Richard Jeffery

Richard Jeffery

Marathon and Running Memories

My running days started when I was in my early 20s.  This was in the form of boundary umpiring for the Traralgon Football Club.  I did this because of my interest in football and desire to keep fit.  After giving this away in 1963, I decided to keep fit by running between 12 and 20 km every morning before work.  During 1968 the late Barry Thompson who was instrumental in starting the Traralgon Harriers, tried to interest me in competing in distant running events.  I dismissed his approaches initially telling him I was only interested in keeping fit, but not in competing.  The Thompson family of Barry, Daphne, Martin, Leigh and Dale worked hard at promoting the Harriers.  Their work was successful as it developed into a thriving club which is still stronger than ever. Barry kept working on me, and I finally decided to give competition a go.

My first race was one of 5km early 1968.  I ran a reasonable time.  This made me decide to keep competing. I met the late Geoff Watt at this race.  Geoff was an inspiration and he helped to encourage me to keep competing.  It is a pity he tragically lost his life at such a young age in1969.  He died on Mount Erica whilst on a solo training run, when he was caught in a blizzard.  Geoff took his running very seriously and was extremely competitive.  At the same time, he was always interested in how other runners were going. Barry Thompson wanted the Traralgon Harriers to have an annual Marathon, along the lines of the Boston Marathon in U.S.A.  This want lead to the birth of the Traralgon Marathon (distance of 42.195 km) being first run in 1968.  As most of you would know this has been run every year since. full credit should be given to the Traralgon Harriers for keeping it going.

During the last 45 years a lot of other marathons have ceased to run.  Prior to the 1968 marathon I was competing in a lot of shorter races up to 15 miles (about 25 km).  I lined up for the Marathon a bit unsure how I would go.  It was a tough hilly loop course starting and finishing outside Catholic Regional College in Grey Street.  I went well for the first 15 miles, after which I struggled for the last 11 miles.  This was because I had never run further than 15 miles in training.  My time was just under 3 hours, but only because I had a reasonable time for the first 15 miles.  I remember the late Geoff Watt passing me just before the finish. I felt so flat at the end I said never again.  The first Traralgon Marathon was won by Barry Sawyer from Melbourne in a time of about 2 hours 26 minutes.  He was the Victorian Marathon champion for 1968.  The first country runner was Darryl Blewett from Traralgon South.  Despite saying never again after the Traralgon Marathon, I lined up for the Victorian Championship at Werribee 3 weeks later.  This was an easier course because of flatter terrain.  I recorded a better time than Traralgon but still struggled over the last 6 miles.  Although running Marathons hurts at times, something makes you want to go on competing in them.  For some strange reason I ran in 70 from 1968 to 1989.


Traralgon Marathons

I ran in about 15 Traralgon Marathons from 1968 to 1989.  The most memorable apart from 1968 were 1969, 1970 and 1979.  The worst weather conditions I ever experienced whilst competing was in the 1969 Traralgon Marathon.  It rained throughout, was very cold and windy. It was an out and back course starting and finishing in Kay Street just west of the corner of Breed Street.  The route was similar to the present route out to Toongabbie and back.  During the Marathon the Traralgon Creek flooded, and the slower runners had to wade through water crossing the Franklin Street bridge.  It was won by the late Ian Wheeler in a time of about 2 hours 27 minutes. Ian was a champion runner who represented Australia overseas.  I will say more about him later on.  The shocking conditions of the day would have suited Ian more than most.  He was solidly built for a Marathon runner.  The 1970 Marathon was won by Dereck Clayton in 2 hours 13 minutes.  This was the fastest time ever recorded in Australia at the time. My time of 2 hrs 35 minutes only gave me 5th place.  The route was the same as 1969 and this time the weather was perfect.

The 1979 Marathon started and finished at the Eastern Campus of the Traralgon Secondary College.  The route was out along the old Hyland Highway to Flynns Creek Road to Flynn and return.  It was won by Martin Thompson in 2 hours 33 minutes.  A remarkable time, considering the weather experienced over the last 10km.  We were running into a strong wind and a violent hailstorm.  I was that cold and numb I could hardly remember running the last 5km.  We joked with Martin telling him he would have finished before the hailstorm.  He denied it.  The Traralgon Marathon was always well supported by the South Melbourne Athletic Club.  It was a great club and ran their own Marathon for a number of years.  I have fond memories of running in several of the South Melbourne Marathons.  They were lap courses run around Princes Park, Carlton or Albert Park Lake, South Melbourne.  Gerry Hart, Peter Logan, Gerry Reilly, Jimmy Crawford, Phil Lear are just some of the South Melbourne members I got to know very well.  They are all top people and I can recall running with some of them in many Marathons.  In marathon running you get to know runners about your standard very well, as you spend a lot of time running with them.  Jimmy Crawford and Martin Thompson have both completed over 100 marathons.  Jimmy ran in many Traralgon Marathons including the first in 1968.


