MEMORIES FOR THE SPRING BANK HOLIDAY BRADFORD
50KM 1978 -1982
by Murray Lambden
I'd heard a lot about the Bradford 50km walk
from the many Manx walkers who encouraged me to
enter. John Cannell, Kevin Madigan and Graham
Young all used to enthuse about the size of the
crowds on the circular course. The walkers just
called it "the Bradford" and I was to
learn that the locals called it the "Bradford
Walk" - no-one seemed too bothered about the
distance, it was more the size of the hills that
As were the crowds, 10,000 plus I was told,
a figure I doubted until I made my debut and
discovered that, in the days when licensing laws
were much stricter than today, pubs along the course
were allowed to open in the morning. It was a tradition
for many in the area to go for a pint on Whit Monday
and watch the walkers go past the pubs.
I was living in Stoke-on-Trent between 1975
and 1979 studying for a Business Studies degree
at what was then North Staffs Polytechnic but became
Staffordshire University by the time Gianni Epifani,
Mandy Radcliffe, Steph Gault and Andi Drake were
to study there many years later. As part of
my course however, I was required to spend two six
month periods working in industry and I found myself
in the second of these (April to October 1978) working
for British Road Services (BRS) based in Manchester.
Road Haulage was nationalised after the second world
war in the shape of BRS, and although subject to
competition by 1978, was a major general haulage
operation as well as owning Pickfords, providing
contract hire for many retailers and distributors
and setting up BRS truck rental.
Anyway, I digress in Ronnie Corbett style.
I managed to share a house in Levenshulme
(mid way between Manchester and Stockport) with
some Manx students during my six month Manchester
stint. During this time I worked in the North
West headquarters of BRS next to Victoria Station,
and spent six weeks in the Tameside branch at Duckinfield
and the same period in Preston. I took the
opportunity during the summer of 1978 to enter most
of the long distance walks including the Northern
& National Championships, Bradford 50km, Manchester
to Blackpool, Plymouth to Dawlish and other open
races, many of which are no longer held, such as
the Gomersal 20km in Yorkshire. I managed
to pop home for the Parish Walk and only for the
sudden death of my father the week beforehand, would
have taken part in the 100 mile race.
During the Spring Bank Holiday weekend of
1978 I only had one thing on the agenda - my debut
in the Bradford 50km. On the Sunday, I popped
into the city centre to check the train times and
just happened to bump into Graham Young from the
Isle of Man who had just arrived in Manchester,
on his way to Bradford for the 50km walk, but with
nowhere to stay. I invited him to stay overnight
in our student house but warned him of two things.
Firstly, there was virtually no food in the house
and secondly, the main Manchester to London railway
line ran very close to the house and it was therefore
noisy all night.
Graham accepted the invitation but was shocked
to find out that my statement about food was not
an exaggeration and that a few beans and some bread
would not be enough to feed two people. Although
the cupboards were exceptionally bare that weekend,
I really appreciated the goodies he bought for us
on that Sunday night. When we rose next morning
for the early train to Bradford to said: "You
told me the trains would run all night but you didn't
tell me they went through the front room" such
was his impression of their proximity.
It was a scorching Bank Holiday Monday and
the crowds along the route were far bigger than
I ever believed and I would agree that they were
of the five figure variety. Although dwarfed by
the London marathon crowds just a few years later,
I don't think there was a long distance event, run
or walk, at that time, which attracted such crowds.
Graham Young thrived in the heat and won the
race in a time of 4 hours 55 minutes 55 seconds.
At the time it didn't receive massive publicity,
particularly as it was a relatively slow winning
time. But I can vouch for the heat that day (I can
still remember the burnt shoulders I suffered),
he won by more than 7 minutes and some three weeks
earlier he had become the 10th fastest British walker
ever at 50km on the track, which gives you some
idea of the shape he was in at the time. Not
to mention his fine 8th place in the Commonwealth
Games just a few months later.
According to my records he walked 4.29.04
in his track race at Hendon with great splits of
54.06, 53.55, 52.53, 53.11 and 54.59. It seems
odd that Graham's 50km track walk was never listed
among the Manx records when the IOMAA used to publish
their annual yearbook, even though records of obscure
records such as 150km, 8 hours and 80km were.
I was just 21 at the time and the Bradford
was my third walk in four weeks and none of them
were training sessions! Early in May I had
travelled down to Plymouth (6 hour train journey)
to walk in the Plymouth to Dawlish 42 mile race.
I set a PB of 50km of around 5.09 before slowing
to 7.11.21 taking 6th spot some 45 minutes behind
te young GB international Chris Maddocks who I met
for the first time, and my Boundary Harrier clubmate,
Derek Harrison, who was 11 minutes behind Chris.
My next walk some two weeks later was the
Parish Walk (note it was held in May in those days)
which I won in 16.19.37. At the time I was
the 5th fastest on the course. During that
busy month of racing, if not training, I should
have competed in the National 20km at Coventry the
Saturday in between the Dawlish and the Parish but
arrived at he venue too late to take part.
So I wasn't really too well prepared for another
50km just 8 days after the Parish and suffered in
the heat finishing in 5.25. Nevertheless what was
to become my favourite race had been discovered.
Before moving onto 1979 however, I'll just
comment briefly on the Parish Walk. Despite the
length of time that Derek's record has stood in
the Parish Walk (1979) I was never one who thought
it was the ultimate. I only won the Parish Walk
in 1978 because Derek didn't take part during the
peak of his career which was probably 1975 to 1978.
