Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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Gerry North - The Most Consistent cross-country runner of the 60's

Gerry North 'The Most Consistent cross-country runner of the '60's'

By Alastair Aitken

I always remember that 'Great' cross-country runner Gerry North, diminutive in size but with a long striding action, bounding over the countryside with his trademark of a white handkerchief tied round his fingers. He could be seen for quite a few years wearing the Blackpool and Flyde colours, then for Belgrave and latterly a few times in his veteran life with Portsmouth AC.

GERRY NORTH is 70 years old now and lives in Elsted, Midhurst, Sussex. He is the England Men's Road Team Manager, South Of England road team manager, organiser of three 5k road races (One of those the prestigious Victory '5' on the 3rd of December this year) and also a 10k road race. He coaches but, feels like his friend Bill Adcocks (when it comes to the marathon), that  people these days don't want advice as to how they became successful and what training they did to do that!. Gerry North was President of Belgrave Harriers last year.
Gerry North has a brother Geoff North who was an international and ran 13:44.4 for 5000m back on the 12th of July 1969. He is not involved with athletics these days or are Gerry's sons, who were both good young runners. In fact Andy North was sixth in 33:33 behind winner Chris Sweeney (32:57) in the National Junior Cross County championships at Town Moor, Newcastle in 1986. Gerry North has been married twice but now lives alone. He has one of the most cheerful dispositions of anyone I have ever met in athletics over the last 45 years. He is quick to point out about his whole career in athletics "It's my life. I am a person where athletics comes first."
Gerry North was born in Chester on the 2nd of May 1936 and remarked about his Father's influence "He was very sporting. He did everything for us and went with us to the races. He encouraged us right from the start."
I am sure there are a lot of people who may know the name 'North' as an athlete but, few who realise how good Gerry North was as a road and cross-country runner. He felt he was not as good a track runner as his brother Geoff who also ran for Belgrave.
A survey was done in the 'Athletics Weekly' on April the 5th 1975, as to who had been Britain's most consistent cross-country runner, on a points  system, since the war. The answer came up 1st Gerry North 507pts, 2nd Frank Sando 454, 3rd Mike Turner 446 and 4th Basil Heatley.
Like other 'Great 'cross-country and road men around the time Gerry North was at his best such as Roy Fowler, Basil Heatley, Bruce Tulloh, Ron Hill, Mel Batty and John Anderson; North believed in racing regularly. In fact he had 617 good quality races in eleven years 1954-1964. North feels these days people don't race regularly and very many coaches have not experienced competing at a very high level and rap their athletes in cotton wool. For instance athletes are told definitely not to race the weekends' before the World cross country. "Say that to Roy Fowler, Basil Heatley and the likes and they would say 'On Your Bike Mate' and race!.
North comes in again 'I once in my racing life had an injury which was a hamstring injury, after doing a 2mile race on the track.
I was training and racing two weeks later. These days athletes would have months off!'
Let us see if Gerry North really did compete as regularly as he said. Here are some illustrations:-
In 1961 he joined Brian Craig for a two man relay match against Ron Hill and Mike Freary at Bolton (Each man would run 220 yards and dash across the middle of the track to take over for the next one) and both teams finished together in 42 minute odd. The day before Gerry North won the Harry Whitehurst Memorial race in Sheffield in 37:55 with Derek Ibbotson second in 38:56.
Also in 1961 North ran 48:38.2 over 10miles on the cinders at Hurlingham track on a Saturday and on the Monday won the Feltham 5 miles road race in a record time of 24:13.
In 1963 on July 5th he was 2nd in the West Germany v Great Britain International on the track in 30:13.4. On the 7th of July won the World Games 10,000m in Helsinki in 29:45.1 and on 12th of July was sixth in the AAA's 6miles in 28:7.4 (The first two in the latter were Ron Hill in 27:49.8 and Jim Hogan in 27:54.2). As a bit of pure interest for a runner that did not think he was a good track runner, after most of his best races had been done, in 1965 Gerry North set a Championship Best in the Surrey track  6 miles Championship of 28:48.2.
How did it all begin then for Secondary Modern schoolboy, Gerry North. He was 3rd in the 220 yards in the school sports and won the 880 yards, that in itself told him he leaned towards longer distances. However, Gerry North was also a good footballer at the time and in the winning side for Blackpool FA Youth Club football team against Leeds 4-2 at ´┐Żlan Road. He was outside right. Inside right was George Eastham and also in the team was Jimmy Armfield. However, at the time Gerry North did not think there was much money in football and also he preferred to do an individual sport where you were not reliant on the rest of the team. Gerry North's first big Cross country Championship win was in the Junior National at Parliament Hill Fields when he won by a street in 1957. " It was no trouble running at Parliament Hill Fields because it was easy for me after training on the sand dunes at Blackpool and doing weights."
