40 Years on – Ron Bentley & the 24 Hour World Record (Part 4)

THE RACE & PRACTICAL SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

The Medical Research Council had a laboratory at Hampstead where a Department Of Human Physiology had been established headed by Dr Griffiths Pugh. Dr Pugh had been a regular contributor to the Road Runners Club Newsletter in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Dr Pugh had been on the 1953 Everest Expedition along with Sir Edmund Hilary exploring the long term effects of high altitude. Pugh had also been sent to Mexico in 1966 to explore the likely consequences of holding an Olympic Games there in 1968 on British athletes.

Dr John Brotherhood was a member of Thames Hare & Hounds and also a member of Dr Pugh’s research team at Hampstead. He was specialising in the depletion of body fuel during exercise of long duration. This involved working with the likes of Bruce Tulloh & Martin Hyman, two prominent athletes of the time.

The President of the United Hospitals Hare and Hounds whilst John was studying at St Thomas's Hospital in London was Harold Lee. Harold did much to encourage and support medical student participation in events such as the Ben Nevis and 3 Peaks races.

Harold learned of John’s interest in the physiology of extreme activities & exercise, and introduced him to the RRC. Harold was also, at the time, the President of the Road Runners Club and held the position of Honorary Medical Officer.

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Dr John Brotherhood & Harold Lee in 1975

At some point around this time (early 1970’s) Harold asked John to take over his MO role within the RRC. John gladly accepted. This, and the gentle persuasion of Ron Bentley, subsequently led to John running a number of RRC events including the London To Brighton.

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The above picture shows a young John Brotherhood in close conversation with Ron Bentley on the Aquarium steps at Brighton in 1975.

In 1971 at the Radox 100 Mile Race, won by Ron, Dr Brotherhood was present for the first time where he established a mobile laboratory in a tent at the side of the track conducting various tests on competitors throughout the run.

A letter in Ron’s possession from Dr Brotherhood prior to the 24 Hour Race explained the various mechanisms that were at play within the body during endurance exercise of this nature, the calorific needs and the regime necessary to get the best out of the ‘depletion’ diet just prior to the competition.

This was the era when the understanding of “carbo loading” was developing. Its formal name was the “Saltin” diet. Dr Brotherhood detailed the physiological factors in this in a detailed January 1973 edition of the Road Runners Club Newsletter. This was timely.

Ron was always willing to try out things.

In his exploits up to this race he had even developed his own recovery or energy drink. It was known as the “corpse reviver”!

According to Ron it consisted of a lemonade base to which was added salt and glucose tablets. He had tried this during the 100 Mile Race in 1971 but had run out after 70 miles when he switched to “still coke” for the remainder of the race.

At the time, commercially available energy and replacement drinks were in their infancy. Title sponsor, Nicholas Products “Accolade” was one of the first products readily available.

During the race John was to get samples of the competitor’s urine to measure changes in composition/constituency and throughput volume. They would come off the track when necessary at the completion of a full lap (to aid the recording process) and then provide a sample.

In addition he was also hoping to record other personal metrics such as weight and body temperature.

In today’s “high tech” world this may seem very simple in its approach but back then it was ground breaking work.

He was to monitor this information against the “speed” of each runner taken from the lap times being recorded. The atmospheric temperature variation at the track was also observed.

As well as the analysis of the urine samples which were done later the RRC took the precaution of getting samples to be officially tested for any “doping substances”.

THE ENTRANTS

The RRC programme for the day had the following 16 people listed as entrants.

Race No. Name Club Notes
1 Ron Bentley Tipton Harriers  
2 Gordon Bentley Tipton Harriers  
3 Mick Casse Cambridge Harriers  
4 Joe Keating Ealing & Southall A.C.

