EAT OATS AND FLY
By Geoff Watt
This article is dedicated to ordinary mediocre runners like myself who are flat out running a mile in 4 mins 40 sec. The A.A.U. will never give you a guernsey and yet it is possible to know the thrill of international competition and the fellowship of the runners of many nations. On such a journey one is often reminded of the words of Baron de Coubertin:
Is not to win, but to take part.
The important thing in life
Is not the triumph but the struggle.
The essential thing
Is not to have conquered but to have fought well”.
Indeed there were times when only the memory of the struggle and hardship endured on the way, gave me the courage to fight at the point of arrival. “Horses eat oats”’ I said, “Horses run faster than men, I’ll eat oats and I’ll fly”. Huck Finnegan, Sports Columnist of the Boston Globe took me at my word, dubbed me “The Bearded Galloper from Down Under” and headlined his column with “Eat Oats and Fly”. This was in March 1959. Five weeks earlier I had left Australia travelling by ship to Panama (via Tahiti which lived up to its fabulous reputation) then by plane to Miami, and finally on a car delivery job to the Bean City.
The papers heralded me as a “harbinger of Boston Springtime” because I was the first foreign marathoner to arrive. It was snowing and very cold after the hot Australian summer and a bout of flu in the tropics. Jock Semple, organiser of the Jim Peters’ 1954 visit, set me up in a little room in his physiotherapist’s quarters in the Boston Garden, a big indoor stadium. I met the marathoners, foreign and local, and found that at least twenty had beaten my best time of 2.41:47 in the previous year. The first ten runners in the Boston received the trophies and my hopes of being amongst them diminished. I trained there for a month, never more determined, slept on the floor and ate the famous Cerutty diet. I ran a couple of ten mile races, finishing in the top ten of 150 with times of 57 minutes. Bostonians are friendly. They revere the history of the City and call it proudly “The Hub of the Universe”. The Boston Marathon is run on Patriot’s Day, a public holiday to commemorate Paul Rever’s Ride. A million spectators may watch this 67 year old race.
The course has varied in length over the years but since 1957 has been 26 miles 365 yards when the record was set by John Kelley at 2.20. In the past twenty years he is the only American to win this classic race. It was 1946 when the great spate of foreign entries began. In that year a gaunt emaciated Greek Kyriakades, broke the tape and cried out “My people are starving” a dramatic statement which gained a lot of United States aid for his countrymen. Since then winners have come from Korea, Guatemala, Japan, Finland, Canada, Belgium, Sweden and quite unexpectedly the all time “greats” of marathon running, like Jim Peters and Abebe Bikila have failed to win. This year the Japanese Shigematsu won in 2:16:33 with team mates Shishido and Nakao close behind. Nakao is an old mate of mine – I have raced him on three continents. When we lined up at noon the temperature was 38°F, and we faced a 19 mph headwind. The Finns wore track suit tops, others wrapped themselves in plastic bags and rustled along like autumn leaves. The leaders moved slowly for the first six miles and I was well up. Then Karvenen started a stampede and I slipped from 3rd to 22nd. There are four big hills between 15 and 21 miles, the last is known as “Heartbreak”. When I passed the Japanese Nakao on this hill I moved into 10th position. A position held to the finish in 2:34:37, some twelve minutes behind the winner Oksamen of Finland. Kelley, who led most of the way, was second, Dickson of Canada a fast finishing third ahead of the Finn, Karvonen and Suarez of Argentine. The Englishmen, Bob Pape was next, the Japanese Asahi winner Sadanaga a weary seventh, followed by Boston boys Green and Confalone. National champions, Kelley, Corbitt and Robbins urged me to stay on for the National A.A.U. Marathon, a month later at Yonkers, New York. Each invited me to stay a few days in his home and I spent a pleasant few weeks hitch-hiking around New England. New York was fabulous and in spite of hectic sight-seeing I managed to train a couple of hours each day on a golf course. Yonkers is tough and hilly. Nobody but Kelley had broken 2.30 until 1959 and his record was 2.21. He invariably runs brilliantly at Yonkers, freed from the “pressure” to win a Boston. This time he finished 8 minutes ahead of Jim Green, who was two seconds inside 2.30. I ran a steady pace and finished fourth in 2.36:54. I took a job in Toronto, Canada and trained with Cerutty men, McCreath and Stewart. It was hot humid summer. One day in a temperature of 94°F we ran a ten miler from Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, crossing the U.S. border over the huge Ambassador Bridge. We had a special stamp on our right hand to wave at the Immigration man “Just in case some wise guy comes running across in his undershirt!” Stewart and I bought an old car and visited Quebec. It ‘blew-up’ on the way back and I sold it to a hitch-hiker whilst taking it to a wrecker. To this day I think he only bought it because it looked like rain. Anyhow he disappeared down the road in a cloud of black smoke and we promptly left for Alaska, delivering a new Chevrolet from the works in Detroit to Anchorage, capital of the ‘Great State’. We toured the Rockies, visiting Yellowstone, and other National Parks. We could hardly afford to eat in Alaska. A humble hamburger was thirteen shillings and sixpence, and we existed on cereal grits and dried apples. I booked a single ride back to the Rockies and hence to Vancouver covering 3,000 miles in six days. On route to Seattle I was in a car which hit the side of a lorry at 80mph. It flew in the air and landed upside down in a ditch fifty feet away. Fortunately I landed on my boney skull and walked away unhurt.
Next day in Seattle I won a One Hour track race and was invited to run in the ‘First International Marathon’ in Korea, being given a one way plane ticket. Stayed with Jim Fields, a remarkable fellow. Six months before he had been paralysed in both legs with polio, but already was jogging about and competes with success in walking races. I won a 30 km cross-country race in pouring rain after two weeks training and left that night for Korea. Gordon Dickson and Jim Green were also on the plane. We met Dave Power, Waide of Sweden, Keith James from South Africa and Ray Puckett of New Zealand in Japan and were dazzled by our reception at Seoul Airport. A band played, flowers were presented, many dignitaries were present, including glamorous Miss Korea, after which we paraded through the streets of Seoul in jeeps, decorated with flowers, placards and our national flags. At the plush Bando Hotel and through the succession of banquets, cocktail parties, sight-seeing tours and press interviews that followed, we came to realise that in Korea the Marathoner is King. We met the great Koreans of other days, Kee Chung Sohn 1936 Olympic victor, Yun Bok Suh 1947 Boston winner, a trio led by Ham who ran a clean sweep first, second and third in the 1950 Boston and Yoon Chil Choi, fourth in Helsinki, now coach of Korean marathoners. The race was organized by the ‘Korean Times’ and ‘Hankook Ilbo’ to commemorate the recapture of Seoul by United Nations forces. Mr Chang Key Young, the energetic President was a perfect host and extremely efficient organiser. Over a million people turned out to watch, they gave us tremendous encouragement, especially the children who waved paper flags of various U.N. nations. My beard was a source of much merriment, and at times the gales of laughter almost bowled me over. As they laughed, I laughed too, for one could not remain serious in the face of such mirth, in fact I laughed so much I got stomach cramp. Dave power out front in the lead also suffered with his stomach. The race was decided at 18 miles when Lee Chang Hoon of Korea moved up on Puckett who had just pulled away from Power. Lee ran right away to win in 2.24:47 from James on 2.27:52, with Puckett third, Green and Waide followed, Dickson was seventh and I finished sixteenth just inside three hours. About half the field, including Power, withdrew. That night I apologized to Mr Chang for a poor run, but he said, “On the contrary Mr Watt. My newspaper has held you up as an example to all Korean marathon runners as a man who would never say die”. None of the competitors will ever forget that race and Jim Green later wrote about it – “That fabulous Korean Marathon”. Flew to Tokyo a few days later and toured Japan extensively by train, visiting Mt Fuji, colourful festivals at Nikko and Kyoto and the beautiful deer park at Nara. I trained in forest and on beaches and stayed in old style country inns. One goes barefoot on rice matting in such houses. The sliding doors are made of paper, food is eaten with chopsticks from a low table, and the bath is a big, square, wooden affair for soaking rather than bathing. The touring continued to Hiroshima, the thermal springs of Beppu and tiny Iki Island where I learned the hitch-hike symbol in Japan is to bow three times instead of waving the traditional thumb. Came to rest in Fukuoka, venue of the Asahi Marathon for that year and spent the week before the race with the Japanese training squad dressed in kimono and wearing wooden sandals. The food ranged from delicious grilled steak sukiyaki to seaweed and soybean soup for breakfast.