The Frankston to Melbourne Marathon

I competed in about 10 Melbourne Marathons.  These were quite memorable and I always enjoyed them.  A few of the Traralgon Harriers would go down early Sunday morning to the start at Frankston, in my Volkswagon Carravelle.  We would park outside the Frankston Railway Station.  After finishing the marathon we would catch the train back.  The trains were full of sweaty and probably smelly runners.  I wondered what the others passengers thought. The late Geoff (Swaggy) Wilson, Sandy Drummond, David Birks, Ian Cornthwaite, Laurie Edmondstone were just some of the names that come to mind that competed and travelled down and back with me.

The first Melbourne I ran in was 1979.  The first was in 1978.  The route at that time was straight down the Nepean Highway all the way to Melbourne, finishing in front of the Town Hall. It was a hot day with a temperature of 29 degrees at the finish.  Placed at St Kilda Junction were large drums of water.  I felt like jumping into one on the way past.  I was pleased when I finished. I might add, I was pleased when I finished all the marathons I ran in.  I have always said the finishing line of a marathon is a lovely sight.

The 1982 Melbourne was very memorable. By this time the route had changed and turned into Beach Road at Mordialloc.  This was followed to St Kilda where we turned into Fitzroy St.  Then onto St Kilda junction and into St Kilda Road, finishing was outside the Art Centre.  I was running with Swaggy Wilson and Sandy Drummond.  About the halfway mark the weather turned nasty.  It was cold and wet. I felt like giving up.  Swaggy encouraged me to keep going which I did, and I thank him for that.  After a while the weather fined up and we both finished full of running.  We must have passed 200 runners between St Kilda junction and the finish.  We crossed the finishing line together.  Our time was 2 hours, 50 minutes.  I have a photo of us both taken at the finish which I treasure.  For those who did not know Geoff (Swaggy) Wilson, he was a lovely person.  It was always a pleasure to race and train with Geoff.  It was a very sad time when he died, and along with many others I still miss him.  It is very fitting the Harriers have named a race in his memory.  Two things I liked about the Melbourne Marathon were, it was traffic free and spectators lined the complete route.  It did not matter what position you were in, you were still cheered on.  My last Melbourne Marathon was 1989 which was also my last Marathon.  Knee and hip problems were starting to catch up.

Other Marathons

I remember running in at least 2 Ballarat Marathons.  Ian Cornthwaite came with me for one of them when he was quite young.  He has run in many marathons and is still running today. Ballarat was a 7 lap flat course around the lake.  It was quite interesting as there was always something to look at.  I also remember running in a Ballarat with David Birks from Moe.  Stawell Marathon was well supported by Traralgon Harriers.  I ran in 3 or 4 of the Stawell which started and finished at Halls Gap.  I can recall Ian Cornthwaite, Swaggy Wilson, Anne Wilson, Linda Thompson, Sandy Drummond and Craig Beeching running the Stawell Marathons.

I ran several Victorian Marathon Club Marathons.  The club no longer exists.  The Secretary was Fred Lester he was a very eccentric person, but a capable secretary and organiser.  I also ran in several Victorian and Australian championships.  Two that have happy memories were the Australian championship in 1970.  It was the only marathon that I ran under 2 hours 30 minutes.  Everything was in my favour.  Perfect weather, flat course around Werribee, I felt good and had been training well.  The Victorian Marathon championship in 1982 is one I remember well.  The best weather conditions I experienced for marathon running.  Started and finished at Olympic Park.  A frosty morning, temperature was zero at start, a calm day, no sun and temperature 5 degrees at finish.  Conditions were perfect after you had warmed up.  Along with other Harriers I ran in marathons at Benalla and Bendigo.  Laurie Edmondstone won the Country championship at Benalla – the town he grew up in.


