Over recent years, when back for the occasional Northern event, I’ve often wondered if the people present knew that the the softly-spoken, unassuming bloke sat quietly in the corner is one of the great all-rounders in British Race Walking. His name is Denis Jackson, a product of the fascinating world of working class enthusiam for race walking to be found in the city of York and the great tradition of Postman Pedestrianism. These memories from Denis might well open a few eyes.Thanks to Graham, his son, for prodding Denis into making this contribution.
What prompted you to take up race walking? When and where was your first race?
I first starting walking when joining the Post Office, where there were other employees interested in race walking. My first race was over 5 miles in the local Working Men’s club event. I heard there was a national Post Office championship walk so I decided to enter. The distance was 15 kilometres and I finished second to Denis Vale in either 1972 or 73. I’m not sure of the year, but it was held down south in Middlesex. After which I was hooked and the York Postal Race Walking Club was born,
What’s your favourite race and why?
I didn’t have a favourite race, but 20 miles was the distance I liked most. Then I moved up to 50 kilometres. Nevertheless 20 miles was my favourite training session. Although I should mention the 1986 National 20 kilometres held in York where I broke 90 minutes for the first time. And that was after I had my shoe kicked off only 5 minutess into the race!
Which performance has given you the greatest satisfactio
Reaching the sea front in the 1975 London to Brighton classic is still in my memory. I finished second in the 1980 National 50 kilometres at Basildon behind the Australian, Tim Erikson, thus earning my first international vest in Paris in a match against France Spain and Switzerland. I broke the British record at 30k and 35k on the track in 1981. Being selected for the European Athletic Championships in 1986 was a highlight, along with my last international in the 1993 World Cup in Monterray, Mexico as a 48 year old!
My biggest disappointments were not being selected for the 1984 Olympics – I was nominated for a place with the ‘B’ standard but overlooked – and not breaking 4 hours for 50 kilometres in 1986 when I was in the form of my life. I thought that 1986 was going to be my year.
This coming Saturday, May 9, we should be gathering in Chorley to race in the Dave Crompton Memorial Seven Miles, still struggling to come to terms with the loss of such a beloved member of the club.
In conversation with John Crahan at the weekend he promised that he would be going out on Saturday to do a 7 miles training spin in memory of Dave – a touching and appropriate gesture. Spurred on I’ll be doing the same, conscious that I had always hoped, given Dave and Louise’s love of Greece, they would have made it to Crete to spend a few nights in our village. Perhaps other members of the club might do something similar this week.
As for the question of postponements we have no option, but to follow the advice of England Athletics with whom we are insured. At the present time it is safe to say that the following fixtures are postponed, if not cancelled.
May 9 Dave Crompton Memorial 7 miles at Chorley
June 8 Dick and Zena Smith 10K/5K at Bury
June 15 Masters 5k at Horwich
July 4 Barnard Trophy 10k at Sutton
July 25 Fred Pearce Relay [3x 5k] at Simister
Aug 8/9 Centurions 100 miles at Colchester
Aug 15 Goodwin Cup 10k at Chorley
There is a slim chance that the Lambert Trophy One Hour event on September 5 might take place, given it’s on the track at Bury away from public roads. We will await and see.
As noted on several occcasions we are committed to finding, if at all possible, alternative dates for the Dave Crompton and Fred Pearce events.
A CLUB VIRTUAL SERIES?
Facing further moments of frustration, unable to race against and socialise with one another, Dave Evans wonders whether there might be interest and support for our own version of a Virtual Series League. The idea assumes that many of us have the Garmin-type watches, which measure distance and time or indeed that we have a reasonably accurate lap of some kind that we can use.
The proposal might look something like this.
MAY – DISTANCE 3 KILOMETRES – Times to be submitted to Tony by the last day in the month
JUNE – DISTANCE 5 KILOMETRES – Times to be submitted to Tony by the last day in the month
JULY – DISTANCE 8 KILOMETRES – Times to be submitted to Tony by the end of the month
AUGUST- DISTANCE 10 KILOMETRES – Times to be submitted to Tony by the end of the month
Tony would collate the results. As I’m scribbling it may be that Dave could prepare a handicap for each distance so we could have a scratch and handicap competition.
What prompted you to take up race walking? When and where was your first race?
The main prompt for me to take up race walking was watching some walking races at Crystal Palace in the late 60’s and early 1970’s where the likes of Paul Nihill and Phil Embleton were competing. I had always been somewhat obsessed with athletics, middle and long distance running in particular, and living in the London area I never missed an opportunity to watch top class meetings at Crystal Palace. During these meetings they would quite often put on a walk as well and watching these is what got me hooked. The walkers seemed to demonstrate more of a ‘do or die’ attitude than the runners. Even before this time I had greatly admired the exploits of Don Thompson, Ken Matthews and Paul Nihill at the Rome and Tokyo Olympics.
With this keenness to have a go at race walking I joined Enfield race walking club in 1972. I was immediately struck by what a friendly community the race walking fraternity is. After being shown the ropes on a couple of training spins with Peter Worth I entered my first race – a 3000 metres at Enfield Stadium on 22nd May 1972. My time was a modest 16.54, however the effort made me physically sick. The race was won by Amos Seddon. I followed this up with a 5000 race at Enfield Stadium on 7th June 1972 with a time of 29.06. My main memory of this race was being in awe of Phil Emblerton as he cruised round in the lead in great style, lapping me time after time. I think of all the walkers I have watched he impressed me the most and it was such a great tragedy he was struck down so young with a fatal illness.
