The Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook

Alan Turing: world class distance runner

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A suburban runner

This photograph shows Alan Turing (on the bus steps) with other members of the Walton Athletic Club, an amateur club based in Walton, Surrey, an outer suburb of south-west London.

Walton was not far from the National Physical Laboratory where Turing was working from 1945 to 1947 as the world pioneer of the computer (see this Scrapbook page.) Alan Turing never got the computer up and running, but he himself was running with tremendous energy and speed.

The club members were probably on their way to a race meeting on a Saturday in 1946. The location is identifiable as Hersham Road, Walton.

I owe this photograph to the initiative of Mr Pat Butcher, who in 1999 did something I had omitted to do in writing my book, and contacted Mr J. F. 'Peter' Harding who has the records of the Walton Athletic Club. Pat Butcher has published two articles including anecdotes from Mr Harding, one in the (London) Financial Times, 15 May 1999, and one in Runners World, September 1999.

Here are the anecdotes:

The invitation

Alan Turing was invited to join the club after he was spotted running by himself in the local area (probably in late 1945). 'We heard him rather than saw him,' Mr Harding says, 'He made a terrible grunting noise when he was running, but before we could say anything to him, he was past us like a shot out of a gun. A couple of nights later we caught up with him long enough for me to ask who he ran for. When he said nobody, we invited him to join Walton. He did, and immediately became our best runner.'

Out with the boys (1)

'He was very popular with the boys, but he wasn't one of them. He was a strange character, a very reserved sort, but he mixed in with everybody quite well; he was even a member of our committee.

We had no idea what he did. We didn't even know where he worked until he asked us if Walton would have a match with NPL.

Another time, we went on our first-ever foreign trup, to Nijmegen in Holland. He couldn't come, but he gave me five pounds, which was a lot of money in those days, and said, " Buy the boys a drink for me." '

Ivy House, Hampton, where Alan Turing lodged in this period.
(Photograph taken in 1990.)
Streetmap here.

Mrs Rosemary Hill and myself,
unveiling the blue plaque on her house,
2 December 2001

Out with the boys (2)

'We never had any indication whatsoever [of his being gay.] There was our dressing room, with 20 or 30 young men, running around naked, darting in and out of the showers. He never approached one of them, invited them out for a drink or anything. But... we used to go on trips to London. We booked a show at the Prince of Wales theatre. There were dancing girls... Of course, the boys in the club, their eyes were bobbling out of their heads; they were all young lads. I looked across at Alan, and he was asleep.'

The stress

'I asked him one day why he punished himself so much in training. He told me, " I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard." '

Some extra details (2014):

The figure at the front of the group, holding a piece of paper, is Ted Shepherd, a cross-country runner who was probably organising the transport for the meeting. Second from the right is his son Brian Shepherd, who would accompany Alan Turing to race meetings and pass him food at stages during long distance runs. This information comes from Mr Mike Saunders, who is Ted Shepherd's grandson, and recalls his grandfather speaking of Turing's high-carb training diet.

The success

Alan Turing achieved world-class Marathon standards. His best time of 2 hours, 46 minutes, 3 seconds, was only 11 minutes slower than the winner in the 1948 Olympic Games. In a 1948 cross-country race he finished ahead of Tom Richards who was to win the silver medal in the Olympics.

From The Times, 25 August 1947

Turing running in 1946
Running in 1946

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Andrew Hodges