Michael George's 10 years and a day at the Parish Walk
At 9 am on 21 June 2003, Welbeck Hotel owners Michael and Irene George set off to walk to Peel in the Parish Walk. Until then Michael had not even heard of the Parish Walk. At some time between 10 pm and 11 pm on 22 June 2013 he plans to take his final steps in the event. And at the end of those 10 years and a day there won't be many people in the Isle of Man who haven't heard of him.
Michael makes a habit of achieving a lot in not much than a decade. Born in Lytham St Annes on 5 October 1965, less than 12 years later he sailed to the Isle of Man with his grandfather and identified the hotel that his parents would buy the following year. "I knew that my parents wanted to buy a hotel but they didn't expect me to collect the details from the estate agent and arrange a viewing"
The Welbeck Hotel, which in 2010 won the Isle of Man Hotel of the Year Award, consisted of 31 rooms in 1978 when Michael's parents did as they were told and bought the hotel. Thirty five years later and the hotel is three times the size (the family bought two adjoining hotels) but it only has 34 rooms such has been the rise in standard.
Michael (white t-shirt) in the 2005 Creg-ny-Baa Fell Race before specialising in race walking
At the time Michael arrived on our shores we were just a year away from celebrating 1,000 years of continuous parliament. It was also the time that we had a nationalist movement, Fo Halloo, protesting about the government's policies and even burning down houses. Would Master George be a conformist or not?
Joining the establishment with his education at the Isle of Man's public school, King William's College, seemed likely. Playing, and enjoying, rugby, hockey and cricket would reinforce the theory. The conformity theory soon went out the window, however, when the public schoolboy became a punk.
Michael (centre in leather jacket in his punk days)
It wasn't until he announced in April 2011 that he was standing for the House of Keys that his conformity was really established. Or had it?
So how did Michael George, or George Michael as he used to be listed in one race programme, start his all singing race walking career and will his final steps in the Manx Telecom Parish Walk be winning ones or perhaps record breaking ones? Let's consider the final part of the question first.
It is generally agreed that there are four potential winners. The writer's money is once again on Michael but, as I've backed him for the past couple of years then maybe my tips are not the best ones!
Michael's Parish Walk achievements 2003 to 2012
I suggested to friends recently that Jock Waddington is the John McGuinness of the Parish Walk. Like the 20 times TT winner, he has more successes than his rivals, they are now faster than he has ever been but write him off at your peril. In that case, Vinny Lynch is surely the Dave Molyneux - a winner and record breaker but still lacks a solo win. Take it further and Richard Gerrard must be the Michael Dunlop - already a winner and showing signs that he will go even faster and clock up many more wins in the future.
So where does that leave Michael? He is extremely popular, witness the standing ovation when he received the Manx Telecom merit award last year, he knows what it is like to lead a race and to have the lead taken away and with his business interests away from the event has a higher profile than his rivals. He might not have the sideburns but he has to be the Guy Martin of the Parish Walk!
Let's see how fair the comparison with Guy Martin is.
Well, Guy Martin does not have a wife with a performance that is better than two of his. Last year Irene completed the whole 85 miles in 22:05:32. Michael's debut finish in 2004 was 22:25:55 and, although he is the walker who has improved the most (from the aforesaid 22:25:55 to 14:47:11 in 2012) he is also the person to have declined the most in a single year - from 16:04:07 in 2010 to 22:38:58 in 2011 which is the second time to be inferior to Irene's average.
Irene completed the whole 85 miles in 2012 and Michael became the third fastest ever
I don't know if Guy Martin hated cross country at school. Michael did but he still won the school race twice before losing to well known athlete and triathlete Russell Collister in his final year. After finishing the Parish Walk for the first time in 2004 it was to cross country that he turned competing in the cross country league, road races and fell running.
Peel Hill 2004
From what we have seen of Guy Martin in his TV programmes he is not a good cook. Michael is. After a stint as a commis waiter at the Palace he went to Blackpool to train as a chef. After a spell at the Sefton he found work in Croydon and Brentwood before a spell in Australia. He joined the family business in 1990 and gradually took on more and more responsibility for the Welbeck Hotel. After his father Peter's death in 2004 he was on his own with Irene although his mother Hilda stays involved and his sister, Christine Norris, has been working at the hotel again recently.
Before you think I've given up on the Guy Martin comparison's I present exhibits A & B. Michael appears to own a pair of shorts made of the same material as Guy uses for his mountain bike helmet!
Let's give that one a break now and describe a few of those days between 2003 and 2013.
2005 saw Michael complete the Manx marathon in second place and in 2006 both he and Irene ran in London with Michael fairly comfortably a little over three hours. 2006 was the year he made his biggest improvement in the Parish Walk (see the statistics and photo descriptions below) and a few weeks later he became a centurion (100 miles within 24 hours).
