HISTORY OF ASSOCIATED BRITISH PORTS NEWPORT MARATHON
In the absence of new results and competitions to bring you each Monday, we're replacing our Weekend Round-Ups with some stories from the archives. A full history of Welsh Athletics can be explored here and Athletics Stats Wales provides a comprehensive set of statistics for the sport. Mick McGeoch takes us back through the history of Newport Marathons which go back further than you might think....
The Associated British Ports-sponsored Newport Marathon is one of many mass endurance events currently awaiting its fate as lockdown is slowly relaxed. Originally scheduled for 19 April, the third running of this popular event is now due on Sunday 25 October 2020. The first two years have proved an outstanding success, with the flat route to the south of the city proving ideal for fast times.
What is less well known, however, is that Newport has held a marathon many times in the past, and on each occasion incorporating the Welsh Marathon Championship. This first happened in 1935 and 1936, then more than 40 years later the Newport Marathon was held for 5 successive years 1977-1981, starting and finishing at Spytty Park, and incorporating 4 laps of rural lanes. These races were all held in August, starting early on a Saturday afternoon, and were invariably warm weather races.
The 1977 race was the first to allow ladies to race the marathon distance in Wales. Remember, the first Olympic ladies marathon was still 7 years away. 43 men and 4 ladies finished that day, but what it may have lacked in quantity, it more than made up for in quality, with 10 men breaking 2:30, a mark not yet achieved in the modern races. This 1977 race was won by Bernie Plain in 2:18:22, and he promptly described his time as "disappointing".
The set of races certainly launched some interesting careers. Mickey Crowell (Bridgend) was one to excel at Newport. Mickey won 4 successive Welsh marathon titles 1979-82, his diminutive frame, allied to relentless 130 mile training weeks proving his secret to marathon success. He would also sit in for up to 20 miles, often quite unnoticed, before scything through the opposition when they began to tire. In total, he ran 21 marathons with a best time 2:19:20 (Glasgow 1983).
Another to run well in Newport was Graham Finlayson. Graham is, of course, well known in recent times for longstanding events like the Cardiff Cross Challenge, Cardiff 10 km and the SSAFA race series. However, more than four decades ago, Graham was a tough endurance runner, and in 1978 he won the bronze medal in the Welsh Marathon Championship in particularly oppressive heat, in his PB 2:37:34. Graham ran 6 marathons in all between 1977-86.
But perhaps the most consistent of all was Cardiff's, John Walsh. John completed all five of the Newport Marathons, and in total started and finished 58 marathons between 1971 and 1987, all inside 3 hours with a PB 2:32:24 (Harlow 1973).
But John was far more than simply a prolific marathoner. A member of NUTS (National Union of Track Statisticians), John assembled Welsh annual ranking lists for the marathon, as well as lists for the UK (on which the London Marathon depended for elite qualification). John also would invariably write up detailed accounts of the marathons he ran, which were published in the national press. Always an eye to detail, John sadly passed away in 2002 and his unique talents are still sadly missed.