Wednesday, 8 July 2015

1,000th race almost in the bag!

Where it all started . . . .
AND lo, the milestone looms large at the side of my well-trodden road. One thousand races! 
Hard to believe my very first race was almost 34 years ago. This weekend in Suffolk I’m due to hit four figures - 12,300 days and 999 races later.

It’s appropriate I should make appearance number 1,000 at Sunday’s Ipswich JAFFA Ekiden Relays, because I was based in Suffolk all those years ago when this recreational habit first took its firm grip on legs, lungs and sinew.

The legacy of 1,000 races is what physios call ‘wear-and-tear damage’ to my right knee, but on the positive side there's been an amazing range of adventures and experiences. Visits to town, cities and country paths I would never have otherwise trod, and encounters with countless characters I’d never have otherwise met.

It all began in the summer of 1981 when Norman Harris’ articles in the Sunday Times raised the idea of a crack at that paper’s National Fun Run in Hyde Park, London. A huge UK running boom was taking root at the time, and I was one of those sucked in. Aged 25, nearly married, and playing football for pub teams, but I evidently had some energy to spare.

The park was packed, the sun reflected brightly off the bald pate of race starter Duncan Goodhew and things went pretty well. I even had an extra spring in the step because Luton Town beat local rivals Watford 4-1 the previous day! As a complete novice I was quite happy to have run six-minute-miles and fancied more of this action. 

In hindsight it’s clear I was well and truly hooked that day. Five days later, an old desk diary reveals, I ran ten miles down the A12 from Colchester to Tiptree. I can’t recall what prompted that odd idea, but it was certainly the type of unwise novice enthusiasm that nowadays would make me wince!

A few weeks later I joined colleagues from the East Anglian Daily Times to complete a 26-mile jaunt from Felixstowe to Raydon, to raise money for a young local woman widowed after an accident. Our combined running experience was very nearly nil, I seem to recall – an ill-prepared, incorrectly-dressed rabble (particularly in the footwear department), but we made it.

The first Ipswich Marathon came along soon after that, and as sports editor of the Suffolk Mercury Series at the time, I felt obliged to give it a go. A vastly over-ambitious target of three hours was missed by about 20 minutes – but the seeds were sown and before long I decided to join the local experts at the Ipswich JAFFA club.

JAFFA had some impressive old ‘uns in their ranks, Frank Copping for example, inspirational figures who gave off the idea that here was a sport you could enjoy throughout life, not just in your youth. I remember interviewing Frank about his late-blossoming running career, marvelling at his energy and commitment at the grand old age of 63. Now, here I am, just four years younger than that. Good grief.

One thing I soon learned was that races far shorter than marathons were the best thing for me. Mind you, I ran half-a-dozen London Marathons, because once upon a time journalists could get automatic entry by merely promising to publicise the event. We all love a freebie don’t we?   

My 1,000 races since 1981 means I’ve averaged one race every 12 days over the period of 34 years. I know of several people nowadays who compete more often than that (especially now the weekly Parkrun phenomenon is with us). So maybe four-figure tallies are more common than one might think?I suspect many modern runners don’t even bother to keep count like I do. Running logs are perhaps a bit ‘old school’?  

* Rob Hadgraft’s published books are available in paperback and as e-books from Amazon.
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