On the same weekend as I won the Parish in 1978,
Derek set a world best of 136 miles 735 yards for
24 hours at Rouen in France. It was only when
he declined the invitation to return to events
like that, because he was well below his best form,
that he returned to the Parish and set his record.
I still have a copy of Derek's Manx Radio
interview after he set the record and far from recognising
that he had set a time that would last at least
25 years, he spent his time explaining the mistakes
I had made by allowing myself to get cold and dropping
out after I had been within two minutes of him at
For the 1979 Bradford walk I was back at Stoke.
Despite my final exams starting the day, I felt
well enough prepared to travel to Yorkshire. I talked
my old school friend, Allen Moore from Peel, who
was studying at Bradford and living nearby, to enter
the race and to put me up on his bedroom floor the
night before the race.
I really struggled in the race that year finishing
in 5.38 with Allen recording 6.13. Other than the
encouragement from the crowds and the fact the hills
seemed even bigger than the year before, it was
a pretty forgettable race but I knew I would be
It was just a few weeks later, on my return
to live in the Isle of Man, that I completely changed
my attitude towards training and racing. My
hilly training sessions around Kirk Michael, which
nearly all involved two miles of climbing at the
start as far as Sartfield cafe, saw me well prepared
for the TT walk in August, where I finished third,
and I made good progress through the winter of 1979/80
but I was still not prepared for the improvement
that was to come and is the basis for my story.
I was with the leading group from the start
and it was a big thrill to be walking alongside
my hero when I went into the sport, the 1974 Commonwealth
champion John Warhurst. As 6 times winner
of the Bradford, and a Yorkshireman from Sheffield,
he was well known as the crowd would shout "Come
on John lad, see you at the finish" whereas
I didn't get a mention.
So the feeling I got when, just after half
way, I realised that I had dropped John was amazing.
I almost felt like waiting for him to catch up as
it didn't seem right to leave him behind! I
increased the lead to 4 minutes and 18 seconds by
the finish to win in 4.31.40, some 24 minutes inside
my best on any course (the 1979 National 50km at
Coventry) and 1 hour seven minutes quicker than
the previous year.
I travelled to Bradford on the almost new
Manxline service to Heysham with Willie Corkill
and Graham Young where we stayed with Harry Holmes,
a Yorkshireman who represented the Manx club Boundary
Harriers. Willie, who later went on to win the Parish
Walk three years in a row, made a good off
island debut with 5.09.24, Graham Young finished
in 5.17.46, Harry Holmes in 5.36.43 and Allen Moore,
in his second Bradford, 5.55.34.
It was interesting to remind myself from the
press cuttings I have attached that I came close
to winning the Northern 20 miles 12 days later in
Sheffield when my great friend and rival Denis Jackson
got the better of me in the last mile. I could have
claimed the Manx record of 2.33.54 but it was myself
who reported it to be a short course based on my
own belief of what I could achieve - I could never
be a footballer!
Nothing could compare with the feeling in
1980 and things had moved on in my career by 1981
but against most advice, I always was stubborn,
I was determined to defend my title. I had
set what at the time was a British best for 30km
in February and had been picked for the British
team for my international debut in June just four
weeks after Bradford.
So Bradford was a bit of a damage limitation
exercise. Despite a bout of sickness at the halfway
stage (I didn't have the benefit of Steve Partington's
coaching but I did manage to do it on the move!)
I think I was as comfortable as you can be walking
31+ miles on a hilly course in the rain and I remember
setting one of my fastest ever times on a 14 mile
training session the following evening back on the
Island such was my determination to show the powers
that be that I hadn't taken anything out of myself.
Of course I had. When I look back and remember
how I was injured after my GB debut, then so much
racing may have contributed and yet my Bradford
time of 4.26.29 left me 20 seconds outside the course
record which was also frustrating.
Bradford in 1981 was still a great day for
the club however with Graham Young setting his best
time on the course (4.53) in 6th and with Robbie
Lambie and Allan Callow taking 10th and 11th we
easily won the team event. After talking for
so long about a return to the Bradford, John Cannell
was with us, yet a time of only just over 5 hours
left him outside of the scoring four.
I was probably even less sensible to return
to Bradford on the Bank Holiday of 1982 as I had
already raced in the Manx Airlines 30km, the York
35km, an international 35km in Spain the National
20km and had two more internationals in the next
seven weeks in a season that was to last until October
with the Commonwealth Games. I probably didn't
treat the course with enough respect either on a
hot day and the wheels really came off in the last
few miles. I had to resort to Parish Walk style
plodding over the last five miles and was lucky
to complete a hat trick in 4.37.46. John Cannell
finished 8th that day and Dave Turner, a regular
Isle of Man visitor, was 11th.
By 1983 I was finally listening to advice
and raced and won the 50th staging of the Leicester
Mercury 20 Miles two days before Bradford instead
of returning to Yorkshire. Again I was probably
lucky to win as the previous year's winner Allan
King was sitting it out. But with a list of Olympic
athletes among the 49 previous winners it was another
Spring Bank Holiday weekend to remember.
This article was written on 31 May 2004 as
I thought about the Bradford 50km. Now more than
100 years old, I hope that it survives long enough
for me to, one day, relive some of those memories
from the road rather than the computer!