Hatsuku, who I had met in Boston, became my firm friend. He spoke no English, but we got on with sign language and ribald grimaces. He took me to a sumo wrestling tournament (the national sport) and there were not less than nine hundred gigantic, professional wrestlers in town for the event. Four foreigners had been invited for the marathon: Fred Norris, Mamonen of Finland, Disse of Germany and the Czech Kantorek. Great is the fellowship between marathoners. Kantorek and I carried on a conversation in a very broken German, once more breaking down barriers of race, ideology and creed. It was hot and sunny for the race, so I started cautiously, but never got going at any stage. Though 59th at halfway, I passed many wilting runners on the way home, finishing 35th in just over three hours. Fred Norris was 26th in 2.52 and only Kantorek shone among the foreigners. He was second to Hiroshima in 2.30. Boston opponents Sadanaga, Nakao and Hatsuku were third, fifth and seventh and very happy about it. Utterly weary and disappointed with another poor run I wandered off the ground to be met at the exit by a hundred small boys demanding my autograph. It was a case of sign one, sign them all, so swallowing my own feelings, I sat on the edge of the track and did just that. When I arose the crowd cheered. I found that a spectator had sent down to me a bottle of milk and a bar of chocolate. I drank the milk and saluted my benefactor with the empty bottle and distributed the chocolate amongst the lads. Again the crowd roared. It was moments like these that made it all worthwhile.
Entrained immediately after the race to Yokohama and caught the French ship ‘Laos’ bound for Hong Kong, Manila, Saigon and Singapore travelling tenth class in steerage with a hundred Chinese seamen. I contracted dysentery and we ran into a typhoon. Thought I would die that night. Hitch-hiked easily through Malaya from Singapore, for the country is mostly cleared of terrorists. It was a different story in the jungles of southern Thailand. Hitch-hiking had been halted by floods so decided to walk to the rail six miles away over a rough trail. Fortunately I was given a lift as we passed on route a band of heavily armed renegades from south of the border. The train took me to Bangkok, the most splendid of Oriental cities. The colourful held me agog and I cast avaricious glances at a certain solid gold Buddha reputed to weigh eight tons. In Cambodia, I hitch-hiked to the ancient city of Angkor that was built between the 9th and 14th centuries. It covers some sixty square miles and is surrounded by dense jungle. It has a powerful ‘atmosphere’ which inspires awe and wonder about its builders. The land borders of Burma are closed so flew from Bangkok to Rangoon. Lost no time hitch-hiking up the ‘Road to Mandalay’ a journey to remember for the lush green countryside and the distant blue of the hills. An attempt to walk into India over the hills ended in disaster when I was caught by a Border Patrol and sent back seven hundred miles to Rangoon with an expired visa and no choice but to fly out to Calcutta. I spent an enjoyable Christmas with the Salvation Army and met a New Zealander with whom I teamed up for the remainder of the trip. We went south to Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas and saw the magnificent Kanchenjunga Range floating on a long bank of cloud. There we met Tensing, conqueror of Everest. Thus inspired we set out on a one hundred mile trek along the Nepal border. On Phalut peak 12,000 ft we saw dawn break on the ‘roof of the world’. At first the tip of Everest glowed pink, then the whole range lit up and glittering peaks stretched over 150° of our field of view. Five of the six highest peaks of the world stood before us and seemed only a few days march away. It was magnificent. Down on the plains again we headed for the holy city of Benares. Teeming with life, though 3,500 years old, thronged with Sadhus and Mendicants, pilgrims and paupers, it was filthy beyond belief, repulsive and utterly fascinating at the same time. Infected by the spirit of the place, I plunged into the Holy Ganges after being assured that it would wash away all sins. When I emerged I noticed some characters burning bodies on the bank and pitching the smouldering remains into the murky waters. I felt sort of “creepy” for a week after that! We made the long trip South West, ‘jumping the rattler’ as usual, on the trains, to the caves of Ellora and Ajanta. Caved out of solid rock over a period of a thousand years, sculptured in magnificent fashion with the legends of the Hindus and Buddhists they stand as man’s greatest monument to his own persistence. Tracking north we reach Agra and saw the Taj Mahal. Viewed at dawn, noon, sunset and by moonlight it always presented new aspects of its beauty and one could never tire of it. We saw India’s Republic day celebrations in Dehli and that really turned on a parade that day. Elephants and camels, color and characters. It had the lot and wound up with a series of folk dances full of the most wonderful movement and spirit. Our last days in India were spent in Amritsar, home of the Sikhs, they wear turbans and rejoice in the name of Singh which means “lion”. Truly they are lions amongst men. Those six weeks in India were the most interesting of the trip. We shot through Pakistan and hitch-hiked on to the Kyber Pass where we were arrested for photographing a mud fort. The Commandant put us on the mat, thinking we were Russian spies. When he found out who we were he invited us to tea. You could knock that fort down with a fire-hose.
