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Ann Sayer MBE

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C599 Ann Sayer MBE

Ann was a Champion.
In more ways than one.

Sadly,  Ann passed away on 15 April 2020 from Coronavirus COVID-19.  

Ann has done much for long distance walking over the years through her work for the Brotherhood of Centurions and the UK's Long Distance Walking Association (LDWA).
After completing a 100 mile walks in the annual LDWA Hundred Ann then sought another challenge - actually race walking a 100 miles in 24 hours.
Ann's first competative 100 mile was in the Netherlands in 1977 and became Continental Centurion CC36 and later that year, became British Centurion C599 with a faster time of 20.37.14.
Intent on walking even further, Ann completed LEJOG - Lands End to John O'Groats in 1980 creating a new walking record. Her time of 13 days, 17 hours and 42 minutes put her in the Guinness Book of Records and she was awarded an MBE for services to sport in 2005. Ann also represented Great Britain in several 24 hour races in France and participated in the legendary Paris Colmar race in 1992.

Ann had a remarkable sporting history.

In 1955, whilst studying geology at Bedford College (University of London), Ann discovered rowing.  By 1958 she was in the university’s first eight rowing team and the following year they won the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association Head of the River Race and the following 5 races.
After graduating in the summer of 1959 Ann worked for the Geological Survey and joined United Universities Women’s BC where she was a core member of the team throughout their international period 1960 to 1965. She was in the crew when it was an eight in 1960, 1962 and 1964 and went to Prague in 1961 as a supporter and as Team Manager in 1965 to Amsterdam. Ann is pictured on the left rowing. (Courtesy of Rowing Story)  More on Ann's incredible rowing background can be found at Rowing Story - it is well worth a read!

In a piece for Rowing Story, Ann recalls that she drifted into long distance walking via mountain walking... "The Long Distance Walkers Association had been started in 1972, and I was told about it and the second event that I did with them was the annual 100 mile event. Ann went on to particpate in more LDWA events of 20 miles, 30 miles, 50 miles and another LDWA 100 a couple of years later. In fact, Ann took part in quite a few LDWA 100s over the years in Cleveland (1976), the Peak District (1974), Dartmoor (1979), Snowdonia (1983), Brecon Beacons (1989) and more.  Ann  joined the LDWA Committee in 1977 and served in various capacities through to the 1990s. Ann also served as co-vice president of the LDWA in 2005.

Always searching for a new challenge, Ann said  "I read about these people who walk 100 miles in 24 hour in a Sunday newspaper… so I found out about them and I discovered, of course, that women don’t do that sort of thing. But that didn’t stop me.” It certainly didn't!

In 1977  Ann's first competative 100 miler was at the St Oedenrode race in the Netherlands finishing in 21.45.52 becoming  Continental Centurion CC36. Later that year and walking for Essex Ladies, Ann entered the Bristol 100 and finished with a time of 20.37.14.  Ann was now Centurion 599. The race turned out to be quite controversial. This was the first time that women had been allowed to compete on equal terms with the men, but when it came to publishing the results it was not ‘permitted’ for women to be named on the main results sheet and in the end, a separate sheet was published with the women’s times (Di Pegg of Medway AC had also completed the 100 miles).  The Centurions AGM followed a week after the race and the subject of female Centurions was discussed at great length! The Assistant Secretary was against women becoming Centurions and put forward a motion that there should be a separate section of the Centurions for women and given the numbers W1, W2...  Another motion was put forwarded that women should not be allowed to become Centurions at all. Fortunately for the women who followed in Ann's footsteps, both motions were not supported.

Many years later, Dudley Harris  wrote to the Australian Victoria Race Walking Club:
Ann Sayer had the misfortune to be not only a competitive walker at a time when women were decried as athletes, but also she chose to take on men at ultra-distance. Not that she wanted to race only against men, but rather because women were shunned from competing at distances of over 12 km. And shunned not merely by men. In the late-1970s, it was the Women's Amateur Athletic Association that still had rules preventing women race-walking more than 12km."

So that was what Ann was up against in the early years of womens race walking.  