Gerry North believed in running to the front in his races straight away "I went flat out form the start" That was what he did in the London to Brighton relay in 1961 on Stage 8 where he has the record of 28:29. That was the leg all the 'Big Guns' used to do.
He did admit, when he first became a senior he came unstuck a few times matching strides with the very best seniors in the front of the field and several times was plagued with stitches because of is brave tactics but it was not long before he actually proved his critics wrong by doing exceptionally well with his bold type of running.
The Inter-Counties was nearly as important as the 'National' in those days and Gerry had his fair share of success individually or for Lancashire in the winning teams.He won the event in 1960.
In 1961 he was 3rd in the 'National' behind Bas Heatley and Bruce Tulloh. In 1962 he won the Inter-Counties at Stanmore Park from Basil Heatley. That year the rising 'Star' Mel Batty won the Southern. The 'National' of 1962 was at Blackpool over 9 miles. The order at the finish amongst the first few were 1 Gerry North (46:50); 2 Bruce Tulloh (46:52); Behind came John Anderson, Brain Craig, Mel Batty, Dave Cooke and Ron Hill. North takes up the story "It was a race on my home ground. I thought I have got to win it. It was a race I completely dominated. I was always in full contention. I had that feeling I was going to win. When anybody tried to overtake me I would just put in a little burst. I had a challenge from John Anderson. Bruce Tulloh worked his way through. I think he caught the group at 6 or 7 miles. I was still doing all the forcing of the pace until 600 yards to go. Tulloh went past me and he went 'Hell for Leather'.  He thought he had got it. I kept a yard behind him then, as I came down the finish I left him for dead. I was fresh as a daisy and he was on his knees having run himself into the ground. He had just come back from New Zealand and done a 4 minute mile. He must have thought I can outsprint Gerry No problem. It was not the speed at the finish it was the strength I had.
' Things did not always work out as planned like having those two marvellous victories.
It was in 1962 he was 8th in the International at Sheffield (The International before it became the World CC)' Gerry North comes in "I had got away from the field and came to a sharp turn. It was a sharp right hand bend and it was wet. I turned round and my feet went from under me. I fell flat on my stomach which completely winded me. I got up but I 'Yo-Yo'ed positions up and down the field. If I had not had that fall I am convinced I would have won that.'
Another time in 1963 he was in contention in the Inter-Counties, in below freezing temperature in the snow at Reading but had a very heavy cold and was coughing badly after the event. The winner was Tim Johnston, who ran brilliantly in the snow  to win the British Universities and Southern that year. Johnston did 52:37 and Gerry North was 2nd in 52:40, with Basil Heatley, Mike Turner and John Farington were the next in behind that.
He had a very good international in 1964 in Dublin and the first four in that were Francisca Arizmendi (Spain) 40:33 then three from England Ron Hill (40:42); Dave Cooke (40:46) and Gerry North (40:49).England easily won the team title.
It was back in 1962 that Gerry North decided that, as he loved the sport so much, he would go down South for more competition and live down there and that, was where he took the job as a van driver to fit in with his athletics and joined Belgrave AC. He also had jobs as Sports Store Manager, after being a representative for the 'Old' Tiger Cub shoes that were so popular in those days. It all had to fit in with his athletics.
For Gerry North, as the years went on he reached 40 and competed on purely 30 miles a week in his first British Veterans National Championships over the country at Perry Bar, Birmingham. Roy Fowler won the event for the third year in 34:01 from Nat Fisher (34:29) and Gerry North (34:48). Gerry North decided at 49 to take things seriously once again and go out to win the Southern and National Veterans cross-country titles and he doubled his training and won both 'Over 50' Championship races.. The first two at Trent Park in the 'M50-60' National of 1987 was 1st Gerry North in 36:09 and 2nd Ron Gomez in 36:51.
What then was his motivation to run so much in his prime back in the 1960's
"Then we did it because we enjoyed it. We had full time jobs. I worked all day till 5'0'clock and went off to the White City straight after that to run for Great Britain"

Alastair Aitken

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