The tribesmen of the Kyber are as wild as I’ve seen and habitually carry long barrelled antique rifles, Soldiers patrol the Afghan roads on account of brigands. We learned in the capital Kabul about the battle between the U.S.A. and Russia to in the hearts of the Afghans. The Americans approach is intellectual by education at all levels. The Russian’s approach is the age old one through the stomach. They have built the Afghans a huge bakery, a shrewd move as the Afghans eat little else but bread. We hitch-hiked around that strange mediaeval country with a firm of American construction engineers. Everywhere the ‘Police’ would detain us for a few hours while they wrote their hieroglyphics in our passports. Finally in Kandahar they put us under guard. This had us baffled as nobody told us why. It was exactly a year since I had left Australia and whereas I had intended to reach England via America in that year, I had, in fact, reached Afghanistan via Alaska and was under armed guard at that. We managed to slip away after a couple of days and headed for Iran. We crossed that country by cheap train seeing little else but grey barren rocks and snow-capped mountains. The people were friendly and we enjoyed meeting them. Turkey was miserable, covered in snow and terribly cold. We acquired lice and itched and scratched from one side of the country to the other. One morning outside Ankara we were shelled by the military so we took umbrage and left. Greece. We had come to my spiritual home, a sunny land, green and mountainous with friendly, light-hearted people. Here was the land of which Homer sang. Here the woods and groves in which satyrs danced. It is indeed a beautiful country.
We visited Corinth, Olympia, Sparta, Mycenai and Delphi set under Mount Parnussus, “like a thunder-clap in stone hewn by a heavenly axe, just last night”. We spent a month wandering amongst ruins, drawing inspiration from the simple grace and beauty of the sculpture. We made a pilgrimage out to marathon from Athens reflecting that Pheidippides had chosen the toughest course in the world – no wonder he died poor fella. It was nearly all uphill! We made for the Yugoslavian coast and journeyed up the Adriatic, visiting the historic walled city of Dubrovnik and the Isle of Korcula, birthplace of Marco Polo. We went inland to Plitvice, a water wonderland with seventeen lakes stacked one on top of the other, linked by streams and waterfalls. We crossed the Austrian Alps two days later to Salzburg and made for Munich to enjoy the finest in beer, sausage and black bread. Almost broke, flattened and tired after the long trek we spent the last few days of April in Paris. Through the trip whenever we were cold and hungry we would dream of the magnificent meal we would have when we reached England. Strangely enough when the time came to eat this feast, we could not imagine anything more appetising than fish and chips and a pint of beer. I took a job for four months before going to the Olympics in Rome and during this time ran a few races without much success. I had a grand re-union in Rome with the marathoners and found that I’d competed against almost a third of the field at some stage or other during my wanderings. I trained with Gordon Dickson, met Zatopek and Mimoun at the Village and had a memorable dinner with Percy Cerutty.
