Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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COLIN KIRKHAM (December 2015)

COLIN KIRKHAM (Born 30/10/44) was an outstanding marathon runner that many may not have heard of. One of the main reasons was that, if you went down to the changing rooms at his club Coventry Godiva in the 1960’s-70’s there were quite a few  international runners, including Dick Taylor and his brother Juan Taylor, Billy Adcocks and two outstanding major Championship medal winners, Basil Heatley and Brian Kilby.
All those runners, plus Colin Kirkham, were a great inspiration for Coventry’s, David Moorcroft, who later became a World record holder in 1982 over 5000. That was something Dave insisted on telling me himself, just a few days after his World record run over 5k. Colin Kirkham’s wife Anne, is also a runner, Welfare Officer and a Team manger for the Coventry Godiva club. Their daughters Myshola Kirkham and Zarinda Batstone are runners and, competed in the Coventry Godiva team in the National 4 stage road relays at Sutton Park in September this year (2015).
Colin Kirkham, was Head of Mathematics at Coleshill Grammar School, situated between Coventry and Birmingham till 1995. He lives with his wife at Allesley, Coventry and, is currently helping write about Coventry Godiva, from an environment and sociological angle, amongst other things. He said that 4 or 5 years ago he ran round the London in about 4 hours but raised £4000 for charities for the disabled. That was something close to his heart because, his grandson is disabled.
Before going any further, it would be good to list some of the performances at the marathon that Colin Kirkham achieved, as that was his chosen distance.
It was March in 1967 he was second in his first ever marathon at Wetherby in 2:25 behind Tony Moore. That was the good start he had as a marathon man.

In 1970 in the AAA’s marathon in Manchester, on the 23rd of August, he was 4th in 2:18:59 and the first British runner in the race.
In 1971 he was 4th in the European Championship marathon in Helsinki, Finland (First eight 1. Karel Lismont of Belgium 2:13:09. 2 Trevor Wright (GB) 2:13:59.06; 3 Ron Hill (GB) 2:14:34.08; 4 Colin Kirkham (GB) 2:16:22.5 Gaston Roelants (Belgium) 2:17:48.8; 6 Penti Rummakko (Finland) 2:17:58.8; 7 Lutz Phillip (West Germany) 2:18:08.6; 8 Augustin Fernandez (Spain) 2:18:26.5.)

Certainly Colin had had a strong chance of getting a medal in Helsinki but pointed out “The problem with that was we had a bloke on the medical staff, who advised us that, it was going to probably be a hot day so we should take salt tablets. All three of us took his advice. All three of us were really poorly, dashing to and from the toilet. On the day of the race the other two had got over it but when I did the marathon I was still poorly. At 16 miles I got the runs and it went down my legs with 10 miles to go. I kept going but I was really poorly.’
In the Maxol Marathon, which was the AAA’s Championships of 1972, he was 4th (First eight were 1. Lutz Phillip (West Germany) 2:12:50; 2 Ron Hill 2:12:51; 3 Don Mcgregor (GB) 2:15:06; 4 Colin Kirkham 2:15:17; 5 Don Faircloth 2:15:52; 6 Eric Austin (GB) 2:15:52; 7 Bernie Plain (GB) 2:16:18; 8 Ferdinand Le Grange (RSA) 2:16:19).
Colin Kirkham was selected for the 1972 Olympics and came 20th in 2:21:54.8. The winner was Frank Shorter (USA) in 2:12:19.8.

A SPECIAL RACE OF HISTORIC PROPORTIONS was the Athens Marathon, which he ran on the 6th of April, 1973. Colin Kirkham won the race in 2:16:45.4, over the really tough course. 2nd was Kenji Kimihara of Japan who ran 2:19:09 and 3rd was Paavo Hyovoenen of Finland in 2:19:22. Much later in the year on 27/10/73, Colin, came 3rd in the Harlow Marathon in 2:15:25. Ian Thompson was 1st in 2:12.40 and Ron Hill was 2nd in 2:13:22.
    Thompson was a bit of a revelation, to say the least and, went on to win the European and Commonwealth Marathons in 1974. In the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, Thompson won in 2:09:12 from John ‘Jack’ Foster of New Zealand who did 2:11:18.6, for a veteran’s world record. He was followed home by Richard Mabuza, Terry Manners, John Farrington, Don Macgregor; Bernie Plain and, Colin Kirkham who ran 2:16.06.
    On the 3rd of May 1975 in the Amsterdam Marathon Colin was 3rd in 2:17:20. Then, on the 1st of June at Stoke in the AAA’s Championships Jeff Norman won in 2:15:50 from Keith Angus 2:16:14 and Colin Kirkham, who was third in 2:16: 21 with, the well known cross country runner in the snow and 1968 Olympian, Tim Johnston, coming 4th  in 2:16:40.
    On the 5th of October in 1975 was the famous Kosice Marathon. The first three were 1 Chang Sun Ghoe (North Korea) 2:15:47.8; Colin Kirkham was 6th place in 2:17:09.
    In 1977, in the well known Dutch marathon at Enschede on the 27th of August, the first three were 1 Brian Maxwell (Canada) 2:15:14; 2 Colin Kirkham (GB) 2:17:17, 3rd was Yoshinobu Kitayama (Japan) 2:17:22 and 4th Dave Canon (GB) 2:17:34.
Those were just some of Colin’s results that showed what a good distance runner he was. I might add here he was a sub-49 minute 10 miler several times.

