Noel Blatchford

Disciplines: 5,000m, 10,000m (track) and 20km (road) racewalk.  

Years competing in Masters: 20 years 

Age group: 70-74

  

First event

My first event was in 2000 but I wasn’t expecting to compete as I’d only gone to watch the local Vets’ League match. A friend said, “oh, you walk fast, will you just do the race walk?” I was a complete novice. I only had about 10 minutes notice and I didn’t know what to do, but she pointed to a chap and said he’d show me; that was Graham Chapman who is now my coach. I felt, really, that it was a bit of an imposition to ask him to help me just before his own race, but he did and I won the women’s race and thought, “this is good, I like this!” 

 

Best performance 

In 2011 it was suggested I might like to go and try the European Masters Athletics Championships in North East France in Thionville and I won the women’s 60-64 competition in both 10km and 20km distances. I was astonished because in the 10km I’d seen my number with two stars against it on an electronic board beside the road and I thought I had two red cards, so I slowed down. Someone was shouting, “come on, come on, you’re winning”, but all I could see was that I had two cards. As I came through the finish, they were cheering me and I couldn’t believe it! It turned out that the two stars by my name were telling me I had two laps to go, not two cards! Then to be on the podium and having a team member throw me a union jack was just amazing. There were tears, I was overcome, and I just wished my mother had still been alive because she would have been so proud. 

 

From that first Masters’ international competition in France one of my main rivals has been Antonina Tyshko from Ukraine. Our pace is quite similar. She beat me at the 2018 World Masters’ in Malaga, so I was keen to be the better at the Europeans (just outside Venice, September 2019). On arriving at the race venue for the 10k we learned from Ian Richards who’d just finished the men’s race that the course was short. I managed to put this out of my mind as I raced round the streets, telling myself I could win. I made it by seven seconds, exhausted. My pace was 6.35/km, the best for a few years. Unfortunately the distance was about 600m short, and we were awarded medals for “the Short Course”. Mine was still Gold though! I also won the W70 20k a couple of days later.  

 

I was lucky to be included in two multi-age teams, and in each GB won team Bronze. The other two in the W50 10k category were Julie Bellfield and Wendy Kane, both W50. Then in the W40 category 20k I shared team Bronze with Penelope Cummins W40 and Fiona Bishop W60. 

 

Where it all began

I have always been involved in sports, having grown up with horses, competing from very young and continuing for many years. I did athletics and swimming at school and later other sports. I came rather late to race walking, having first been a runner. The first race I ever ran was The Sunday Times Fun Run in 1982, with a group from work. We used to run around the University parks in Oxford where I was working. After that I didn’t do much for about 10 years, until but later joined a running club (Abingdon) just for the fun of it.

 

A few years after my first (unplanned) walking event, Graham contacted me to say someone wanted to get some coaching and he asked if I would join them. I was really keen to learn more so I said yes! I started going to Graham’s weekly sessions and then they became twice a week and he’s been my coach ever since. I stuck with it because I’d found something I. really enjoyed and wanted to improve.

 

Getting started in Masters competitions 

My first international event was in Leamington Spa in 2002, England vs. Ireland. I won my age group, the 50+, and the fact was I’d found something I was obviously good at. Men and women were competing in the same race and I was in front of several men. I liked that!  Well, you would wouldn’t you? So my first international experience was a really positive one.

That’s when I first met the group of walkers that still compete now. It also got me into Athletics Weekly magazine for the first time. Someone from the club spotted the mention, except, because of my name, they had me as a man and that I was racing for Ireland!

 

Training or racing

Both! I’m an outdoors person, and training is mostly outside. Racing is like the icing on the cake. If you put in the right ingredients and quantities, you’ve a better chance of success!

 

Summer or winter

Any climate really, except for extreme cold with rain added. But we still train.

 

Outdoors or indoors

Definitely outdoors. With the nearest indoor stadium nearly 80 miles away there’s rarely an opportunity to train on an indoor track.

 

Motivation

If it’s a team training session and Graham’s going to be there and the others are going to be there, then I have to go, I can’t let them down, even during the winter when it’s so cold and wet. and I have terrible circulation and my hands get so cold that I can’t open the door, I still have to go because they are my team mates, and they keep me going too.

 

Fear/nerves

Nerves get to me before an ‘important’, eg championship, race but less so for the regular open or league ones.

 

Inspiration

There’s a French woman who is amazing, Marie Astrid Monmassin. She’s 5-10 years younger than me and no one can touch her. Another is Heather Carr from Australia, I just can’t beat her, she’s incredible, she’s a little younger than me and wins anything and everything – I want to be as good as her! But despite my wishes I think that’s beyond my reach.

 

Community

Although we’re rivals, everyone is also so supportive. We’re all great pals, and that’s especially true in the walking community because it’s so small. It’s an incredible feeling because we all want each other to do as well as we all can. There’s a feeling that we’re all in this together.

 

My race walk mates are great. Apart from Graham, our coach, there’s Judy who’s a few years younger than me, Roz, Alison, Angela – it’s all female at the moment, but it varies and we’ve have had as many as 8 in the team in the past. I really do prefer to train as a team, but recently I’ve had to do more on my own. Because of us being such a small group, I’m the one who does most of the competitions. The others all work or have young grand children, so now I tend to do my longer sessions on my own. Last year when Graham was injured he was brilliant – he’d come out on his bike with me and just encourage me and keep me moving. 

 

Graham will tell us our faults and is constantly teaching. If you pass muster with Graham, you know you’re doing ok. He’s been race walking all of his athletics career and has achieved some amazing things. He really is a brilliant coach – he comes out whatever the weather. He’s got a mantra he puts on his blog “if it’s raining we’re still training” 

Training

I enjoy the technical side of race walking. It’s constant, you can never lose focus, whether in training and racing. I have a bit of a problem keeping my right knee straight, so I have to focus hard to get my technique right. As I walk, I also count how many steps I’m doing up to 100 metres, I count all the time because I know my pace and I know how many steps equals 100 metres. It’s like a metronome in my head. Counting and technique all the time! 

 

I train 4-5 days a week. I do core stability and body balance classes, plus gym work as well as alternating my walking with a bit of running on some days. 

 

Aims 

To keep healthy so I can carry on with the sport I enjoy so much well into my eighties, and beyond!

 

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