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The Scottish Widows Parish Walk

Start time: 8 am on 25 June 2011

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John Cannell - making a big splash at 65

John Cannell gets a drenching near the end of the 2007 Empire Garage Peel to Douglas Walk

How many people can walk a mile in 10 minutes 17 seconds? OK, a few of those reading because of an interest in race walking. So let's narrow the question down a bit. How many people could average 10 minutes and 17 seconds a mile for 100 miles non stop?

Only a handful in Britain and one of them was John Cannell in 1988. It was during a six year peak of his career when he focused on 100 mile walking and it was his proudest moment, easily surpassing his six Parish Walk wins when he recorded 17:10 for 100 miles. Let's ask another question to prove that we dealing with a unique character. How many people have won the Parish Walk six times? The answer is clearly just one and that person celebrates his 65th birthday today.

The snow didn't stop JC from his usual walks in Douglas on 18 December

There are, however, some people who doubt his uniqueness. Quite apart from the fact that he shares his name with many another Manxman, they can't understand how they see him in Douglas but when they visit Peel or Ramsey he is there too! Since retiring from the post office in 2005, without any family ties, he has made the most of his free time to use his bus pass and visit the Island's towns - and their taverns!

John first started race walking when he was at Douglas High School. He didn't enjoy team sports like football and cricket and his teacher, George Southern, encouraged a group of lads, including Graham Young, to enter the Parish Relay Walk in 1961.

So we are approaching the 50th anniversary of John's first race that saw him take part in the first End to End and Peel to Douglas walks. He reached Jurby on his Parish Walk debut in 1962 and it was soon after this time that he started winning some of the local events, Bobby Kaneen had been the most successful until then. Hadyn Gawne and Phil Bannan were later to surpass John, or JC as he is known to many, and he failed to make the 1966 Commonwealth Games which had been his target.

John started his working life as a clerk with in accountants Shannon Kneale (later Ernst & Young) before training as a male nurse at Ballamona Hospital, then a large institutional mental hospital. In was in 1966 that he joined the post office and he was to spend the next 39 years working with his school friend Graham Young and encouraging many other posties to dabble at race walking.

Graham Young and John Cannell together in the Manx 20km championships on the Poortown Course approaching Ballacraine in the early 90s

It was with Graham that he achieved his first big success when he completed the 100 mile walk on the Leicester to Skegness course in 1967. Graham took 20 hours and 24 minutes and John was just over an hour and 20 minutes behind. The following year he completed the Parish Walk moving up to second behind Albert Johnson on the Ballaragh Road, the course had been diverted due to a rock fall at Bulgam Bay, when Leece Kneale retired.

In 1970 he was selected for the Commonwealth Games, held in Edinburgh. He finished 15th and retains memories of mixing with the world's top athletes that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

Under pressure from the writer near the Fairy Bridge in the 1975 End to End Walk but JC finished second to Derek Harrison just months after major surgery

John remained a regular in local races but it was only after major surgery in 1975 that his determination to stay in the sport that he reached the next milestone. He attended the the National 20 Mile Championships, held at Castletown on the Southern 100 motor cycle course, as a spectator in the summer of 1975 and was asked if he would ever be back racing.  His reply: "I'll be back for the End to End in September."

He was and by the following year he had won the Parish Walk. "I was crying as I walked down Royal Avenue knowing that I was going to win" he said.

JC (second right) after winning the 1976 Parish Walk. On his left was 19 year old runner up Murray Lambden. The walkers are flanked by two officials who are sadly no longer with us - Dennis Lace (left) and Ian Turnbull.

He was not listed among the starters the following year, when Steve Gardner was the sole finisher, and in 1978 he retired at Andreas soon after loosing the lead to the man he beat in 1976. He finished second in Derek Harrison's record breaking performance in 1979 and retired at Jurby in 1980.

After three years avoiding the podium he made it his own for the next three years with the first ever hatrick in the Parish Walk. He says himself during the interview that he can't remember a lot about these races (15:59:33 in 1982 was a pretty fair time even by today's standards) and I draw upon my own memory to describe the following year.

Amazingly John has never won the Peel to Douglas Walk - here he is with 19 year old Steve Partington in 1983 with Andy Garrett (also aged 19) in the background.

At the end of 1983 John asked me for some coaching advice. It was flattering to be asked to advise someone who only three or four years earlier I had been aspiring to beat and, although my coaching performances were generally sub-standard, I gave John what he needed - a pair of ears.

