Marathon man Glenn Forster has been celebrating being a Sunderland Harrier for 50 years.
And the 63-year-old has a mountain of memories to look back on in an international marathon career that took him around the world. It was his performance in the 1984 London Marathon, where he finished 12th in 2.15.08, that gave him most satisfaction.
He said: “I had lots of good races but I’m still happy with being the fastest marathon runner Sunderland has produced.’’
This achievement was the result of his gruelling training regime that the shipyard joiner at Austin and Pickersgill undertook, day in and day out for years.
He said “Looking back, I did not have the benefits of being a full time athlete or training at altitude. I would get up for work at 6.30, walk to Austin and Pickersgill (two miles), start work at 7.30, run five miles at lunch time, finish at 4.30 and walk back home, then run 10 miles or do a session at the Harriers, plus a Saturday session and a 20-mile run on a Sunday. That is what you had to do if you wanted to get the best out of yourself.’’
His London Marathon run launched his international marathon career which saw him compete in marathons in Japan, Australia, USA, Germany, Holland and Africa with impressive results.
It was in the 1981 New York Marathon where he made his debut after Sunderland Harriers won the team race in the first Great North Run. The prize for the winning team was a trip to the New York Marathon for the six team counters and Forster led them home in a time of 2.19.02. This was the forerunner for some superb performances over the iconic distance of 26 miles and 385 yards.
Victories in the Utrecht Marathon in 1981, and the Glasgow Marathon (2.17.17) put him on a firm footing in his marathon journey.
The high spot came when he was selected for the World Cup Marathon in Japan in 1985 where he finished 41st (2.16.14) in the same year as he won the Nuremburg Marathon in 2.19. He returned to the London Marathon in 1987 and finished 26th in 2.16.27, to maintain his remarkable consistent record of dipping under the 2.20 mark..
And he was still going strong in 1989 when he finished in second place in both the Humber Bridge Marathon and the Wear Valley Marathons.
The Pennywell schoolboy was introduced to athletics when he won the Sunderland Schools Cross Country Championships on football training, at the Barnes Park Extension in Etrrick Grove in 1968.
He said: “I joined Grindon Boys’ Club in 1969 and met Paul Taylor (a talented runner who went on to win the senior Northern steeplechase title) who got me into running and introduced me to Sunderland Harriers.
“It was in 1971when I finished ninth at the County Schools Cross Country Championships that I started to realise I was a better runner than footballer
“In the same year I finished second in the North East Boys’ Cross Country Championships and decided to take the sport more seriously.”
It was in 1972 that he achieved his first victory in winning the Durham Schools Cross Country Championships and the 3000 metres track title.
More impressive performances followed with victories in the 1973 North East Youths Cross Country Championships as a first year and a notable 19th in the National Championships. In the following year he was runner-up in the Northern Junior Championships and finished fifth in the Youths at the Nationals.
Probably his most striking result as a youngster was beating two of the area’s leading Under-20 athletes in Mike Kearns, who went on to break the UK 1500m record, and Phil Dunn, who were both two years older, in the North East Championships.
He beat Morpeth great, Jim Alder, for the North East 5000m senior track title and Jim Dingwall for the 1980 Scottish 10,000m gold in gale force conditions in 30.16.7
His forte as a cross country runner did not go unrecognised with him winning five English Cross Country Union vests in international races abroad. And he led Sunderland Harriers to their first ever senior team win in the Northern Cross Country Championships won by Steve Cram on a frozen course at Thirsk. He won two silvers and a bronze medal in the North East Senior Cross Country Championships in the early eighties and finished in the top 10 four times in the Northern Cross Country Championships.
The New Durham College lecturer is still involved with Sunderland Harriers in coaching from the sidelines as a qualified England Athletics Run Leader. He has just stood down as race secretary for the Farringdon Cross Country event after 27 years. In recognition of his loyal service to the Harriers he was made a Vice President.