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Wallace Henry (Wally) Hayward

WALLY HAYWARD was born on 10 July 1908 in Durban and died on Friday, 28 April 2006 in Johannesburg, a few weeks before his 98th birthday.

Wally would have been 98 on 10 July 2006 – although he didn’t look it. 


The enigmatic WALLACE HENRY (WALLY) HAYWARD lead an eventful life as an athlete.


He started his running career seriously in 1925 at the age of 17. As with most athletes who start out running, he kept his racing for the first 5 years to the shorter distances, never racing more than 10 miles. (16 Km.)


But in 1930, at the age of 21, he took the plunge and entered the Comrades Marathon, having never run more than 37 miles (once).


Being a novice, Wally shot to the front and had a 29 minute lead by the halfway mark. These days this would be considered suicidal.


But, despite having to walk up all the hills in the second half, and having his lead reduced by a minute every kilometre in the closing stages, he hung on courageously and managed to win by 37 seconds (in 7:27:26) one of the closest finishes in the history of the Comrades Marathon.


A further remarkable factor that probably contributed to his suffering in the closing stages, was that Wally would only replenish his liquid intake every 30 Km, which is totally unheard of nowadays. He had also put too much baracic powder in his socks – which formed little lumps with the perspiration, (wearing his feet away like sandpaper) causing plenty of blisters on his toes and on the soles of his feet (the dark blob on his white tackies at the toes of his right foot in the photo below was caused by his feet bleeding). Unlike our supportive, lightweight, cushioned running shoes these days, he won wearing 1/6d white canvas tackies with heavy inch thick solid rubber soles!

In 1931, Wally picked up an injury during his buildup to Comrades – breaking a bone in his right foot after stepping on a stone while running fast down Modderfontein hill, while it was getting dark. He was out of action for a considerable time, forcing him to miss Comrades. He then moved his focus to shorter distances.


His versatility as an athlete is quite apparent when looking at his record. He set national and world records at a wide range of distances, from 5 Km to the 24 hrs.


In 1938, Wally was selected to represent South Africa in the Empire Games over 6 miles (10 Km) where he finished third.


In 1946, Wally clinched the SA marathon title.


In 1950, after not having run in the Comrades for 20 years, Wally lined up once again for the world’s ultimate ultra marathon. He won the race again in a time of 6:46:25.


Being vastly more experienced this time, he ran steadily from the beginning, passing the favourite, Reg Allison, at about 20 miles and building a lead of about 21 minutes at Drummond, to finish a full 13 minutes ahead of Reg Allison. Although then 42, he also managed to cut 40 minutes off his winning time as a 21 year old in 1930.

The following year a 43 year-old Wally Hayward was back on the starting line of the Comrades Marathon. He proceeded to win this down Comrades yet again, in 6:14:08, crushing the course record by over 8 minutes.

1951, Wally was awarded the Helms trophy for being the most outstanding sportsman on the African continent.

Possibly one of the greatest moments in Wally’s life was representing SA in the 1952 Olympic Games in the marathon. He finished tenth, 7 minutes behind one of the greatest athletes the world has seen, the legendary Emil Zatopek.

In 1953, Wally made history by being the first athlete to break 6 hours for the Comrades, winning in 5:52:30, at the age of 44. This would still put him in contention for a gold medal these days, with the vastly improved scientific training methods and nutrition. In fact, his time for the second half of the race, 2:59:28, was not bettered until 1969, 16 years later!

Wally had a fortunate habit of eating a meal highly concentrated in fats before participating in an Ultra Marathon. He unwittingly did what science was later to “discover” was the right thing nutritionally, since fats have a carbohydrate saving effect, which is of prime importance to any runner over 10 Km.

On 26 September 1953, at 45 years of age, Wally Hayward shattered the 80 Km London-to-Brighton record by 22:42, winning in 5:29:40. He also established his first World record for 50 miles (5:14:12) along the way.

