The Chairman’s Message: The Spirit of Time Shall Teach Me Speed

The Spirit of the Time Shall Teach Me Speed

Yes, it’s that time of year again when the fells will resound with the cheers of onlookers, while the current generation of Sedberghians make their way around the course of the Wilson Run. The Shakespearean quote ‘the spirit of the time shall teach me speed’ was ascribed to Bill Graham (H 56-61) as the winner’s motto following his outstanding race in 1961, finishing in a time of 1.11.03, just 47 seconds outside the record. In that same year Norman Berry (SH 57-62) came third. Norman, undaunted and unbowed, returned the following year to win the race in a time of 1.12.06. These times, combined with PT Eddington’s winning time of 1.11.40 set in 1960, were the three fastest times (as of 1962) since CE Pumphrey had set the record of 1.10.16 in 1899. It was a golden age of running for the School.

As with many Ten Mile winners, Norman retained a lifelong interest in the race becoming its biographer, curator, and historian. His latest book, The Wilson Run – A Race in Three Centuries, is a comprehensive and authoritative record of this most historic and treasured school race. It is still in print and well worth the read.

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Joint leaders Crompton and Berry (top right) at Hebblethwaite in 1962.

This year Norman celebrates 60 years since his win. Much has changed since 1962. The younger Norman, in his time machine, might struggle to comprehend the advances made in technology and society, with so much unrecognisable to the eighteen-year-old runner of yesteryear. This is why, in my view, the Wilson Run is so important. It has remained immune to the tide of time and lies unchanged, except for minor alterations, since 1882. It is a direct link with the past, a portal by which we can connect with those who have gone before, and allows us, in turn, to reach out to those in years to come. Each and every Sedberghian who has attempted the course has endured the same bitter cold, mud, pain, and exhaustion as well as the excitement, satisfaction, and elation. I can think of no other activity at Sedbergh where the lineage of experience lies so unbroken over such an arc of history.

When, each year, I go round the course with the Chief Operations Officer, Peter Marshall, I reflect on the many thousands of young men and women who, in their time, have helped to make the many markers on the course so famous; Green Hill, Brant Fell, Cautley, Baugh Fell, Plantation, Muddy Slide, Danny, and the Grubber. Such places are engrained in our minds. Likewise, are the words of the Wilson Run song and in particular ‘strain and struggle might and main, scorn defeat and laugh at pain’. Over the years this stanza has been repeated by many OS when faced with unfavourable odds and has, in some ways, become the very hallmark of stoicism and fortitude that many OS possess. As such the Wilson Run has become more than just a race. It is a defining shared experience, a proving ground, a rite of passage; one where simply to attempt it is a test of character, and to prevail, a noble achievement.

Jan van der Velde
Chairman, OS Club