Arthur Keily was born into a working class family in 1921. He was the eldest of nine surviving children, and won his first medal as a schoolboy walking champion when he was ten years old. He served in the Army in World War Two and was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. After the War he worked as a blacksmith and boiler shop plater at British Railways Locomotive Works, later moving to Rolls-Royce where he was a machinist and warehouse operative.
Between 1954 (his first world record for a 15 mile race) and 1960 (when he set an English Olympic Marathon Record), he broke a number of national and international records for long-distance running. At one time he held eleven world records. This was achieved while holding down a day job and later, at a time when other athletes might be considering retirement.
Arthur Keily also played a leading role in Derby and County Athletics Club, captaining the club during its most successful period in the fifties. He returned to compete in numerous veterans’ races in his 70s and 80s, most notably the breaking the over 70s world marathon time in the London Marathon.
Arthur decided early on that he should concentrate on running marathons (26 miles 385 yards), partly because there was less competition over this longer distance. In April 1954, he won the Doncaster to Sheffield Northern Counties Marathon at his second attempt, in a new course record.
THE LOCAL CLUB COLLECTION
During the 1950s and 1960s amateur sport was a mass spectator event around the country. People would turn out to watch the local race as it passed their front door. With less motor traffic than today it was far easier to have road races in major towns and cities.
Every year the competition running season would start with the Morpeth to Newcastle (13½ mile) on New Year’s Day, followed by a gap until the Doncaster to Sheffield marathon in April. The other big races were:
• London to Brighton National Relay (April)
• Manchester to Blackpool Relay (May)
• Windsor to Chiswick (June)
• Liverpool Marathon (August)
• South London 30 miles (September)
Many races were run by Arthur as an individual but often he was running in these same races as part of a team. While Arthur was Captain of the local Derby and County Athletics Club, they won every national title. Other members of his family were also prominent in local running including his five brothers.
Arthur represented Great Britain in many of the big international races in the 1950s. The high point came with selection for the Olympic Games in Rome 1960. However, in neither these nor the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff 1958 did Arthur perform at his best. He said of the latter race, “The conditions were fiendish. It was like running up an exhaust pipe 16 miles long”.
During preparation for the Olympic Games in 1960, Arthur recalls, “I was the only British Athlete to lead the world in any event, with two fastest times in the world in the previous 12 months but the selectors would not confirm my place in the Olympic team. So I carried on running instead of just training, rather stupidly”. Preparation is the key to success in running long distance. In 1960 athletes were allowed no drinks before the first 11 km and the British marathon team arrived without time to acclimatise to the 38⁰C heat of Rome in September.
He retired from athletics at the end of 1960.
RETURN OF THE VETERAN
In 1990, having kept in touch with the sport and reading about the times that veterans had posted, Arthur decided he could do better and started training again ready for his 70th birthday in 1991. He entered the London Marathon just after his birthday, finishing first in the over 70 category breaking the British and World veterans marathon records. By the end of the year he was top of the world age group rankings in the marathon, half-marathon, 5 km, 10 km and 10 mile distances.
In 1992, Arthur became the British Veterans Champion at 800 m and 3000 m and the Midlands Veterans Champion at 1500 m. He captained the British Veterans Team to the 10 km Road Team Trophy.
Not content with this, in 1996, he became the over 75s British Champion at 10 km running and 3 km and 10 km walking, followed in 2001 as over 80s British Champion at 400 m running and 3 km walking.
Unlike many leading athletes of today, Arthur Keily’s achievements took place alongside his job on the engineering factory shop floor. Training was fitted in around both day and night shifts, and there were other hazards. In February 1959 Arthur dropped a metal casting on his foot and broke his big toe – two weeks later he was back in the Midland Cross Country Championship, finishing ninth.
In February 1957, Arthur was presented with the coveted ‘Jim Peters Trophy’ on the BBC ‘Sportsview’ programme. This trophy was awarded by the Daily Express as their ‘National Award for Courage, Endurance and Willpower’ and was the result of a vote by the public. It was named after the London athlete who set the marathon record on four occasions in the 1950s.
On his return as a veteran, during 1992, Arthur received the Olympic Salute, the Central Television Senior Citizen of the Year, the City of Derby Civic Award, the National Veterans Prize and the Gold Cup for the overall athlete of the year.
2002 brought the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal with 2004 bringing he Help The Aged Living Legends Award for Achievement in Sport and The Dame Thora Hird Award (Help The Aged Living Legends) for Outstanding Achievement.
His final accolades were the
DERBY CITY SPORTS AWARDS
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT IN SPORT AWARD
AWARDED HONORARY MASTERS DEGREE
BY UNIVERSITY OF DERBY