Before and after the 2006 100 Mile Walk in Douglas
(Just about) all smiles before the start on Saturday with Irene, Terence and Lucy
But a wheelchair was required after the race
London 2006 at the Strand Palace Hotel - left to right: Irene George, Michael George, Nigel Armstrong, Paul Curphey, Murray Lambden & Ian Callister
Michael's first short distance walking race was in the Winter League at St Johns in December 2004 and the camera was there to capture the moment as it was a few months later for his first 20km!
10km debut December 2004
20km debut May 2005
Michael and Irene have four children. Matthew lives in Australia (currently in Darwin but hopes to return to the Gold Coast), Elizabeth resides in Stockport, Lucy is at home with her son Happy and works in the family business and Terence is also at home studying for his GCSEs and plays in a band. Terence plays hockey and used also to run and walk.
It was whilst waiting for Terence to finish his walking training, and getting cold after playing football, that Michael decided to try race walking properly. After coaching from Allan Callow, Elizabeth Corran and Bridget Kaneen he improved quite dramatically.
With promising 50km performances under his belt such as second in the National 50km at Stockton on Tees in April 2008 (5:06:45) and a 4:49:53 in Tilberg, in the Netherlands in October of that year Allan even persuaded him to miss the Parish Walk in 2009 to concentrate on slightly shorter distances. I must have known that I was going to feature him five years later as I even followed him to Amsterdam Airport to take this photo.
Amsterdam 2008 with Ben Lambden and four times Parish Walk finisher Martijn Biesmans
2010 saw a return to the Parish Walk and a new coach. Twice Parish Walk winner (bigger achievements include 4th in the 1974 Commonwealth Games and second faster British walker ever at 100km) Graham Young helped improve his technique and by 2012 Graham's son Martin, a former British international walker, was also helping setting a rigorous training programme. A familiar sickness problem and perhaps hitting the front too soon saw Michael set record intermediate times for more than half of the 2012 Manx Telecom Parish Walk only to be passed Douglas side of Laxey by Richard Gerrard and Vinny Lynch on their way to a joint win (all three inside the old record).
Martin judged Michael's capability to perfection in the Ascot Hotel Manx Harriers 20km in March. Set a target of 1:37:30 he was just a fraction of a second over when he smashed his 20km time by 4 minutes and 37 seconds.
If Michael delivers next week what his coaches believe he can do then he will have beaten Guy Martin to that elusive win. But if he doesn't win, it will soon be water under the bridge when his other personal bests go down the river.
Almost 8 miles an hour for 20km at the age of 47
Some of the team
With Marie Jackson the track at the National Sports Centre - Marie has often been an attendant during Michael's long walks
And with fell runner, marathon and ultra distance runner Nigel Armstrong a close friend who has attended to Michael in many of his Parish Walks
Coaches Graham Young (centre after winning the 1982 TT Course Walk) and Martin Young along with sister Hazel
Michael George's Parish Walk photo album
Round Table in 2004 with wife Irene. Michael recorded his first finish in 22:25:25. Irene's first finish came in 2012 - 20 minutes and 23 seconds faster than Michael's first!
On his way to a massive improvement of 5 hours 13 minutes and 24 seconds in 2006, Michael is between the two climbs of Ballakillowey and the Sloc.
Approaching Andreas in 2007.
Nobody can forget the rain in 2008. Approaching Ramsey with Sue Biggart in tow.
After a year out, Michael was back in 2010.
After his own race fell apart due in 2011, he had a sleep, waited for Irene, walked with her as far as Bulgam Bay before pushing on to the finish a mere 5 hours and 26 minutes outside of his best performance at the time!
He broke the record in 2012 but only finished third
Michael George in the End to End Walk- 3 of the 6 best times
1 Waddington, Jock 06:37:29 2010
2 George, Michael 06:41:01 2010
3 Hands, Sean 06:44:07 2008
4 Gerrard, Richard 06:48:54 2011
5 George, Michael 06:51:54 2009
6 George, Michael 06:52:13 2008
7 Waddington, Jock 06:54:26 2008
8 Callister, Robbie 06:56:26 2007
9 Callister, Robbie 06:57:02 1 2003
10 Readshaw, Mike 06:57:24 1 2012
2010 with record holder Jock Waddington
Words by Murray Lambden 12 June 2013
Photos by Murray Lambden except for a) Parish Walk 2010 (Mike Lambden); b) Parish Walk 2012 (Karen Kneale); c) London Marathon (some guy who happened to walk past the hotel); and d) Punk photo (unknown)
Parish Walk statistics by Murray Lambden; End to End Walk statistics by Jock Waddington,