Thursday, 24 October 2019

The day we crossed the virgin Orwell Bridge

The Evening Star team ready to cross Ipswich's Orwell Bridge: From left - Max Stocker, Bruce Wade, Rob Hadgraft, Colin Hayward and Bryn Webber.

THEY started building it exactly 40 years ago, hence tomorrow (Friday) is being declared ‘Orwell Bridge Day’. Celebrations include a BBC Radio Suffolk documentary featuring various people with bridge-related memories. The line-up includes your very own Clapped-Out Runner!

Some of you may recall that shortly before this magnificent edifice was opened to traffic, a half-marathon was staged allowing more than 1,000 runners to stream across the virgin Bridge, before a U-turn took them back across it along the opposite carriageway. 

One of the foot soldiers in that unique event was Yours Truly and, notwithstanding the fierce winds and relentless hills, it felt like a real privilege to be among the first ‘civilians’ to cross the River Orwell in this way. Proper pioneers! 

In those days I was a running novice who didn’t even possess the proper kit, but I wasn’t the only one. The event was sponsored by my employers at the local paper, and we fielded a small but enthusiastic team of chaps who didn’t normally run great distances but were up for a challenge. A few weeks earlier I’d tried the Sunday Times Fun Run in London's Hyde Park and was in the early stages of addiction to the running game. Having recently got married and bought a house, it seemed like a more suitable leisure pursuit than Sunday morning football!

Just over 1,000 of us charged across the Bridge on that chilly day in November 1982 to complete 13.1 tough miles. The winner of the women’s race was Carol Gould, an Ipswich-based international with a 2:35 marathon to her name.

Carol and myself were invited into the BBC Suffolk studios recently to record material for tomorrow’s documentary and it proved an enjoyable re-union as we’re both former members of Ipswich JAFFA and hadn’t had a good chin-wag for 25 years or more.

The Bridge half-marathon stands out in my memory as my first proper road race, in which I managed a time of 1hr 30mins despite scant experience or proper training. I also recall the start being delayed at least 15 minutes because Ipswich mayor Beryl James was stuck in traffic!

It was 1982 and the citizen running boom was just taking off in East Anglia. There were hundreds like me that day getting their first proper taste of the sport. A sign of the times was the oldest finisher of the 1,046 being only 59 years old!  And when it was announced a few weeks later that Ipswich’s very first full marathon would take place in the same area, around 900 quickly signed up – but only 24 of them were women.

* BBC Radio Suffolk’s ‘Orwell Bridge Day’ (Friday Oct 25) includes Matt Marvell’s documentary to be broadcast at 9am on the breakfast show, and showings throughout the afternoon in the Suffolk Food Hall of a 40-minute film of the bridge being built. 

( * Views expressed in this blog are purely my own and not necessarily those of the two long-established East Anglian running clubs I am privileged to have Life Membership of).     

Friday, 18 October 2019

All revved up and nowhere to go!

AFTER what happened at Peterborough last weekend, I’m relieved my efforts at the Tiptree 10-mile race on the same day didn’t attract the attention of the police.

Peterborough’s Great Eastern Run was cancelled on police advice after a man was seen out on the course “acting suspiciously”. Armed officers were sent in to investigate and 4,000 dismayed runners back on the start-line were politely asked to disperse and go home!

On reflection I might also have been seen as acting suspiciously at the Tiptree 10:  I spent the morning tampering with the digital race-clock, relieving a colleague’s vehicle of its battery, breaking into a big white van, shifting orange cones all around the road, and even shouting frantically at female runners.

But don’t be shocked, this stuff was all in a morning’s work in my role as marshal/helper at the finish-line zone! The shouting and pointing at women’s tummies may have looked a tad rude, but was only done if they crossed the line with race numbers obscured or missing. It was all done with a smile, and with the best of intentions – and I’m pleased to say many of the 400 finishers were full of praise for all the volunteers who made up Stacy and Simon’s team on the day.

The news of Peterborough’s last-minute police cancellation certainly generated waves of sympathy for their 4,000 runners. Talk about all revved up and nowhere to go. And one of them was the Assistant Chief Constable himself!

My personal memories of the annual Peterborough half-marathon are very rosy ones I’m pleased to say. It was here, back in the 20th century, I managed to clock a PB of 1 hour 19 minutes on their super-fast course. Yes, I admit doing the long drive to Peterborough that day was largely due to the flatness of the route awaiting us! A similar journey occurred a year later for the Wisbech 10, where those wide-open Fenlands helped me chalk up a PB of 58 mins 06 secs for the 10 miles.

Such running seems a lifetime away now, occupied as I am with some rather unpretty attempts to get back in shape for a few Parkruns, following many months of low mileage and injuries aplenty. I did manage to knock out 5k the other day – almost cause for celebration, as this hadn’t occurred in four months or more, for one reason or another. How times change. Literally.

(* Views expressed in this blog are purely my own and not necessarily those of the two long-established East Anglian running clubs I am privileged to have Life Membership of).     

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Not quite finished yet!

AFTER a lengthy absence from the blogosphere, the Clapped-out Runner is back! 

This blog first appeared seven years ago as ‘Diary of a Clapped-Out Runner’, its title a sort of tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating reference to the fact my times were getting slower as the years slipped by, and I was finding myself nearer the back than the front end of races.  

But at least back then I was still running and racing regularly . . . nowadays, it must be said, that ‘Clapped-Out’ adjective has got dangerously close to being the absolute truth! 

Various chronic running-related injuries, a series of ever-diminishing Parkrun times, and a collection of running shoes that mainly gathers dust . . .  these things have recently rudely suggested I might like to quietly quit and do something else in the name of leisure and fitness. 

But no. That hasn’t happened yet. In fact, I’ve even adopted the mantra “It’s better to wear out than rust out!”  Stopping altogether after 37 years of running would surely invite overworked joints and sinews to seize up altogether; better to keep them moving, even if they do squeak, crack and complain!

Our new dog Arthur mentioned the other day he quite fancied a go at Parkrun - so there’s another reason for me to keep the running going. Can’t let him do the damn thing on his own.

Yep, my running mojo has evidently not quite vanished yet . . . and there was further encouragement recently when Runner’s World magazine published a set of statistics that somehow persuaded me I’m not quite as slow these days as I thought I was.

These stats were “average finish times” of the entire UK running population in 2019. How on earth they managed to calculate them I have no idea, but I’m in no mood to argue. They have made an old man very happy, for they suggest that even in my current state of sporting decline I can still go quicker than Mr and Mrs Average (as long as I can remain fit enough to actually reach a finish-line!).

UK race participation has become far more popular in the past 10 years (up by 164%), meaning the demography is totally different in 2019. There are far more runners out there whose main motivation is to enjoy a sociable means of staying fit and healthy, regardless of their age, size or sporting background. Running is no longer a niche sport for eccentric, serious-faced skinny chaps who smell of liniment and whose idea of nirvana is a place in the county cross-country team.

Newbies are everywhere - and very welcome they are too - which explains why average finish-times are getting slower these days. Of course this is good news for us veterans who need modest target times as we cope with Mother Nature’s efforts to slow us down.

Runner’s World reckons the average nationwide finish time for a 5k is currently 33:54 (men 29:08 and women 38:12). For the 10k it is 58:08 (men 53:38 and women 63:18). For the half-marathon it is 2:02:43 (men 1:55:26 and women 2:11:57. For the marathon it is 4:23:27 for men and 5:00:39 for women.  
 (* Views expressed in this blog are purely my own and not necessarily those of the two long-established East Anglian running clubs I am privileged to have Life Membership of).