WHY THE MARATHON?

‘He explains “As soon as I started running I got obsessed with the marathon, as I do with other things. I am that sort of a person. When I started I thought, the marathon, being the marathon, and everything associated with it all the stories’
‘In those days you were not allowed to do the marathon till you were 21. I did an apprenteship for 3 or 4 years, flapping around, doing races before I could run the marathon’
‘I used to do cross-country. I used to reckon the first 20 to 25 in the National or Inter-Counties as a standard but I never used to bother with cross country.’

IT ALL STARTED BY CHANCE WHEN HE WAS 17

The year before he started at Durham University, when he was at a Northern Grammar School, called Keighley Grammar School. (Most people played rugby at the school).
“I went  into the Upper Sixth and the head of the sixth form got us all in the hall and, gave this long lecture (Of course in those days you had to write a personal letter of application, not forms to fill in).
He said “Anyone thinking of getting into a descent University, you have to have a hobby. It is no use pretending you have a hobby so, when they ask you questions, which they will do, you have to be able to articulate and know what you are talking about of course.’
‘I never did anything. I was a typical schoolboy. Did the home work and that was it.’
‘I used to walk home with a couple of lads and they said they were athletes or pretended to be. ”We are thinking of going down to Bingley Harriers tomorrow night and put down athletics as our hobby”. I said ‘Could l tag along’; they said ‘Yes.’
‘My Mum and Dad worked in a mill and so we were not very well off. To catch a bus into town and out to Bingley was sixpence. I asked my Grandad if he could give me sixpence for the bus fare, that was how broke we were (which included his sister)’. However, his Grandfather could not find him in town and, it then  transpired that the Bingley headquarters was the opposite side of the town to where he had gone to so, when the other two came back like he did and talked to him the next day, they said they had given up the idea of athletics. “We are going to take up chess instead  as our hobby instead’. Colin, having spent all his weeks pocket money on the journey decided, he would not give up on the idea and went down to the track where Bingley Harriers were situated, the other side of town and joined. In his first run with the club he didi a session of 400’s and, got so badly left by the finish that the coach, who was also doing the session pretended he had a bad stitch and fell back to nurse Colin through to the finish. Colin thought that a very kind gesture and, in actual fact the coach then said ‘ Come down to the Inter-club cross country and have a run on Saturday’ Colin said he did not think he was up to being able to do that at all at the time. The coach immediately turned round and said ‘Don’t worry we will look after you.
For the Inter-club’ Colin, was the first one to arrive at the changing rooms  and then in walked someone who started talking to him avidly. It was none other than Derek Ibbotson. It really surprised Colin that someone as ‘Great’ and a World record holder, should bother to start talking to him. So, within three days he had gone to the club, met Derek Ibbotson and ran in a cross-country!

WHY DID HE JOIN COVENTRY GODIVA?

“I went to university (Durham) and there was lad at University called Jim Feast. He was a Professor of chemistry. He ran for Birchfield and he saw me out running. We then, used to go out for a run together sometimes. He impressed on me the fact, if you want to be any good; you always go to where the best is. Not necessarily the athletes to train with, just to be in the atmosphere and environment and the thing will rub off and, of course Coventry Godiva was a top club.
Colin then talked  about his training’ It was only Sunday morning I trained with anybody because I used to work and run to and from work.’
When I went to Coventry I was broke from being a student. The only way I could exist was live in a caravan for 6 to 7 years. Not a mobile or seasonal caravan just a plain caravan.
‘When I met my wife we lived in a caravan for a couple of years while I was getting enough money together to buy a house.’
‘When we went down the club we had a system of having piles of clothes at different places. I used to train in the park and. I used to run to and from work. It was a complicated structure. By six 6 ‘0’clock in the evening we had trained two or three times that day. When we got that out the way, we could live a normal existence as, there are other things in life besides athletics.
He thinks these days the races people often do are often not really important.” There are so Many races people can win at a mediocre level. People actually believe in what they read in the magazines and newspaper reports. They also believe they are good running and winning a race over 5.5 miles in the back of beyond and become self-satisfied ‘
“When I was running reasonably, you went in a race, like a 10 miles race at Stoke. You knew everybody would be turning up for the race.
Bernie Ford would come all the way up to compete in that race. You ask people where they are running. You got together and raced together, eyeballs out every race. You decided to run in the same race, if you were any good’
‘To-day people want to win some petty races and avoid competition .Even the top lads want competition. Yet these people are happy to run in some Mickey Mouse race somehow and that, is why our standards have gone down in this country.’
My thoughts are we did it for, the fun of competition; It is the excitement of competition. You knew where everyone was”.
Of course Colin realised the Africans now are fantastic and well ahead of us in the main.
Colin has a fund of interesting true stories and one of those was when he was a student and ran in the Lumley relays. As he was the only runner for Durham Uni that turned up, somehow he managed to run all six legs and win the race outright, before the officials disqualified him for doing more than one leg! However I am sure if you ask him about it he will certainly be bound tell you as, it was one of his best efforts!
He certainly has a zest for life, as I hope I have documented here, as another ‘Great’ Coventry Godiva athlete.

Alastair Aitken

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