Dave Evans [Centurion 998] sends this revealing and emotional report of a dramatic day.
JONATHAN HOBBS MAKES AN IMPRESSIVE WINNING DEBUT
The weekend of the 20/21st of August was chosen by the Centurions to host their 100-mile walk and on this occasion the venue was a 976 metre-long cycle track at the Middlesbrough sports village. The weather forecast indicated fairly warm conditions with winds of 15 mph or thereabouts on Saturday, a gentler breeze on Sunday, and relatively dry conditions. Bells began to chime as the “team” tent was being erected just before midday on Saturday. Flysheets on some tents were beginning to dance about so it was clear we might encounter some disturbance.
Lancashire Walking Club owns 40 Centurions going back to Tommy Payne, numbered 18, who achieved this feat way back in the 1910-20 era. I was the latest centurion from our club just under 20 years ago awarded with number 998, and we have waited with bated breath for another achiever to enhance our chance of becoming the most successful club in the history of the Centurions Organisation. The 2022 celebration brought together walkers from the UK, Australia, USA and Northern Europe numbering just under 40 in total. We had 3 first claim members registered to compete, one second claim member and one former member and of these, 3 had already won their wings at earlier enactments of the race. Martin Payne, Martin Fisher and Hazel Fairhurst formed this last trio while Adrian Edwards and Sailash Shah were looking to add their names to the roll of honour.
Warm sunshine saw the field embark on their task of completing 166 laps of the cycle circuit most of which was flat but with an ‘interesting’ section of an up and a down! Initially, a light breeze accompanied the walkers metamorphosing into a troublesome wind as the marathon journey unfolded.
This year’s entourage of ultra distance enthusiasts included one British international class exponent over much shorter distances and an American whose personal best over 20km, achieved 3 decades ago, would have gained selection for all of the major games. An interesting point to note here is whether this ability over ‘sprint’ distances is of any advantage in the 100. The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ which I will explain in due course! Generally, the experience of the other participants was over traditional ultra mileages.
After 5 hours positions were beginning to establish but the weather had decided to inflict some havoc on the ‘tent city’. Guy ropes were tensioned but there were always the unpredictable gusts to unsettle those hanging onto tent pegs and the main body of sheeted accommodation. All of the walkers were battle-hardened so normal bad weather is treated as an inconvenience, however, the sheets of driven rain and high winds were beginning to unsettle all walkers intent on centurion ‘ennoblement’. How many stayed upright and tents alike continue to elude me but it cast a shadow over the first part of the challenge. There were moments of calm during the late evening and night but not enough to allow the majority of performers incident-free passage.
The first ‘casualty’ for us was the retirement of Sailash, who at around 6 stone, found the wet driving rain very depressing and movement restricting. Few things bother him normally but the weather and some conditioning issues prompted him to take some time out stepping off the course to weigh up his options. The rain continued to hammer down and surprisingly not all competitors donned wet weather gear. Sailash finally chose to close his challenge after walking extremely well for 33 miles. A further 17 miles later Martin Fisher decided to step away from the ‘race’ after a health check. A veteran of many 100 miles, Martin knows himself best, so to live to fight another day he decided to finish his 2022 challenge at this point.
It seemed like a long night and our supporters were intent on encouraging their colleagues to stick with the task despite the miserable conditions. Up to 12 hours or thereabouts our squad were showing no signs of being distressed and while we were busy nipping in and out of cover they were chasing the dream. Early morning and the first signs of the sun rising and a positive improvement in mood. Adrian and Martin were walking well and sensibly. I make this comment after watching the USA, former international, Ray Sharp, circumnavigating the 1000-metre loop, with a very clean and super race walking technique, almost oblivious of the fact that this was a 100 mile race and not the much shorter events where he was an exceptional performer. He was making attempt number 5 or 6 at the 100 and yet to succeed. Ray was seconded by a young lady who he coaches and despite her comments that he should slow down and not burn out he continued to crack on. Ray retired during the night and flew back to the States a day later with another DNF, very sad for his pupil and the Centurions’ fraternity who wanted him to succeed.
Hazel was truly amazing. She has apparently been doing some ultra-running events but no walking. She smiled throughout the race and was the epitome of efficiency in her walking style and was supported by one of her daughters who probably hadn’t signed up for this task on the basis that she would have to get out of her tent so regularly! She did very well for a youngster. Hazel’s reward was second place in the ladies category a mere 7 minutes behind the winner who we understand has walked in most of the major Centurion races on the world stage.