1978 saw Ann hop over to the Isle of Man to take part in the annual Parish Walk - 85 miles around the island. Ann's background of fell and mountain walking stood her in good stead as she was the third finisher of this testing race.
In 1979, Ann travelled to Rouen (France) for the annual 24 hour race walk where she won the ladies race with a distance of 187k700.

With these Centurion and race walking accolades under her belt, what next for Ann?  
According to the account on Rowing Story, Ann inevitably asks " what else? let’s do something else!"    A group of fairly like-minded and supportive people in the LDWA suggested LEJOG (Lands End to John O'Groats - a distance of just under 900 miles) but Ann thought "I’m not sure that I’m ready quite for this," so accordingly, in September 1979, Ann set off the Three Peaks Challenge - from Fort William, up Ben Nevis, up Scafell Pike, up Snowdon and down to the sea at Caernarvon, 424 miles (682 km). Ann actually broke the existing men’s record at the time.  And then the next year, 1980, Ann was ready to do LEJOG.

For this adventure, Ann walked 60 miles during the day…"getting up quite early before it was light to start walking at about four and a quarter miles an hour all the time.... but would have a proper night’s sleep in a bed in a B&B or at someone’s  house organised by the support team".  Ann completed LEJOG in 13 days 18 hours 10 mins. A walking record!

The 1980s
04 May 1980 Torcy (France) 200kms - 189k900 and 1st lady.
01 June 1980 St Oedenrode 100 miles, Netherlands - 19:32:37
Ann competed in a 48 hour track race in Nottingham 11-12 April 1982. Passing the 100 km mark in a time of 13h:42m:09s; 100 miles in 22:43:58;  200km in 29:23:54; finishing with a final tally of 294k114. Breaking records at these distances  along the way.
20 June 1982  Timperley near Hale Cheshire,  24 hours - 186.730km. Primarily a running race but four walkers were invited including Centurions Ed SHilabeer and Geof Tranter. Ed recalls "Ann impressed me with her doggedness and invention; she wore spats (gaiters) which stopped cinders getting into her shoes! We mugs lost time and momentum for that reason especially when the track was wet!"

It was not always about long distances though. Ann took part in many shorter race walks:
02 April 1983 London Battersea Park 20km: 2h:02m:49
In 1985 travelled to Puerto Rica for the World Veterans games to  compete in the 10 km walk - pictured left with a couple of Colombian walkers.

Ann was always very modest about her achievements and it is difficult tracing records and results of her early race walking exploits - long before our current digital era.

Fast forward to the 90s...
Whilst continuing with her racewalking, Ann also continued to dismiss the idea that women couldn't achieve.  In 1991 she became the first female Chair of the LDWA and worked tirelessly for sport.

By invitation only
Once again,  Ann joined many British race walkers in competing in the 200km/24 hour race walks in France. Most of these races were qualifying events for the most prestigious ultra racewalk ever - the Paris Colmar. This was a 4 day race across northern France. Ann gained her invite at the 200km/24 hour race in Bazancourt (just north of Rouen) in March 1992 walking 172km in 24 hours. The Bazancourt course was a pleasant route around the town. The major industry in the town was a sugar refinery and so we all found a large box of sugar cubes in our race goodie bags!   
So.. the Paris Colmar 1992. This is what many ultra race walkers dream about and that all elusive invitation to take part. The race took place 17-20 June 1992 with a prologue race of 8km from the Hotel de Ville in Paris out to the suburb of Montreuil. The men's race continued on down through the Marne valley towads Chalons sur Marne where the women's main race was to start on Thursday as the leading man crossed the women's start line.

The men's race was 518km and the women competed over 333km from Chalons to Colmar on the French/German border.
Ann, pictured above with her support crew, completed 200km of the race. That is still a long way especially as there were time limits between each check point along the route. Out of 29 starters in the mens race -only  13 completed; 7 starters in the women's race with 4 finishers.
Ann had another go at the Paris Colmar in 1995 but conceded defeat at 266km, just 67km short of the finish line. That said , she was one of only 10 race walkers who were invited to particpate in the race.

April 1994 Bazancourt (France) 200km/24hours: Competing for Great Britain, Ann placed 3rd lady with a distance of 164km in the 24 hour time limit.
This earned Ann a place in the Guinness Book as her selection for a 200 Km race in France at the age of 57 which made Ann our oldest British female GB representative athlete.

