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8th Nov, 2023, Alastair Aitken

Looking back to the 1970’s- 80’ there were several British distance road & cross-country runners, amongst the top 30 in the World as track runners, like Dave Bedford; Tony Simmons; Brendan Foster; Dave Black; Nick Rose; Mick Mcleod, Julian Goater and Aldershot’s Bernie Ford. My personal memory of seeing Bernie Ford was in a ‘Class’ road race , in hot weather, at Effingham, on June 28th 1980, when he won the first ever Ranelagh half marathon in 64.05; followed home by Keith Penny 65.42; Graham Tuck 65:59; and World Veteran Champion Roger Robinson 68:43’ Bernie led at 10 miles in 48:56. Because of his many successes on the road he was often named ‘King of the Road’

Bernie Ford had an impressive ‘National’ cross country record as a senior, 5th in 1973; 2nd in 1974; 2nd in 1975; 1st 1976 (43:26 from 2 Dave Moorcroft 43:39;3 & Steve Kenyon 44:02 in that one). Bernie was also 2nd 1977; 1st 1978; 2nd 1979)

He was 3rd in the World cross country at Chepstow in 1976.1st Carlos Lopez 34:47 (Portugal); 2 Tony Simmons (England) 35:04; 3 Bernie Ford (England) 35:07.) Bernie comes in to say to me “I was never out of the first half dozen. Tony Simmons pulled away from me in the closing stages but the last 3 or 400 I got the better of Karel Lismont (Belgium- 4th 35.08) in a desperate struggle for the line. I don’t think that was the best cross-country race. I think the run against Ian Stewart (Tipton) in the 1978 National was my best. I gave that race everything I had got and I was very pleased, particularly to outkick someone with Ian’s

finishing speed but I really wanted that race that day (Leeds, March 4th 1978 1st Ford 31.44, Stewart 31:47; Tony Simmons 3rd 41:52 and in 42:24 Steve Ovett 4th .“ ,

Now for the ‘Road Runner’. What was Bernie Ford’s fastest Marathon time?

Before I divulge that, he ran his first Marathon on 13th of May 1979 at Coventry in the AAA’s marathon, in a close race with the winner Greg Hannon (2:13.06). Bernie was 2nd in 2:14.15. In Japan on the 2nd of December, the same year, Bernie Ford finished 16 seconds behind the winner Toshihkiko Seko of Japan, while in 4th place at the finish, in his fastest time of 2:10.51. That race was at Fukuoka, Japan.

He said “Seko got away over the last bit. I enjoyed that as a race but the time was a secondary thing. I wrote to the Athletics Weekly because I could see the way things were going to end up, without any of our long established shorter road races for the sake of these marathons every week. Other races, as I said in the letter, are very important, even if you are training for a marathon, as part of your build up. Mike Gratton ran the ‘Reading 10’ before going on to the Commonwealth Marathon (Third in that) . You need shorter races to build you up to the marathon and to have a fixture list totally dominated by marathons is not on, as far as I am concerned.”

My question to Bernie that particularly produced an interesting answer “Many aspiring marathon runners (Like ,with the London now) who come rushing into the sport should be warned that the marathon is a distance that is physically hard and that preparing yourself to race the marathon is more likely to injure you more than doing lower distances on the road?’

Bernie comes back with“ That depends on how fast you want to run the thing. To me. And I am talking from the point of view of having been a runner for so long that there is nothing mystical about 26 miles.—I could go out and run 26 miles every day of the week., but at what speed? I am talking about racing the distance. Many people go into the race just to cover the distance—get away with running slowish times until the cows come home—but it is when you start to push yourself close to your maximum that it takes a long time to recover.’

‘I ran with Mike Gratton about two weeks ago, and Mike, who had 3 weeks off or a month of doing very, very little after the London, was complaining of feeling tired all the time. These things knock the stuffing out of you. (Mike Gratton won the London in 1983 in 2:09.43) There is a highly trained athlete who ran 2:09 something and there is a lot of difference for Mike between running 2:09 something and 2:30, He could do that every Sunday morning, but it’s relative, I don’t want to knock those who can’t run that fast. It is all about how close to your maximum be it 2:09 or 3 hours, it is going to take you a long time to recover.” (Of course in those days super-fast shoes and drugs were not prevalent—AA).

Because of the effort in training and racing, injuries are easier to come by!?

“I think so, especially in that period immediately after a marathon. It has been something I have learnt since I ran Fukuoka. A lot of the top marathon boys take the week after the race completely off. And don’t run at all till the stiffness has eased out and not favoring some part of the body, because something is stiff or sore, that is when the problems start to build up.”

Bernie Ford got married in 1975. His wife Ann Ford was a good international cross-country runner, a Commonwealth Games medalist and a British record holder on the track. They had two children and her sister Paula Fudge was a Commonwealth gold medalist. An impressive family talent!

Regarding the job Bernie Ford did in those days (Talking back in 1983). He explained “I am in the Inland Revenue department. It is a demanding job. I have just been promoted and that in itself presents difficulties, as I have got more responsibilities. I have never been a person who just wanted to run. I could not be a like a lot of youngsters today and not have a job. If I had all day to train I think I would do far less. I need something to take my mind off the next session.”

I found Bernie Ford as forthright and having a good appreciation of life