Remembering Bernard Gomersall (1932 – 2022)
An Ultramarathon Legend
I learned of Mr. Gomersall passing from this Facebook post from his daughter:
It is with great sadness that I have to tell you Bernard Gomersall's earthly race finished on Saturday 10/15/2022. He passed away quietly in the early hours. His funeral will be held on friday in Gaithersburg Maryland. Bernadette Ginley
Bernadette was responding to a post I did about my father Ted Corbitt’s history of racing the London to Brighton 52 Mile road race during the 1960s. At the end of the post, I stated the following:
*Bernard Gomersall was the dominant ultramarathoner of this era with four London-to-Brighton wins and one Comrades Marathon win.
Ted Corbitt was in three of the four London to Brighton races won by Bernard. He finished second to him in 1964 and 1965 and 5th in 1966. In 1964 Bernard won by a mere 58 second. Corbitt was gaining in the closing miles, and he felt that Gomersall outsmarted him on that date. In 1965 my father injured his arch during the second half of the race and couldn’t execute his race plan.
My father’s best opportunity was in fact 1965 because he trained specifically with two race plans for Bernard. Here’s my father describing the 1965 race in a letter to me September 26, 1965. I was age 14.
“I was in 4th just on Gomersall’s heels all this time. And sometime after 34 miles Gomersall made his explosion. Originally, I had expected him to do this sooner or later and had planned to stick with him at all cost but running this day didn’t come easy. It was an effort so I reverted to an alternate plan which was to counterattack going thru the hills and might have worked but I injured my left foot, the arch, and was in considerable pain the last 15 miles. I came to a near dead stop twice and limped badly each time. So when I got to Dale Hill (46 miles) I had the second severe episode and limped up this hill. After starting the plunge down the pain eased again, I was able to land on the foot again and I came back to life somewhat.”
My father described the 1965 race to John Chodes his biographer and teammate in a letter dated October 5, 1965.
“An amazing thing happened at about half way: Gomersall took a 2.5 mile rest. The pace definitely and deliberately slackened and we still gained on the leaders. In the meantime my left foot was acting up. There was a slight sore feeling, then a burning and eventually steady pain. I had two plans of action. I had hoped to stay on Gomersall’s heel until one of us ‘blew up’ and I suffered in training to make sure that no matter how tired I got I would still finish. As the miles ticked off and I knew that he had to go up and try to take over the race from the remaining rabbit and to get rid of me. I dreaded having to accelerate since I didn’t feel like it. I also realized that a surge or two might shake off the odd feeling I had. I would almost put it in the category as due to tension but at the same time I want to reject this as a cause. I no longer know if my foot played a part in my final decision but when he accelerated I saw his first step and made an instantaneous decision to go to plan 2 which was to let him go, stay as close as possible and eventually run him down by the time we got thru the 10 miles of hills coming up.”
Another letter to John Chodes March 5, 1966 stated the following:
“I did not lose in ’65 because I wasn’t strong enough to respond to Gomersall’s spurts. I did respond to all of them until he made his big move and on an impulse, I let him go. I knew he was going to it eventually, but I didn’t consciously know until that moment that I wasn’t going to go with him. And the fact that I didn’t go with him was definitely not a surrender. I wanted to beat Gomersall and I believed that I could and had trained harder, suffered more than at anytime in my previous training to prove the point to myself. I recall at one point past 20 miles as four of us were in a pack and Gomersall made a signal that I interpreted to mean that he was going to run ahead to get some water from his cyclist. He spurted and just seeing him some 40 yards ahead I wondered and suddenly started to spurt ahead and make contact when one of the other guys said something like, He’s not going yet. You see they knew it too that Gomersall ran to a pattern which called for a big move of serval miles.”
Corbitt’s race plan in 1965 of counter attacking Bernard had a good chance of working because of two factors:
*The last 5+ miles were downhill which was a strength of my father’s running.
*When Bernard caught race leader John Tarrant, they raged a back and forth battle which severely tired Gomersall. Tarrant would spurt for a quarter of a mile three times holding off Bernard. My father saw Tarrant collapse on the side of the road as a result of his aggressive front running. This could have made Bernard a sitting duck in the closing miles.
The opportunity to meet Bernard and interview him multiple times was quite meaningful for me and I’m thankful. He was on my short list of athletes I most wanted to meet and interview.
Bernard gave us two important lessons in preparing for a big race. The first was to make it the top priority in your training and racing. He would start his preparation for London to Brighton 11 months before the September race. He stated, “I was willing to lose any other race because they were stepping stones to the Brighton.”
The second lesson is that the winner isn’t necessarily the person who does the most training miles. If total mileage was the winning metric my father with his 300 mile training weeks and runs around Manhattan Island twice (62 miles) on three consecutive days would have given him the win. I was floored to learn Bernard’s longest training run was just 40 miles.
My father admitted late in life that he overtrain and would have benefited from taking more rest days. However he was experimenting with his high mileage training on the premise that more was better. John Chodes challenged him about his training in a letter after the 1965 race. Here’s exerts of my father response to John (March 5, 1966):
“I disagree that my present training program cannot prepare me to win at London. I honestly believe that I should have notched two first places. Any big errors in training, within the time I have (and energy) to devote to it, have undoubtedly occurred in the final three weeks before the race.”
“Taking another look at your letter. The increasing of training mileage in itself does not necessarily mean that you will not have ‘zip.’ In fact, you might have more, but it is a tricky business. The secret is to pull out of the ‘heavy’ stuff in time. Heavy mileage can be like a pump primer: that is like storing strength and speed. (believe it or not: I have proven this a number of times). It is tricky. You cannot lose speed thru running unless you are tired or injured. You may not gain any either but the chance are that you will run about as fast as you can if you recapture the feeling of freshness and this is the tricky part I keep referring to. As I explained, it is also possible to run just about as fast via what I call a ‘muscle run’ as when I have ‘zip’ but it means working very hard. I admit that under the conditions of a muscle run (my term) the chances of winning against first class opposition are slim.”
Both my father and Bernard were greatly assisted by their wives both named Ruth. Bernard said there would be no Bernard the ultra runner without Ruth’s support and sacrifices. I often say to people if you’ve been inspired by my father’s accomplishment always remember and thank my mother’s role in his successes. She gave him total freedom to pursue his extreme training routines, his administrative work for the sport, and the excessive paperwork involved in establishing a system to ensure the road running courses were accurately measured. Keep in mind during this era the sport was purely an amateur endeavor with very few participants, fans, and media coverage.
Bernard was born in 1932 in Leeds a county in Northern England.
Bernard work for 46 years for the same company. His job took him around the world inspecting electronic facilities at harbors and aboard ships.
He left the running scene in 1988 and took up the sport of Lawn Bowls as a player, team captain, and league administrator. Bowls, also known as lawn bowls or lawn bowling, is a sport in which the objective is to roll biased balls so that they stop close to a smaller ball called a "jack" or "kitty". It is played on a bowling green, which may be flat or convex or uneven.
He and Ruth were season ticket holders for years rooting the Leeds Rugby League team.
Ruth passed in 2011 and he moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland to join his daughter Bernadette (Kevin) and two granddaughters Beverly McGaughan and Theresa Belcastro. Bernard became a U.S. citizen earlier this year and just turned age 90 in August.
Attached is Roger Robinson’s fine article for Marathon & Beyond in 2013 called “Bernard Gomersall Remembers the ‘60s.” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QWHLF9di4Qu404ybuTGlNHtK1Sr2gV_E/view?usp=sharing
The article closes with this statement from Bernard:
“On the form to become a permanent resident, you have to state that you have never done anything to the detriment of the United States. But what if they find out about the three times, I stopped Ted Corbitt from winning the London to Brighton?”