|Andy Girling (384) used to race in Ipswich Chantry's Park with a beard that even scared little white dogs.....|
THERE are several reasons you don’t see many bearded runners these days. Mostly, I suspect, due to issues such as sweat, aerodynamics and fashion.
But, thanks to a rash pledge I made a few weeks ago, I am now sampling life as a bearded runner for the first time in 30 years of pounding pavements, parks and pathways.
It all started on January 5 when a bearded Welshman called Alex Lawless volleyed a fine goal to knock Wolves out of the FA Cup. Hirsute Alex’s fabulous and unexpected winner sparked great celebrations among long-suffering Luton Town supporters like myself.
Some of us, unused to such dizzy excitement, marked the occasion with massive intakes of alcohol. Others did even stranger things. In my case, I inexplicably promised to grow an Alex Lawless beard in tribute to the goalscorer, which I wouldn’t shave off until the day Luton went out of the FA Cup.
As Luton currently languish in football’s fifth tier (it’s a long and bitter story), their survival in the FA Cup was expected by all to be short and sweet. How could I have known we would pull off the greatest FA Cup giant-killing in 27 years last weekend and progress to the last 16 of the competition? A couple of days of non-shaving has now turned into many weeks of sprouting facial hair.
And this will have to continue into the second half of February at the very least. Some reckon Luton’s forthcoming fifth round tie with Millwall is eminently winnable, so it might go well into March and beyond!
This begs the question: Will the beard interfere with my running?
The answer to almost everything can be found on the internet, so it was there I headed. I stumbled upon Aaron of Coolrunning Australia who tells me: “I've noticed lately that growing a gnarly beard has improved my running tenfold. After a little plateau last year I needed to change things up a bit - I could have added mileage or done more intervals or whatever, but instead took note of the awesome phenomenon gripping the running world ... a sweet beard. Runners back in the 1970s were putting out faster marathon times and why was that? Genetics? Harder training? No people, it was beards!”
This was encouraging news, so I then consulted Runners World. One of their correspondents observed: “I'm faster now than before I grew my beard. Seriously, though, it is fast. It always seems to finish before I do.”
Another punter piped up: “A beard is like Samson's hair. And it helps that it sticks out that extra couple of inches. Almost like a carrot in front of a horse. It's taunting me to keep up. Apparently the older ladies like it too - so that's not such a bad thing.”
On Facebook there’s a community page called The Running Beard Movement. Around 500 people have hit their ‘Like’ buttons to support this. The page claims it was inspired by Forrest Gump, and others like him, to create a place for all bearded runners to celebrate and promote the greatness of all forms of running beards!
Some runners seem to get quite evangelical about the power of the beard. According to the See Anis Run website, beards are a source of true power for runners. Beards look “bad ass” and, of course, shaving merely takes up valuable time that could be better used for training, sleeping or drinking beer.
Talking of beer, the website Draftmag reckons there are many traits shared by keen runners and beer geeks – i.e. happiness, creativity and beards. They point out that a beardie called Tim Olson recently crushed a long-standing 100-mile record in the USA by finishing in less than 15 hours. His long, flowing locks and Jesus-like beard didn’t hamper him at all.
Looking back over the years, there have been a number of notable beardie runners. Here’s my Top Ten . . . .
1. FAUJA SINGH
The turbanned-tornado from Ilford is a 101-year-old Sikh and the world's oldest marathon runner. He’s completed eight marathons with a PB of 5:40. He plans to quit after one final run at next month's Hong Kong Marathon, a few weeks before turning 102.
2. FORREST GUMP
Not only did he start a successful shrimping company and become a college football star, Gump also ran across the nation solving people’s problems along the way. His epic beard was a guiding light for many Americans.
3. LASSE VIREN
When the Flying Finn showed up bearded, rivals knew he was in great shape because it meant he’d not had time to shave. Won double Olympic gold in 1972 and successfully defended both in 1976. He later admitted to blood doping (not illegal in the 1970s).
4. FRED LEBOW
Born in Romania, he was so small he was almost hidden by his bold black beard. He ran 69 marathons and became famous for creating the New York Marathon which sparked the subsequent running boom.
5. PETE RICHARDSON
Essex marathon and 10-mile champion in 1979 (a sub-50 minute ten-miler), later joining my club Tiptree Road Runners where he is still record holder at five distances. All were achieved with voluminous beard around 20 years ago, before a car accident interrupted his career.
6 ANDY GIRLING
Tall man of Kent whose beard swept him to many a victory in Suffolk during his days based in Ipswich. Won the Florence Marathon, clocked 2:15 at London and was picked for GB in the 1980s.
7 MIKE GRATTON
Did England proud by becoming the only bearded winner of the London Marathon (2.09.43 in 1983), and now strokes that chin on many a foreign shore during his work as a sports travel agent.
8 GREG MEYER
His fulsome beard stormed to a 2:09 victory in the 1983 Boston Marathon. He’s now 57 and still runs daily, but has shaved his head and reduced the beard to a goatee.
9 DANNY MULLANE
Danny and his beard represented a number of Essex clubs, latterly Tiptree, as they chalked up highly respectable PBs. Competed across the globe and gave back to the sport in various admin capacities.
10 RICK SMALL
Bushy-bearded Ipswich JAFFA runner back in the 1980s who was stockier version of Fred Lebow, plus glasses. Lived Stowmarket way and was a sculptor, I seem to recall.
Have I missed any others worthy of a mention?