40 Years on – Ron Bentley & the 24 Hour World Record (Part 2)

SOUTH AFRICA – COMRADES & CONNECTIONS

Tipton Harriers ultra distance runners had built an impressive list of team achievements in races around the country. There had long been links with the ultra distance runners from South Africa and it was in 1971 that, after a win at the Scottish Two Bridges Race, a challenge was laid down.

A man by the name of Charlie Chase, over from South Africa, ran in the race and laid down the ‘gauntlet’ to Ron and his fellow club men to take part in the Comrades Marathon in South Africa in 1972. Those around Ron were filled with a competitive urge to go over to the race, an unofficial world championship, and contest the team title with the great South African club teams who had ‘raided’ the RRC London To Brighton Race in recent years.

Ron was more circumspect and suggested they wait until they had contested the 1971 London To Brighton Road Race. He reckoned that if they won that race then they should aim to raise the funds and head across the Equator. They did and the stage was set – but that is the subject of another story!

As 1971 closed the club and Ron’s enthusiasm were focused on “Project Comrades”. History shows they went to the race and recorded an emphatic win both on an individual level and team levels. This gave Ron immense pride. Ron himself was 13th in the epic race.

After the Comrades, in June, Ron continued to race but after the Polytechnic Marathon at the start of July he suffered a very nasty foot injury whilst at work. He smashed three toes and required stitches to the underside of his left foot. He was unable to run for 6 weeks. He is noted returning to competition in a club’s relay team at the Birchfield Relay on 14th September.

He started the 1972 London To Brighton but was forced out along the way due to blistering on his feet but had recovered enough by late October to place 10th in the 40 Mile Track Race at Maindy Stadium, Cardiff.

1972 also saw Ron awarded Life Membership of Tipton Harriers.

1973 – BAD LUCK & UNCERTAINTY

Early 1973 still saw Ron below his best but he persevered. In July he again had an accident with a nail going through foot as he jumped down from some scaffolding. It was again his left foot just like in 1972. Another 3 weeks without running.

He went to the Two Bridges Race at the end of August but was again unable to finish due to foot problems being unable to keep any weight on it.

He did not lose focus in fact these setbacks may have made him more resolute. He had been invited to compete in the RRC 24 Hour Race due to be held in November and had accepted. He had around 8 weeks to prepare.

His aerobic fitness was good and he went to the 23rd London To Brighton Race in September and ran a PB (5h 46m 50s) for the course. He even went off course at one point due to road works and being misdirected and ended up losing between 8 and 10 minutes. This performance however did his morale no end of good. He also won the Veteran’s prize (The Wilf Richards Trophy) with the team however placing a lowly 5th.

EXPERIMENTATION

Prior to the London to Brighton he, together with his brother Gordon and close friend Billy Carr, had begun experimenting with the experience of running through the night.

They secretly headed down the track at Tipton and began to run at 11.30pm. They tried out eating every half hour, eating various foods settling on hot soup.

Running through the night, they used this time getting used to the mental anxieties that creep in when sounds are magnified and aches and pains seem more acute. Billy & Gordon stopped at 6.00am with Ron carrying on adding another hour for good measure. He reckons he covered about 77 miles.

After the London To Brighton he had 5 weeks until the 24 Hour Race. He had an easy week and then followed this with three weeks of his special regime at 150-160 miles a week allowing him the final week to taper. He ran up to the Wednesday lunchtime after which he did nothing.

Even into the last week before the 24 hour race he was dogged by problems as he had a persistent problem with a verruca which he had cut out just three days before the race and had developed a slight back strain as well.

During this last week Ron followed the carbohydrate diet which entails a depletion followed by a higher ingestion providing higher energy absorption ready for the race. He felt ready. He was mentally & physically confident.

RON’S ULTRA DISTANCE RACING PROGRAMME 1970-1973 (10 MILES & OVER)

The following table shows Ron’s various races at 10 miles and above that results have been traced for, it covers the period 1970 through to 1973.

