Friday, 28 December 2007

Parish Walkers did first Millennium Way Relay

The picture above was taken after the finish of the 1976 Parish Walk. I was 19 at the time (yellow top and long hair!) and I finished second to John Cannell (the first of his 6 wins). Also pictured are timekeepers Ian Turnbull (right) and the late Dennis Lace. Many a story to be told (yet) about all of the above on another day.

Today's little story though is how John and I, together with two of the other top walkers of the time, teamed up in the very first Millennium Way Relay in 1979 and gave the other a competitors a "run for their money".

It may surprise you to know that the other walkers I refer to are Tony Varley and Terry "Beggar" Evans. Tony spent two or three years as a race walker with finishes in the TT Course Walk and Parish Walk of 1978 before concentrating on fell running, where he was to become one of our best ever fell runners. Terry also completed the TT Course and many other walks before switching to running.

In contrast to later years when runners (including myself) would practice over the course beforehand, I can honestly say that I had never taken a step on the course before I set off from Skye Hill in the inaugural Millennium Way Relay.

It was Andrew Horne (Southern AC) who set the early pace with Steven Mackie (Manx AC juniors) and Dave Newton (Foresters Arms and Legs) also getting distance from me (Boundary Harriers). The only other runner was John Wright (Mature Gentlemen) with twelve cyclists trying to race against us, including riding ther first section, on road bikes.

I couldn't believe how long the climb was but I stuck in and passed Andrew near the top of the main climb. He dropped back drastically to finish in 75.00. I eventually got up with Steven and Dave and we ran pretty close together until the final climb.

This may come as a surprise to Dave Newton if he is reading this (he insisted yesterday that he ran the second leg) as he pulled ahead in the last mile to record 58.34!

The junior, Steven Mackie, a fantastically talented athlete who was to die through illness just a few years later, finished just 12 seconds behind. It still brings tears to my eyes to write this as I remember Steven beating the seniors in some of the cross country races of the era.

I took 59.13 and handed over to Tony Varley. Graham Young, who held the Parish Walk record until seven months before this time, had driven my car and after I had recovered and changed he drove me and third leg runner John Cannell around to St Lukes Church to await the runners. We waited several minutes before the penny dropped - they had already gone through!

So we rushed down to Crosby to find that Terry had taken John's place on the third leg and John would have to run the final leg.

Keith Callister (Foresters) ran 38.26 on the second leg and according to the newspaper report I am reading his next man (Phil Cain) was not ready and so they lost time (I do not recall this but wonder whether they were also with us at St Lukes). Chris Quine (juniors) took 39.24 while Tony Varley clawed back for Boundary with 38.57. Tony has competed every year since (I think).

Phil's time of 32.30 on the third leg does suggest that he lost time at the start and John Butterworth (26.50) stormed into the lead for the juniors. Despite not planning to run the third leg, Terry Evans (27.55) was not far behind.

So without spending too much time on the mental arithmetic, it seems that Steve Kelly set off around four and a half minutes behind the leaders for the Foresters team (the Foresters was a pub in Hope Street, now demolished, where many of the athletes of the time socialised). It was Steve who arranged with the late Stuart Slack to take up the challenge against the cyclists but he had not quite expected such a big one from the junior runners and walkers. But he rose to it and his time of 35.58 brought him home 2.10 ahead of (according to the newspaper) Gary Clarke (but surely this was Graham) who ran 42.32 and a further 1.18 ahead of John Cannell (42.35).

Later to be British professional cycling champion Steve Joughin (who has just sent me an email this afternoon promoting his clothing range ) put in a fantastic effort over the final stages to overtake two of the relay teams and his time of 2.57.13 riding or carrying his bike all the way was some 38 minutes faster than Peter Kennaugh (father of current international cyclist of the same name).

Derek Harrison and Graham Young also put in some good running performances in other events but in the first MWR it was left to John, Tony, Terry and I to enable three teams to finish three minutes apart.

Oh, and by the way for those that talk of the tradition of holding the event on Boxing Day. Boxing Day in 1979 was on Wednesday and the relay was held on Sunday.

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