Martin Hyman

Time spent at school: 1964 to 1968

Date passed away: 3rd April 2021

Martin Hyman

Martin Hyman 3rd July 1933 – 3rd April 2021

 The Old Godhelmian Association is very sad to learn the news of the death of Martin Hyman in April 2021, at the age of 87. Martin was one of the best distance runners of his time. He came to England from Jersey in the Channel Islands as a refugee during the Second World War.  His father was Jewish and would not have survived in Nazi Germany. Martin had an unsettled childhood and his education was patchy, since he attended ten different schools. He started running at primary school in 1941. He was a very frail child, but always determined to run and at secondary school, he continued running rather than engaging in other sports.

He managed to get into Southampton University at a time when entrance to Higher Education was difficult and he was part of the cross-country team. He also joined Portsmouth Athletic Club and became one of the club’s most important runners. During his National Service, he was a conscientious objector, stationed in the ambulance division at Linz in Austria, where he was able to train on the track of one of the best athletics clubs in Austria.

On his return to the UK, he took a Teaching Diploma course at Southampton University. His running during this time continued to improve and he established himself as a world-class track runner. In 1958, at the age of 25, he married Margaret Veal, in a very simple ceremony and they remained together until his death. The weekend of his wedding he took part in the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, coming fourth in the six-mile race and ranking third in the world. They had two sons, Michael and Patrick, born in 1965 and 1966. Both are married with families. Michael was known as Fred to all and Patrick was called Packit, which was the closest Fred could get to saying Patrick as a youngster. Packit, who was a fine athlete in his own right, now lives in Tasmania. Margaret was always a huge supporter of Martin’s athletics career.

Being a family man with a full-time job, Martin compartmentalised his life into three distinct parts: parenthood, athletics and teaching. He never had a coach. Instead, he studied training theories, and devised daily sessions that used a sixty-minute period efficiently and effectively. He acknowledged that he had little natural running ability. In addition, he was perennially handicapped by asthma in the winter and hay fever in the summer. His skills lay more in endurance than in speed.

He competed in many European competitions in the early 1960s as well as in Brazil before he was chosen to represent Great Britain in the 10,000-metre race in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He finished ninth, achieving a personal best in the competition. After the Olympics, Martin returned to club running on road and cross country. He won the São Silvestre New Year’s road race in São Paulo, Brazil in 1962, and he considered this to be his greatest achievement. Using clever tactics, he managed to beat the Ethiopian Olympic Champion, Abebe Bikila.

In 1962 he competed in the European Championships in Belgrade and the Commonwealth Games in Perth Western Australia, where he was asked and agreed to run the Marathon, despite a lack of training for that specific event.  Although he became dehydrated in the high temperatures, he kept going and finished in ninth place.

The key race for the Olympic selection for the 1964 Tokyo games was the Amateur Athletic Association six miles on July 10th. He was expected to be on the Olympic team. However, he was not selected although he was third fastest in the world that year. Martin felt that the situation was political because he was chairman of the International Athletes Club (the athletes’ trade union), a post he filled for nearly ten years.  The selectors chose Fergus Murray to run the Olympic 10,000 with Mike Bullivant and Ron Hill.

As he entered his late thirties, he still continued to train an hour a day, run for his club and coach young runners. Martin was one of a group of former GB international endurance athletes who pioneered the sport of orienteering in England in the 1960s (along with, among others, Chris Brasher, John Disley, Gordon Pirie, and Bruce Tulloh). Since he loved scenic off-road running and map reading, he persuaded members of his running club to form the Occasional Orienteers. As a founder member of the British Orienteering Squad, running coach, secretary, chairman and treasurer, he tried to progress the Squad from a very low level to a world-class one. He also introduced orienteering to the first two schools where he taught and a number of the youngsters reached international standard. His coaching and encouragement saw the school where he taught in Haslemere play a key role in the development of the sport, including the establishment of the Combined Harvesters club, which founded the Harvester Trophy Relay which continues to be an important UK competition to this day.

Martin taught biology at Godalming Grammar School, Surrey from 1964 to 1968. Subsequently, he taught at Eggars Grammar School, Alton, Hampshire, Hreod Burna School, Swindon, Wiltshire and Itchen Grammar School, Southampton, Hampshire.  He moved from England to Scotland in 1979 to teach in the High School at Livingston, Scotland where he was Deputy Head.  He joined Livingston and District Amateur Athletic Club. The Livingston/West Lothian area is a mixture of affluent and tough areas; Martin coached individuals from across that range, helping with his time to produce world-class athletes along with others, especially youngsters, of less talent but who were introduced to all the benefits of participation in sport. His focus was always on athlete-centred development which involves giving people the opportunity and information to make decisions that are best for them individually. In his time there his contribution to staging events, coaching and training sessions was huge and cut across a number of disciplines of athletics including road, cross-country and hills. As a coach, he would give as much time and enthusiasm to an International athlete as he would to a beginner. That dedication was reflected and acknowledged in 2007 when he became an Honorary Life Member of Scottish Athletics.

