With Ian Garmston’s permission, I’m really pleased to post this lovely account of his and Ron Wallwork’s journey to becoming proud Centurions. All the more so, given our club’s great history in the 100 miles event – see Honouring the Club’s Centurions, where you will find
893 Ron Wallwork 22:26:07 on 21 /07 /1992 Leicester
899 Ian Garmston 23:16:24 on 21/ 07/ 1992 Leicester
30 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
Thirty years ago Ron Wallwork and myself qualified to join a worldwide group of (presently 1211) athletes called the ‘Centurions’. It would not have been possible without the complete practical support of an army of friends and family, who were there for us back in July 1992.
Ron and myself became pals during the early 1980s when I entered a racewalking event that he had organised at Moulton. I was a runner but was attracted to the activity because it seemed like a novel hoot. Later, when we started to train together, I discovered the two cardinal rules that no racewalker should (ever) disobey. Namely, leading legs must NOT BE BENT at the knee, and one foot had ALWAYS to be in contact with the ground. More precise explanations are not necessary. But the Race Walking Association (RWA) set these rules, which are etched on stone tablets, and when violated cause eagle-eyed official judges (with little flags and clip-boards) to pounce from the side of the road. I never actually got “pulled” from a race, but did have my number taken more than a few times. Such Fun!
Anyway, Ron coached me through a series of events, and our friendship grew. I knew that he had won the 20-mile race for England at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica. What I didn’t know was that he was romancing the notion of competing in a qualifying RWA 100-mile race at Hungarton, Leicestershire. The idea being to return a sub-24-hour time, and thus become a Centurion.
Such an event was furthest from my own thoughts. Nevertheless, I acknowledged that his year-long training regime would get lonely, so offered to keep him company as long as I was capable. If nothing else it would be an opportunity to progress my own general fitness, which had lapsed a tad since doing The London Marathon in 1986. Plus, I could watch and learn, first-hand, how this experienced international athlete prepared himself for something new.
As well as building in “quality” sprints around the village, we looked for official events of various distances that would gradually nudge up how far we walked in one hit. Ten miles, then twenty, thirty and so on. If there were no events, we were taken by car for (say) forty miles and left to walk home. It was also necessary to prepare our body clocks, so some of these outings were done during the night.
Ron told me that we only needed to train as far as seventy miles, because the last thirty miles could be done (his words!) “from memory”. The other thing to consider was maintaining a constant 5mph pace, because, during 24 hours it would be necessary to pause for a number of reasons. Not least comfort stops and feeding, and a consistent 5mph pace should (theoretically) provide a four-hour cushion of time to take account of these activities.
We identified the official RWA Manchester to Blackpool walk as a useful fifty miler. Aiming for less than 12 hours on our feet. I cannot remember my time. It doesn’t matter. What I do remember is catching sight of Blackpool Tower as a feature the size of my thumb on the horizon. A number of hours later, I was walking along the prom to the finish. Still being careful to keep my leading leg straight, and watching for lurking judges, but certain I was now having a go at this Centurion thingy, come what may. It was probably during the evening, as we all enjoyed fish and chips, gazing at the sea, that I told Ron I would be joining him. Training then became far more focussed as the months rolled closer to the main event.
Which was an amazing experience. We commenced twenty circuits of a (very) undulating, but picturesque five-mile course at 6.00pm on a sunny Saturday evening. A feeding station was established in the car park of the village pub, which also kindly provided toilet facilities. Every hour, on the hour (day and night) our delightful support team, who were camped on the other side of the road, would collect anything they needed for our next pit stop. We relied on them.
Through the night hours, they operated a shift system, so as to get a little sleep, but it was exhausting work, gladly done, for which Ron and myself are eternally grateful. I went through three pairs of trainers and completed in 23 hours, 16 minutes and 24 seconds. Ron was ahead of me, and completed in 22 hours, 26 minutes and 7 seconds. Neither of us will forget those 24 hours. But the icing on the cake was that Ron had obtained sufficient sponsors to raise £38k for charity. This caught the attention of Newmarket Journal, who despatched a photographer. You can see his picture at the beginning of this tale.. Please note our perfectly straight leading legs… Perhaps poetry in racewalking motion😂.. And not a judge to be seen!