40 Mile World Record Holder

1973 London To Brighton Road Race Winner

5 Don Turner Epsom & Ewell Harriers  
6 Ken Shaw Cambridge Harriers  
7 Brian Adams Winsford A.C.  
8 Peter Hart Leamington C & A.C.  
9 Gavin Riley Bedford & County A.C.  
10 Derek Funnell Epsom & Ewell Harriers  
11 Bill Carr Tipton Harriers  
12 Ted Corbitt New York Pioneer Club, USA USA 100 Mile Record Holder
13 Brian Kemp Ealing & Southall A.C.  
14 John Tarrant Salford Harriers UK All Comers & National 100 Mile Record Holder
15 John Berry Wakefield Harriers  
16 Pat Ferguson Vale of Aylesbury A.C.  

The following pictures, taken by Jim Coomber during the race, show some of those listed above. These are the only ones that have come to light.

The first three show Joe Keating (No.4), Don Turner (No.5) and Ken Shaw (No.6).

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The next three show Brian Adams (no.7), Peter Hart (No.8) & Derek Funnell (No.10).

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The final three show Billy Carr (No.11) with Gordon Bentley (No.2), Ted Corbitt (No.12) & Pat Ferguson (No.16)

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All were proven ultra runners and with six having run further than 100 miles. On the day 15 of the 16 started. John Tarrant (Salford Harriers) had had to sadly withdraw in the days leading up to the race due to ill health.  Joe Keating was strongly favoured following his recent win in the London To Brighton race. He was a young man then aged 27 years old.

Athletics Weekly included some interesting profiles of six of the runners:-

Peter Hart (aged 34) was described as a Farmer. He had run 6h 8m 57s in the London To Brighton a few weeks earlier placing 22nd helping Leamington to the team prize. This was a massive 40 minute improvement on his previous time. He is credited with a PB of 4h 38m 15s for 40 miles on the track and a PB of 2h 43m 37s for the marathon.

Ted Corbitt (aged 53), a respected physiotherapist in New York, added an international flavour to the proceedings. He pioneered ultra distance running in the USA being a founder of the Road Runner’s Club of America based on the model established by the RRC in the UK. He is recorded as having completed 171 ultra distance & marathons since 1951. He had represented the USA in the Helsinki Olympics over the marathon distance. In terms of experience Ted was possibly the best equipped.

Ken Shaw (aged 33) was described as a dairyman (in fact he was a drayman for Whitbread’s the brewers). He had begun his ultra distance career in 1965. He too had recently set a PB for the London To Brighton course.

Don Turner (aged 36) was a Civil Servant. Don started running at 19 but quickly met with success in the field of ultra distance running in the early 1960’s when he had made the top three in the London To Brighton at a very young age.

He was 2nd in 1959 & 1962, 3rd in 1961 & 1963. He was also a member of the RRC Council.

Derek Funnell is listed as “over 40” and whilst having experience at this sort of event is mentioned as “recently recovered from arthritis in the ankles which prevented running”!

Ron was simply described as “Director of a Steel Company”.

They may not all have had age on their side but they certainly had bags of experience.

GETTING THERE

Ron travelled down on the day of the race. He left Tipton in the morning along with brother Gordon, Billy Carr, Tony Jackson (Gordon’s Brother In Law), Alan Richards' and Ron’s young son Ron Jnr. Ron drove and was towing a caravan with all the materials needed for the race.

They stopped off in Woodstock near Oxford for lunch feasting on a full roast dinner and then made their way to Walton.

Eric Austin, a member of Tipton at this time, and his son went direct from Worcester to help out.

(Ron joked some years later that, once he had broken the record, Tipton had two world record holders as Eric had broken the 25 mile track record at Walton in 1968.)

Peter Hart recalled in 2013 that he was working on the potato harvest at his farm up at Upton near Banbury until 12 noon on the day of the race before driving down. He had been up since dawn. Ted Corbitt had recently arrived from America and had been staying with Don Turner in Stoneleigh, near Epsom, London.

Others had their own trials on route such as flat tyres and traffic jams.