I carried on walking around 30 races a year up until 1980 when my job and a young family took precedence over my time. During this period I first was a member of Enfield Walking Club, then changed to Verlea and was finally with the Metropolitan Walking Club. In those days I was never what you would call a fast walker – my performances at best were that of an average club walker. Best times for me in a sample of distances were 41 minutes for 5 miles, 59 minutes for 7 miles, 112 minutes for 20k, 3 hours 9 mins for 20 miles, 3 hours 35 mins for 35k, 5 hours 24 mins for 50k and 9 hours 45 mins for the London to Brighton and the Manchester to Blackpool.
It was a coincidence that I did the same time for the London to Brighton in 1975 and the Manchester to Blackpool in 1976.
When I look through the results in Race Walking Record in the 1970’s I realise now that in a few of my races I rubbed shoulders with some of the Lancashire Walking Club members I now know. Little did I realise then I would be coming across these walkers 40 to 50 years on!
I have very fond memories of meeting some great characters in the world of walking back in the 70’s. How many people can say they attended club meetings with 2 Olympic gold medallists – well I can. During my time as a member of the Metropolitan Walking Club, club members Don Thompson and Harold Whitlock would attend some of the meetings. I found it absolutely fascinating talking to these two gold medal winners. Listening to Harold recounting his experiences at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was pure magic. Harold very kindly wrote me a training schedule to follow based on my circumstances – this is something I have obviously kept and treasure.
Hew Neilson (the 24 hour world record holder) was another fascinating character to talk to. He was very generous with his time and he helped me, along with many others, with good advice etc in my early walking days. I greatly admired his ‘blood and guts’ attitude to walking – a bit like that of Colin Young.
One of the things I enjoyed about race walking was that unlike most sports you could compete alongside the greats in a race. Without exception the top walking stars all seemed very happy to mix and socialise with the ‘lower ranks’ prior to and after a race.
After a long period of absence from participating in race walks I joined Lancashire Walking Club in 2008. During the intervening time I did virtually no race walking – but I did try to keep fit with regular runs (including entering the occasional running race) plus swimming. It was one of the best decisions of my life to join the Lancashire Walking Club – and I have enjoyed every minute of my association with it.
What’s your favourite race and why?
I find it difficult to answer this question based on my time with the Lancashire Walking Club as I enjoy all of our venues. In general I prefer the longer races as I feel you get ‘more for your money’ as the saying goes. I find it disappointing that there are very few races left in the UK where the distance exceeds 10 miles. Back in the 1970’s my favourite race was the Leicester Mercury 20 mile race. The organisation of this race was brilliant – almost on a par with the London Marathon. With both the club member race and the novice race taking place together you would get an entry for the Leicester Mercury exceeding 300 walkers – compare that with today’s entry sizes!
Which performance has given you the greatest satisfaction?
The performance which has given me the greatest satisfaction was my one in the National 50k RWA championship at Hillingdon in 2015. Adrian Edwards, Dave Crompton and I comprised the team for the Lancashire Walking Club and we won the team prize. In addition Adrian was the outright individual winner of the RWA title that year. The race was particularly satisfying for me as the course and time limit stretched my abilities to the limit. It was such a pleasure and honour for me to be able to share the National RWA 50k team prize with Adrian and Dave.
Upon chatting by phone with Roy it is clear that one of those Crystal Palace eye-openers was the September 1971 Coca-Cola Invitation Meeting. In the 10,000 metres walk that opened the evening Phil Embleton did indeed blast us off the track. However, in his wake, Ron Wallwork finished fourth and yours truly fifth. A few weeks later we were both selected for a GB international versus West Germany, the first and only time our club has provided two representatives at one and the same time for a GB team.
To say the least our efforts were overshadowed on the night by a titanic tussle between two mavericks, Andy Holden and Dave Bedford, both fond of a pint, in the 3, 000 metres steeplechase. Andy wearing proudly his Lancashire vest gained ground over the barriers, Dave, the front runner extraordinaire, clawed back the advantage on the flat. In a pulsating finish, with Ron and I screaming for Andy, Dave lunged for victory in a new UK record.Bedlam prevailed!
It’s no wonder Roy came back for more, especially to see Phil Embleton in full flow. Majestic.
Having been knocked off our top perch we’ve bounced back, displaying classic northern phlegm [apologies for the cliches!] to be the leading team in the Virtual Series Age-graded 2 kilometres competition.
MENS AGE GRADED TEAM
1 Lancashire Walking Club (33) (85.00%) 2 Surrey Walking Club (36) (84.73%) 3 Steyning AC (37) (86.25%) – AUSTRALIA (73) (75.08%) 4 Sarnia Walking Club (91) (72.95%) 5 Quickstep Fitness (127) (65.82%) 6 Scotia Race Walking Club (138) (62.60%) 7 Manx Harriers (173) (54.99%) 8 Winchester AC (215) (47.78%) 9 Birchfield Harriers (254) (36.17%)
Latest news ahead of this week’s races over 2 and 3k is that Tony Malone is stepping up to the 3k, Guy and Steve are doing interval training and the hypochondriacal Taylor is nursing a swollen foot – the usual pre-race excuse.
And it’s not at all too late for anyone else to join in and strengthen our bid for World domination.
Thanks as ever to Andi Drake, Helen Elleker and John Constandinou for making this happen with a special word for John, who is shouldering the strain of working in a care home at such a demanding time. Respect.
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.