Can you imagine the world today without "trainers"?

by Graham Young

When the revival of race- walking on the Isle of Man came about in the late 1950's/early 60's, the word, let alone the sports-item, had not yet been invented!

At that time, we were inspired by and a little perplexed at, the Gold Medal performance of "The Mighty Mouse", Don Thompson, in the 50 Kms. walk in the Rome Olympics. Not many people knew what 50 Kms. was, let alone race-walking!

The whole world turned slower then, and, with communications as they were, the Island was a wee bit off the pace. Our pioneers of race-walking knew little about state-of-the-art sportswear on the Adjacent Isle. Even if you knew how to buy a track suit,(they were the things that the army did their, and were rich enough to afford one; you would never consider wearing one to walk in. That would been unfashionably professional. Every-day wear was the thing, even if for the younger element that may have meant wearing drain-pipe jeans.

Training was a dirty word, and something that few would own up to. Rumours were rife of so-and-so training in the dark.  These were generally created by the perpetrator of the alleged crime, having more to do with gamesmanship than anything, as everyone knew training was a waste of time. You either were tough enough, or you had had it!

The photo depicts the then fifteen years old author, wearing number five, representing "Douglas High School Adventure Club" in his second attempt at the sport. Alongside is Martin Bell for "Onchan Youth Club". The event was the "Inaugural Parish Walk Relay" held in 1961. Notice the road surface where there is now a round-a-bout at the bottom of the Slogh?

The large bib-type race numbers were borrowed from scrambling, and were, by design, more suited to identifying  hurtling, mud-splattered motorcyclists at sixty miles an hour, than to stay on the gyrating shoulders of competitive pedestrians at sub six. Mind you, their size would have been a blessing for judges with less than perfect eyesight!

However, we can not say that there was not a choice of foot-wear some forty years ago. Two of the options are illustrated. I have gone for "commando boots", then newly on the market. These had heavily treaded hard rubber soles, like  tractor tyres. None of your sissy gel shock absorbers, or anti-pronation bars then mate! Ordinary soldiers still wore W.W.W.2 hob-nailed boots. Martin has gone for tennis shoes. Actually the same as flat pumps or golishers, but with the technical advantage of being white in colour.

What we did not find out for some years was, that it was possible, apparently, to have made-to-measure  race-walking shoes produced by the 1936 British 50 Kms. Olympic Victor, Harold Whitlock. You sent him cardboard templates of each foot, the appropriate postal order, (remember them?), and waited six weeks or so, for a pair of what now would be described as formal black shoes to arrive; albeit with fairly tough crepe soles. These were of a normal, and not teddy-boy, thickness.

Later, we learnt that Don Thompson was rumoured to make his own racing-walking  shoes by buying "Continental" football boots. He then had the moulded studded sole replaced with one of plain rubber. The results were ankleless, and even came in colours. Traditional football boots were always brown, came at least three inches above the ankle, and had studs made of leather washers, not to mention vicious protruding nails!

copyright G.Young, November 2002


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