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Michael Bonney - an engineer with Bolton precision

In September 2006 Michael Bonney arrived on the Isle of Man to take up a teaching post at Isle of Man College. He discovered race walking almost as soon as he found his students.

Within days of taking up his appointment he was joining a colleague, Steve Taylor (not the Olympic judge), for lunchtime walks. At first he could not believe the discomfort in his shins, knees and hips. By the first weekend in November, however, he had finished in the top half of the field in the walking section of the Syd Quirk Half Marathon - 18th in 2:32:44.

Another colleague, Malcolm Newton, dropped the bombshell. "Have you heard about the Parish Walk? Its 85 miles long and you have to complete it in 24 hours" he said. At first Michael did not believe that such a feat was possible but he soon committed to starting, and finishing, for he has that sort of mentality.

In January 2007 he set off in the 2006 Peel to Douglas Walk. Confused? Bad weather in December had caused its postponement.


January 2007 - Union Mills with Ian Callister in the 2006 Peel to Douglas Walk!

There was no postponement with his plan to walk the 85 miles in June. He walked the first 32 miles of the course to Peel alone in training and this was followed up with a 40 mile lone session. Next came the first ever Fireman's Walk - at that time covering a distance of 50 miles. He set off with a rucksack containing seven bottles of water and that was the day the doubts did arise.

He was completely shattered and could not see how anyone could walk 35 miles further than that. His colleagues doubted him too although at least he had one in support rather than carrying all of his own drinks. John Marchment arrived at Peel in his car to support him and expected to be with him until he retired. He didn't retire and John spent almost 14 hours with him as he completed the whole course at the very first attempt.

Describing the 53 miles from Peel to the finish in one sentence makes it sound easy but there were lots of doubts. And if you have those same doubts about finishing, let alone entering the following year, bear in mind that Michael broadcast to the world that he would never again tackle the 17 Parishes. He was featured in the Sky film of the event making the statement: "If you are doing this next year you won't see me." Nearly all walkers make, and then retract, such announcements as soon as they start to recover!


The moment he said "never again" on Sky TV

You can hear his strong Bolton accent in his "never again" declaration and it was in his home town that he first took part in athletics, as a cross country runner, as well as playing football at school. He never lost his fitness, playing squash and badminton, but he had no expectation that he would become so heavily involved in sport when he moved to the Isle of Man after learning his trade as an engineer and then moving into teaching via Salford and Oldham.

In addition to his walking he has taken part in a number of running events and he is a member of the Isle of Man Veteran Athletes' Club. His friends from work are often involved in the events in which he participates.

Michael (left) with fellow teachers at the Isle of Man College, Geoff Chatwood, Rob Webb & Rob Parslow at the Ramsey Fireman's run

Michael and his wife, Carolyn, have three grown up children and three grandchildren. They have lived in the same house on Malvern Road, just off Bray Hill in Douglas, since moving to the Isle of Man. There are many well known Parish Walkers in the area including joint record holder Richard Gerrard who lives a stone's throw away and was a part of Michael's winning team in 2009.

Carolyn is employed by St Christopher's, a charity providing services on behalf of the Department of Social Care for vulnerable children and young people. Carolyn works shifts in a care home and this element of their family life helps Michael as there are times when he can train when Carolyn is working without it being anti-social.

He has trained with a number of different walkers including Simon Briggs and Dale Farquhar and he contributes much of his improvement to his training partners pushing each other along, something he recommends to others.

2013 Parish Walk with Dale Farquhar and Dave Taylor

Most of the past seven years has seen him improving. He dropped out of the 2010 Parish Walk at Jurby but that had been expected as he was recovering from illness. The two performances that he was most disappointed with were finishing slower in the 2008 End to End Walk than in his debut year and failing to finish the 2013 100 mile walk.



















Michael's End to End Walk progress

Chafing caused by his shorts forced retirement in the 100 miles - photo with Simon Briggs

So what he has learned during his first six Parish Walk's other than not to say "never again"?

Training with other walkers, at least part of the time, will make the time spent preparing more effective. Although there are many views on your race drinks and your diet, and few people will get it right first time, perfecting them over time is essential.






















The Parish Walk record to date

Winning team - Michael (in a Bolton Wanderers shirt) with the winning team in 2009. Richard Gerrard (three years before he set the course record with Vinny Lynch), Selwyn Callister and Malcolm Newton

Michael doesn't think he will ever win the event but believes there is plenty of scope for improvement. And he is facing up to the technical challenge that not everyone addresses. He has had assistance from Allan Callow in the past, which played a significant part in the faster times, but he is going back to the drawing board with former course record holder, and fourth placer in the 1974 Commonwealth Games, Graham Young, to gain a few seconds a mile by improving his technique.

Training, diet and technique all play a part but where Michael has excelled has been with his precision time planning.

Unless one athlete is totally dominant, most events are won not by the fastest at half distance but by the person who slows the least in the second half. Witness Christine Ohuruogu in the world championship 400 metres this year. Michael maintains tables of his past times at each church and schedules his time for the following year. This year he slowed just 1.65% beyond Peel.

His precision time engineering is in demand by other walkers too. Such planning does give walkers the confidence not to over-do the early miles.

I'm sure Michael will engineer a further improvement in 2014. He only needs to go six minutes faster to be the fastest person born on 14 October!

Words: Murray Lambden, 30 November

Photos: Murray Lambden, Mike Lambden, Karen Kneale, Bill Dale & Ben Lambden

Video; Sky TV

Michael's Parish Walk photo gallery

Between Glen Lough & Glen Vine on his 2007 debut

Braddan in 2008 (72) with team mates Selwyn Callister (40) and Malcolm Newton (45)

Approaching Newtown in 2009

2010 - this time he photographed at Newtown (with Rob Webb)

Just a few yards remain in 2011

He's done it - after missing 2012 he smashed his best time to record 16:25:30. He is photographed at the finish with wife Carolyn, son Karl and his partner Michelle






Previous features

Michael George

Sue Biggart

Mo & Simon Cox

Marie Gilbertson and Samantha Draper

Vinny Lynch

John Cannell

Chris Cale

Bernie Ball

Roger Black

Tony Kneale

Dave Fereday

Malcolm Newton

Edmund Shillabeer

Irene Taggart

Caroline Cain

Dave Mackey

Gordon Corran

Anne Oates

Michael Gray

David Collister

Mick Holgate

Jock Waddington

Andrew Titley

The Chambers family

Stella and Roy Corlett

Eammon Harkin

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