Training courses and partners

After running a few marathons the harriers realised we had to train over longer distances.  This meant improved times and less hurt, particularly over the last 10km.  A favourite course was the 22 miler (35km) starting and finishing at Koornalla.  The route was discovered by Bruce Inglis and Garry Henry.  I think they got lost for a while and finished well after dark.  A group of us used to run this most weekends except when a marathon was on.  This is a lovely course which has everything.  It has plenty of climbing, very scenic and little traffic.  For those who do not know it I will describe it.  Start is over the creek bridge on to Taylors Road.  The first 7 or 8km is all up, where you come across the first scenic views.  The next approximate 8km is up and down until you arrive at intersection of Taylors and Jeeralang West roads.  The next section from there to intersection of Jeeralang West and Jeeralang North roads is approximately 8km and terrain is up and down.  After turning into Jeeralang North road it is mainly up for the next 8 or 9km.  You pass 3 farm houses then take a steep downhill track back to the start at Koornalla.  It was a very hard and satisfying run.  My training partners included Geoff (Swaggy) Wilson, Jim Willis, Bruce Inglis, Martin Thompson, Sandy Drummond, David Birks, Geoff Duffell, Ian Cornthwaite, Ian Wheeler, Laurie Edmondstone, David Laws, Keith Tomholt, Garry Henry, Morgan Tucker and Colin Ward.  Garry and Keith must be original members as they were in the club when I joined in 1968.  You had to know where to go, if a wrong turn was taken you could get lost.

I remember doing it with David Laws one day.  David was a much stronger runner than me.  He stayed with me, as it was the first time he had run it and did not know where to go.  That helped me record my best time for the course. Laurie Edmondstone, Ian Wheeler and I ran it in the snow one day.  I was uncertain about starting but the others talked me into it.  Laurie and I were rugged up with parkas, gloves and beanies on.  We kept warm and quite enjoyed it.  The snow was just floating down and there was no wind.  Ian only had a t-shirt and shorts on.  He was more heavily built than us and did not feel the cold. Running with Colin Ward, the first time one day, he thought it was only 22km.  About half way around we told him it was actually 22 miles.  You should have seen the look on his face.

I remember running it on my own one day.  The weather turned nasty about half way around it was very windy, cold and wet.  I was that cold at the finish I found it hard to turn the key in the door of the car.  I took Martin Thompson on the 22 miler for his first time.  He had just returned from 2 years in the U.K. and Europe.  He described it as better than any training runs he did overseas.  1970 was my best year.  I was running 20km before work each morning plus 12km with Ian Wheeler 3 nights a week.  Ian was an optometrist and had a practise in Traralgon 3 days per week.  He only knew one pace when training, that was flat out.  I am sure I can thank him for my performances that year.

Ian Heafield arrived in Traralgon later on in my running days.  I had many enjoyable training runs with him.  Ian often met me before I started my early morning run, and joined me.  He was good company and kept me honest.

I had many long training runs with Laurie Edmondstone.  Like Ian he was also good company and kept me honest.  I found the King of the Mountains race excellent marathon training.  I ran that many times and mostly enjoyed it.  I remember running all the way with Sandy Drummond one year.  We arrived at the last steep climb to the T V towers.  I thought this is going to be tough as Sandy could out sprint me.  Fortunately at the finish Sandy did not have quite as much left in the legs as me.  It was a great feeling finishing the King of the Mountains run.  It made you feel like a king.  There are many more excellent training runs which we did.  Some long ones starting from the town.  We have it made for distance training in our area.  We had interesting discussions whilst on these long runs.  Mostly on politics and world affairs, but other subjects too.


Women competing in marathons

It is good to see many women running in marathons these days.  This has not always been so.  When I started in 1968 women were not allowed to run marathons.  This seems hard to believe in 2013.  The Traralgon Harriers including myself strongly disagreed with this rule.  In 1968, 16 or 17 years of age, Susan Walker lined up at the start of the Victorian championship.  She had not entered because it would not have been accepted.  The officials tried to prevent her from running.  She replied saying you cannot stop me as it is a public road.  I cannot recall her time, but it was quite respectable for her first marathon.  The VAAA which was the Victorian Athletic Association in those days wrote to the Traralgon Harriers asking them to please explain.  I cannot recall the outcome, but not too long afterwards women were allowed to run marathons.  I am not sure if women’s times will ever catch men’s, but the gap is narrowing.

I found my running days very enjoyable and satisfying.  I am most fortunate I was able to do it.  I formed many lasting friendships and met a lot of interesting people.  Looking back I wonder how I found the time to do it.  I was running a business and helping bringing up a young family.  Elizabeth must take most of the credit for the latter.  I hope this article proves interesting to those who read it.  Please excuse any spelling mistakes.  I do not have spell check on this program.

Richard Jeffery

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