I frequently train with runners in their forties and fifties, and by doing so I am often led to reflect how ‘they put me to shame’ – be it through their commitment to athletics, their speed in spite of their advanced years, or their impressive never-say-die endurance. While there is the excitement of watching young and emerging athletes burst onto the running scene, there is something far more inspirational about seeing runners at the other end of the age spectrum continue to perform into their senior years. They prove that age really is a number.
I got a close-up view yesterday. The Bewl 15 around the eponymous reservoir in Sussex doubled as the inaugural British Masters Athletic Federation multi-terrain championship. Competitors helpfully had their age category numbers pinned to their back, be it 35, 40, 45 and so on. The age categories went up to V75, with Mike Rosbrook, who consistently knocks out 24 and 25-minute parkruns, the oldest of the lot. From the start in Wadhurst and downhill to the reservoir, the veterans were flying. After around four miles I found myself running uncomfortably quickly even to stay in the top-10. As the race split, so I found myself running with two others: the leading contenders in the M50 race. One was Todmorden’s Paul Brannigan; the other was Graeme Saker. Brannigan and I set the pace, taking it in disorganised turns to lead. Saker – seemingly – clung on for dear life. I would look back, see he had lost two or three metres, assumed he was ‘done’, only for him to claw his way back. As a trio we overtook a runner from Stafford, then a Burgess Hill athlete; a Beckenham runner would come later.
The game of cat and mouse went on until mile 10. After moving a few metres ahead on a road climb, I glanced back to see the pair side by side. Once on the brow of the hill, Brannigan attacked, charging downhill. I couldn’t keep up. Nor could Saker. Brannigan was now a snatched glimpse around a corner. Still we raced hard. I could hear Saker’s steps behind me; he hadn’t given up. As Saker and I converged on the aforementioned Beckenham athlete, Saker pushed past me, charging after Brannigan. I wasn’t about to give up either. A minute later, I was back in front of Saker and chasing Brannigan. Sneaking up behind him on the final half-mile climb towards Wadhurst, I caught Brannigan on the line. I apologised profusely. He was non-plussed. His race was against Saker – who finished 30 seconds behind us – not someone almost 20 years his junior.
The results were telling. I was fifth overall but first senior (under-35). Only a quarter of the top-20 were, like me, senior athletes. Thirty athletes – 20 of them V35 and above – breached the 100-minute barrier for 15 miles of undulating trail. There were 10 new age-category records.
Inspiring. Running life begins at 35?
In the spirit of the Tour de France, chapeau veterans, chapeau.