Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Is 40,60, 70 or 80 too old for the Parish Walk?

If you read the history of the Parish Walk (and where better to go than Dermot O’Toole’s great book “A Walk Through Time”) you will notice that the profile of the walker has changed greatly between 1960 and 2007.

In 1960 it was the young men of the Isle of Man who rose to the challenge of an 85 mile walk around the Isle of Man’s 17 parishes.

Until 1989 only six women completed the course. For the record, they were:

Eunice Davies
Irene Corlett
Heather Murphey
Ann Sayer
Irene Corlett
Caroline Convery

(I've just discovered that tables don't work but hopefully you can work out the above).

The few women who entered each year were only expected to reach Peel at best. Those that went beyond Peel did so for many years unofficially as the rules quite clearly stated that their event ended there.

Men over 40 had similar restrictions. Veterans who wished to continue beyond Peel could be asked to produce a medical certificate that they were fit enough for the challenge.

Until three years ago the awards for women and veterans were determined by their time at Peel. They could continue to walk as far as they liked but the official result was determined at Peel.

There was confusion. For example, when someone like Derek Harrison won the overall walk he was omitted from the veterans’ class. This was incorrect. What was supposed to happen (under the one individual prize per person applied in most athletic events), was that he should forfeit his veterans prize by winning the overall prize if its value was greater. In my very clear view (and it was still happening in Robbie Callister’s day) he also won the veterans race (as opposed to prize).

The number of finishers from these two categories grew and grew making a nonsense of the idea that they weren’t strong enough to go the whole way. My coverage on the website always concentrated in the full course and eventually the races to Peel were abandoned.

Until the early 90s, when a walker reached the age of 60 he was not allowed to walk beyond Peel. It took a separate campaign to get this rule changed.

In 2002 a visiting walker, Fred Baker, completed the course. Somehow a story got around that he was 73.

In 2006 former record holder Derek Harrison, despite the handicap of a stroke and hip replacement, completed the course at the age of 71, albeit outside the 24 hour time limit.

In 2007, Michael Gray, set a record by completing the full course 46 years after his previous finish in 1961. Previously no walker had left more than 35 years between their full course walks.

Michael was 72 years old at the time and I asked (on the website) whether it was true that Fred Baker had been 73 when he had finished. I have been advised (via a reliable source) that the latter was “only” 69 when he walked the 85 miles which would suggest that Michael actually set a second record last year. I don’t have the ages of every finisher so I can’t say this officially, but it seems likely that Michael did not get the full recognition that he deserved.

So if 40 was not too old, and 60 wasn’t either, then 70 has been proved to be young enough. How long before we see an 80 year old finishing on Douglas Promenade?

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