Thursday, 25 April 2013

My claim to London Marathon’s overtaking record!

LONDON: Keep calm and have a banana!
ONE of my favourite moments during the BBC’s annual coverage of the London Marathon is always that lingering shot of the very back of the field, as everybody waits for the start on Blackheath and in Greenwich Park.

Among those waiting patiently at the rear will always be the heftiest of the fancy-dress costumes, of course, but lurking among them will be a few unencumbered runners, who look suspiciously slim and fit and have no obvious need to be running from quite this far back.

I know what these scamps are up to, because back in 1988 I was one of them!

Every year you get a few, like me in ‘88, who arrive at the start area with a cunning plan. They want to start their race at the very rear of the field, stone-cold last, just to see exactly how many runners they can overtake during the 26.2 miles of the world’s greatest race.

It’s a good game, especially if you are running with no particular time target. It can yield statistics to be proud of - but I can promise you it’s the type of thing you only do once.

Overtaking is no easy process when you are confronted by people dressed as hippos, deep-sea divers and pancake-tossing waiters. Then there are walkers, stumblers and those zig-zagging with collection buckets. That thin blue line painted in the road to indicate the shortest route is not something you see very much of.

Back in 1988 Garmin devices weren’t around, so I can’t be sure, but I reckon I ran at least 27 miles, maybe more, with all the veering and body swerves that became necessary to make decent progress.

I believe I was successful in starting at the very back of the race, and even left a nominal 25-yard gap to allow for stragglers on the other start-line. That year there were 20,889 finishers and my twisting, dodging run of 3hrs.44mins gave me 8,808th place. That means 12,081 successfully overtaken!

Could it have been some sort of record to overtake and beat more than 12,000 runners in a single race? I’ll probably never know, but it kept me amused and motivated on a day when I knew I wasn’t likely to achieve a PB.

I have to confess that all seven of my outings at the London Marathon were not  treated by me with the seriousness of most of my other 900-plus races. It was always a fun day out as far as I was concerned, and not the type of event to bust a gut in. This attitude was based on my realisation that shorter distances suited me far better when in serious ‘racing’ mode.

Nowadays, with the desperate fight to get places in these mass participation events, my cavalier attitude would probably be condemned as “a waste of an entry.”

But my mitigating circumstances are that my place in the race didn’t deny any earnest charity runner his or her number, because I’d been awarded a complimentary entry from the organisers. Back in those days if you were a sports journalist and a runner, and promised to give the London Marathon maximum publicity in your particular organ, you were welcomed with open arms and given a special free ‘media’ number.

Apart from being able to sidestep the laborious entry system that faced Mr and Mrs.Normal, this had other perks too. A week or two before race day you could join the other journos, plus race founders Chris Brasher and John Disley, in Wales or Scotland for a few days of fell running, and other highly sociable activities involving foaming ale and pubs with roaring fires. The admirable Brasher would hand out generous amounts of free kit supplied by Reebok. We were like kids at Christmas.

These excellent mountainside gatherings would also inevitably include a late-night pub quiz, with Olympic gold-medallist Brasher the quizmaster. I’ll never forget his stunned reaction when I was able to correctly identify the barefoot winner of the 1960 Olympic marathon (Abebe Bikila).

Impressing a man of Brasher’s standing felt like one hell of a result at the time. It even overshadowed my performance at the marathon itself a week later!

PS: I've just been told that Sonia O'Sullivan overtook 25,000 runners in the 2010 Great North Run in a special charity challenge. Bang goes my hopes of a record. Mind you, I don't think hers beats mine because: (a) It was only a half-marathon; (b) She was a full-time elite runner with coach, sponsor and personal masseuse;(c) Money was at stake. 

* * Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus others) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively: 


Friday, 12 April 2013

Is Memory Lane the best road to run down?

Al Storie – 60 kilometres on his 60th birthday!

MANY of us mask the disappointment of getting slower as we get older by making jokes about it. We demonstrate the obscene creaking and clicking of our joints to each other, reminisce about our PBs and marvel at how standards were so much higher back in the day. Some of us even blog about life as a ‘clapped-out’ runner!