Less than a month later, on 24 October 1953, Wally broke fellow Comrades hero Hardy Ballington’s World 100 mile record on the Bath road in England, by more than an hour, in 12:20:28 (a record which was to remain unbroken for 15 years!).

Another month later, on 20 November 1953, the 45 year old Wally Hayward set out after yet another Comrades legend’s world record – Arthur Newton’s 24 hour record. Along the way Wally passed 100 Km in a new world record of 7:41:36 as well as 100 miles in another world track record time of 12:46:34.


Despite being slowed by tightening muscles after an unfortunate shower at 160 Km, – which reduced the 150 Km he had covered in the first 12 hours to “only” 106 Km in the last 12 hours – he still managed to complete 256,4 Km in 24 hours, improving 11,3 Km on the great Newton’s old world record.

The enormous magnitude of these world record achievements is only put into perspective when the length of time that was taken to break them is considered.

100 Km only in 1969, (16 years later), –
100 miles (160 Km) in 1968, (15 years later), and
by 1979 (after 26 years) his 24 hour record had been broken by only one man, Briton Ron Bentley.

In 1954, one month before his 46th birthday, Wally became the oldest participant in the history of the Comrades Marathon to win this grueling event, winning for the fifth time in a new “up” record (by more than 19 minutes) of 6:12:15 – realising his ambition of both the up & down records..

On 12 August 1954, Wally was declared a professional by the South African Amateur Athletic & Cycling Association. They had given permission to his club, Germiston Callies, to raise funds for a trip to England for his record breaking attempts.

However, Wally alledgedly broke the rules by having directly accepted donations totalling £286.5s, towards the total cost of £395.19s.4d, that his record-breaking trip to England had come to, and he was therefore banned from participating in “amateur” events such as the Comrades Marathon.

Only in the mid 1970’s was Wally’s amateur status renewed and he celebrated this in 1978 by setting a world marathon age record of 3:06:24 for 70 year olds, a time most young men would be proud of.

Probably the most remarkable achievement of the great Wally Hayward is his finishing the 1988 Comrades Marathon after an absence of 34 years, at the amazing age of 79 (a few weeks before his 80th birthday!) .

Although it was the first Comrades he was not to win, Wally stunned the world by not only completing the race but finishing in a time of 9:44:15 – beating more than half the field! Dr. Tim Noakes’ statistical analysis (in “LORE OF RUNNING”) puts this equivalent to a time of 4:48 for a 30 year old!

In 1989, just a few weeks short of his 81st. birthday, he completed his last Comrades Marathon to date. After this race, he received a congratulatory message from the then State President, FW de Klerk.

In 1999, the Comrades Marathon Association honoured Wally by dedicating the race to the distance running legend.

Wally’s memoirs “JUST CALL ME WALLY”, were finally published in time for 1999’s Comrades, where many runners were fortunate enough to be able to buy the book.


You will find the book (if you can find a copy)  contains a lot more than just the story of his remarkable life – and it’s not just his running feats that were remarkable. For example, you can discover why he was decorated for bravery during World War II.

The book is far from being a dry, text-only “story of the life of Wally by Wally”. It is liberally interspersed with many historic photos (and even cartoons) and contains countless accounts, write-ups and tributes by others.

It is also interspersed with many entertaining and often thought-provoking quotes, sayings and verses. These, together with Wally’s tributes to many other great achievers combine to convey not just the story of his eventful life but also to reflect the amazing character, selflessness, sense of humour and devout humility of the man who justifiably became a legend in his lifetime.

Finally, did you know that the “Om-die-dam Marathon” was conceived by Wally Hayward, who often ran in the “wilds” around the dam in preparation for the Comrades Marathon.



A quote from Wally’s book:



Not, how did he die? How did he live?

Not, what did he gain? What did he give?

These are the units to measure the worth

of a man as a man, regardless of birth.


Not, what was his station? But had he a heart?

And, how did he play his God-given part?

Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer,

To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?


Not, what was his shrine? Nor, what was his creed?

But, had he befriended those really in need?

Not, what did the sketch in the newspaper say?

But, how many were sorry when he passed away?

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