After his retirement from teaching, Martin continued coaching. He believed that each runner was an individual with particular needs. His aim was to move away from the traditional coach role of telling youngsters what to do and towards empowering youngsters to decide where they want to go and to think about how best to get there.   He was always considered tough but fair. Martin was a very strong character with firm views especially around social equality and opportunity, something he extended into encouraging youngsters as well as club athletes, regardless of ability or background. In addition to his athletic and educational activities, he was an enthusiastic and active supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Martin preferred to live in the moment. He was a modest man who seldom mentioned his own achievements in sport. He was an inspiration over decades for many people, and played a huge role in the development of athletics and orienteering in the UK. He will be very much missed, and the Old Godhelmian Association sends its condolences to his wife Margaret, his sons and his many friends.

Martin said of himself: “I’m driven, analytical, and a keen observer.”

Thanks go to John Cobley for permission to use sections of his online article on Martin Hyman. We are also grateful to Brian Bullen, Martin Leadbetter, Richard Parish, Martin Wakefield and others for their comments and insight into Martin Hyman’s life and career. Further information can be obtained on these webpages:


Lesley Shurlock 9th March 2018

Martin was my Biology teacher at Godalming Grammar School around 1966. He was also my late husband’s friend and they arranged a camping, sailing and climbing holiday for us in N. Wales. He came to my wedding with his sweet wife Margaret and lovely sons. His teaching was superb, you could remember everything so easily. At lunchtimes he was always training round and round our running track. I really loved him.

Angela Gill (née Saunders) 4th November 2018

I used to cycle to Godalming Grammar from Rodborough Secondary to take biology. Martin was my biology teacher until I finished my O Levels. He was a very entertaining teacher, and I learned a lot from him. I still have my biology notebook with Martin’s corrections in it. I’m awed by his prowess as an athlete, although I didn’t recognize it at the time (1965-1967). Loved reading about Martin’s competition days. What a life!

Martin Wakeling 29th April 2019

Enjoyed biology at GGS 66-68 with Martin Hyman. Still bear the impression of Dodds &Hearne, suitably and directly applied to the cranium! Thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of time-keeping for Martin, being hurtled around to/from Orienteering venues in a little old red Mini Countryman. Thank you, Sir.

Richard Parish 3rd May 2020

Martin was my biology teacher when I was a student at Godalming Grammar School in the mid-1960s. As the local cross-country champion, I used to run with him in training sessions from time to time. Martin was a highly influential role model for me, including my subsequent career in biology related sciences. I owe him much as a teacher, coach and exemplar. Thank you.

Martin Leadbetter 12th April 2021

Martin was still leading a training group for kids aged 6 – 16 a month ago in his 87th year – in all weathers and, latterly, in poorer health. I helped him with those and wasn’t spared from the occasional correctional word! I am an athletic coach myself now having been inspired by Martin’s example. He was held in huge affection by coaches and athletes from the lowest to the highest levels.

Brian Bullen 13th April 2021

At Godalming he started an after school running club, and introduced a few of us to Orienteering – which eventually led to a reasonable crowd going on coaches to events on Sundays. He, with some other teachers such as Mr Hibbert, and Neil Martin, took parties camping in North Wales, where I learned that rock climbing wasn’t going to be my favourite pastime, but hill walking and running was something I took too and have continued to enjoy over the years. Martin was someone who would find challenges for people, and help them get started so they could advance and enjoy thereafter using the knowledge and skills he had taught. There will be many, many people who benefited from his guidance, and particularly the running coaching and training sessions he organised.

David Hemery 14th April 2021

Martin was a man of real integrity.  He played a significant role in improving support for the training of international athletes and in ensuring that athletes’ views were taken into account by the Athletics Governing bodies.  [Dr. David Hemery, CBE, DL, Olympic Hurdles Champion 1968 and Former President, UK Athletics.]

Terry Knight, Class of 1963, 14th April 2021

I remember Martin Hyman often coming into class a little late straight from a run.  He expected us to have learned something new in those few minutes and would say to one person in the class “What do you know now that you didn’t know when you came into the classroom?”.  You always worried that you would be the chosen one!  Nice guy though.

John Custance, Class of 1963, 15th April 2021

Martin was a dedicated and motivational teacher both inside and outside the classroom.  He introduced Orienteering into the school and through his encouragement, energy and enthusiasm turned us into regional and National Champions for a number of years.  This helped to build a reputation and standing for the school amongst parents and for many of us pupils, confidence and self-esteem which stood us in good stead for the rest of our lives.

Ian Taylor, Class of 1963, 16th April 2021

Martin Hyman’s profile in Racing Post was inspiring by itself. (I assume) we were ignorant of his athletic career. We wouldn’t be now. I took biology O level and Martin Hyman taught us for a few years. I remember him mostly for the introduction to orienteering, which probably only lasted a year in my case. I was well below average in athletics, football and cricket. Orienteering required thought, which could compensate for a lack of speed. In the early days, it can’t have been an easy sport to organize. We generally used b+w copies of maps. If the original map was coloured, water features had to be overdrawn by hand before copying, as blue would not copy.  Martin’s enthusiasm led me to continue orienteering for 20 years, despite remaining a slow runner. The concept of training remained an anathema though!