It was in October 2012 when I first heard about Wally Hayward’s indissoluble records. At that stage I was in the prime and peak of my running career. I was set on challenging the 24 hour race record that was uncontested for the past 60 years. Wally Hayward set the South African record of 256.4 km in London on the 21st of November in 1953. On paper the record seemed fully reachable and even undemanding. With the collaboration of my co-club members at the Pietersburg Road Runners and with the added financial aid of Digit Vehicle Tracking we hosted the first 24 hour race within our local community. The race took place on the 31st of March, 2013 and the purpose thereof was to ultimately improve the 24 hour South African record. It was however not as trouble-free as it initially seemed. Even after my best efforts I still missed the record with approximately 3km. I was extremely disheartened, saddened and disenchanted. Hosting the race proofed to be very pricey and I felt as though I disappointed all my family, friends and supporters. As a consequence, I under duress tried to forget about improving the record.
In order to deal with my setback I participated in numerous elongated races. During April to September 2013 I took part in a 6-day race in Hungary where I completed 516km. I furthermore ran the Comrades Marathon and finished it with a time of 7h28. In addition I also did three hundred milers, the Washie Race (13:18:02), the Golden Reef Race (14:41:45) and the Capital Classic Race (14:33:08). My results far exceeded my expectations but it still did not relief my utter sense of dissatisfaction.
Who is Wally Hayward?
Wallace (“Wally”) Henry Hayward (10 July 1908 – 28 April 2006) was a South African endurance athlete with a 60-year career. Wally won the Comrades five times and completed the distance of around 90 km the last time just before his eighty-first birthday.
He was born and died in Johannesburg. In 2006 just a few days before the annual Wally Hayward Marathon, Wally passed away.
He won the race for the first time on his first attempt in 1930 at age 21 (the youngest runner at that stage). Only twenty years later he competed again and won it from 1950 to 1954, except for 1952 when he choose to rather represent South Africa at the 1952 Summer Olympics. He finished tenth in the Olympic Marathon event.
In 1951 and 1953 (first athlete under 6 hours) he broke the down-run record, and in 1954 he broke the up-run record and became the oldest man to win the race at age 45 (later overtaken by Vladimir Kotov in 2004). In 1988 he returned once again to participate. He beat half the finishers with a time of 9h44m. Wally’s most dramatic moment came the following year, in 1989, when he completed the down run at the age of 80. There was hardly a dry eye in the stadium as he staggered across the line in an obviously distressed state, making the cut-off time by a mere 1min 57sec, after which he finally quit the race for good. To this day, he has the distinction in the record books of being the oldest finisher in the history of the Comrades Marathon.
In 1953 he established records in the London to Brighton Marathon, the Bath to London 100-miler and the 24-hour track race. At the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney he won the bronze medal in the 6 miles competition. In the 3 miles contest he finished fourth. Hayward fought in North Africa and Italy during World War 2 and in 1942 earned the British Empire Medal for bravery for his actions near El Alamein in Egypt.
Married Gladys Catto in December 1934 and had one daughter, Gwenolyn in October 1935. In 1957 Wally and Gladys divorced. In 1971 Wally married his second wife, Bertha Bland.
In 1953 he accepted a small donation towards his traveling while competing in the UK. The South African Athletics and Cycling Association declared him a professional, banning him from all amateur events. The ban was finally lifted in 1974.
Wally Hayward Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wally_Hayward
On the 4th of October, 2013 I came across a list of international races. I was interested in determining the amount of 24 hour races that was still to be hosted throughout 2013. At that time I occupied the seventh position for the international 24 hour races. I reflected back over 2013 and realized that there were no races that I was particularly proud of. I wanted to conclude 2013 on a high note but had no idea how to accomplish my goal. It was already October. My body felt fatigued and worn-out and an exceptional achievement seemed utterly impracticable and idealistic. I browsed the internet and discovered a 24 hour race that was scheduled for the 7th of December. The race was to take place in Taipei, Taiwan. While looking at the previous years’ results I realized that the race was a high standing sports event. I later learned that it was classified as a “gold labelled event” according to the International Association of Ultra runners.
I decided to travel to Taipei in order to participate in the race. It was particularly difficult for me to attempt again to improve the South African record only eight months after my setback. It felt as though I was not in the best physical condition so as to take on the challenge. With all the long races in which I participated in during 2013 I never focussed on just training effectively for any race. I mainly focussed on tapering for and recovering after a race. My legs ached incessantly, my muscles felt stiff and I was just not able to practice adequately. I had to decide whether or not my desire to improve the record was stronger than my physical condition.
During the first 24 hour race I ran on the 31st of March 2013 I learned a few essential things. I henceforth decided to concentrate solely on the three mistakes I made while preparing for the race in Taipei. My first mistake was that I started much too fast. The second mistake was that I did not eat and the third detrimental mistake was that I tended to pull my body weight to the right side and as a result it affected my overall balance. In October and November I focused on practicing on the racing track without the use of my GPS watch with the intention of establishing a proper pace and the most suitable eating pattern for every five laps.