Changing facilities were at the Pavilion of Walton A.C. which was open from 3.p.m.

Ron recalled in an article in “Veteris” shortly afterwards that he arrived at the Stadium at around 5.10pm “feeling very confident and relaxed”. He also observed that “everyone in the dressing room seemed surprisingly tense”.

ALREADY A GOOD WEEKEND FOR TIPTON

Meanwhile it was already a good weekend for the club on another front. Back home the club were promoting the first Birmingham & District Cross Country League race at their regular course in Dartmouth Park, West Bromwich.

Normally Ron would have been there helping marking out the course and generally rallying the lads. The feeling within the club before the race was that they would have to significantly raise their game to beat a strong Birmingham University squad to get a good start for the season.

Perhaps inspired by what was to occur on down at Walton the lads did raise their game and just won the close team race.

Tipton were 1st with 78 points chased all the way by Birmingham University in 2nd with 82 points, City Of Stoke 3rd (111) & Birchfield Harriers 4th with 113 points.

Keith “Killer” Rollason was 2nd in the race with Jim Wright (6th), Doug Fownes (10th), Keith Boydon (11th), A Bradley (20th ) and Paul Allan (27th) completing the scoring six. 17 from the club ran the race.

It was a busy day for the club with the league race occupying many officials and friends. Their thoughts however were often distracted some 130 miles south and what was about to unfold.

Two of the Harriers headed south after the League race to encourage Ron & the others on and bring them the news of the League performances.

RACE DAY WEATHER CONDITIONS

Weather conditions for the most part were kind to the runners for the time of year. Temperatures recorded on the day show that daytime temperatures never rose above 61°F (16°C) and through the night it never went below 52°F (11°C).

Observations from those present indicate a light mist forming as the evening and night wore on. Not unsurprising for an autumnal November day.

Adding to the atmosphere was the smell of smoke as a number of people were having bonfires to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As Joe Keating recalls “this hung round all evening and polluted the still atmosphere”.

THE RACE

As Ron changed into his kit he recalls that he was “feeling like a gladiator” as he stripped of his clothes and put on his vest. The first vest he wore was one from the Savages Athletics Club in South Africa which he had been given as an honorary member at the previous year’s Comrades Marathon. Later in the race he naturally changed into the “green and white” hooped vest of his beloved Tipton Harriers.

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There was some good natured but nervous banter before the off with some questioning how they should ‘warm up’ for the race.

The race began promptly at 6.00pm. The start was signalled by the “report of a gun” synchronised to the sixth ‘pip’ of the Greenwich Time Signal. It was started by 1960 Olympic Rower Richard Bate and a representative from the sponsors Nicholas Products.

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From Left To Right : John Berry (15), ?, Derek Funnell (10), Pat Ferguson (16), Ken Shaw (6), Peter Hart (8), Gordon Bentley (2). Ted Corbitt (12), Ron Bentley (1) & Brian Kemp (13)

An example of the detailed recording that was being done for each entrant can be seen from the first page of Ron’s sheets. Each sheet is formatted to record the time at each 400m, working upwards from the bottom left to top right. There are clear demarcations at every 2Km (representing 5 laps). The purpose of this format was to ease lap and other time calculations.

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THE RACE UNFOLDS

6-7PM, 24 TO GO!

Good will, nervous energy and enthusiasm carried the field for the first hour. Gordon Bentley led the race posting 8¼ miles. In fact Gordon did the first mile in 6½ minutes and went on to lap his brother twice in the first hour. Ron was 2nd (8 miles) with Joe Keating 3rd (7¾ miles). Joe’s strategy was to run for 50 minutes and then walk for 10 minutes during each hour.

Ron had completed 32 laps.

7-8PM, 1 DOWN, 23 TO GO

Into the second hour and things began to settle, routines were establishing and pace understood. It was not without incident as Mick Casse displayed a limp and Derek Funnell was not comfortable complaining of fatigue. Ted Corbitt flowed posting a total of 9 miles. This left him second (with 16½ miles) behind Ron & Gordon Bentley.

Ron had completed 65 laps.

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8-9PM, 2 DOWN, 22 TO GO

The third hour witnessed the first major stoppages. The temperature had by now dropped and it was dark.

At the three hour point Gordon Bentley had moved his total up to 25¾ miles with his brother on 24¼, Don Turner was 3rd, Billy Carr 4th (23½). Ted Corbitt was 8th with 23.

Ron’s lap count was 98.

9-10PM, 3 DOWN, 21 TO GO

Ron took the lead during this hour at about the 25 mile point. The third hour saw the classic marathon distance passed by Ron in a time of 3h 11m 50s.

Joe Keating was putting in an effort to catch up but Ron was holding him. Ron made a tactical move in this part of the race by quickly lapping Joe when he slowed for his 10 minute walk and then speeding up to the point that he was able to tuck in just behind him when he again commenced running. Ron then increased his pace and ran away from him.

The temperature fell further and a mist rolled in from the nearby River Thames. Each runner was experiencing his own distinct problems.

One was vomiting, Casse continued and hoped his troublesome leg would improve. Ted Corbitt experienced blistering on his heel but enjoyed his first planned meal. A concoction as odd as this race – one of a hardboiled egg, orange juice and a slice of pineapple.

Eric Austin recalls Ron being fed with soup, rice pudding and cups of fortified tea. A whole bottle of whisky had been brought to the race by the Tipton crew but it had been emptied by the end. Perhaps it was the support crew that used it and not Ron! As Bert Harbach, a member of Tipton Harriers, quipped “we’re going to need helpers for the helpers”.

As the runners drank so they needed to pee. This was done near the track and into containers provided by the Race Doctor, John Brotherhood, who was to test for the variation in the bodies excretions.

At the end of the fourth hour Ron had the lead with 32½ miles, Gordon was now on 31½, John Berry 31, Carr 30¾ and Keating close behind.

Ron had completed 131 laps.

10-11PM, 4 DOWN, 20 TO GO

Demons infiltrated the psyche and body of many of the field at various times. Don Turner succumbed but was coaxed back on the track again after an interval and encouragement. All the handlers played a pivotal role in motivation and mental mind games. Whilst one runner was off the track small but significant changes could be taking place in the overall race. Laps were gained and lost. Hour by hour, step by step the race was captivating.

Ron Bentley was on 40½ miles with 163 laps covered, Carr up to 39, Keating & Berry had logged 38¾.

11-12AM, 5 DOWN, 19 TO GO

During this hour heading towards midnight it was Joe Keating’s turn to question his ability. The midnight hour was passed but that still left eighteen to go.

It seemed that it was the mental challenge of the race that was dominating, rather than the physical one. A bodily game of chess was being witnessed. The body saying one thing, the mind another.

The silence of the track was ghostly. The only regular noises were the padding paces of the runners as they wove their way through the dark night. Normal noises clattered through the atmosphere and added to it, taking on a new dimension as they alarmed runners, helpers and officials alike.

At the six hour mark Ron was up to 48½, Keating 45¾ , Carr & Corbitt locked on 44 ¾ and Derek Funnell on 44. Ron’s lap count was 196.

12-1AM, 6 DOWN, 18 TO GO

At midnight the race positions and approximate mileages were as follows:- 1st Ron Bentley 48½, 2nd Joe Keating 45¾ , 3rd Billy Carr & Ted Corbitt 44¾ & 5th Derek Funnell 44.

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Just after ten past midnight Ron Bentley hit the 50 mile mark after 6 hours 8 minutes & 11 seconds of running. This was slower than Hayward in 1953 (6h 6m 34s) but Ron remained focused and unperturbed.

This hour was the first to see an official withdrawal. John Berry from Wakefield Harriers stopped after 6 hours and 28 minutes and 49 seconds at the completion of a lap at 68Km. He had been as high as 3rd in the race but was by now lame. John had fallen from a ladder in the period leading up to the race.

This seventh hour saw all the following pass through the fifty mile point as shown here.

Pos. Name Club Time
1 Ron Bentley Tipton Harriers 06h 08m 11s
2 Joe Keating Ealing & Southall A.C. 06h 38m 28s
3 Derek Funnell Epsom & Ewell Harriers 06h 47m 39s
4 Ted Corbitt New York Pioneer Club, USA 06h 50m 41s
5 Bill Carr Tipton Harriers 06h 56m 01s
6 Gavin Riley Bedford & County A.C. 06h 57m 36s
7 Ken Shaw Cambridge Harriers 06h 57m 37s

At the end of the seventh hour Ron had covered 56½ miles (228 laps), Keating 52, Corbitt 51 and Funnell 50¾.

1-2AM, 7 DOWN, 17 TO GO

Ted Corbitt described this as the ‘crisis zone’ but was unable to elucidate exactly what he meant. He hinted that it was the mental crisis brought on by fatigue and the night. It seemed to affect everyone bar Ron who continued to dominate.

A double dependency developed. The runners were dependent on their minders (for food, drink and motivation) and, in a reciprocal way, the minders were dependent on the runners as they grew addicted to keeping them going.

At the end of this hour Ron was up to 64 miles (258 laps), Joe Keating 59 closely followed by Derek Funell with 58½ and Ted Corbitt in 4th with 58. At this stage it looked a close contest for the minor placings. Eight hours down.

Spare a thought for all the officials who were also concentrating to ensure everything was recorded correctly. They were ably fed and watered by the “Ladies Of Walton A.C.” throughout the race.

2-3AM, 8 DOWN, 16 TO GO

One account describes some ‘wild running’ taking place during the early hours of the morning. This hour was to see the second abandonment. Mick Casse finally called time after 9 hours 42 minutes & 6 seconds of racing. He had covered 51 miles 791 yards. Undone by stomach cramps and lameness.

The handlers became inventive to maintain their charges “on track” mentally & physically. Some walked or jogged alongside feeding them sustenance and mental stimulation – anything to prevent them simply stopping and confronting the pains of the race so far.

Some were taking longer rests and even grabbing sleep. Ron continued metronomically circling the track closing in on his prey – the record. The patience of a hunter alone in the wilds tracking and knowing his target and where to find it.

At the end of the ninth hour he had covered 71 miles and covered 286 circuits.

3-4AM, 9 DOWN, 15 TO GO

The wild running continued with some runners raising their pace to levels not seen in a race of this nature at this stage. Peter Hart suddenly upped his pace and hit a patch of near six minute miles. It lasted close to 30 minutes. An aberration, it seemed effortless – no visible sign of pain just pure pace. Where did it come from? Why? How? Only Peter’s body could answer that. In the process he jumped from 8th to 4th. It was not to last as his pace crashed back dramatically. He now resorted to a race walking style that carried him forward. But this was not the end of his challenge.

Next to “enjoy” this frenzy was Joe Keating. His burst was to last around 45 minutes before he too sobered up and returned to his ambling pace.

Ten hours down and 79 miles and 316 laps logged for Ron.

4-5AM, 10 DOWN, 14 TO GO

Back in Tipton a few more from the club were hitting the road to come down and support Ron, Bill & Gordon.

Colin Hunt recalls leaving Sedgeley with Derek Cartwright & Daryl McWhirter. Colin & Derek were Wolverhampton Harriers at the time. Colin had been one of the close band who had accompanied Ron, Gordon & Billy over the many miles they had logged in training.

“Mac” always enjoyed a challenge and did the journey in a very rapid two hours. Apparently that got the adrenaline running before they even got there.

On the track Ron had pushed on to 85 miles (342 laps) at the eleven hour mark.

5-6AM, 11 DOWN, 13 TO GO

Onward they went all in their own groove. Performing like the movement of a needle on an old LP record. Forever forward and always to a personal oscillating rhythm.   Twelve hours down and 92 miles travelled for Ron.

Around this time a small amount of rain fell on the field.

6-7AM, 12 DOWN, 12 TO GO, HALF WAY

Colin & Co. arrived and made themselves known. On seeing Ron was being well catered for they did what most runners would. They went off for a run along the river! Ron continued round and round.

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Back at the track Ron was through 98¾ miles. 396 laps completed.

7-8AM, 13 DOWN, 11 TO GO

On this day sunrise in Walton was to be just after 7.00am.

By now most of the runners had already been awake for over twenty four hours when you take into account a normal Saturday leading up to this event. Yet they were only half way through their self-imposed ordeal.

Ron ate on the run as he closed in on the 100 mile mark. He passed this after 13 hours 9 minutes and 52 seconds. He was dominating the field. Everyone watched to see his time and bodily reaction. There was none. On he ran. Both Hayward & Newton took breaks that they paid for. Hayward had covered the 100 miles in a staggering 12 hours 45 minutes but then took a break which extended from the planned 10 minutes to 30. It was to cost him dearly as he stiffened up and failed to recover any fluency of stride.

Bentley’s continuity allowed him to head Hayward’s mark. This lifted the morale of both runner and spectator alike. Whilst Ron was through the 100 mile mark Ted Corbitt was now 2nd but some 12 miles back. Joe Keating was third but sadly on a downward spiral.

The third retirement occurred in the form of Gavin Riley who pulled out after 14 hours covering a total distance of 138.4Km (85m 1756 Yards). Three down twelve remain.

Ron had reached 105¼ miles after fourteen hours and 424 laps.

8-9AM, 14 DOWN, 10 TO GO

 A typical autumnal November morning, cold, damp and misty. The atmospheric conditions mirroring the condition of the runners. A new day & dawn but not new feelings.

A change was visible amongst both the runners and the handlers. The runners became less competitive amongst themselves and this was mirrored with the handlers as more mutual support began to be displayed.

Fifteen down 111¾ miles under Ron’s belt after 450 laps.

 9-10AM, 15 DOWN, 9 TO GO

 Ron’s pace became more varied. His pace dropped to over 8 minutes per mile for the first time in the race. His fists were clenched and as tight as his determination.

 It was after the 15th hour that Ron began to make regular inroads to the record with him edging himself about half a mile an hour ahead of schedule as each hour progressed.

His lap count had risen to 477.

 10-11AM, 16 DOWN, 8 TO GO

 It was through this hour that resignation took hold in Ron’s competitors. Unbeknownst to Ron his closest challenger, Ted Corbitt, had mentally given up. Ted Corbitt was still in second place but gave up the chase. This was to have a further effect as the race drew to its conclusion. But there were still eight hours to go.

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 The mist of the morning had cleared but now the weather brought another dimension to the conditions – a cold wind.

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 The above picture is from the collection of Derek Funnell shows Don Turner (5) & Ken Shaw (6). It illustrates the variation in kit worn throughout the event by competitors.

The sun tried to break through. This hour saw the last of the retirements with Joe Keating pulling up after 17 hours 21 minutes and 42 seconds covering 161.2Km (100 miles 290 yards). Four down eleven left.

Joe reflected on the race in 2013 “It was a humbling performance by me in which my physical, psychological and moral capabilities proved not worthy of the task.”

 

Four figures were now in the changing room. Immobile and asleep.

 11AM-12PM, 17 DOWN, 7 TO GO

The next phase of “wild running” was about to be witnessed. First to display this mania was Irishman Pat Ferguson who for nearly two hours had been expected to fall flat on his face, but raised his pace way above what he had done before. Onlookers were mesmerised. They knew he would burn out just like the pale sun that had shone. It did after 30 minutes of glorious speed. Turner then caught the hysteria of this motion and hurriedly moved himself from 5th to 3rd. Ted was still in second but was faltering.

Ron was at the 130 mile mark with 527 laps under his belt.

12PM-1PM, 18 DOWN, 6 TO GO

 No mention has been made of Gordon Bentley of late. He was still in the race circling as a bit player in great pain but knowing along with Billy Carr their role in motivating Ron.

 Bill described his approach to the race in 2013 as follows:- “The object of the race was for Ron to attack the world record. Gordon and myself only ran the race to give Ron support round the track. Although we trained with Ron neither Gordon or myself had any aspirations of doing well in the race”.

551 laps covered and 136 miles logged.

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 1PM-2PM, 19 DOWN, 5 TO GO

The weather now threw down a bad hand for the runners as a violent but quick storm hit the track flooding the oval with nigh on two inches of water. The kerb stones kept the water from running away and soon the runners were in more discomfort. Helpers and officials rallied as quickly as they could sweeping water away and out of the path of the runners.

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Billy Carr (11) & Ron Bentley (1)

What kind of hell was this turning into? The track never recovered and became a quagmire. Cinder based mud splattered up the runners’ legs and bodies. Those close enough to another runner dodged the splashes of their footsteps. Some ran round the puddles others ploughed straight through – oblivious to the conditions.

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Appalling conditions

The cold got into some runners and impeded their abilities further. A childlike dependency now overcame some of the runners as they allowed their minders to become carers. They lifted them off the track and tried to get them dry and warm.

 The 19th & 20th hours saw a dramatic fall off in pace for Ron as his average pace dropped. He was logging laps of anything between 2m 2s and 5m 24s.

He recalled this about the squall “That's when the real battle started. I'd got a pull in my right thigh, the left foot was painful and I was slowing. I tried to convince myself I could still break the record even if I had to walk it, and every lap was one less to do after all. I slowly got on terms again…”

Tony Jackson massaged Ron’s leg using a regime of warm water applied with a sponge. This appeared to ease the discomfort.

By 2pm he had covered 574 laps and 142 miles.

2PM-3PM, 20 DOWN, 4 TO GO

The afternoon drew on and the darkness began to edge in. Along with the darkness the number of spectators increased, attracted like moths, to the warmth of the record performance. Lights again were switched on to aid the runners and attendees.

Along with the lights Colin Hunt recalls an increasing in excitement of the announcer as he continually counted down Ron’s assault on the record. It got to the point at one stage where Colin was aiding Ron on the back straight asked him “Anything you want at all Ron?” “Yes” came the reply “Tell them to stop going on about the record and I will smash it for them” Colin points out that a few swear words may also have been included for flavour! Colin went across and passed the message on.

Len York a good friend of many of Tipton Harriers who had recently had a severe accident falling on the Matterhorn arrived on his crutches after his wife had driven him down from his Worcestershire home. Ron was touched by this.

Eric Austin recalled an encounter between a local and Tipton’s Bert Harbach, a quick witted man. The local when casting his eyes over Ron said “He doesn’t look much of a runner” to which Bert replied “you should have seen him when he started he was six foot”.

Bert had travelled down from Tipton late on Saturday afternoon after the first round of the local Birmingham & District Cross Country League had been staged by Tipton Harriers to bring Ron news of that race.

596 laps covered and 148 miles. He was closing in.

3PM-4PM, 21 DOWN, 3 TO GO

By the 21st hour he was around 5 miles up on the Hayward record schedule. Ron by now had resorted to some quarter mile walks to ease his discomfort. Was this a waning in his resolution? Not a bit of it. He was soon back in the groove and knocking out 2m 20s laps. The record was on target.

 Ted Corbitt was still in second place but had had to be taken from the track after the squall to get himself dry and warm.

 153 miles and 617 laps. Just a few more miles.