We were greatly heartened by the sight of our club colleagues walking with good style and comfort but over the weekend there was a time early morning when both Martin and Adrian started to show the first signs of ‘weakness’ Martin is already a Centurion so has this accolade up his sleeve, however, every 100 is different and there was a time mid-morning when he faltered and possibly wondered if he should press on. He is made of stern stuff and with the vocal encouragement of us lot he regained his composure and even regained some of his normal walking posture, lost sometimes when the body starts to weaken and the mental control goes out of the window.
I believe the most memorable part of our weekend was the heroic performance by Adrian who began to show the signs of possible collapse with about 25 miles to go. Normally a very upright and textbook style performer he was losing his posture and beginning to adopt a completely different stance. His head was down and he was leaning forward. It transpires that he was partly protecting his feet which were worrying him. Visiting the team tent for a sit-down and a foot examination Adrian unrolled his socks and exposed what was concerning him. A flap of skin covering his heel and part of his arch had almost detached itself. How on earth he had got this far suffering such pain and discomfort is a real tribute to this fortitude. What did he do? He changed his socks! Moving off we wished him the best and he rejoined the circuit very gingerly. Time has a horrible way of being lost so Roy and I were trying to work out how far he had left to walk and what timescale was available. As Adrian made his way off onto the next lap we established that he had a cushion of some 30-45 minutes as long as he could maintain a reasonable loop time of around 10 minutes for the roughly 1k circuit. The very painful feet were clearly troubling Adrian as he almost tiptoed down the tarmac at one point. He eventually seems to control the pain but his head was still down and he was trying to support his back with his hands as he walked with a forward lean. With about 3 hours to go the target of 100 miles in 24 hours was looking a bit blurry. Adrian was stopping at intervals on the roadside and while we thought he was perhaps being ill it transpires he was stretching his back. In the last couple of hours, there were moments when he nearly collapsed onto the grass verge alongside the roadway. By this time everyone was becoming very concerned. Even the officials were doing what they could to encourage and help him. Just like the 1908 Olympic Marathon where personnel helped Dorando Pietri over the finishing line we knew he mustn’t get physical help if he fell. He did tumble and with supporters around to comfort him, he got up and walked on.
I can’t remember a more emotional two hours for me in sport. One of your club colleagues in obvious distress and all you could do was say a few kind words and try to inspire that part of the brain that prompts a positive reaction. Everyone in the club at Middlesbrough and other watchers wanted Adrian to make it. They all tried to protect him and to watch someone on each circuit struggling to move forward without falling drained the emotions of us all. We all wanted the final handful of laps to arrive so we could endeavour to get him home safely. Martin caught him up on some of the latter circuits and will have given him a psychological lift and even a walking “partner”. Two laps to go and he was if anything raising his game with the Centurions’ victory in his sight. Another bit of a falter and a fall into the grass verge a short distance after the lap end. Quite a number of folk raced down to make sure he was ok. He mustn’t be helped up but slowly he managed to get onto his knees and regained his upright stance. He was off again with maybe a mile and a bit to go. Positioned around the course his club friends and others shouted encouragement so when he reached the bell for his final lap we all kept our fingers crossed that he would get round safely. I know a number of officials were particularly helpful and they too encouraged him although not normally “allowed” to do this . With 400 metres to go we could all see Adrian controlling his forward lean on the opposite side of the grassy area where we were camped and as long as he stayed upright he would achieve his ambition. He turned the final bend of the loop and the well-wishers were gathered ready to cheer him home. He crossed the line and collapsed into the arms of one of the helpers. He had made it and I can’t think of any other occasion when we were so delighted to see someone surmount so many problems and succeed. The icing on the cake was not only Adrian winning his Centurions’ badge, number 1216 (he was actually wearing number 216 for the race) but the awarding by the Centurions of the special Ken Munro trophy for the most meritorious competitor on the day.
Our primary focus was Adrian for obvious reasons but Martin was a hero in his own right. He could have stepped off the circuit late in the day after he started to lose speed and be outside the schedule to do the 100 miles. He walked on, helped Adrian and managed to cover 95 miles.
We must offer a very big thank you to all of our walkers, our supporters, and the officials, notably Sue Clements for a great weekend and particularly Adrian for his tenacity and pure guts in achieving his Centurion status under such adversity.
Back in Crete, I followed the last few hours on a live stream with sparse information. The timings board was not keeping up-to-date. However, it was increasingly clear that Adrian was suffering badly. I doubted whether he would make it. It is deeply humbling to know that he did so and very much against the odds. Bravo, Adrian. grit personified, Martin, loyal to the end and Hazel, a picture of style and aplomb, together with all the LWC entourage. Adrian and Fred Pearce travelled together to so many races across the years. Fred would have been so proud.
