family who were taking tea on the veranda. I went off the road and joined them in their tea and cakes. While we were thus happily engaged, two of my ‘hated’ rivals went past and so it was that I ended the course number eight. In the changing rooms I discovered that the soles of my feet were now two huge pads of blood blisters. My brother-in-law then arrived and he had the uncanny insight into my most immediate needs, for he gave me a bottle of champagne, for which I was most grateful. Shortly thereafter, a rugby friend arrived and chided me as to whether I had forgotten that I was due to play a first league rugby match the next day and that our team needed me. Cadging a lift on the back of his motorbike we went back down to Durban and on the following day I played fullback in a pair of old ‘tackies’.”

While his account may be hard to believe it is apparently confirmed by Arthur Newton who persuaded him to enter the race. He finished in 10 hrs 56 minutes (faster than any one I have completed and with more stops and much less food)!!!!