Taiwan is a rather unfamiliar and foreign country with its indefinite culture and peculiar eating habits. My greatest concern was that my body would not be able to deal with the outlandish food, eccentric aromas and odd tastes. We decided therefore to take South African food with us on our journey. I specifically packed cheddar cheese, salami, biltong and pvm energy bars. We arrived four days prior to the race in Taiwan with the aim to adjust to their climate. To furthermore prepare adequately I researched all the contestants and studied their unique profiles. The contenders were all world class athletes against whom I had to compete. I harboured mixed emotions of excitement and apprehension. Some of the participants included athletes like the 2013 – 24 hour world champion, The USA’s 100 mile and 12 hour record holder John Olsen, the eight time race champion, Asia’s 24 hour record holder, Ryoichi Sekiya and Asia’s 12 hour, 100 miler and 100 km record holder Yoshikazu Hara, the 24 hour woman record holder Mami Kudo, the Italian 24 hour record holder and the two-time Spartathlon champion Ivan Cuddin.
I only truly comprehended the magnitude of the race a day before it commenced. It was amazing to witness how the track transformed into an Olympic type of arena. Enormous tents, medical facilities, banners, cones and an impressive platform for introductions and entertainment were erected within a short span of time. I felt rather anxious once the athletes were being formally introduced to the media and while meeting all the various champions and record holders. I was fully aware of the enormity of the race. I was faced with the reality that I had to really do my best in order to compete with my commendable opponents. Shortly before the race started the athletes were introduced to the public and to their personal lap-counters. Each international athlete had the opportunity to write inspirational, encouraging words with their signatures on a big gold label board. I wrote “God will give me strength” not knowing how true it would prove throughout the duration of the race.
A particular doctor was employed to see to the needs and physical welfare of each athlete. All athletes were weighed in, in order to monitor their wellbeing throughout the race. Every single one was weighed on a fourth hour basis when the direction of the race was changed. I was rather shocked to weigh-in on 65.5 kg as I usually only weigh between 60 to 62 kg. I was in mint condition in 2012 just before the Washie race when I only weighed 59.5 kg. The extra weighed had me rather concerned.
The race commenced at exactly 9h00. I was clothed in my full South African attire that reflected our country’s national colours. The starting gun announced the beginning of the race and I was faced with the moment of truth. All participants was at first hesitant to take the lead. After a few frustrating and exasperating laps I however decided to take the lead. After every fifth lap I took the time to eat something. My wife provided me with various snacks that consisted of cheese, salami and pvm energy bars. I mostly drank 32 GI, water, rehydrate and Sprite. After every 60km I also drank a recovery drink as well as an addition magnesium tablet. After the first three hours I yet again realized that I started too fast. I was still in the lead of approximately 40.8 km, more or less 1km ahead of the Japanese, Hara. Even though I was still running comfortably I was concerned that I was yet again making the same mistakes as I did previously. I felt so poised that I even played cat and mouse games with Oslen and Cudin.
After the first fourth hour the direction of the race changed and the athletes were weighed in. My weight shockingly decreased to 61.5kg. I lost a staggering 4kg within the first hours of the race. The doctor spoke to my wife and informed her that if I lost any more weight that he would be obligated to take me out of the race. I was petrified and tried to make various plans in order to pick up weight. My wife ordered a Mc Donalds burger, but I felt awfully nauseas after the first bite. The last thing I wanted was to throw up during the race. I knew from experience that one can easily loose all your strength within a blink of an eye when you dehydrate. I was fearful and decided to conceal something in my pants in order to ensure that my weight was not less than the previous weigh-in. My wife moreover found two-minute noodles that I was able to eat. I determined to go to a different scale to be weighed. I weighed 62.5kg – it was a great relief. I instinctively decided to stop chasing kilometres and to exclusively focus on improving the record time.
I set a few milestones for myself in the race in order to obtain my goal. I just did not want to make the same mistakes as those I made in Polokwane. On twelve hours however I completed exactly the same kilometres as I completed previously – 145.2km. I realized that my attempt might be in jeopardy and I set an objective for the 100 mile mark. My 100 mile time was 6 minutes slower than it was in Polokwane. My self-confidence was shot. My time was 13:38 far removed from my expected time of 12:45. Wally completed his 100 miler split during his 24H race in 1953 in a time of 12:47.
I apprehended just how difficult it would be to improve the record time. I knew that it was imperative for me to maintain the correct posture and to proceed regardless of how I felt. My position fell from first to third. My body played tricks on me and I continuously ran to the bathroom without any avail. When looking back it might have been a way for my body to rest. My wife realized what was happening and she kept a close eye on me. She encouraged me not to waste any time. She warned me before the race that she was going to be rather stern in order to keep me in line. At 22 hours I realized that the record of 256.4 km was well within my reach if I kept my focus. It required a lot of exertion and determination. My body did not want to take in any food or fluids at that stage.
On 23 hours my personal lap counter indicated that I have completed 249km. I still had to do 7.4 km in order to improve the record. I knew I had to step up and increase my pace. I eventually completed the race and improved the record with a total distance of 258.064km. The South African flag waved proudly above my head as I crossed the finish line.
It is almost anomalous and strange to be without a goal currently. It feels as though I am growing stronger and stronger despite my age. It is imperative for me to set a goal that will serve as my focus point for the next two years. I have my sights set on the 48 hour as well as the 6 day records that seem attainable on paper. The only record that might be within reach is the demanding, arduous SA 100 miler record that was set in 1972 by Derek Kay with a time of 11:56:56.
My biggest rule in running is that you must at all times believe in yourself when you participate no matter how unattainable and gruelling your goal seems. If I work hard and prepare adequately none of my goals will be unfeasible and beyond my reach.
Many thanks to Johan van de Merwe for providing this report and images.
Johan will be interviewed for a future episode of Talk Ultra.