But if you look hard enough there are plenty of veteran runners around who don’t wallow in nostalgia. These are the types who laugh in the face of Mother Nature and just get out there and go for it.

In recent days I’ve come across some great examples of this, and I hereby induct three of these old ‘uns into my ‘Clapped Out Runner’s Hall of Fame’:

Firstly an old friend from Canada who turned 60 recently. Instead of keeping this unwelcome milestone quiet, he went out and told the world about it (see picture above). Allen Storie celebrated his 60th birthday by running 60 kilometres.

He emerged from his house in Ontario in the wee small hours, and set off on a run that took him nearly nine hours. He’s not normally an ultra-runner but completed this birthday ‘treat’ with a smile on his face, a bevy of female helpers smoothing his path: “I ran a loop of just over 15 kilometres from my house, around the town of Bowmanville, back to the house where I fuelled up, ate a little food, and went off again – four continuous loops in all.”

His pals displayed special signs which urged passing motorists to 'Honk for Al', all of which helped keep him cheerful and motivated. "I felt fantastic at the end. I even got down and did some push-ups. I look at it as an incredible gift that I'm able to do this at 60, running at a pace that's comfortable for me.”

Al is director of an annual road race in Ontario, staged in memory of legendary British runner Alf Shrubb (1879-1964) who emigrated there. Shrubb loved going on long excursions by foot and if he was looking down on proceedings last week would have thoroughly approved of Al’s efforts.

Next into the Clapped-Out Runner’s pantheon is Pete Duhig, one of the best distance runners ever to emerge from rural Norfolk. Pete’s name is synonymous with the small and friendly Ryston Runners club, despite achievements in the 1980s and 1990s which put him in the elite category (2:25 for the marathon, 49 mins for ten miles; 30 mins for 10k).

But injuries and the ageing process mean Pete is nowhere near that standard any more, and he admits he’s finding it tough coming to terms with running at a lower level these days: “Having passed the 60-year age barrier . . . I know I can’t do what I did in the past but should still be able to run decently for my age. I find it increasingly difficult to want to do the speedwork necessary to take myself out of the crowd and into the front runners. But I keep trying.”

However Pete still gets fleeting enjoyment from his running and is definitely not planning to throw in the towel yet: “On most days the early part of a run is now very uncomfortable. In the end I do get into a rhythm and experience a short period of enjoyment and the feeling of well-being of one who is alive and relatively fit.  But this tends to be short-lived into the last third of the run  . . .  I then feel like a wrung-out dish rag and every step is an effort of will.”

My third example of a runner unbowed by age is a well-known figure who’s never had problems with motivation – Faujut Singh of Ilford. He recently completed a 10k in Hong Kong at the age of 101!  With his highly-recognisable saffron turban and flowing white beard, he took around 90 minutes. Not the fastest of 10k runs, but one of the most amazing.

The so-called Turbaned Torpedo said he would probably hang up his trainers after this race, but that remains to be seen. He  became the oldest man to run a full marathon at Toronto in 2011 (aged 100) but his accomplishments are not recognised by Guinness World Records because he doesn't have a birth certificate to prove his age (although his UK passport shows his birthdate as April 1911).

Faujut took up running aged 89 as a way of dealing with depression after his wife and son died in quick succession. The death in 1994 of son Kudlip was particularly hard to get over because he witnessed its grisly nature: In a severe storm Kudlip was decapitated by a piece of flying corrugated metal.

"From tragedy has come a lot of success and happiness," says Faujut, explaining how running had changed his life.

So, readers, these are the early inductees into my Clapped-Out Runner Hall of Fame, where they will stand alongside a face or two from my local running scene in Essex.

Already in there is my Tiptree clubmate Jim Slater (65 years young), who won his place for unexpectedly completing a marathon in 2012 - his first in donkey’s years -  which came out of the blue and without specific training as far as we can tell. He did the Mablethorpe 26.2 miles in a highly-respectable 4 hrs 18 mins. You’d never know he was in his seventh decade from the way he eats up the trails, roads and country, not to mention regularly falling off mountain and road bikes in a never-ending quest for adventure. Long may it continue.

Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively:  


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Advance of the Old Brigade

'If you've got it, flaunt it . . .'

DON’T despair ye olde ancient runners of the world. Forget about your declining leg-speed, your increasing recovery time, and your worsening posture. Don’t even worry about that deafness, stiffness and biliousness.

It’s still possible in our sport to shine brightly and achieve amazing things when we are long past our peak. Here I bring you ample proof of this.

Look at the picture above . . . meet 64-year-old Paula Moorhouse from New South Wales, Australia.  No ordinary pensioner. She’s older than Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell when they starred in ‘Corrie’, but that hasn’t stopped her working up one hell of a six-pack!

And when you’ve got it, you may as well flaunt it!  Over the Easter holiday period Paula defied her advancing years by helping creating a world record in the 2013 Australian Masters Athletics National Track & Field Championships in Canberra.

Along with Over-60 teammates Kathy Sims, Kathryn Heagney and Jeanette Flynn, a 4 x 800 metres relay time of 11 minutes 22.59 seconds was clocked, smashing the world record by a remarkable 24 seconds!  A delighted official said: “It was one of those special moments that a large and vocal crowd will remember for years to come.”

And it was no flash in the pan, for Paula was also third in the W60 400 metres (77.27), fifth in the 200 metres (33.34) and third in the 800 metres (2:59).

She has certainly helped make waves across Australia. My special correspondent from Manly Beach, NSW, tells me: “I can't believe someone who is in her sixties has a six-pack. I am always railing at those stupid magazines aimed at middle-aged women which have cover-lines on how to get a flat belly. I always screamed that it was impossible, but there she is making a liar of me!”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Australia has always bred great runners who go on for ever. The legend of Old Cliff Young proves that.

Every year Australia hosts a 543.7-mile (875 kilometres) endurance race from Sydney to Melbourne, undoubtedly one of the world's most grueling ultras. It takes a good five days to complete and normally only attracts world-class athletes aged well under 40 who train specifically for it helped financially by companies such as Nike.

But one year Cliff Young showed up at the start, a 61-year-old potato farmer wearing overalls and work boots. Onlookers thought he was there to watch, but grizzled Cliff strolled over, picked up a race number and joined the other racing snakes.

When the race got underway the experts soon left old Cliff behind. The crowds and TV audience watched in amusement as he shuffled along happily on his own. Some thought he was a mere novelty act who would soon abandon the event, although others wondered if he was seriously misguided and feared for his safety.

Most of the experienced racers planned to cover the distance by running 18 hours a day and sleeping the remaining six hours.  It seemed a sensible strategy, but Cliff didn’t have a coach and nobody told him about all that.

On the morning of Day Two, everyone was in for a huge surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he’d continued shuffling along all night without a break. A reporter asked him about his tactics and he replied he would run straight through to the finish without sleep. No problem.

There was disbelief but Cliff kept to his word. It was the classic ‘tortoise and hare’ scenario. Each night he worked his way a little closer to the leading pack while they slept. By the final night, he’d passed the lot of them. He was not only first to reach the finish but set a new course record into the bargain.

The surprises continued. Cliff was handed winnings of 10,000 Aussie dollars but waved it away, claiming he hadn’t known there was a prize and had not entered to win money. To prove his point he gave the money to other runners, an act that gained him hero-status across Australia.

A year later the bachelor vegetarian got married and then ignored a displaced hip to finish the race in seventh.  Then, a while later, aged 76, he made a solo run around the edge of Australia to raise money for charity, but was forced to stop after 6,520 kilometres because his only helper (who was much younger) fell ill. Cliff’s famous shuffle eventually took him off this mortal coil in 2003 at the age of 81.

Ultra runners still remember him and credit their own success to copying the economic ‘Young Shuffle’ style. He proved what nobody thought possible – a human being can run for five days without stopping for sleep. More importantly, he underlined how running is a sport that certainly doesn’t end when you wave goodbye to younger days and your PBs start drying up.

Rob Hadgraft’s five published books on running (plus 11 others on football) are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon  or, alternatively: