By Melissa Martin
The icon of the grueling Comrades Marathon, the late Wallace ‘Wally’ Hayward stunned the world when he ran the Comrades Marathon a month before his 80th birthday.
Born 10 July 1908, he finished his first Comrades Marathon in 1930 at the tender age of 21 and won it. He finished the upward race from Durban to Pietermaritzburg in seven hours, 27 minutes and 26 seconds, running in takkies stuffed with pages from a telephone directory.
He suffered so much that he didn’t run the marathon until 1950. Hayward had preferred to concentrate on track, field and cross country events.
In 1938 he represented South Africa at the Empire Games in Sydney.
During World War II, Hayward fought in North Africa and earned a medal of bravery.
After a 20-year absence from the Comrades Marathon, Hayward returned to win the marathon despite being considered too old to be a serious contender.
He won the Comrades marathon again in 1951 and 1953 when he was the first to break the 6-hour barrier for the down run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
In 1953 he broke every world record for events above marathon record distance. Fleet Street journalists hailed him as the greatest long distance runner of all time.
In 1954 he set an upward record of 6 hours and 12 minutes and was the oldest winner at the age of 45. Only 50 years later did Russian runner Vladimir Kotov break his record in 2004 at the age of 46.
His achievements were halted in 1945 when the South African Athletics and Cycling Association declared him a professional, banning him from all amateur events for accepting a small donation towards his traveling while competing in Britain. The ban was lifted in 1974.
At the age of 70 in 1978, he decided to run a standard marathon (42.2 km) in Chicago. Hayward’s US doctors said that his health was excellent- for a man 40 years younger.
When he wasn’t running he worked as a carpenter and draughtsman for the Johannesburg Municipality.
Hayward’s secret to success was running up and down mine dumps during training and on the morning of a race he would eat a large fillet steak, a mountain of chips, washed down with black tea, lemon juice and honey.
Hayward died at the age of 97 and is survived by his daughter and two step children.