Races and Training: Chapter Seven



IN 1928 Powderhall was only a name to me and I had never dreamt of competing there. So I was surprised and pleased when I received an offer of a prize of one hundred pounds if I won a fifty-mile race from Glasgow to Edinburgh, the last seven miles or so to be run round the famous Powderhall track. Gavuzzi, my partner in many a long distance event, received a similar offer.

We knew we should be the only two competitors as there were no others in the country capable of putting up decent time over such a long course, and between ourselves we agreed that the winner should take £60 and the loser the remaining £40. But, quite apart from any prize, we were keen enough to put up a record over such a classic course as Glasgow to Edinburgh and were lucky indeed to get a chance to do so without having to meet any expenses. We both accepted the offer right away.

Meeting Joe Binks in London we had a long train journey to Edinburgh, where we were installed very comfortably at the Imperial Hotel as the guests of Mr. Lumley. This was a day or two before our event and we were able therefore to take a look around the city and also at the venue of the famous Powderhall sprints. Then into a coach for Glasgow, where we put up for the night at another hotel.

The outlook next morning was almost as bad as it well could be. It had been freezing solidly for many days and there were inches of snow on the ground ; and snow, hardened into ruts by traffic, is about the limit. However, the officials kept to their timetable and of course we could do no less.

Gavuzzi and I had agreed to run the first ten or fifteen miles at around 9½ an hour, changing the lead alternately every now and again. That was a reasonable limit: if we went faster we might find ourselves so tired as to be quite unable to finish. But we hadn’t allowed sufficiently for the intense cold and worse still, the abominable surface. Every atom of the road was a criss-crossed maze of ruts in hardened snow and ice, and the trouble of trying to maintain balance added greatly to the exertion required. Also the cold made things extremely uncomfortable.

Before we had gone ten miles I knew the pace was too hot to hold – we were expending energy enough to travel at 10½ an hour on a decent road – and when Gavuzzi took the lead at this point I let him go. I was beginning to fear we had already overdone things so much that we should find it difficult to reach the far end, and I daren’t risk anything of that sort.

Apparently a thaw had been at work on the Edinburgh side for some hours, for the further we went the dirtier it became underfoot, and at thirty miles we were running in pools and slush. For some time Gavuzzi had been out of sight and the best part of a mile ahead, and I began to think I must be a bit ” off ” or that he


was in extra good form. Yet at the back of my mind I felt reasonably sure I had actually put up a decent run so far, considering the conditions, and didn’t think it possible that he should outdistance me by so much and still be able to get away with it. In any case I was answerable only for my own performance, so I just kept stolidly going, the pace bv now being less than nine an hour, for I was getting really tired.

Only a few miles to the city and, turning a corner, I noted a bunch of traffic on the long straight ahead. I soon came up to it and was somewhat dismayed to find that in the centre was Gavuzzi, walking. As he let me pass without an attempt to resume running I took it for granted that bad roads, numbing cold and the earlier speeding had beaten him, and it was up to me therefore to make sure that one at least of us managed to get through. Shortly afterwards I was told that he had retired.

It seemed a verv long time before I got to the track but it turned up at last, and I entered to find the ten-mile championship in full swing. Most of the men in this were too fast for me and I allowed them to go by continually on the inside so as not to spoil their chances, but there were two or three who were already so played out that I was able to overtake them, showing pretty clearly that even for such a noteworthy event as this there were some quite hopelessly undertrained.

I, too, was getting very weary indeed and wasn’t doing more than about eight an hour till the last lap, when I let out what little I had in reserve and managed to push it up to about ten. Well, I had been tired pretty often, though seldom as badly as I was on this occasion : for though we had not—to my ideas—put up a decent show, we certainly had reduced the record pretty considerably, and I felt therefore that wo ought to be content. Yet I knew that under less trying circumstances both Gavuzzi and I could have done very much better. I believe the record still stands —anyhow Joe Binks would be able to tell you—and if so it’s an easy one to beat. The time for 50 miles was slightly over 6 hours, a somewhat unpleasing figure compared to the 5h. 38m. 53s. for the same distance on the London-Brighton road.