40 Years on – Ron Bentley & the 24 Hour World Record (Part 3)

THE RRC & THE 1973 24 HOUR RACE BACKGROUND

Ever since the Radox 100 race held in 1971, which Ron Bentley won, there had been a desire amongst the ultra distance & RRC community to stage a 24 hour race with a view to attacking Hayward’s world best set back in 1953.

The RRC had been staging a major ultra track race every couple of years and decided the next edition in 1973 would be one over 24 Hours. It was to be held at the Walton On Thames 400m track, the “adopted” home of the Road Runners Club.

Promotion of the event was in the hands of “West & Nally” of New Bond Street, London who were to become an internationally renowned sports management firm.

Eddie had secured support from Nicholas Products Ltd who had a product called “Accolade” in their portfolio. They were the races’ title sponsor

Eddie had secured support from Nicholas Products Ltd who had a product called “Accolade” in their portfolio. They were the races’ sponsors.

A press release that was issued at the time gave this explanation as to its merit:-

“Nicholas Products Ltd, have introduced to this country, a product called Accolade, which is now available to the general public. An electrolyte drink consisting of mineral salts and glucose. Its formula scientifically replaces all of the components lost through strenuous exercise and it is quickly absorbed into the body or it can be taken during active sport without loss of performance.

 Physiological investigations have proved the value of this type of product, especially during activities in which excessive perspiration occurs.

 Accolade has been tried and tested in many different sports. A top British football team who have used the product for the past two years praise it highly. Accolade is also used extensively by “star” tennis, squash and badminton players at major tournaments, and one of our most successful marathon runners has found it highly beneficial. The MCC cricket team who recently toured India and Pakistan gave the product an outstanding reference.

 To facilitate the announcement of this product to our country’s athletes, it has been agreed that the race will be known as the Accolade 24.”

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 Eddie was thinking of everything. A glance at one of his letters to an official included

“Arrangements are being made for the provision of “officials” refreshments, including hot meals throughout the duration of the race, and a room for relaxation during your rest periods. Should you require “40 winks” it is requested that you make your own arrangements regarding the provision of such items as blankets, air beds and camp beds.”

“A number of officials will be required between the nocturnal hours of 11 PM and 7 AM and a “volunteer” brigade is considered more favourable to a “press-gang”; and it would be appreciated if you could indicate in your reply whether you would be available for a tour of duty during these hours. I would favour an early reply with an indication of your general availability during the 24 hour period, so that any roster can be formulated.”

A look at the officials and helpers listed on the race programme further tells the detail gone to in order to make the event a success.

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In addition to those listed above, there were the many “support” people aiding each contestant. These two photographs give a flavour of the organisation and the fashions at the time!

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From Left To Right : Jack Stubbs (Seated), ?, Robert Gutteridge, Eddie Gutteridge, Les Opper, ? (Obscured), ?, ?

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From Left To Right : Bill Sutherland, Bill Gutteridge, Jackie Lord, Ron Bentley Junior, Bob Porter & Michael Bowerman

In 1973 most tracks were of a cinder nature and Walton’s was no different. The track was 400m in length. Not for these runners the luxury of an even tartan surface. The surface was to suffer later on in the race as we shall discover.

On the day they had a short time frame to set up the infrastructure for the race. The track was used on the Saturday afternoon for Walton & Hersham A.C.’s Isthmian League match with Ilford A.C.. The RRC race was due to start at 6.00pm.

Seconds after the fixture ended a swarm of people began establishing the facilities needed to stage a twenty four hour race. Remember that this was early November and sunset would have been around 4.30pm.

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From reviewing the film footage of the event it appears the “start line” was located midway down the straight in front of the brick tiered grandstand. Whilst a line can be clearly seen on the surface of the track before the start a rope was also strung across the track.

Opposite this was the announcer’s caravan which faced the officials tent on the “in field”. The grandstand had a tall brick frontage to it allowing those seated a clear view from a good height. There were other buildings and structures on site.

The immediate track was surrounded by a mixture of wooden and metal fencing strung to which were a number of sponsors banners.

The stadium was set in quite a sylvan setting. Foliage was still evident on the trees at the back of the track and in the gardens of the surrounding houses. Floodlight towers were located at various points around the site.

Tents were erected on the “in field” to house and protect the officials. Others were pitched by supporters and contestants. These were not the lightweight material we enjoy today they were heavy duty canvas. They were offset to allow the officials a clear view of the approaching runners.

The race was run in anti-clockwise direction i.e. the runners “left hand” was on the inside of the track.

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Whilst this was going on John Jewell, Chief Judge for the event and pioneer of road race course measurement in the United Kingdom, was circling the track to ensure accuracy & verification. He clinically measured the racing line of the track to ensure the distance was exactly 400m with a metal tape. He also set out pegs on the side of the track that marked key distances (50m, 100m, current UK National Record & World Best Perfomances).

Power feeds were needed for lighting within the tents so all could see through the long hours of darkness. Chairs, tables, signs, boards. You name it, it was needed. Even hurdles were used to display the mileage each runner had achieved.

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Specially produced progress boards were made by an RRC member & professional sign writer, Keith Hall.

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From Left To Right : ? (Obscured), John Grundy, ?, Ted Corbitt, ? (Obscured), ?, Tommy Taylor, ? (Obscured), Jack Stubbs (Seated, facing down track), ? (Obscured) ? (Obscured).

Some descriptions from the time liken it to establishing a military hospital. Certainly the photographs emphasise the scale of undertaking. As the race went on it resembled a scene from M.A.S.H.