This is my second running career and I love it even more this time around.
I’m a 51 year old man who has fallen in love for the second time with running. But I’m not sure I’ve found my right distance yet. Has anyone?
I joined Chichester Runners & AC, three years ago because I wanted to (a) improve my running and (b) I was frustrated at running alone all the time, especially in the dark during the winter.
Three years on and I absolutely love my Chichester running buddies – we have a great mix of training sessions plus lots of races on offer as well as a fabulous local Parkrun. All boxes ticked!
But what next?
I’ve been reflecting on that very thing, because the likelihood of me continuing to improve my running is low. I may well be the best that my 51 year old body can be and the next decade might be mainly aimed at reducing my athletic deterioration ie slowing down my likelihood to slow down.
I first ran as a 16 yr old when I joined Portsmouth AC in 1983. Before that, I had been a footballer, I’d even captained my school team but I was a slight teenager and I had become fascinated with the rivalry between Seb Coe and Steve Ovett that played out after the 1980 Olympics.
Whilst I liked both athletes, when I started to run I imagined myself more like Coe as my physique was similar to his.
So having joined Portsmouth AC, the coach for the young athletes (a fabulous lady called Pat Butcher), suggested I tried a range of distances to allow me to ‘find my distance’.
I realised this was great advice as although I imagined I could be Seb Coe in my own mind, most teenagers are relatively undeveloped and it might be that my growing muscles were more suitable for sprinting.
So, I started with the shorter track distances and found that I enjoyed them. Most importantly I found, is that when you lose in a 200m race, it usually isn’t by much. If you are really bad you might lose by 20m. Whereas if you lose badly in a 1500m race, you might be a whole lap behind and receive the applause of sympathy – the worst possible sound for any athlete.
So I became a sprinter!
The club was involved with the Dunlop Young Athletes League and for several years I raced 100m, 200m and 400m as well as both relays.
I really enjoyed those races and I especially enjoyed the relays. The Portsmouth sprint relay team included some really excellent sprinters so I was fortunate to be amongst them and to win some medals too.
In 1984, I ran the Portsmouth Half Marathon in 1 hr 37, without ever running more than 3 miles in training. I was still thinking that I would probably do better over longer distance but I didn’t really have the time or the inclination to train for it!
But then in 1985, I got decent A levels so I decided to go to university. Still fascinated with Seb Coe, I chose Loughborough University. I somehow imagined that by studying at Coe’s university that I might shower in the same magic dust and become an Olympian.
So when I arrived at Loughborough I obviously joined the athletics club. On the application form under the ‘distance’ section, I wrote “middle distance”, more through hope than knowledge of my own ability.
I went to a few training sessions, led by the amazing coach George Gandy and realised that it was going to take more than a bit of magic dust. Just a few names I ran with 1985-88: Ikem Billy, Jack Buckner, Chris McGeorge, Alistair Currie.
All phenomenal athletes.
I persevered, trained hard (at times) and my running improved but getting my degree, having fun and drinking beer were all higher priorities than running so I can’t say I gave it all I had.
But I definitely became a middle distance runner during this time. I competed at a range of distances – but probably 800m was my most comfortable. Despite this I did suffer the ‘sympathy applause’ on more than one occasion because some of the athletes were of such a high standard that they finished out of sight.
I remember an 800m race that Mark Scruton won. (He became one of Paula Radcliffe’s training partners a year or two later). Scruton was pushing for a GB vest and wanted a fast time. I followed him, reaching the bell at 54 seconds. That was a ludicrous pace and I blew up on the final bend, cue the sympathetic applause as I finished last. Scruton won in 1 min 49.
By the time I finished at Loughborough I was running what I now realise was my best ever. I was very fit and I had a good range of distances. I ran a half marathon in 1 hr 18 which included the last 10 miles in 55 mins and I ran a 10K in 34 mins.
But that is when my first career ended. In 1989, I started work as a police officer which meant shift work and eating a bad diet. I also found that I had money for the first time so I used any spare hours on other things rather than running.
Looking back at my first running career, I was very fortunate but I also feel that I didn’t reach my full potential – I didn’t focus on any single distance and I didn’t train in a single minded way.
After 25 years of not running, my mojo is now alive and kicking hard especially as I am now married to an amazing woman who pushes me to be myself and to do what makes me happy. (Important lesson for anyone reading this: be with someone who allows you space to be who you aspire to be).
One of the toughest things to accept since I started my second running career is that I will never run the times I used to run all those years ago. Ever.
I ran the Chichester 10K on 3rd February and I was aiming for sub-46 mins. I succeeded in running sub-45 mins and I was elated with that – my fastest 10K since 1989.
But it’s not a PB.
I’ll never run a PB again because I am 51 and my PBs were all set when I was 19/20 yrs old.
People say to me ‘wow great run, was that a PB?’
In my head I’m thinking ‘No, I’ve run much quicker’ but I don’t want to seem like a misery so I just nod. I guess it is an age PB to me.
But is this how it is going to be from now on?
Will I be happy to run times that are only a bit slower than the previous year? Maybe this is why Coe retired, with the realisation that he would never repeat the magical 1.41.73 he ran in Florence in 1981?
So should I just keep running, in the knowledge that I won’t improve? How then, can I motivate myself?
For me, the answer is two things:
I don’t consider myself old and so I will just run for the enjoyment and to be the best 50-something I can be. I found that with the Chichester 10K, there is a huge sense of achievement just being my best me.
I don’t intend retiring from running again anytime soon so the second answer to my own question is:
I think I need a new challenge. A challenge that will give me a PB that I’ve never had before. A challenge that will take some physical and mental effort over many months and a challenge that I might improve on for the next decade.
It is time dear reader for me to contemplate doing something I’ve never done before. But perhaps this is what my running career has always been leading to.
I am thinking of entering a marathon. I’d be keen to hear from anyone who wishes to share advice or to comment on my first ever blog.
Thanks for reading,David