 4PM-5PM, 22 DOWN, 2 TO GO

 About 3½ miles out from the British Record mark Ron walked a lap. He galvanised himself and ran hard.

At just past 4:12PM and 622.4 laps Ron passed the existing British Record of Derek Reynolds (154miles 1226 yards) set back in 1953. There were some natural recognition and distraction from the assembled throng at the setting of the new British record and Ron was again forced to walk for about half a lap.

The excitement of this stage of the race caused Ron to accelerate further in his pursuit of the World Record.

He now had an hour and three quarters left to pass the world record and five miles or so to cover.

It did not take that long as Ron strode on finally breaking the existing world record with just over an hour to spare. He passed the target mileage or 159 miles 562 yards (641 laps) after 22 hours 59 minutes and 38 seconds of running just before 5pm.

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Ron Bentley (1) breaking the world record with Peter Hart alongside in second position albeit some 29 miles behind!

He was engulfed by old friends, well-wishers and fatigue. Handshakes delivered and cheering all round.

Colin Hunt described what many of Ron’s friends and admirers were feeling by saying “I have no shame in admitting to tears as Ron reached his target. The condition of the finishers was deeply inspirational”

Looking back now Ron feels that these celebrations interrupted both his own concentration and was also detrimental to the performances of others in the race.

Things died down eventually but behind Ron a great race was still unfolding.

Ted Corbitt had been in second place for the best part of 13 hours and going into the final two hours had a margin of three miles on his challenger, farmer Peter Hart. As the end of the race drew closer so too did Peter.

5PM-6PM, 23 DOWN, 1 TO GO

 There was still an hour to go. How far could Ron push the boundary? The impact of the achievement and the attention took a heavy toll. He continued on for the remaining sixty or so minutes but only covered another two miles setting a new world mark of 161.31 miles (259.603Km or 161 miles 545 yards) after 649 complete laps of the Walton track.

 Behind an epic race was adding to the atmosphere as Peter Hart charged on. He passed Corbitt with 20 minutes remaining.

PIPPED AT THE POST

The final stages may have seemed chaotic as all the remaining runners were joined alongside them by an official ready to be able to mark the exact spot they had reached when the 24 period was up.

The actual end was marked firstly by the sixth pip of the Greenwich time signal transmitted over the loudspeaker system at the track then a gun was fired. It was over.

Eleven out of the fifteen starters ended the race each with their own performance and memories.

THE RESULT

The following table shows the performances of all those that were in the race. Eleven men completed the 24 hours with four retiring during the course of the event.

Pos. Name Club

Distance

(Miles & Yards)

Margin

(Miles & Yards)

1 Ron Bentley Tipton Harriers 161m 545y 24m 1145y
2 Peter Hart Leamington C & A.C. 136m 1160y 2m 378y
3 Ted Corbitt New York Pioneer Club, USA 134m 782y 1m 1394y
4 Ken Shaw Cambridge Harriers 132m 1148y 0m 1730y
5 Don Turner Epsom & Ewell Harriers 131m 1178y 9m 32y
6 Derek Funnell Epsom & Ewell Harriers 122m 1146y 0m 77y
7 Brian Adams Winsford A.C. 122m 1069y 3m 535y
8 Bill Carr Tipton Harriers 119m 534y 9m 505y
9 Pat Ferguson Vale of Aylesbury A.C. 110m 29y 3m 1121y
10 Gordon Bentley Tipton Harriers 106m 668y 3m 1077y
11 Brian Kemp Ealing & Southall A.C. 102m 1351y N/A
Retired Joe Keating Ealing & Southall A.C. 100m 290y N/A
Retired Gavin Riley Bedford & County A.C. 85m 1756y N/A
Retired Mick Casse Cambridge Harriers 51m 791y N/A
Retired John Berry Wakefield Harriers 42m 445y N/A

For completeness Ron’s performance set a World, UK All Comers, UK National & English records.