More early stories

As always my thesis: behind the numbers and the facts is the rich stories of the Comrades.

Facts sourced from Morris Alexander’s The Comrades Story

Father and Son

What was the dinner-table discussion that led to the Templeton father and son running the 2nd Comrades Marathon together for much of the way?

Son: You’re too old, you’re 59, you could never do it.

Father: You’re too young,  you could never do it.

Mother: You’re both crazy. You’re too young and you, husband are too old. Anyway they’ll never let a 16 year-old run

Son: Lots of people signed up for the war when they were 16 pretending they were older.

Father: I suppose I’ll have to, someone has to keep you out of trouble.

Son: I’ll call an ambulance if you need one.

Father: If you beat me, I’ll beat you (he didn’t really say that, I made it up because there are different ways of beating people in running events)

They entered and ran. The old man eventually gave up, The boy went on and got to the end in 11:40. After getting his medal, the younger L.H Templeton was given “a silver pocket-watch” to recognise his achievement:

The Comrades Marathon Organisers immediately implemented a minimum age of 18. They probably meant to have it in but forgot. That’s the lot of rule-governed administrators. If it isn’t in the rules it don’t apply.

Sometimes I wonder if that 16 year-old school boy was any relation to the Bruce Templeton who was in my class at primary school. You never know. We all shared the same home town of Pietermaritzburg. The father of one of my high school colleagues won the


In the far-off days the road between Maritzburg and Durban was somewhat different to the tar-faced road that most runners got to know.

In the early years the road was a dirt road, churned up by vehicles especially on the ups. Dust was a constant problem and one description had the runners at times running ankle-deep in dust. Bridges were also built later which meant that runners twice crossed a railway line at a level crossing with gates. One was in Cato Ridge, the other in Pinetown. Morris Alexander describes with affection the “‘water jump’” at the bottom of what we nowadays call Little Pollys.

Equally affectionately he recalls “the shade and oft-needed privacy of bushy verges” which were cleared when the roads were rebuilt and tarred. All runners will know the power of the urge to “go”. But mostly the questions are “Where?”  or “Can I hold on to the next portable toilet?”  – themselves not the most pleasant places after a couple of hundred sweaty desperate runners have visited.

Green Numbers

While the numbers might not have been green as they are now, in 1947 an issue arose when a runner requested a number used by a previous 5-time winner. It was seen as an attempt to get publicity and stopped by reserving the number of those who earned them in perpetuity, forever.

This honour was granted to the two 5-time winners, Arthur Newton and Hardy Ballington. Plus, and marvelously, the organisers recognised one Leige Boulle, an “evergreen”, as they called him, runner who had earned the most finishers medals. Even later in 1971 this reward for the evergreen runners was applied to all who finished 10 comrades.

And I must say, isn’t it such a wonderful recognition: hard earned, etched into soles and soul; perfectly affirming? Mine is a real treasure.