Manx Harriers, and local athletics in general, lost its greatest friend and supporter with the tragic death of Murray Lambden at the age of 60 whilst walking on Marine Drive on the morning of 17 April 2017. Less than 24 hours earlier Murray had been covering the Easter Festival 5k road race on Douglas Promenade with his usual gusto, armed with his array of cameras, and was on his usual wonderful form.
Murray’s contribution to every aspect of athletics on the Isle of Man over several decades was immense and is unlikely ever to be equalled. He was an athlete, administrator, coach, visionary and publicist extraordinaire, whose dedication to everything he did in his life was truly exceptional. He was a man of principle and the highest integrity who stood up and fought for the things that mattered to him, but was also a man of great warmth and humour, forever smiling. He was a friend and confidante, someone who set the highest personal standards and would always find time to help and encourage others.
The very existence of Manx Harriers as a club is due in no small measure to Murray’s vision and tireless work nearly 30 years ago. The formation of the club was effectively a merger between two long-established clubs Manx AC and Boundary Harriers, and there was, understandably, considerable opposition from those who didn’t want to lose those clubs. Murray was adamant that the establishment of a single, strong, club was the way forward, and he backed up his views with detailed and reasoned arguments. The achievements of Manx Harriers in the years since, in so many disciplines of athletics, tell their own story.
Murray was one of the Isle of Man’s finest ever athletes, and his achievements as a competitor are too numerous to list in too much detail here. I am grateful to Murray’s friend and Commonwealth Games teammate Robbie Lambie for providing some of this information. In his earlier days Murray was an international race walker who represented Great Britain on four occasions in places such as Spain and Germany. In 1982 he represented the Isle of Man in the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, where he finished eighth in the 30-kilometre walk.
He achieved many successes locally, winning the Parish Walk in 1978, and in 1981 he won the End to End Walk on the old course on the east side of the island in a time of around 5 hours 50 minutes, which nobody else came anywhere near. He also won the TT Course Walk in the early 1980s, narrowly beating his friend and rival Graham Young.
Murray finished runner-up to Graham in the National 100 kilometres championship in 1981 in a time of 9 hours 38 minutes. At various times Murray held every Manx race walking record over distances from 3 to 50 kilometres, and only lost them when Steve Partington came onto the scene a little later.
A serious back injury forced Murray’s retirement from race walking in his late twenties, but some time later he reinvented himself as a distance runner, a discipline that suited his dedicated nature. His best half marathon time was 70.59 in the local Syd Quirk event, in a race in which he went through the ten-mile point in around 53.50.
In later years Murray’s passion was for running marathons, especially in London, and his best time was 2 hours 43 minutes in April 2005 when he was 48 years of age. The London Marathon was an event that was to become particularly special to him over the years. He coached and mentored several local athletes and relished the build-up to the big day in April each year.
Murray currently holds age group Isle of Man records for various distances in the 45, 50 and 55 age groups, some of which are likely to stand for many years. Although in more recent times his interest was in local athletics generally, he always relished the opportunity to represent Manx Harriers at events such as the Lancashire Cross Country Championship where he was still winning age group medals in very recent years.
Murray’s dedication to athletics went far deeper than just competing though, and from early on he played a big part in shaping the development of the sport on the island. As early as 1990 he saw the potential of the Parish Walk for huge expansion, and he put together a comprehensive 13-point blueprint explaining in detail how he saw the event’s future. This included such innovations as the use of technology in the form of automatic timing and an electronic results system, things that were well in the future at that stage. Parish Walk director Ray Cox, who first took charge of the event in 1994, revealed in his Manx Radio tribute to Murray this week how he discovered this document in the early 2000s, and realised to his astonishment that every improvement that had been put in place by that point had already been recommended by Murray a decade earlier! Those that had not yet been introduced soon were, and all this led to the enormous success of the event we have today.
Murray was heavily involved for many years with the Millennium Way Relay which took place each Boxing Day for around 30 years. With four legs, handicaps and also a cycle race incorporated, it was a complex event to organise and even more complex to produce accurate results for. It was Murray who wrote the Excel program to automate the results and produce them quickly and accurately straight after the event.
Such was Murray’s experience in all areas of the sport, his professionalism and his easy manner with people, that he was a natural for team management roles. He managed the Isle of Man athletics team at the Commonwealth Games, and was the general manager for the overall Manx team at the Island Games in Gibraltar in 1995. He also served as Chairman of the IOM Athletics Association for several years.