Ann is pictured with Norris McWhirter at the launch of The Guinness Book of Records 1996

Ann enjoyed the races in France and continue competing in the 1990s:

March 1995 Lagny sur Marne, (France) 200km: 4th lady - 172,797km
March 1996 Torcy 200km/24 hours (France): 5th lady - 167,500km

Over the years, many British walkers travelled over to Roubaix (France ) to compete in the 28 hour race walk.  In 1995 Ann competed in the Roubaix 28 hours placing 5th lady with a distance of 184k250. This was not Ann's first race in Roubaix.  Walking for Essex Ladies in 1981, Ann was 2nd female with a distance of 171k,010 and her last race there was in in 1996 where she was 3rd female with 189k50.
Roubaix 1995
Roubaix 1996

Always a Centurion

Ann was always proud of being a Centurion - having firmly made sure she became one!

Busy as she was with racewalking, LDWA challenge walks and LDWA Committee work, Ann also joined the British Centurions Committee where she served until 2019.
In 2013 Ann was elected President  - the first female to hold this office. Quite fitting as she was the very first British Centurion.
The President is elected for a period of 3 years and Ann presided over the Committee with considerable calm and common sense. Her knowledge and advice was invaluable.

As President, Ann's duty was to encourage walkers of all ages and talents to take on the challenge of walking 100 miles in 24 hours in a judged  race walk (which Ann did regardless whether she was President or not).
Also, Ann travelled to the race itself to present the coveted Centurion badge to the newly qualified Centurions in Southend and the Isle of Man. Ann travelled to the Netherlands during her presidency to congratulate all the Dutch and Belgian walkers who had qualified as a British Centurion during her years of office.
Ann pictured in Wijk en Aarlburg, Netherlands, in 2015

Ann stepped down as President at the 2016 AGM, but remained on the Committee, and indeed as Vice President.

After Ann's racing days were over, she continued to be involved in the sport.  
Turning up in all weathers to lap record at both local race walks around the London area and further afield at the Centurions 100 mile races sitting outr for the whole 24 hours.

It is impossible to record and due justice to all that Ann achieved in her sporting life. As a rower, it is noted that Ann kept meticulous detailed records of her own performance and as Team Manager of the ladies rowing team. Undoubtedly,  Ann did the same with her race walks and LDWA events.

Gail Elrick (Surrey Walking Club and LDWA) writes...
Remarkably these were not the only things in her life. She spent most of her working life as a geologist with BP and particularly in later years she was heavily involved in the life of the local community including leading walks for Walking for Health, acting as a volunteer guide at Strawberry Hill House and working in the visitor information centre in Bushy Park.

Tributes from Ann's walking friends

It’s probably not possible to say in a few words that would do justice to a quite remarkable athlete who scaled the heights not just in her walking exploits but also as someone who led from the front.  She was a most respected President of the Centurions 1911 who guided its committee with invaluable advice, she was a campaigner to allow females to take part in the 100 miles events, and was one of the founders of the LDWA.  Personally, Ann’s passing is a great sadness as we have lost a lovely lady and remarkable friend.  RIP. Chris Flint, Past Hon. Secretary Centurions

Sadly you always find out so much about someone when they have passed away, she truly was a remarkable person  who achieved so much in her life to the highest order.
Even in her latter years,and after her 3 years as a great Centurion President, an honour so greatly deserved, she would attend meetings and give her valued opinions. All this until her illness and awful problems which she overcame and fought with great courage, but this terrible virus she could fight no longer. RIP Anne. Pam Ficken, President Centurions

It is hard to believe that Ann has left us.  We are the poorer for her passing. Her walking exploits were indeed second to none and many of us (especially the female walkers) have much to be thankful and grateful for her determination in championing our cause.  She just would not say NO!   It's always a sad time to lose a friend and loved one but currently it is heartbreaking. Kathy Crilley, Centurion

Ann was a good friend who contributed greatly to walking, both as a participant and committee member. She will be greatly missed and I shall remember her with fondness and admiration. Sue Clements, Secretary Centurions

