Comrades spirit in the early days

The spirit that makes Comrades unique started early.

Arthur Newton

When Arthur Newton won his second race, the third running of the event in 1923, he refused the first prize.

The Comrades spirit expressed itself there, in its earliest years.

His generous view was that the competition wasn’t fair. He had had nothing to do but train; the other competitors couldn’t do as much.

He knew that they had jobs, families, obligaions and more. He had time to run around 9000 miles, nearly 14500 km in the year between his first and second Comrades, which translates in around 300 km a week if my calculations are right.

Then again he had running logic. He worked out how to do that much distance that well with only his legs, his mind and smoking a pipe at the evening fire.


At the same run, the “crowd”, those that watched or took an interest, was generous too.

They stayed to watch Frances Hayward who though not allowed because she was a woman to run as an official competitor, had run anyway. She finished in 11 hours and 28 min and was suitable cheered and saluted.

Newspaper opinion was 53 years ahead of the those in charge of the rules. Morris Alexander quotes an unnamed article in 1922 that hailed Frances Hayward’s “achievement as ‘another signal of women’s emancipation from the thraldom of good-natured disdain in which mere man has held her’”.

Didn’t that put it nicely?

At the time women’s emancipation and fight for the vote had been a big issue in the United Kingdom which as the “parent” of South Africa at the time had had big influence here. The right to vote on the same terms as men only came to the UK in 1928.

Women were finally allowed to enter officially in 1975.

But to be fair not all men held the view. It was peculiar kind of man, who arrogated to himself the superiority to judge for others what was good and bad for them; and exercised the powers taken on themselves with a sniff and arched eyebrows, while boiling in their starched collars, without insight into human nature.

Then the rule-enforcers misunderstanding the purpose and context of rules, decreed that women were not supposed to run. Now they harass the jogger who run listening  to MP3,4,5 players, and women who can’t find a place on their crop top to pin a race-number.

Frances Hayward

Luckily, the organisers of Comrades 1922 were of the more generous kind. The Comrades spirit helped them manage a remarkable event rather than at athletics meeting. They accepted the “unofficial” status of Frances Hayward, allowed her to run and recorded her time.

The un-officious ordinary people, enthralled by the event and the courage of those who entered the Comrades Marathon, welcomed her presence, looked for her at the start and along the way, waited for her after the entertainment at the finish arena ended, cheered her he finish and generously gave to a “silver collection” – donations I assume, of silver coins, the sixpences, shillings and so on and not the darker pennies, ha’pennies and farthings – to reward her.

Enough was collected for a decent prize, one probably nicer than the winner’s prize Arthur Newton rejected.

She, ever dapper, recovered as Alexander records, and went to the theatre later.

And like many others held the view that once was enough, maybe too much.


The above is all based on Morris Alexander’s The Comrades Marathon Story and my imagination