Friday, 19 October 2012

Race in moderation? Which county's that in then?

* Excuse me, could you direct me to the A12? 
I've got another race in a minute.......

FUNNY how we change with age. If a fellow runner tells me today that he or she did two hard races in one weekend, I tend to smile sympathetically and quietly wonder if they’ve gone slightly round the bend.

Yet a few years ago I would often do exactly the same thing. Indeed on more than one occasion I recall actually completing two tough races in a single morning.  What the hell was I thinking?

This week I was reminded of those crazy days. It came about because I was filling a few spare moments by dredging out old race results - for the purpose of passing them on to former club colleague Clive Sparkes, who is bringing the Ipswich JAFFA website stats archive up to date. I had six good years running with JAFFA (1985-1991) during which all my lifetime PBs were achieved. And it seems to me like a good thing all that sweat, toil and mileage of yesteryear should go on the public record somewhere! 

The trouble is, when you head towards being a Clapped-Out Runner, leafing through your past achievements tends to be a traumatic experience. The rate and degree to which you have slowed down since passing your peak can be frightening. If you are the sensitive type, who is easily demoralised, I wouldn’t recommend this pastime. To say I looked at those cuttings and felt a little wistful would be an understatement. I was overflowing with wist, in fact.

Among the dust and cobwebs in my cuttings box was one local paper story which reminded me of a certain Saturday morning in the summer of 1987. Despite having spent the previous two nights on the razzle in London, added to long subbing shifts at the local paper, I rose from my bed at the crack of dawn to head for Chantry Park in Ipswich. A six-mile race organised by the Sri Chinmoy AC involved six identical laps, mainly over parkland. 

After coming in third and clocking a time of 35 mins 46 seconds (it takes me longer to do five miles nowadays, let alone six!) it was then a case of jumping straight into the car to speed down the A12 for a second race. Here I managed to win the Capel St.Mary fun run (4.4 of your British miles), again averaging less than six-minute miling.

Did I really have that much energy back then? There wasn’t even the excuse that in either race I was there to make up the numbers in a club team. No, it seems I entered those two races in one morning purely because they were there. You might think that my spouse would have had a quiet word and told me not to be so daft?  A bit of advice about putting quality above quantity, or something of that sort?

Well, no, actually. In fact, the first Mrs.H did exactly the same thing and ran in both events herself.  And - spooky coincidence - she also came third and first, in the women’s races.  If we had been getting appearance money, you could have understood it, but there were no brown envelopes, just little medals on a red ribbon.

Of course, I wasn’t the worst offender back then by any means. The 1980s was the decade in which a major ‘citizen running boom’ swept across the UK from America, and the sport suddenly became the chosen pursuit of nutters everywhere.

Take Mervyn Kesselring of Bungay Black Dog RC, for example. That same summer 25 years ago he managed to complete four races in a period of 36 hours.  And each was on a different surface!  Merv the Swerve raced on grass in Ipswich, on a cinder track in Norwich, on roads in Wroxham and on a tartan track back in Ipswich. With barely time for a meal in between. What a guy.      

Colchester runner Paul Newell (official club nickname ‘Nutty’ by the way), also spent inordinately large chunks of 1987 running along various roadsides. Perhaps years of supporting Colchester United had affected his judgement, but Paul embarked on what was described as  “a record-breaking mission” to Athens, talking about completing five full marathons in six weeks. He had warmed up for this little jaunt by running the South Downs Way, a little matter of 80 miles.

Maybe it was something in the air back in 1987, but even the region’s best runners seemed to get caught up in the mileage-mania. Paul Turner of Ipswich JAFFA, for reasons best known to himself, put his legs on the line by entering three races in two days - just a week after setting a superb personal best of 2:41 at the London Marathon. 

But Paul was a shrewd runner, well known for his sensible judgement (as well as for his loud and lengthy conversation in the showers), and his gala weekend of racing certainly seemed to do him no lasting harm. In fact, he chalked up a second, a first and a sixth place in that busy weekend. Nowadays he’s the club's head coach, and presumably doesn’t recommend such behaviour to his young proteges?!

* Check out Rob Hadgraft’s published books on running history, at


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