I first knew of Eddie Toft towards the end of the 1960s not long after coming to Leicester. My then husband, Martin Knowles, was delighted that another “Northerner” and someone for whom he had a great deal of respect had also come to Leicester. He had known Eddie from his school days in Bury, Lancashire and was pleased to continue to have coaching advice and contact with him because of Eddie’s extensive knowledge of middle distance running on the track. This contact began while we were at Leicester University and continued on with the local club, Leicester Coritanian AC. It continued on too, a generation later, with Martin’s younger son, Joe, benefitting from Eddie’s middle distance coaching expertise on the track at Saffron Lane Athletics Stadium.
I did not actually meet him until the early 1970s when he was organising some training for Leicester Coritanian members at the Leicester University Athletics track on Manor Road. This was my first introduction to words such as “paarlauf” and “fartlek” (both of which words caused our young son to giggle uncontrollably!) while I helped out with the very odd type of relay races that occurred! I have only rarely seen, since then, such a complete understanding by anyone of the importance of track training to off-track events, and also of off-track training to the track performance of athletes. Even in recent years he had talked about how difficult it is to run a sensible and efficient 5,000m or 10,000m track race, yet how beneficial it is to the middle and long distance runners to try it.
During the 1970s and 1980s Eddie was a vital figure within the club and was committed to ensuring that the athletes in Leicester Coritanian AC had better competition – he therefore supported the setting up of Charnwood AC. This was at a time when there was considerable resistance to having more than one track and field club in the County. However he knew the importance of competition and continued throughout his time in Leicester to promote and sustain competitive races. He was also the guiding force behind developing and sustaining various Road Running Leagues in the County and the Midlands. His quiet commitment and dedication were responsible (as far as I am aware) for the Pace Relays (which were annually held at GEC Whetstone), for the Round Leicester Relay which attracts so many athletes but which demanded a mammoth amount of planning and organisation to be successful, and for the return of the Leicester Marathon. Eddie frequently bemoaned to me the fact that so many of the huge number of club road runners in the County did not want to run on the track. He tried hard to persuade the “new” joggers of the 70s and 80s, and also the new running clubs, to try both track training and track events, but often with little success. His expertise on the track ranged from 800m up to 10,000m but he sadly witnessed the decline of British success in these events in the latter half of his life. However he still continued to support and develop the County 10,000m Track Championships (alongside other middle and long distance off-track Championships). For many people Eddie’s commitment to disability athletics may not be so well known. However he supported every event that was organised for disabled athletes throughout the County. His contributions and support have been acknowledged by many in Special Schools throughout the County. He was also the oldest volunteer at the Special Olympics at Saffron Lane Athletics Stadium in 2009. Again, such a quiet and unassuming commitment and dedication from this humble man.
I have heard, and read, about how people have named Eddie (Ted as he came to be known in Leicester) as “Mr Endurance”. Indeed this accolade is well deserved considering how extensive his knowledge was - from the fell running, to the Marathon, to the road races, to the cross-country events - and possibly more that I know nothing about. For me however the enduring memory is of Eddie at the side of the athletics track. How amazing then that my first memory of him is jogging across the middle of the track between fartlek training or paarlauf relay races at the Manor Road Athletics track; and that my last memory, more than forty years later, is of him jogging across the middle of the Saffron Lane Athletics track doing exactly the same (and still calling times and encouragement to athletes) – just a month ago in his training sessions with Leicester Triathlon Club.
Like many, I have admired and respected this quiet and unassuming man. He has taught me a lot in relation to Endurance officiating and I will always be grateful for that. I hope that these few and slightly different memories, will help others to remember his mammoth contribution to track athletics as well as to Endurance. Thank you for everything Eddie.
Cherie (Knowles) D’Silva January 2011