15. Sep, 2016

In the Long Run

Veterans or Masters Athletics is organised into five year age groups for men…40-45; 50-55 upto 100+. For the first two years in each group, you are competitive, in the third you are being caught and in the fourth and fifth you have no chance. In fact it is often said that Veteran athletes are the only people who look forward to getting older (and thus becoming the youngest in the age group above).
In the summer of 2001, I was 59, so had little hope of winning many races on the track so instead aimed to run my first marathon instead. It was not until I had chosen and entered the Blackpool race that I discovered it was due to be run on the day after our wedding anniversary! Elizabeth took it in good part.

I was essentially a 200/400m runner who could do a good 800m. When training for the latter in my 20s, running 70 miles a week at 6 minute mile pace for 12 weeks of the year was usual, so I was not worried about the distance of neither training nor race. In January 2001, I checked with my “Runner’s World” magazine along with a couple of other coaching, manuals, worked out my schedule for the next five months and set to.

What follows is taken from my diary and is what I wrote on the evening of June 3rd 2001 once we got back to our B&B….
“YESSSSSSSS! PUNCHES AIR IN TRIUMPH! I DID IT!”… but not without a struggle.
I got up at 7.15 and prepared. Half an hour later, I kissed Elizabeth goodbye and headed for the Hilton Hotel and the start of the race.
I was greeted by about 1,000 fellow runners - men and women aged from 18 to 80. Following on, Elizabeth arrived with the video camera.
8.30 and we were off along Blackpool seafront heading south for Lytham St. Annes 6.5miles away. Folks set off at a very fast pace and soon began to pay the penalty. I stuck to what my Heart Rate Monitor was telling me and sure enough more than a few started coming back to me.
I reached the turn at Lytham in 58 minutes as planned. Of course all the public lavatories were locked so I stopped behind a bush for a quick pee…only to be joined by a lady runner. I apologised. “Nay” she said, us girls have to do it as well! So saying down came her shorts as she squatted beside me. We had an amiable mid-pee discussion about the race before rejoining the fray by making the sudden turn north on the 13 mile stretch upto Fleetwood Golf club.
Bearing in mind that this was early June, the wind was blowing a force 5, there were white horses on the wave tops and it was freezing.
I hit the 13 mile mark on schedule back in Blackpool and there was Elizabeth with the video camera. We were then directed to the lower prom and there eight miles away and in a straightline was the golf club which just did not get any nearer! My thighs were frozen by now and things were not getting any easier.
At last I hit the turn at 13 miles and the blessed following wind. By now I was running on my own, well behind the much younger leaders and well in front of the older runners. Having to set my own pace I battled on to the 20 mile mark where I remembered the old saying, “A Marathon is a 20 mile run and a 6 mile race”.
By that stage, I could not have cared less. Carefully prepared schedules were abandoned. It was now survival of the fittest. Running at only 70% effort, my breathing was fine and my carbohydrate loading (plus my jelly babies!) had seen me through. My problem was with my legs- tired and rapidly becoming numb with the cold.
By now back on the prom but running south, I glanced up over my left shoulder and there above me was the finish. Those last 385 yards were the longest I have ever run. I swear they were harder than a 47 second 400m! BUT I DID IT!!! I DID IT!!!
I got my medal and time….4 hours 41 mins. I had aimed at 4hrs 20 but the wind and the cold put paid to that! I did not bother to check on where I finished. I was not first but along with every other competitor, I felt a winner!
I hobbled back here to the B&B with Elizabeth…The St. John Ambulance men did not have a spare zimmer frame!
So looking back over the day, what are my memories, (apart from discomfort)? People running for charities and supported by their families; the 75-80 year olds in the race; great support from the crowds; the sounds of discarded paper drinking cups rolling in the wind; good Northern voices- a Geordie runner to me in the race, “What fettle bonny lad?”; having a pee conference with the lady runner; a heavily tattooed man, weighing a good 18 stones, finishing the race; good humour and sociability, above all, Elizabeth waiting at the finish.
PS My bloody feet ache!!!

Having run one marathon “because it was there” I have never wanted to run another. I had no more races that summer but got down to some hard and intensive training for the 2002 track season. This was far harder than marathon training with sessions run at 90% effort plus as opposed to an average of just 70% as measured on my Heart Rate Monitor.
However, I am glad I did the marathon as it proved to be an unforgettable experience involving real people, both genders and all ages.
Truly, we were all winners.