I returned to Munich after Rome, one of my favourite cities and enjoyed once more the fine Bavarian beer at their annual Oktoberfest. I managed to see the last performance until 1970 of the passion play at Oberammergau. Broke again I went to England, this time to do some conditioning over the winter in preparation for a few marathons. To save money I lived of my New Zealand mate’s flat and painted the sloping walls with the legends of the Buddha in the style I had seen at Ajanta. This was in London’s notorious Notting Hill district and during the months that followed the roof and the bearded monk-like man who inhabited it gained their own kind of fame. I look back on those days as the best of my life, and it seemed to me that I had succeeded in combining the best of the bohemian and Olympic ways of life. Anyhow, after running 1,000 miles in the first three months of 1961, I recorded 54:20 for 10 miles and went on to run the best race of my life in the 37 ¾ mile T.T. Race on the Isle of Man. This course includes the Ascent of Snaefell, 2,000 feet, but I managed to get around in 3.56:54, smashing Tom Richard’s record and finishing third to Linstead and Turner, the fifty mile aces. Eighteen days later I ran in the Polytechnic Marathon from Windsor to Chiswick, recording 2.28:59 and 120 men were inside three hours. Never have I seen such strength in the depth of the field.
In August I went to the Easchede International Marathon in Holland. A carload of glamorous models precedes the field in this race and, thinking they were prizes, I ran one of my better races to finish seventh in a classy field with a time of 2.35:03 – but only a shirt as my prize! Peter Wilkinson of England won in 2.24 and Kantorek the Czech I’d met in Japan was second. Another old rival, Bob Pape, who beat me by six minutes in Boston and seventy seconds in the Polytechnic was fifty seconds behind me in eighth place. “Everything comes to him who waits”, he said after the race. Taking a couple of weeks rest from running I toured Scandinavia, spending one unforgettable day on Sognefiord in Norway. Returning to England I trained for the London Brighton fifty-three mile race at the end of September. Training with the one hundred mile world record holder, Ron Hopcroft, a Thames Valley club-mate gave me the confidence to go all out for a win. Close up on the leaders I went through the marathon distance in under 2.40, but faded to finish fourth behind Smith, Buckingham and Turner. This trio was then selected to represent England in the Comrades Marathon over fifty-four miles in Durban the following May. Undismayed at missing selection I set out for Durban two days later hitch-hiking overland. First of all I went to Kosice, Czechoslavakia, where I had been invited to the 31st Kosice International Marathon as the first Australian runner ever. No race fosters the spirit of goodwill and friendship more than this one, for there runners from both sides of the Iron Curtain meet before a warm-hearted and enthusiastic crowd. The stature of the race is high. The athletic associations of several European countries send two representatives to compete as a team. This time Abebe Bikila, the Olympic champion from Ethiopia won the race easily from local hero Kantorek, with my old Boston mate Nakoa of Japan close up third. For me the event was most gruelling. It was only a week after the London to Brighton race and I was still leg-weary and limping with a knee injury. On the eve of the race, Bikila and I were chosen to make speeches on behalf of the athletes before the crowd in the Opera House. Most of the people were wearing evening dress, but I was clad only in the old shirt and strides that I hitch-hiked in – and from then on the people “adopted” me. All the way along the route they chanted in unison ”TEM-PO DOK-TOR VHWOTT, TEM-PO DOK-TOR VHWOTT” to cheer me on and I ran just as hard as I could to finish 28th out of 90 in 2.48:16. Despite the lowly place I received an ovation worthy of the winner and will never forget the warmth of their fellowship.
