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Monday, 03 October 2022 18:44

Billy Gardner

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Our next inductee to the Hall of Fame is Mr Lancaster & Morecambe AC himself, Billy Gardner. Athlete, Coach, Committee member, Race organiser…he’s done them all.

Billy is the second Gardner to enter the Hall of Fame but if you had asked an 8-year-old version of himself if this was remotely possible in 50 years time, he would have given you a colourful reply.

Living in the Skerton and Ryelands area Billy laughed at the things they’d get up to which he definitely would not recommend now! He remembers not being sporty but running away from things he had done proved particularly handy!

Born in Lancaster in 1958 Billy was a keen footballer but he recalled that sport was not a priority back then. Billy went to Skerton Infant school before joining Skerton Juniors but he laughed that PE wasn’t all that fun. Running around in little shorts and a vest in the rain wasn’t very interesting or fun. However, if you know Billy well then you’ll know that’s his usual day-to-day outfit these days!

Billy admitted that he started smoking at 8 years old and running was not on the agenda, he joked he wasn’t a prolific smoker but at that age, he saw others who used to really put them away.

Billy noted how different life was then and even during Primary and into Secondary education he would also be working at Motorway Services, Hotels, Fairgrounds and the Bingo. Whilst it kept him active it wasn’t building towards a lifelong habit of running. He remembers at school when they were forced to run ‘cross country’ the route would go past his house, and he would pop in for a cigarette and a pie.

At 16 Billy got a job at Halton Mill where football became much more regular and he became a bit fitter. It wasn’t long before he moved to Nicholson’s in Glasson Dock to train and become a Welder, mainly working on car silencers.  This is where football took hold as he played regularly with the people he worked with against other companies.

It would be another 8 years before the Billy Gardner we know would come into the world of LMAC. In the 1980s with a young family his routine changed and so would his sporting outlook. In 1983 he offered to help a friend get fitter and so began running with him to help build up their fitness. The running bug well and truly bit at this point……

Less than a year later ‘a friend’ who remains unnamed bet Billy he wouldn’t enter a race. Never wanting to back down Billy agreed and the date was set. On the day of the race, Billy was picked up by his friend who offered to give him a lift, even at this stage Billy did not ask how far this race was. The journey to Manchester was not a straightforward one and they broke down which Billy recalled was the reason why he never asked about the race distance. On arriving and collecting his number he was told his first race was going to be a marathon. Billy joked he has zero recall of the final 6-7 miles and just remembered being at the finish. His time on this day was 3 hours 58 mins.

A year later Billy found the courage to come down to LMAC for the first time and asked if he could join the road group. He remembers they said yes but were just heading for a toilet stop first, they never came back. The late Arnold Bibby at this point jokingly told Billy there was a side door to the changing rooms and so next time go with them! That he did, he came back the following week and joined the group which was made up of some serious talent. After 4 miles, they dropped him. Tired and slightly dejected he made his way back to the club, Billy would not return to the club until 1987. Subconsciously that night was likely to have a huge impact on his future coaching with regrouping being a huge factor in the future road group structure. 

Billy returned in 1987 with the determination to make an impact as an athlete and was initially self-coached. However, in 1987 he recalls how he took a ‘gang’ down and that was also the start of his coaching of others.

In 1988 Billy was joined at the club by his children Mark and Louise, he was also supported by his wife Elaine, all of which are still involved with the club today.

There are so many moments that could make this report but at this stage, it is easier to understand the commitment and dedication in 3 areas.

·     

Billy the Athlete

·       Billy the Coach

·       Billy the Committee Member / Helper

 

Billy the Athlete

As an athlete, Billy is a prolific racer and is known by everyone on the road circuit. Throughout the 90s and 00s, Billy would often be racing most weekends. In the summer if there wasn’t a road race he would probably be doing the Northern League Track and in the winter he would likely be seen at the Mid Lancs XC. He would also race the Northern XC and National XC many times.

His race stats are incredible with over 3000 club appearances over the road, track, country and fell. There are very few athletes who could pull these numbers with the levels of consistency in positioning and performance that Billy achieved. 

Billy loves the Marathon distance, which likely stems from his first-ever race. He has completed 135 marathons and continues to add to that number. During his most successful period, he was being coached by Blackpool-based Frank McGuire and in one particular training block, he was running 160 miles per week. Billy thrived off long steady distances which demonstrates not all athletes are the same. His favourite event was the Tour of Tameside which consisted of 2 marathons over a week consisting of different distances and terrains. His overall time equated to two marathons at 2hrs 35mins pace.

Billy went on to represent Lancashire over 10 times and as an athlete lobbied the LAA to give more representation to road athletes which lead to an influx of LMAC endurance runners getting county vests during that period. He was a shop steward at work so fighting for others came as second nature.

Billy was consistently on the podium for both club championships and events around the UK. He recalls how he loved cross country but never quite managed to be the club champion but often came close but his memory of cross country is that of the Mid Lancs. He remembers when the senior men’s race was loaded with talent and even breaking into the top 20 was like winning.

Billy was a serious runner but he was also a serial joker. During the 90s many LMAC runners would travel to the London Marathon together and he remembers how once he went to the start dressed as a clown. He quickly got changed in the elite section, ran the marathon, he then quickly got back into his clown outfit. For days people believed he had run 2hrs 45 dressed as a clown……we can just imagine as runners are getting tired in the final 6 miles, Billy would have been rushing to get to the line to get his clown outfit back on.

 PBs

5km 15.09

10km 31.48

10m 52.50

Half M 71.08

Marathon 2.35

Billy the Coach

The number of athletes that Billy has supported since 1987 to the current date is impossible to even put into numbers. Billy’s coaching philosophy has been shaped and developed through personal experience but also through working with people like Frank McGuire, Colin Gemson, Dave Voyle, Arnold Bibby and Reg Baker, all of which he holds in high regard.

Billy recalled a time when the group he built had sub 5min milers right through to 15min milers, everyone was treated with the same level of time, respect and support. There was a time that the group would be reaching one hundred strong on a Tuesday and Thursday night.

Billy continues to support athletes and quite often the phrase ‘get a programme from Billy’ is something you hear around the road runners quite often when a marathon is in the pipeline! Billy remembered a time when he was approached by a guy who had been challenged to run, not just to be able to run but run a marathon. However, this guy was 27 stone and never ran a day since school. Billy worked with Gary tirelessly and less than a year later Gary ran a half marathon closely followed by the London Marathon. Billy’s infectious enthusiasm for coaching and helping others never wavers and as a coach, he knows what to say and when to say it!

 Billy the Committee Member / Helper

Billy the Athlete and Billy the Coach happened concurrently, add to this Billy the Committee Member / Helper. Not sure how he managed to fit all these in a normal day!

If there was a club event Billy would/will be there, you need a marshal then Billy will be there. Does something need to be organised? Ask Billy.

Billy has held many positions on the committee and has loved every minute of helping the club in which he has been a member since 1987.

Many of the hours of work in the background very much go unnoticed because they are linked to day to day running of the club that we don’t see. If there is a fight to make the club better then at the front of that fight you’d find Billy, probably in his club vest and shorts.

 Over the last decade Billy has sacrificed his running to help others, helping others is in his DNA but he quite fancies himself as an MV65 so a comeback might be on, Billy is still active in all of those roles and so there is still a lot more to come……welcome to the Lancaster & Morecambe AC Hall of Fame Billy Gardner.

 

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