One of Sunderland Harriers most talented athletes, Graham Smith, who was forced to retire from the sport at the peak of his athletics career at the age of 28, has been looking back on his time spent in the sport.
Now aged 60, the former England international finished third in the Great North Run in 1984 and still holds the North Eastern Counties AA 10,000m record from the same year.
He said he had a problem with his left calf which was restricting the blood flow to his Achilles’ tendon. The injury first developed in 1985 and he made numerous comebacks, getting up to a good standard and having some significant performances before breaking down again. This went on for around four years with his last race coming in 1989 before he was forced to retire from the sport. He had an operation in 1991 in the hope that he would be able to compete again, but it was unsuccessful.
“Even though I haven’t been able to run since, I still love the sport and enjoy watching athletics and supporting the Harriers in a voluntary role. Overall, I was very happy with my career having represented England at junior and senior levels and had some great experiences and made some great friends in the sport.”
“I had a superb start to my senior career in 1981 by finishing second in the Northern 5000m in a PB and club record of 13:53. In the same season I also improved my PB to 8:11 over 3000m. In 1982 I finished fourth in the Northern Cross Country in Liverpool. I debuted over the half marathon in April, 1983, where I ran in 65:33. The following summer I won the North Eastern 5000m and was third in the Northern 10,000m. I also ran 13:58 for 5000m in the UK championships in Edinburgh."
“My best season as a senior was in 1984 where in the summer I won the North East 10,000m and broke Jim Alder’s championship record with a time of 29:32. I also won the Silksworth Pit race, Sunderland Carnival race and also finished runner up in the Blaydon road race. Later that summer I also took third position in the Great North Run behind Norway’s Oyvind Dahl and Finland’s Perti Tianen."
“In the December of 1984 I won the North Eastern Cross Country Championships ahead of a very strong field which included Steve Cram. I was the first Sunderland Harrier to win the title since 1927. As a result of winning I was selected to run for England in an international invitational race in Spain.’’
“In 1985, I finished 23rd in the Inter Counties helping the North East team to victory in the team race. I finished 32nd in the Northern and was a member of the Sunderland team that won gold medals for the first time in the Club’s history. That summer I won the North East 5000m in 14:13. I finished sixth in the Northern 10,000m in a PB of 29:20. I also ran a PB over 1500m with 3:46.5. My last race of the season was in the Sunderland Half Marathon where I finished second behind clubmate Glenn Forster in a time of 65:20."
Smith joined Sunderland Harriers in 1973 aged 12, the Harriers had put a race on at Grindon Boys’ Club which was the Harriers HQ at the time. They had invited local schools to take part. He finished second in the race and was invited to join the club. It wasn’t for another three years before he won his first race which was at the Aaron Memorial Cross Country in Leeds, winning over two miles.
A year later in 1977 he had his best ever track season, at this point he was training about five times a week.
“We had a good group of young athletes which included, Kelvin Newton, Paul Collins, Michael Hepple, Steven Bird and numerous others. On the track I won the North East 1500m in a PB of 4:06 and finished second in the Northern 1500m which was won by Steve Cram. I then went on to win the English Schools 3000m in a time of 8:36 which was a PB and club record at the time for an Under-17. Through that performance I was selected to represent the English Schools at the British Schools Championships in Yeovil, which I won in a time of 8:41.
“The following track season I was injured with shin splints. Then in 1979 I was selected to run for England in the 3000m in Edinburgh International I finished third in 8:17. My personal bests by the end of that season were 8:13 for the 3000m and 14:45 for 5000m."
"The Elswick Road Relays was always an event I looked forward to, my best performance came in 1982 when I ran 9:59 for fastest on the day, breaking the 10 minute barrier over the course which only three athletes had done before me, they were: Mike McLeod, Brendan Foster and Steve Cram."
“I had a good cross country season in 1981, my last as an Under-20. I finished second in the North East Cross Country Championships in Morpeth behind clubmate Kelvin Newton and second in the Northern and the National Cross Country Championships, finishing behind Olympian John Doherty in both races."
Smith said his favourite training session was 12 x 400m with 30 seconds recovery. He said: “The short recoveries made the session very difficult but it was always a good indicator of how fit I was at the time. I also enjoyed a pyramid session working up from 200m to 800m in 100m increments, the varying distances kept the session interesting. Another favourite was a half mile loop in Barnes Park. We had a great training group at the club, there was always a big group of us including Brian Rushworth, Paul Campbell, Stephen Bird and Malcolm Price, it made training competitive and enjoyable.”