From the elegant city of Vienna, I hitch-hiked across Austria and over the Alps by Grossglockner Pass – the highest and most spectacular in Europe and recall the breath-taking sunset on the Dolomites all hazy, pink and purple. Already in Italy I suddenly turned around and went back to Holland, to a girl I’d met at the Enschede International Marathon. I asked her to come to Africa with me. She wanted me to settle down with clogs and a pipe – but Africa called. So off I went again, over the Brenner Pass and on down to Venice, a splendid city. Cold weather closed in on Europe and I hastened south. In Naples I picked up a lift with a mad Scot driving a Zephyr convertible clear through to Jerusalem - 3,500 miles away. We went via the heel of Italy and took the ferry to Corfu, an island off Greece. Going inland we saw Meteora where ancient monasteries are perched on tremendous rocks and the monks have to be pulled up in wicker baskets. We continued on to Istanbul a grand city of mosques and minarets, and crossed Turkey diagonally through Antioch and Syria. There we visited Palmyra the ruined capital of Queen Zenobia – a vast desert metropolis built around in a green oasis. We also saw the Krak des Chevaliers, a castle built by the Crusaders on a high promontory hill which dominates its surrounds in a most spectacular fashion. In Ballbeck, Lebanon we saw the remaining seventy feet high columns of Rome’s mightiest temple and continued on to Jerusalem an intriguing walled city of narrow alleyways. The Scot went home for Christmas but I stayed on, In Bethlehem on Christmas Eve I sang carols at the Church of Holy Nativity, celebrated Midnight Mass with the Greek Orthodox, and ended up sleeping in the Shepherd’s Cave where those devout men had watched the first Christmas Eve. I took the precaution of bathing in the River Jordan – in case I had accumulated any sins since my dip in the Holy Ganges. In Petra, southern Jordan, there are some wonderful red, rock carved temples – but long after I had forgotten these I will remember the girl I met there. Her name was Liesje, she had long blonde hair, green eyes and she was Dutch. At that time she was camping with a Bedouin family in a cave and they had roasted a whole sheep in her honour and given her the eyes to eat. She was going to Bagdad, but I told her it was raining there and invited her to join me on the African jaunt.
This she did. We hitch-hiked up to Beirut in a taxi of all things “Ven you travel with me’ she said, “You travel in style”, and by golly I did. We got a free ride on a Greek onion ship to Alexandria and continued on to Cairo where I was thrown off a recalcitrant camel whilst viewing the pyramids. This did not deter me from running up the side of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in 5 min 40 secs as against a record of five minutes. I later urged Bikila, the Ethiopian marathoner, to attempt the ”first Four Minute Pyramid” when next he passes that way. We hitch-hiked on to Luxor, the greatest of all ruined cities. The tomb paintings in the Valley of the King’s fascinated me – they believed that as in life so in death and one former Lord Mayor of Thebes hopefully had dancing girls painted all the way around the walls of his tomb. What a life he must have had, I thought, and what a death! The weather was idyllic, never a cloud crossed the sky, and my blonde companion would stop the traffic where ever she went, so we had no trouble getting lifts. She had a cast iron constitution and a temperament to match. One day going south in a truck she was chewing sugar cane when off of her front teeth broke off.
She tried to fit it back in, but finding this of no use said, “Oh vell, I don’t want him now”, hurled the tooth out the window and went on chewing sugar cane. Up the Nile we went to Aswan, the end of the road. We took a river streamer to Wadi Halfa, stopping to see the colossal Abu Simbel Temple which will be below water when the Aswan dam is completed. We took the train to Khartoum at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. Hitch-hiking again we headed due east across a dry prairie to Eritrea on a route used by pilgrims to Mecca. From Asmara we made for Gondar, home of the Ethiopian Mountain Kings. The journey thither covered some of the most spectacular country I have ever seen. Ethiopia is basically an 8,000 ft plateau dissected on the west by giant rivers – feeders of the Nile – the Takkaze, the Atbara and the Blue Nile itself rise in this region. The road, built by the Italians, will often drop thousands of feet into a huge valley – and to ride the truck-tops from this country is an adventure in itself. Returning to Asmara we set out for Addis Ababa – around the east side of the plateau, once again it was a wonderful journey – both for scenery and people. Ethiopians are a fine race. Even the ancient Greeks knew that – and Homer describes them as “a blameless race”. I carried a photo take in Kosice of Abebe Bikila their Olympic marathon champion, standing beside me with Japanese runners on either side of us. He wears the race number 1, while by happy coincidence the Japanese have 2 