And a closing word from Ron Wallwork [Centurion 893]
Just a line to say Congratulations on joining the brotherhood.
I think you are the 41st LWC member to do it.
Savour the moment and I hope your recovery is swift.
Best wishes Brother – Ron
THE MIDDLESBROUGH HUNDRED CHALLENGE RESULTS
[Thanks to John Constandinou]
1st – Rotterdamse Wandelsport 482,802m (Van Der Gulik, Meints, Leijtens)
2nd – Lancashire Walking Club 364,651m (Edwards, Payne, Shah)
3rd – Everbeekse Wandeltochten 244,728m (Van Nieuwenhove, Vankerkhove)
4th – IOMVAC 226,176m (Titley, Moore)
MENS INTER-NATIONS TEAM
1st – BELGIUM 482,802m (Asselman, Van Nieuwenhove, Janssens)
2nd – NETHERLANDS 482,802m (Van der Gulik, Meints, Leijtens
3rd – ENGLAND 471,957m (Hobbs, Edwards, Payne)
4th – ISLE OF MAN 273,282m (Titley, Moore, Kenna)
WOMENS INTER-NATIONS TEAM
1st – ENGLAND 265,294m (Fairhurst, Middleton)
- Sharon Scholz W45 Australia 160934 metres 22:42:43 7.086 km
- Hazel Fairhurst W55 Lancs WC 160934 metres 22:50:28 7.046 km/h
- Jacqueline Van Drongelen W50 Netherlands 160934 metres 23:35:38 6.821 km/h
- Helen Middleton W55 E&H 104300 metres 14:42:47 7.089 km/h
1 Jonathan Hobbs SM Ashf 160934 metres 18:44:32 8.587 km/h
2 Peter Asselman M40 Belgium 160934 metres 19:57:43 8.062 km/h
3 Diederik Van Nieuwenhove M50 Belgium 160934 metres 20:18:47 7.923 km/h
4 Kim Janssens M45 Belgium 160934 metres 21:45:14 7.398 km/h
5 Andrew Titley M55 IOMVAC 160934 metres 21:45:15 7.398 km/h
6 Frank van der Gulik M40 Netherlands 160934 metres 22:16:30 7.225 km/h
7 Justin Scholz M45 Australia 160934 metres 22:42:43 7.086 km/h
8 Gunter Luypaerts M45 Belgium 160934 metres 22:44:33 7.076 km/h
9 Johan Stesmans M40 Belgium 160934 metres 22:54:55 7.023 km/h
10 Jantinus Meints M60 Netherlands 160934 metres 23:19:38 6.899 km/h
11 Frans Leijtens M45 Netherlands 160934 metres 23:22:45 6.884 km/h
12 Adrian Edwards M60 Lancs WC 160934 metres 23:29:28 6.851 km/h
13 Boetje Huliselan M65 Netherlands 160934 metres 23:34:39 6.826 km/h
14 Richard McChesney M50 New Zealand 160934 metres 23:45:21 6.775 km/h
15 Martin Payne M60 Lancs WC 151169 metres 23:51:40 6.335 km/h
16 Philip Wilson M70 unatt 148240 metres 23:45:34 6.239 km/h
17 Kevin Marshall M60 Ilf 133593 metres 19:15:16 6.938 km/h
18 Arjan Bogerd M50 Netherlands 132617 metres 22:07:21 5.995 km/h
19 Bob Thomas M70 unatt 111135 metres 23:45:34 4.678 km/h
20 Ray Sharp M60 USA 107229 metres 14:28:18 7.410 km/h
21 Mike Vankerkhove M35 Belgium 83794 metres 11:50:21 7.078 km/h
22 Graham Jackson M50 N Vets 80865 metres 10:43:16 7.543 km/h
23 Martin Fisher M55 Redcar 79888 metres 11:59:21 6.663 km/h
24 John Borgars M75 Phoe 74030 metres 10:00:19 7.399 km/h
25 John Constandinou M50 Bir 73053 metres 12:12:14 5.986 km/h
26 Colin Moore M60 IOMVAC 65242 metres 10:19:48 6.316 km/h
27 Arjan Lukken M55 Netherlands 54501 metres 08:21:29 6.521 km/h
28 Chris Flint M75 Sy WC 53524 metres 09:14:36 5.791 km/h
29 Sailash Shah M55 Lancs WC 52548 metres 08:51:34 5.931 km/h
30 Haydn Mark Kenna M60 unatt 47666 metres 09:58:59 4.775 km/h