Ann was a pioneer in so many ways, the first lady Centurion, our first lady President, among the first ladies to complete the LDWA 100 and the LDWA’s first lady Chairman, a record-holder at 6 days and for the Land’s End to John O’Groats. Ann was a friend and an inspiration to us all. Richard and Sandra Brown , Centurions

Ann was a member of Loughton AC for a time and we shall miss her.  When she lived at Buckhurst Hill, she would walk to Basildon for races and then walk home again. She was, of course, a top class rower in her younger days and had an oar on her wall to prove it!   A great lady!"  Peter Cassidy, RWA and Loughton AC

A very sad bit of news that Anne has joined the great number of losses from the disease, regretfully she has been through some tough times over the last two years. Carl Lawton Centurion
How sad about Ann Sayer.   I only knew her briefly but she was always so pleasant and positive.  I had no idea of her tremendous achievements and experiences. Steve Kemp, Centurion

Very sorry to hear of the passing of Ann Sayer C599.   A really great first female British Centurion coached by the late great Tommy Richardson C100 of Woodford Green AC.  May she rest in peace.  Bill Sutherland BEM, Former Centurions Honorary Secretary

It is with considerable sadness that I advise LDWA members that Ann Sayer, one of the LDWA's Vice Presidents, passed away today after a short illness. Details of a memorial service will be provided once social distancing measures are relaxed. Our thoughts are with Ann's family at this difficult time. It's terribly sad news and it is incumbent on us as association leaders, that Ann's achievements are celebrated and widely publicised.  I cannot imagine a woman in our modern times, pushing the boundaries with such stunning achievements again. David Morgan, Chair LDWA

Very sorry to hear about Ann a great sports woman and interesting to talk too on many topics. Peter Selby, Surrey Walking Club

Andy Bignold : I am so sorry to hear about Ann.  What a lady and what an athlete with such charisma and charm and athletic achievement.  How cruel that a mere bug takes her down.
Kitty Hung : R.I.P. to Ann.  She used to attend the Metropolitan Police Walking Club Dinner.  Please send our condolences to her family.
Angus Browne : Sad news.  Your health is your wealth
Martin Fisher : Ann was a pioneer and an inspiration to the Centurions always at our committee meetings.
Andy O'Rawe : Very sad.....I remember Ann at the races.

from Facebook:
Cath Duhig: Very sad news. A legend
Gijs Den Ouden: Condolences. Very sad news. 😢
Gerrit de Jong condolances: 🚶‍♀️she was a special lady. and brought me to Ware for a 24 hours on the track
Jock Waddington: Such sad news.
Tony Mackintosh: Very sad news and clearly a special lady. 😞
Jayne Farquhar: That is very sad news. She will be greatly missed.
Bernie Johnson: Very sad - thoughts are with her friends and family
Mark David: Respect and sincere condolences to her family.RIP
Mike Lewis: Ann was an inspiration to us all. I recall racing against her in the 80’s & 90’s & her storming past me in my 100 miles race at Battersea in 1994. Sad to hear the news of this great ladies passing !
Gareth Smith LDWA: I've just read this (in my emails) what a remarkable and inspiring lady. The challenges she completed were impressive to say the least but some at a time that took alot of courage; RIP Ann x

and on other websites:
  • Excellent tribute to Ann in the Guardian newspaper (24 April 2020) written by LDWA's Julie Welch
  • Tribute to Ann by Gail Elrick (LDWA) on the LDWA website
  • Ann is scheduled to be featured on the BBC Radio 4 weekly obituary programme Last Word. Julie Welch, who wrote the obituary that appered in the Guardian,  and is scheduled to be broadcast at 16:00 on Friday (repeated 20:30 Sunday). If you miss it you can catch up on the BBC web site.
  • From Australia - Centurion Footnotes April 2020 - a very comprehensive record of Ann's achievements
  • Rowing tribute to Ann on the website. With thanks to Rowing Story to allow the copying of some of their material and a full account of Ann's rowing career can be found on the website Rowing Story

Ann's family has now created the Ann Rosemary Sayer Tribute fund to help protect footpaths and give more children access to the countryside in the CPRE magazine "Countryside Voices" > CPRE tribute>autumn/winter 2020.

Kathy Crilley C933

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