and 3 and I have 4. “Four?” You are number four?” they would ask – thinking that this was our finishing order. “Yes, but Bikila is a long way ahead”, I would say modestly. After that they could never do enough for me. In Addis Ababa I met up with the mighty Bikila again and trained with him. He trains at seven thousand feet and sometimes goes for a run up the hill behind the town. This brings him up to eight thousand feet. Ethiopians should make a clean sweep of the distance events in Mexico City in 1968, unless Clarke and company put in a few months on Kosciusko. Bikila’s coach, Onni Niskanen, who is a Swede, invited us to stay at is house, and we spent a delightful week there talking for hours every night about athletics. Liesje got some bad news from home and decided to return to Holland. So, we split up when she went to catch a ship. I went south to Nairobi – a difficult piece of hitch-hiking through Ethiopia’s southern desert and Kenya’s northern province which is a “closed district”. In Kenya I visited some game parks and saw all the wild animals at close quarters in their natural state – lions, leopards, elephants and antelopes, giraffes and gnus, monkey, zebras, hartebeests, wildebeests, the lot. The highest mountain is Kilimanjaro 19,340 feet. Alone and without equipment I climbed to the top. I had sold my boots for a pint of beer in Ethiopia and thus climbed in a pair of old sandshoes. One day I climbed from 9,000 to 15,000 feet, 21 miles walking in 6 hours – the pace being forced in the last hour because I was caught in a snowstorm and daren’t stop lest I freeze. The next day I made the peak after climbing for hours in loose snow. At such an altitude I had to summon up all the strength and stamina I had before taking twenty steps. Then I would rest and try to take twenty more, overnight I became snow-blind and spent two dreadful days stumbling down the slopes to safety.
This experience had a profound affect on me and for awhile I was quite fearless – would go walking in the jungle at night unafraid of man or beast. Ngorongoro Crater in Tanganyika is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. It is like a huge soup bowl, 2,500 feet deep and 150 square miles in area. It is very green and full of game. After spending a few days there I hitched down the coast and out to the spice island Zanzibar. This is quite a fascinating place with narrow streets and lovely beaches as a German mate of mine remarked, “Like all Muslim places – no beer and no girls”. I came back in an Arab dhow, a stinking tub that took two days to cover sixty miles. From Dar-Es-Salaam, I wasted no time in hitch-hiking to Durban – indeed I covered these last 2,000 miles in twelve days, stopping only to see the mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambesi River. I had covered 18,370 miles since I left London six and a half months before and spent 84 pounds Australian. Now I had six weeks to train for the Comrade’s marathon, 54 miles uphill. The total climb is 6,000 feet over the course and the drop is 4,000 feet – a tall order for a man who’d done no running in six months. My “build-up” was necessarily rapid. After two weeks I was able to cover 78 miles in a weekend, 30 on the Saturday being as far as I could manage and 12 more in the afternoon, then 36 on Sunday morning. Another day I did a 39 mile time trial. These days were exceptional however and in all that six weeks I only managed 600 miles – any more I found was too exhausting. On Sundays we went on wonderful picnic runs – beginning at five in the morning – a great group of twenty or thirty –would run right through till three in the afternoon taking stops for tea or a sandwich quite frequently. The interest in this race is tremendous in Durban – especially this year as the English team now numbering four, was due. The local favourite Mekler was known to have run up to forty miles before breakfast then gone to work. John Smith, England, won in grand style from Mekler, with the other Englishmen Turner, Buckingham and Linstead, finishing in the next three places. It was only a year since Linstead, Turner and I had beaten Smith in the Isle of Man Classic but now he was top-dog in the ultra-long distance field and there was no doubt about it. Much to everybody’s surprise I came in tenth in the good time of 6.49:02. Some of the runners were still coming in at the time limit of 11 hours and 110 were recorded as finishing out of 156 starters, a most excellent effort as this is the world’s longest and most gruelling annual road race. It was difficult to get a ship to Australia. I waited two months before coming home on the “Northern Star”. During this time I worked as a stevedore, then a beach photographer. The ship was on its maiden voyage and very fine maidens they were.
Well, this is how to “Eat Oats and Fly” and the moral to the story is – for those who eat John Bull Rolled Oats: ‘A LITTLE BULL GOES A LONG WAY’
PUBLISHED IN THREE PARTS IN
‘AUSTRALIAN HARRIER MAGAZINE’ IN 1965
AUSTRALIAN HARRIER MAGAZINE
v. ports. 21 CM
No 4 – No 20
June 1965 to APRIL 1969
HAR. abn 90-003564
Australian National Library, Canberra