In addition to these listed he was a regular in many cross country league, road relay and short road races for Tipton.

Year Date Race Time Position
1970 07/03/1970 John Oultram 10 55m 03s 45th
19/04/1970 Bulmer Strongbow 10 54m 10s 18
09/05/1970 Exeter To Plymouth 44 Miles 4h 41m 23s 1st
27/05/1970 1 Hour Track Race, Hadley Stadium 10m 1588 Yards 4th
13/06/1970 Polytechnic Marathon 2h 35m 51s 45th
04/07/1970 Welwyn Half Marathon 1h 11m 14s 17th
22/08/1970 Two Bridges Race (36 Miles 158 Yards) 3h 42m 15s 3rd
27/09/1970 RRC London To Brighton Road Race 6h 02m 39s 5th
10/10/1970 Hereford To Ross 14 1h 17m 51s 7th
31/10/1970 40 Mile Track Race, Maindy Stadium, Cardiff 4h 14m 30s 4th
19/12/1970 Newport To Tredegar 22 Mile 2h 3m 15s 2nd
1971 13/03/1971 John Oultram 10 54m 25s 39th
08/05/1971 Exeter To Plymouth 44 Miles 5h 9m 30s 4th
31/05/1971 Isle Of Man TT Course Race 4h 6m 57s 3rd
26/06/1971 Polytechnic Marathon 2h 29m 37s 16th
16/07/1971 50 Mile Track Race @ Ewell 27¾ Miles in 3h 4m 32s  
31/07/1971 Woodford To Southend Road Race (37.4 Miles) 4h 40m 6s 11th
21/08/1971 Two Bridges Road Race

3h 59m 09s

4h 01m 56s

15th
09/10/1971 Hereford To Ross 14 1h 19m 16s 11th
23/10/1971 Radox 100 Mile Track Race, Uxbridge 12h 37m 55s 1st
1972 12/03/1972 Cannock Chase 21(XC) 2h 6m 36s 23rd
25/03/1972 Orion 15 (XC), Chingford 1h 39m 16s 26th
03/04/1972 Huddersfield Marathon 2h 58m 54s 8th
03/06/1972 Comrades Marathon 6h 24m 14s 13th
01/07/1972 Polytechnic Marathon 2h 40m 25s 7th
01/10/1972 RRC London To Brighton Road Race DNF DNF
28/10/1972 Nos Galan 40 Mile Track Race, Maindy Stadium, Cardiff 4h 42m 35s 10th
1973 11/03/1973 Cannock Chase 21 (XC) 2h 15m 29s 29th
23/04/1973 Huddersfield Marathon 2h 35m 05s 13th
05/05/1973 Rugby Marathon 2h 34m 18s 15th
26/05/1973 Isle Of Man 25Km 1h 31m 14s 27th
28/05/1973 Isle Of Man TT Course Road Race 4h 34m 30s 7th
20/06/1973 John Oultram 10 55m 23s 36th
25/08/1973 Two Bridges Road Race DNF  
30/09/1973 RRC London To Brighton Road Race 5h 46m 50s 10th
04/11/1973 RRC 24 Track Race 161 Miles 545 Yards 1st

HAYWARD & THE 1953 24 HOUR RACE

Now a quick look back to 1953 when Wally Hayward set the mark that was to last for 20 years. Wally Hayward, a 45 year old South African from the Germiston Callies Club near Johannesburg, was over in the UK to challenge for a win in the RRC London To Brighton Race. Wally was a legend in the running fraternity. He had won the famous Comrades Marathon at the age of 21 in 1930.

A road race between London & Brighton had been organised in 1951 to celebrate the “Festival Of Britain” promoted by the Surbiton Town Sports Club and the event organiser was Ernest Neville. He had spent a lifetime organising walking events on the “Brighton Road”. The race started at the iconic Big Ben in Westminster and ended on the Promenade at Brighton.

