Derek Graham Interview - Part 2

By Eamon Harvey


Rivals/Hero's In Ireland

"My main rival was Tom O'Riordan both on the country and the track. The all Ireland cross country championships were always highly competitive events. In Great Britain there were plenty of rivals to take on. In those days the standard of British distance running was very strong names like, Hill, Boulter, Tulloh, Stewart, Alder, McCafferty, Tagg, Murray, Heatly, the North brothers, Fowler all immediately spring to mind".


"As for my heroes it was really between Herb Elliott, Ron Clarke and Michel Jazy. They were absolutely class with Jazy in particular being so smooth, and he had such devastating

finish. It was such an experience being able to race against athletes of this caliber. Gaston Roelands was another I admired especially for his exploits over the country Countries/places raced".


"I was very fortunate to be able to compete in many different countries, this was such an enriching experience for a young Belfast boy. Places I competed included:- some several times each year".


• Austria

• Israel

• Belgium

• Jamaica

• Canada

• Spain

• Czechoslovakia

• Sweden

• France

• Switzerland

• Finland

• Tokyo

• Germany


• Hungary

• Yugoslavia

• All of the Home Counties, too often to count!



"I liked to get out about 6 days a week and never trained twice a day. Ten and five milers were a stable part of my training with many strides throughout the duration of the runs. This gave me the stamina and at the same time it worked at speed and speed endurance. My runs were always tempo, never slow paced. When training we would be out for a long run and then I would suggest doing a stride to a specific lamppost. When we were almost there I would then say ok continue to the next one? Things like that happened often. We played around and had fun at the same time. On occasions I would go out for a run myself and then meet up with the boys at the club for another run later on. I was self-coached and did pretty much what my club team mates did".


"There was nothing scientific or startling to my training as I couldn't even tell you about any specific training sessions that stick out in my memory! Many times when I went to compete at the White City I would hear the mutterings from the likes of Hill, Stewart and so on of how many miles they had trained each week. Sometimes they would say 100, other times 160, I would suddenly question my being there. After all I had probably only done about 60 odd mile each week, 70 at the very, very most".


"When I was doing the indoor races in the winter I would occasionally nip into Ormeau Park and do 150m sprints in the dark with a 30 sec recovery, this would be repeated about 30 times. I trained a few times with the great long distance runner Derek Clayton who was Northern Ireland raised and then emigrated to Australia. He achieved worldwide recognition in 1967 for running the marathon in 2.09.36, bettering the previous best by almost three minutes. On one occasion we were out I noticed that he continually looked down at my feet and naturally this puzzled me. I queried why and he explained that he wanted to achieve the same stride cadence as me! Even then I knew he had the ability to be good but to record such a time for the marathon well that was something else all those years ago. Before leaving for Australia we contested many races which I managed to win but I could see that he was improving".


Personal Bests

1 mile- 3.59.2 (eclipsed the 4-minute barrier on 3 occasions)- N.I. RECORD

3000m 8.03- IRISH RECORD

2 mile- 8.33.8-U.K/IRISH RECORD

3 mile- 13.15.6 recorded in the same race that Ron Clarke broke the World record and I was the first British runner. IRISH RECORD

5000m - 13.41.4- IRISH RECORD

6 mile- 28.40.6-N.I. RECORD

10,000m - 29.00.06- N.I. RECORD

Half marathon- 1hr 3 mins 53 IRISH RECORD

15 mile road 1hr 13 mins 45 IRISH RECORD


"With the mile upwards really being my preferred events I didn't compete too often over the shorter distances and consequently do not have established times. I do recall running 1.50 for the half mile in a 9th Old boys club race. Whilst representing Great Britain in the heats of the Europa Cup I finished the last 800m of the 5000m in 1.55.6 in the 90 degree heat of Zagreb. I also recall running the final 200m of a 5000m in 25 seconds and also a 53 last lap again in a 5000m".


"In 1970 a time that I am particularly pleased about was for a 15-mile road race which started in North Belfast and headed out to Chimney Corner and back. The hills on the Ballygomartin road were testing but I still managed to run 1 hour 13 mins. 45 sec which improved my own record for this race by almost three minutes. In 1970 I won a half marathon from Belfast to Lisburn and back clocking 1hour 3mins 53 sec which up to that date in the season was the fastest in the world".



Athletes that still keep in touch with

"I don't really keep in touch with many; over the years it's not easy though Jim McNamara who competed for Ireland is one. We still send each other Christmas cards and that sort of thing. Many years ago we were running in Spain and contesting the lead when I suddenly got a stitch and motioned Jim to head on. As we knew each other well he encouraged me to hang in as the field were gradually catching us. Well thankfully we both managed to get to the finishing funnel still fractionally in the lead. At the mouth of the funnel Jim gently pushed me in front of him and said that if he could not beat me when I was fit then he didn't want to when I wasn't. I thought this was an incredible example of the mans integrity".



If you were to do things again

"When I reflect on my athletics career I realise it was all achieved in pretty much the true climate of being an amateur. Compared to athletes that are produced from Northern Ireland of the modern era I achieved quite a lot. If I was to do things again I would take it a lot more serious and train harder. I achieved what I did by the minimum of efforts. Had I trained harder, with a proper structured training regime in place well then who knows what ultimately I could have achieved. However, I trained in the circumstances and climate of my era".


"I had a full time job whereas today's athletes are going full time with all the lottery finances available to them and sponsorships. I can recall many a time returning from a days work, having dinner then spending a few minutes with my daughter before quickly heading out to train in the dark on the busy. There was many an occasion that I was sick on the run as I didn't give sufficient time for my dinner to digest".


"Nowadays if someone is selected to represent their country at the Olympic or the Commonwealth Games it is celebrated, often their work or business will attract a little publicity so they maybe sympathetic for time off for competition. However, in my day asking for time off for sport had the potential to cause problems. You just couldn't take a large amount of time out of work. So thing's could become complicated. Early in my career I had an offer to attend Illinois University and later from Villanova and I declined both. This was the wrong decision but understandable for someone who had never been out of Northern Ireland before and who knows what may have happened had I gone. Now athletes have never had it so good. The diets, the facilities, the equipment, the tracks, pacemakers, its all in their favour. For me things had simply to be done the hard way".



The old adage that every man runs his race in his own time is certainly applicable to Derek Graham who graced the Irish, British, European and World athletics scene with distinction over four decades ago. He ran many a fine race, and his times are certainly a testament to his exploits on the track, road and over the country. Although Derek forged an impressive latter career as a veteran it's the Derek Graham of the 60's that we must celebrate and bestow our total respect. With a wealth of experience and knowledge I just wonder how often the local athletics fraternity benefits from a man of his stature in this age of ever decreasing standards".


"I wish to acknowledge Derek for generously giving up his time for this interview and for unreservedly assisting me with the necessary information. You have my sincere gratitude.