The Isle of Man remains a stronghold of race walking. One ot its outstanding competitors across the years has been John Cannell, the victor at the inaugural RWA 100 miles championships in 1987. We are delighted to host his Race Walking Reminiscence, a story of overcoming all manner of handicaps. When asked , ‘what kept him going when the odds were against him?’ John’s simple reply was ‘stubborness’.

What prompted you to take up race walking?  When and where was your first race?

John in the 1984 Leicester 100

In 1960 the Isle of Man 85 miles Parish walk was revived. Walkers had to touch the gates of our 17 parishes. It was won by postman Stan Cleator in 19.50.30. That was achieved in ordinary trousers and working shoes. The following year it was decided to hold a relay around the course involving our youth clubs. It would be split up into 4 sections – some walking a little more or less than the other. Graham Young and myself were still at school, but our PE teachers said we could walk rather than play cricket or football, which neither of us had any interest in then or now. My team finished 3rd in the junior section in 17.39.33. We still didn’t know anything about race walking styles or the clothing involved. I think that race was my first and I went on to do other races.

The 39 miles End to End walk on the island was first held in 1961 and was won by Stan Cleator in 7:19:08. I was 17th and last in 9:29:22. Yet in 1962 I was to finish 2nd in 7.13.25. Stan was 4th in 7.19.18, 10 seconds slower than his win in 1961.

My first race off island was the Northern Junior 10 miles in Sheffield. Because of heavy snow the course had to be altered. It was won by Mal Tolley. I retired. However in the same race in 1964 in Wakefield I came 3rd in 84.47.

I think my first attempt at the Parish walk saw me get to 45 miles. My first finish was in 1967 when I came 2nd to Albert Johnson. He did 15.54.51, I clocked 17.42.36. Around this time I was having a lot of problems in and out of hospital, having tests and the like. It was the stomach, colitis.Things cleared up however and I was picked to walk in the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. I finished 15th in the 20 miles walk.

Later that year I was taking part in a Postmans walk at Crystal Palace but had to go to hospital after the race. They told me to go to my hospital when I got back, which I did I was told I had to have an ileostomy. My world fell apart. But they said if I didn’t have it I would die. At this very time Lillian Board [ the outstanding 400/800 metres runner of the late 1960s] had similiar problems and sadly did die.

Lillian Board, the ‘Golden Girl’ of British Athletics in full flight

As it was I spent Christmas in hospital. After recovering from my operation my first race was our 10 miles champs. in which I finished 7th in 106 mins. I was on the way back. I won my first Parish walk in 1976 in 17.28.12. My Parish stats are 1979 2nd 16.22.03; 1981 first in 16.15.11; 1982 first in under 16 hoursm 15.59.33; 1983 first in16.31 38. Two more wins in 1993 and 1994 with 16.11.11 and 16.13.46. [Editor’s note – remember the Parish Walk is 85 miles long.]

Which performance has given you the greatest satisfaction?


I became a Centurion in 1966 on the Leicester to Skegness course on my first attempt with Graham Young. I was 14th in 21.45.21. After that I had a break as far as hundreds went and came back in 1984 to Leicester, now on a lap course. Brian Adams won in 17.39.28 and I was 2nd with17.53.29 – with a little help from the sponges offered by one Tony Taylor and his son, John.

John at Leicester in 1984

The next one was the first 100 to be held as a National Championships in 1987, which I won in 17.55.10, held at Ewhurst, Surrey.

John with the coveted Sword after his 1987 triumph

Back to Leicester again in 1988, Richard Brown won with 17.00.35 with me 2nd in 17.10.15. My last one was at Hendon. Ed Shilabeer won in 18.11.08. Although 4th I was actually 3rd Brit to finish, Henri Legrand being French. I recorded 19.28.05. The night time was very wet with parts of the course waterlogged. It was over 100 laps around a circuit at the Hendon Police training grounds. [Eds note – the mind boggles!]

What’s your favourite race and why?

John nearing the finish of the 1984 Leicester 100

My favourite courses in the UK were the Bradford where I did my p.b and the Morecambe 20kms. Although I have only done 2 Manchester to Blackpool races I have a best time of 8.34.01 in 1987. I went off course near the end when leading and Dave Turner passed me on Blackpool promenade. I had a lot of long races in my legs by this time so I could not respond.The only other one I did was back in 1967, finishing 11th. My best time for our TT walk is 6.01.00, coming second to John Warhurst. My personal best of 4.36.40 on the Bradford was very pleasing as it was a tough course. Favourite courses on the Isle of Man are the Parish walk and the End to End on the old course. I have had a great time in almost 60 years in the sport and met some great people to numerous to mention here. One thing missing that I just can’t achieve and, please don’t take this the wrong way, is a recognition on the Sports Hall of Fame at our Sports Centre. The reason for my absence is I have not represented the island at the Island Games. Only one man is blocking this. In other words I have not done enough. Yet other people in the hall have not done anywhere near what I have done.

John’s personal bests:

10 miles – 79 mins

20 kms – 99 mins

50 kms – 4.36.40

100 miles – 17.10.15

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  1. David Turner says:

    A Likable ( Former International athlete) and
    Worth, looking up to!

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