In 1952 the responsibility for the race was taken on by the Road Runners Club (RRC), founded earlier on 30th June 1952 by, amongst others, Ernest Neville. Ernest was the RRC Secretary who shouldered the role of race promoter.

Hayward had already raced the 3rd London To Brighton Run on the 26th of September 1953. He had smashed the time set the year before by an astonishing 22 minutes recording 5hr 29m 40s.

He then followed this up on the 24th October with a “time trial” attempt on another of the classic point to point endurance challenges the “Bath Road” 100 from Box in Wiltshire to Hyde Park Corner in London. The event was run under the auspices of the Road Runners Club.

Hayward dominated and established a new record for this route completing the distance in a total time of 12hr 20m 28s. This beat the previous “best” time by Hardy Ballington set back in 1937 of 13h 21m 19s. These were indeed trail blazing days for ultra distance achievements.

The day after the “Bath Road” event, Hayward, coaxed by Arthur Newton, enquired to see if an attempt on the 24 Hour Record could be set up.

He was clearly in good form and would have been keen to challenge Newton’s unofficial professional mark, set back in 1931, of 152m 540y in Hamilton, Canada.

The Road Runners Club buoyed by the performances of their organisation and the achievements of Hayward responded and agreed to stage the attempt. Ernest Neville was again the organiser.

The date was set to be Friday 20th November 1953. The start time 11.00am. The start time had been due at 10.00am but apparently was set back to 11.00am to allow the use of the BBC Time signal that was broadcast at that hour. The venue was to be the track at Motspur Park, West Barnes in South West London. A field of 6 runners made up the entry.

The organisers wanted to be correct in everything to do with the race. To ensure credibility they wanted regular and accurate timekeeping & recording for every competitor. They established good practice and procedures to record every lap covered and the lap time for each contestant throughout the event. This was no mean feat as the race started on a Friday.

The race report in Athletics Review (December 1953) states that “it was a clear, cool day and these conditions lasted throughout the 24 hours though, of course, the night was rather cold”.

There were many aides and assistants present tending to the dietary & physical needs of the runners throughout the event.

Hayward dominated proceedings and established a new world best mark with a distance of 159m 562y. The second man home was Derek Reynolds from Blackheath Harriers some 4m 1096yds behind.

Derek did however have the consolation of setting a new British Record with his 154 miles 1,226 yards (154.69 miles)

Here is an indication of Hayward’s progress throughout the 24 hour period. The splits are taken from two sources - the 1953 RRC December Newsletter & the 1973 event programme.

Time Distance (Mile) Time
1h 8.31  
  10.00 1h 12m 07s
2h 16.55  
  20.00 2h 25m 01s
3h 24.82  
  30.00 3h 37m 54s
4h 32.99  
  40.00 4h 51m 57s
5h 41.05  
6h 49.17  
  50.00 6m 06m 34s
7h 56.83  
  60.00 7h 24m 41s
8h 64.69  
  70.00 8h 41m 02s
9h 72.39  
  80.00 9h 59m 41s
10h 80.02  
11h 87.39  
  90.00 11h 21m 51s
12h 94.39  
  100.80 12h 46m 34s
14h 104.41  
  110.00 14h 52m 44s
15h 110.32  
16h 115.79  
  120.00 16h 48m 41s
17h 121.19  
18h 126.76  
  130.00 18h 34m 54s
19h 132.34  
20h 137.66  
  140.00 20h 25m 11s
21h 143.41  
22h 148.71  
  150.00 22h 15m 02s
23h 153.71  
24h 159.32  

This was Hayward’s third ultra distance race in an astonishing 8 week period and his third record.

A new world best was established and was to last for the next twenty years until 1973.

Hayward was perhaps not unsurprisingly at his physical best in this third race. He was very fit but it is reported “his preparation having been interrupted by leg troubles”.