In 2000 Murray, having relinquished most of his official positions by choice, set up his independent website www.manxathletics.com, but even someone as visionary as he was could scarcely have foreseen how big, how popular and how indispensable this website – and its satellites – was to become for local athletics. His aim was to provide, at his own considerable expense, a platform to enable everyone in the sport to communicate with each other, to publicise events and results, to compile event histories, to publish photos – and later videos – and to share news and stories. Suddenly, information was available instantly, whereas previously you had to rely on next week’s edition of the local newspaper.
Murray set himself tasks such as compiling complete databases of every performance recorded in several of the island’s biggest athletics events, not least the Parish Walk. His passion for facts and figures – and accuracy – ensured that these tasks were carried out with the utmost thoroughness. But to Murray, athletics was about so much more than mere statistics, and he was always deeply interested in the people behind them. He would interview as many of the sport’s personalities as he could, always asking the right questions to elicit interesting responses and discussions.
I have one particular memory of Murray’s passionate belief in the value of good publicity, and he asked me to help him with an experiment. It was in the lead-up to the Northern 10 road race a decade or so ago, and Murray decided that for a week or two he was going to publicise the event relentlessly – this was completely independent of anything done by the event organisers and we didn’t tell anyone what we were doing. For several years the numbers taking part in the race had been steady, but Murray felt that it was such a good event that many more should be encouraged to take part. Every day for a couple of weeks before the event he published photos of previous events, databases, statistics, fulsome praise about what a great course it is and how well-organised the event is. As requested, I backed up all Murray’s comments with daily contributions of my own on the website’s forum – this was in pre-Facebook days. The upshot was that the event attracted record numbers that year on the back of all the positive publicity, which had been Murray’s aim all along. Point proved – good publicity works!
Perhaps surprisingly for someone who believed so strongly in the value of quick and easy communication, Murray did not immediately embrace social media – in fact he steadfastly refused to use it for a long time. However once he finally signed up for Facebook he quickly realised what a powerful tool it is in today’s world if used in a sensible way. Indeed, Murray provided a lesson for us all in the way in which he used the medium. He would never rant; if he had a point or a criticism to make he would always back up his views with thoughtful arguments and meticulously researched facts – just as he would do ‘offline ‘when talking face to face. He encouraged others to do the same.
Murray wholeheartedly embraced modern technology, and was always looking for ways to improve his coverage of the sport still further. In recent months his big innovation had been live video streaming of various events, which he never did better than during the Easter Festival last weekend. He was a man who moved with the times and rarely stood still – either literally or metaphorically!
Everybody will have their own special memories of Murray, who has touched the lives of everyone who has taken part in athletics over the past 30 years and more. Everyone will have received a word of encouragement from him as he clicked his camera, everyone will have enjoyed a photo or video of themselves in action. Last year the weather during the early stages of the Mountain Ultra was so bad the race had to be abandoned – but that didn’t stop Murray making his way with his cameras to the summit of North Barrule in heavy rain and gale force winds. Such were the conditions that his attempts to use his cameras proved futile – but he wouldn’t have forgiven himself if he hadn’t tried.
The way in which Murray’s dedication to providing the best possible coverage of athletics events reached out to people was summed up perfectly last Friday evening after the Easter Festival 10k road race. Murray had streamed the start and finish of the race live from Port Erin Promenade, and later that evening he received a message on his Facebook page from local athlete Nick Colburn which read “Thank you Murray.. my nana got to see me start and finish because of your dedication.. made her happy!” That perfectly sums up what Murray’s devotion to athletics did – he made people happy.
Away from athletics, Murray was keenly interested in politics and current affairs, and would fight for the issues he believed strongly in. It was especially poignant, and perhaps even fitting, that the last race he ever saw took place last Sunday on Douglas Promenade walkway, which was being used in exactly the way he had campaigned so vigorously for over the past two or three years – free from horse trams and parked cars and able to be enjoyed to the full by pedestrians. Murray adored the beauty of the Isle of Man, and would regularly publish photos of his country walks with his family for us all to enjoy.
Murray was one of a kind, unique and totally irreplaceable. It is hard to imagine athletics events without him and the sport will never be the same again – but the magnificent legacy he leaves behind will provide inspiration, pleasure and pride for decades to come. He was a truly exceptional man and a dear friend to us all.
Most importantly of all though, Murray was the perfect family man, completely devoted to his wife Marie and to their sons Robbie and Ben as we have all seen so clearly over the years. Their loss is so much greater than ours and we send them, and all Murray’s extended family, all our love and support at such a tragic time.
20 April 2017
Thanks to all for the use of the photographs.