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Derek Clayton

Derek Clayton, running with Japan's Seiichiro
Sasaki, in the 1967 Fukuoka Marathon which
he won in a world record time of 2:09.36.4.

Along with great Australian athletes such as Ron Clarke, Herb Elliott and John Landy who inspired me to start running and awed me with their achievements, was the perhaps lesser-known Derek Clayton.

I was still living in London, and running school cross-country races as a sixteen year-old when his name hit the sporting headlines as the first person to run under 2:10 for a marathon when he ran 2:09:36.4 in the 1967 Fukuoka Marathon in Japan.  This wasn't long after Ron Clarke had blazed a trail across the world with a series of phenomenal world records on the track (see post titled Ron Clarke) and it seemed to me that Australians must have some kind of genetic predisposition to long distance running.

Two years later, when I was at university in Melbourne, his home town, and getting more obsessed with running, Derek Clayton again broke the world record.  This time it was in Antwerp, and his time of 2:08:33.6, stood as the world's best time for twelve years, until bettered by Rob De Castella.  By this time I was regularly competing in the Victorian Amateur Athletics Association (VAAA) winter and summer events and would have competed in a number of events against Clayton, though I don't specifically remember ever meeting him.  I do have a vague recollection of passing him and Ron Clarke, speeding in the opposite direction, when I was out on a training run in Melbourne's eastern suburbs one time in those years, and it may have been more than once.

Derek Clayton leads in the 1969 Maxol (Manchester)
Marathon which was won by Ron Hill in 2:13.

For a while, Clayton seemed to run and win every significant distance race in Australia, including the Australian Marathon titles in 1967, 1968, 1971 and 1973.  He was a prolific racer and known as a hard man and focussed runner.  On one occasion, I think in September 1973, Clayton won the VAAA 25km Road Championships on a multi-lap course around the 6km Sandown road racing circuit.  I was 22nd in 89:26 in the same race, but never saw Clayton after the start.  It may be an apocryphal story, but apparently with about a lap to go, Clayton was in the lead but desperately needed a toilet break.  Stopping was not an option, and he finished with some ugly looking stains on the back of his shorts and down his legs, still in the lead.  Not surprisingly, the club-mate in whose car he had travelled to the event, refused to let him into the car for the home journey until he had been hosed down.

Even though I wasn't remotely in Clayton's class, running in the same races as the world's best marathoner early in my career, and seeing first-hand how dedicated and disciplined you needed to be to succeed, made a big impression on me.

I had a comfortable 6km walk this morning at Trotters and wasn't quite as conscious of how my heart was beating.  As each day passes, I get a little more confident that I will soon be running again.