It is hard to believe that what I have recalled here took place over 30 years ago, when I was a member of the club’s race walking team, but with the benefit of my 1978 diary and the original version, which was written 8 years ago, I was able to record a fairly accurate abridged account of a rather enjoyable holiday with my wife Marie and friends John and Barbara Dunsford and a fairly successful 1st European Masters Track and Field Championships. John was a member of Belgrave Harriers and also member of the Great Britain Masters Team, so we travelled together to Viareggio the venue for the Championships and shared the holiday with them..
Journey To Viareggio
We started the journey on 3rd September, which gave us a week to get to the venue and the start of the Championships was on the 10th. We travelled from London to the Port of Dover and then by ferry to Calais in John and Barbara’s VW Camper. Our journey on the continent was to take us through south east France to the French Alps via some of the two world war battlefields and associated cemeteries, which were a sombre sight. We owe so much to those brave men who gave their lives in both conflicts.
We stayed overnight at St Dizier and the following morning we travelled onto Switzerland and stayed by Lake Geneva at Vidy Camp near Lausanne. We planned to stop at this lovely spot for two days to do a bit of mountain training and sightseeing in a very scenic area. One trip we took near Montreax was to a hydro electric dam via cable car about 6,000 feet up and saw some wonderful ice figures on the dam floating down from the glazier further up the mountain. Our next leg of the journey took us into Italy and the next stop at Levi by Lake Maggiore. We stayed overnight here and then got up for an early start the next day, which was the final leg of our journey. Using the autostradas we made good progress to Genoa, by-passing Milan. At Genoa we paused for a well earned rest before the final stretch to Viareggio along the Mediterranean coast road. We arrived at the camp site quite late, where our base would be for the next 10 days. There many other competitors there from all over Europe. We arrived to a thunderstorm, but afterwards saw no more rain throughout our stay. Oh, and our reliable VW camper we called Sally!!
Final Training And Some Relaxing
We had a few days or so before the Championships started, so John and I trained at the stadium and Marie and Barbara went shopping, no surprise there!! However, we did fit in some shopping trips together later and we purchased a beautiful Italian three legged musical triangular shaped sewing table from the local market, which Marie still uses to this day. We also enjoyed some beach time, swimming in the warm waters of the Med.
The Championships Begin
At the start of the Championships on the 10th September, strangely the opening ceremony was due for 3.30pm after some of the events had already begun at 9.30am. Not an Olympic style ceremony, but a colourful parade with bands and banners in the Italian style, all taking place in the Stadio Di Pini.
John and I were due on the track that evening in the 5000 metres (3.2 miles) track walk at 10.30pm, but the programme was running late and we eventually toed the line at 11.15pm, way passed my bedtime! However, as there were so many competitors on the track, it was a scramble and after 12.5 laps I managed to gain 7th place and John was one place ahead of me in the 45-49 age category.
A Pause To Relax Again
Our next event, the 20Km Road Walk was not due until the 15th, so with 5 days to spare we trained and supported our Great Britain team mates in the full event programme at the Stadium. We did some touring and again more shopping. The most enjoyable was the trip to Florence where the scenery and architecture were sights to behold around the churches and the Basilica Palaces. It got so hot we decided to cut our trip short and return to Viareggio. We also visited Pisa and the leaning tower. That was a scenic sight from the top and we took photos. On our return we had an altercation with the traffic police for doing a u-turn on the autostrada, they wanted to take our passports, but we refused, however, we did get find 3,000 liras.
On The Road For The 20km Walk
John and I finally got back in action for our next event, the 20Kms (12.3 miles) road walking Championships, starting in the stadium on the 15th September at 8am. The temperature was soon rising and drinks and cold water sponges we took at every opportunity. It was an out and back course down along the seafront and there were many spectators cheering us on our way. I came home to win a bronze medal in our age group and John again was one place ahead of me at the finish. The photo shows me just entering the Stadium with one lap to go.
The Championships Closes
The last day 16th September was the final road event the marathon and the track and field finals at the stadium, we were spectators now. Medal presentations were followed by the closing ceremony. This was on similar lines to an Olympic Games closing ceremony, like an open air party, with all the competing nations joining in a grand farewell, after a week of hard competition with about 3,000 competitors. This was followed later in the evening by an invitation to a seafront hotel night club in Viareggio. Quite a night for those competitors who stayed to join in the party. A big thank you was said to the Italian Masters Federation officials, for staging the inaugural European Masters Championships and for making everyone so welcome.
It was a long journey home, so after loading up Sally the VW Camper and collected our Championships Result Books, said our farewells to our fellow competitors at the campsite and we were on our way home. Back along the coastal road and enjoying the scenery we were leaving behind. We took a different route for the return journey from Italy through Switzerland via the Brenner Pass near Zernez. The following day we journeyed on to Landeck in Austria, close to Innsbruck continuing amongst the mountain scenery. The next step of the journey took us into Southern Germany, with stops at Lake Constance, Friedrickschaven by Bodersee, Frieberg and onto Karlshrue. Here we stayed over at a campsite at Durlach. Travelling north the next day, stopping at Saarbrucken and onto Luxembourg, stopping over at Mondorf. Next day we drove into Belgium passing through Nemur, Mons, Tournois and into France travelling to Lille and Armentiers, stopping at Mount du Noir. Off to the ferry at Calais the next day via St Omer. This was the last stage on the ferry to Dover and back to London, which seemed to take forever.
Home at last with many memories from a holiday with a difference and we made many new friends within the Great Britain Team.
Thanks To The Support Team
Both our wives were most supportive to John and I throughout the holiday. It is not every man’s wife who would travel all the distances we covered to help the other half to practice their sport in another country. Their support was significant in our performances as we both returned with medals in the Championship events we contested and we shall be eternally thankful for their support. Would you believe they did it all again at Hannover, West Germany the next year in the 1979 World Masters Championships.
To return home with an individual medal from these championships made all the hours of training and preparing worthwhile. There were also injuries to overcome leading up to the Championships. However, I recovered and eventually it all came together when it counted.
Reg and Marie Eade.