I drew up a training plan for the 1984 100 miles which was low on mileage and high on quality. He drew his motivation from his daily telephone calls from the payphone of Douglas pubs and he translated nearly all the sessions either to the roadway at King George V Park (now the National Sports Centre) and the "Firemans Course" of six miles around Douglas. The mention of pubs was sigificant because, let's face it, John has probably spent more hours inside one than on the training track. So the training plans had to be realistic and sustainable enough so that I did not, for example, plan a 30 mile walk on a Sunday morning that would cause him to miss the pub at lunchtime!

After 23 years of failing to break 5 hours for 50km he did so in the End to End Walk in April 1984 before collapsing just a couple of miles further down the road in on the Castletown bypass. There was no deterring him from starting the ultra tough Bradford 50km the following month and I had sleepless nights thinking that the race would cause his final collapse. The call arrived from the payphone in Bradford on the evening of the race  and he proceeded to read the entire results sheet in reverse order. I started to think he had failed to finish again before he read his own name out at 4 hours and 36 minutes.

The season continued with second place in the 100 miles in August and the following week was the one time he ignored my advice and raced a 50km over 62 laps on the NSC in hot weather. The inevitable "blow up" came when Graham Young started to unlap him but he still prevailed in under 5 hours.

But 1984 was not to be the last time John collapsed. I thought we had lost our six times winner when he collapsed at Dermot O'Toole's book launch in 2005.

Sharing a joke about someone lacking hair and only needing a very small comb in the early days of the National Sports Centre. Note the Manx Ices factory where MacDonalds now stands.

And going back before the NSC, he races Tim Baker in the Manx Airlines meeting - more history in the background, note the original power station which was build without unathorised loans!

Taking time out in 1985 on the Friday night before the Lugano Cup (the world team walking championships) were held on the Isle of Man he has a drink with visiting walkers Harry Holmes, Mike Holmes and Ray Hankin.

John talks about his 100 mile races in the YouTube videos at the foot of this page and he is understandably very proud of his performances over 100 miles. He makes it clear that he does not think it is possible to do justice to the distance if walking the Parish Walk the same year although he did keep his hand in on the course with some good times to Peel (see table below).

Another reason why some of the locals failed to leave their best performances on the Parish Walk in the 60s to 80s was that it wasn't the main local event they used to train for. Far bigger for visiting walkers was the TT course walk and so many of the locals put their heart into this one above the Parish.

JC about the finish the TT course walk

He might not remember much about his final two victories in 1993 and 1994 but the record book shows that he is not just a 100 mile star but an 85 mile one too.

Back in the Parish Walk in 2002 after a five year break (and just one other start since his 6th win) he got as far as Rushen

On his way Peel in 2003

Starter in 2009 - and finisher at Peel

John Cannell thinks he has two more Parish Walk finishes in him. If I was to say that at 65 years of age he should give his body a rest and settle for a more modest target, there would be no better way or motivating him to finishes numbers 9 & 10.

Murray Lambden - 29 December 2010

Photos from the Lambden collection

John Cannell's Parish Walk record

Finish 1967 17:42:36
Finish 1976 17:28:12
Rushen 1977 03:18:00
Andreas 1978 10:24:00
Finish 1979 16:22:03
Jurby 1980 08:47:00
Finish 1981 16:15:11
Finish 1982 15:59:33
Finish 1983 16:31:38
Ballaugh 1985 07:21:00
German 1986 05:30:50
German 1988 05:26:32
German 1990 05:43:12
Finish 1993 16:11:11
Finish 1994 16:13:46
German 1997 07:39:50
Rushen 2002 04:09:00
German 2003 07:32:54
German 2009 07:07:32
German 2010 07:54:58

The John Cannell interviews - 24 December 2010





Scottish Widows Parish Walk website

Can you lend a hand?

Please contact the following:

Raymond Cox (race director)

Elizabeth Corran (race secretary)

Winston Liu (chief marshal)

parishwalk.com is a part of manxathletics.com an independent site designed, edited and funded by Murray Lambden  The event is organised by Manx Harriers and sponsored by Scottish Widows neither of whom are responsible for the content of the site. Some of the race information and results are published here on behalf of the organisers together with independent pictures, statistics and general information compiled by the editor.  The links to the live timing provided by SPORTident and sponsored by Manx Telecom are on a separate computer and not controlled by the editor.  He is, however, grateful to both parties for making the information available to him. Thanks to the Parish Walk committee of Manx Harriers for organising a great event.    Murray's Parish Walk Blog


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