Walking guru and five-time Olympian helps out at charity Men’s Walk

With spring just round the corner, local charity Hospiscare is preparing for their popular annual Men’s Walk, which last year was a sell-out event.  The seven mile loop sets off from the Double Locks pub in Exeter on Saturday 17th March.  This year the walk coincides with England V Ireland in the Six Nations, and St Patrick’s Day. After the scenic route is completed walkers can look forward to watching the game on big screens whilst enjoying a pint, pasty and party atmosphere. 

An event like this involves a lot of volunteers to ensure it runs smoothly, and amongst the helping hands this year is a local legend, retired race walker and Major Championship athletics commentator, Olympian Chris Maddocks.

Chris, 60 from Rackenford, Tiverton is part of an exclusive club, as only a tiny percentage of the world’s population get chosen to represent their country in the Olympic Games. An even smaller percentage get chosen to compete in five consecutive summer Olympics - Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and finally Sydney 2000. Incidentally, it could have been six, but political issues prevented Chris from competing in the 1980 Moscow games.

The only man in British athletics to compete in five Olympics, and known as Mad Max to his friends, will be cheering on this year’s Men’s Walk participants when he volunteers as a marshal on the day.

Chris commented: “I don’t put myself above anyone else just because I’m an Olympian.  I am really happy to be helping on the day and will do whatever is required in a volunteering capacity.  I know people in our community who have been supported by Hospiscare and it’s a very worthy cause.

“This walk caught my eye last year but I couldn’t go because of a clash of dates.  So I am really happy to get along to it this year, I’ve been told it’s a great event.  The distance of seven miles is significant to me as it’s one of a few record times I set, which after many years remains unbroken.  I hold the UK All-Comers record of 45:26 for seven miles on the road and that was recorded back in 1986.  I also hold the British record of 3:51.37 for 50km, that was over 27 years ago now and is one of the oldest records still standing.”

As a youngster Chris had a tenacious attitude towards sport and from primary school age wanted to know how far he could run.  He did his first marathon at just 10 years old.  He cried when, at 13 years old, he was refused entry to the Tiverton Youth Centre 50 miler as he was deemed too young to do it.  He was allowed to join in when he was 14 and came fourth.  He subsequently did it every year up until he won it twice, aged 18 and 19.

Chris was a regular runner with Tiverton Harriers and ran for the county.  His first introduction to race walking was during his three years as a Tiverton sea cadet. Aged 14 he competed in multi-sport competition that included a one mile race walk which he won. A few weeks later he was late for a 1500 metres track race at Yeovil so got put into the men's 5000m walking race instead.  He finished 4th and was encouraged to start concentrating on race walking as his natural talent for it shone through.   

During his athletics career he never had the support or funding that professional sports men and women benefit from now.  He did his training on a shoestring budget and didn’t get the opportunity to train at altitude, which is the norm for endurance athletes these days.  But race walking gave Chris the opportunity to travel the world.  He met his personal hero, Muhammad Ali, the Queen and numerous other royals and celebrity sports people.

When asked what his most memorable race was, alongside the races where he set records or competed against the world’s elite athletes, Chris recalls the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

“Leading up to Sydney I was in the best shape of my life, but seven weeks before flying out I tore a buttock muscle and it wasn’t going to heal in time.  I have never dropped out of a major race, there was no one else qualified to take my place, and it was going to be my last Olympics so I went anyway.

“Right from the start of the 50km I was in trouble. I was really hurting, it was the hottest day of the games so far and I wanted to pull out. The whole race was the most painful and miserable experience. I was far behind the rest of the field and expected that when I got to the stadium everyone would have gone home.  But as I entered 100,000 people were waiting and the noise in the stadium was incredible.  I nearly fell to pieces, it was so emotional, my legs turned to jelly.  The crowd started to sing the Proclaimers ‘500 miles’ and it turned out be the most unexpected, amazing finish to my career.

“People told me afterwards how everyone was following my progress on the big screens and that my finish was the best moment of the entire games, which is an incredible thing.

“It catapulted me into the limelight for a time and I got treated like I’d won gold.  I got upgraded on the flight home and sat with some of the gold medallists in the VIP seats.  At Buckingham Palace there was a reception for the athletes and I was asked to lead a team of sports men and women and introduce them to the Queen. 

“Although I was the last man in that race and it took me nearly an hour longer than my qualifying time, the support and atmosphere in that stadium was out of this world.”

So what advice would Chris give to this year’s participants of the Men’s Walk?

“I’d say if you’re not used to walking, get out with the dog and go a bit further than you usually do as part of your training.  Eat sensibly on the day before you walk, get some carbs on board, drink plenty of fluids and enjoy the camaraderie.

“You’re doing the walk for an incredibly worthy cause, it’s not ultra-competitive and it’s got a reputation for being a really sociable occasion. It’s the sort of event where friendships are made.   The location is lovely and the sporty finish of watching rugby in the marquee at the end makes it feel like a big wedding.

“I’ll be happy to give out advice on the day if anyone wants a chat, and I’ll be cheering the boys on every step of the way.”

To join Chris in volunteering at this year’s Men’s Walk, or to take part, go to the website for further details.

Men’s Walk is kindly sponsored once again by Wilkinson Grant.

Hospiscare is a local adult hospice charity, providing high quality care and support to people with any type of life-limiting illness, and those close to them, in Exeter, Mid and East Devon.  A gift to Hospiscare in your Will helps to ensure the future of the charity in Devon for generations to come.