How it all began. Stephen Hawking and “Scoop” Crahan
At a Blackpool and Fylde A.C social function,w hich to my disgust was held in a pub. I proclaimed that I had done every track and field event.”What about race walking?”I was asked.
So on 15.5.76 in the Lancashire Championships, in Blackpool I lined up for the 3k walk. A very polite, smartly dressed chap walked with me till boredom made him take off. That was my first meeting with the legendary Fred Pearce Jnr. The next day in the 10k walk I had my greatest thrashing (Christian Brothers excluded). The winner did around 43 mins and lapped me 7 times.I did 61 min 26.4 sec to go with my 17m 39.6 sec in the 3k. However I was 4th in the 3k, shot and discus.
My favourite series of races is the Civil Service 7mile/10k race. They are friendly, well organised events but highly competitive. I have many fond memories including winning the odd team medal. In particular I remember my first race which was at Battersea Park. I was soon in splendid isolation and I had 6 team mates ahead of me. I did not know the protocol for retiring so I made a vague hand signal and jogged to the finish .As I rounded a blind corner a man in a raincoat leapt out at me. It would have been the best hand-off of my rugby career. At the subsequent inquiry the match referee and the judge accepted the explanation that I was a discus thrower.
It was a real education for me, as was my meeting with Eric Hall at Blackheath many years later.He had turned up to watch.He did no warm up and was attired in a string vest, borrowed shorts and wore brogues. He started slowly but I could hear someone offering advice to the judges. At 5 miles Eric caught me and informed the next judge “You were rubbish at White City in 1958.” Given my technique lapses it was as well for me that they all obeyed his instructions to “Keep that paddle in your pocket”.
It was over 50 years since the 1952 Olympics. He had not been very well and was only strolling. I caught him with 10 yards to go. I lay on the grass verge about to do empirical research into life after death. Eric approached, not even out of breath, “Splendid walk young man -we must do this again.”
Best performances – a misnomer in search of a home.
After a promising start- being awarded the Junior Victor Ludorum cup at school in 1959 and winning the Blackpool Welly Throwing- “Golden Welly” in 1974 it has been, unlike Chorley, downhill all the way.
In 1999 I entered the British Vets 3,000mts indoor race at Birmingham. The unusual feature was that you raced against walkers with roughly the same best times. You did not race exclusively in your age group.I t was 15 laps of hell I was carrying a back injury and expected the judges to have a say.I struggled throughout the race but caught but could not pass two female walkers. (Please note this was before gender fluidity).
I was in real pain.However 2 weeks later, fortified by Deep Heat and strong lager I was amazed to read in AW that I was a British Champion Over 50. Around the same period I did just over 67 mins for 7 miles .
My one attempt at the Manchester to Blackpool race brings back mixed emotions.My training and commitment gave me great satisfaction and boosted the sales of Vaseline. I was quite naïve and made too many errors. I over trained, neglected speedwork, wore the wrong shoes and drank too much pure orange juice. My time of 11hrs 17 mins was really poor as I was expecting to finish sub 10:30.
On a positive note in 2019 I did a Parkrun with my 5 year old granddaughter Alexis .She found it easy and I had to stop her jumping on benches. We did 38min 15 sec.It was without doubt my favourite race.
I have greatly appreciated reading about the superb performances of my fellow athletes. I have not scaled the heights of previous contributors but I have loved every second of my involvement in our wonderful sport.
The Eric Hall of Belgrave Harriers mentioned in John’s reminiscence represented Great Britain at both the 1956 and 1960 Olympics. For a time he was something of a regular at Lancashire WC club races. I presume he may have been working up North. I’ll do some more research and perhaps Ron Wallwork can fill in some details. I’ve got a feeling that Eric’s competitive presence was significant in assisting Ron’s development in the early 1960s.