18 Jan

Horses For Courses

Chris Broadbent

The old saying 'horses for courses' came to mind at the weekend, writes Chris Broadbent.

I was in South Devon visiting relatives and rather than go for my customary Sunday long run, I took the opportunity to take part in a local race instead. The oddly-named "Oh My Obelisk' event hosted by nearby club Dawlish Coasters was a low-key multi-terrain 11 mile. It was typical of the grass-roots of the sport, not big on entries but full to the brim in earthy spirit.

Now, I am no athlete of any great standard. But I would consider myself a fair-to-middle distance runner. I can turn up to most small club-type 10k events and expect to sneak into the top 20 - sometimes a little better. Wow! Was I in for a shock. I set off within the first 10-15 runners just with the intention of trying to hang in for the ride.

I realised quite early on that I had over-cooked it. The course was undoubtedly tough - tougher than I had ever imagined. The off road sections were muddy, rutted and twisting. The first half of the race was also almost unrelentingly uphill.

It was only three or four miles in and I was being eaten up by the pack. It continued for the rest of the race. It's a horrible feeling when you are going backwards in a race and there is nothing you can do about it. I simply had no response, my breathing was heavy and there was just no zip in my legs.

I run for many reasons. Fitness is one of them. But I also love the competitive element. I enjoy targeting runners during a race, reeling them and then easing past them. It's one thing being the hunter, it's quite another being the hunted.

The thing is though, the runners that were getting the better of me were not what you would immediately perceive as being very fit. These were not young men at their physical peak. Their common attribute seemed to be that they were all at least 40 or over, mostly quite stocky and lacking hair. For this 37 year old, it was a little disconcerting.

It reminded me of my early experiences in club running about six years ago. At training nights - normally any distance between 5 and 8 miles - I was usually to the fore and ditto for 10k races among the club athletes.

But I was always amazed at how much faster the 'old boys' in the club - some of them over 50 - were than me at the longer distances. No matter the distance, they could simply lock into a pace and stick with it. Seemingly forever,

Myself? I have some speed in my legs, but beyond 10k it gets tricky. I was reminded of it at the weekend as these gnarled veterans ground their way past me. I was a little dis-spirited as I eventually placed 43rd.

But on reflection, I reminded myself that the beauty of running is that different people are better at different races. Age is no real barrier to it either.

Usain Bolt is a magnificent physical specimen and for most people on the street, he is the world's greatest runner. Yet, in the ever-so-unlikely scenario that he had turned up to race in Dawlish on Sunday, he too would have been taught a lesson by some balding men in their fifties.

On a personal level, it also gives me hope too. It's comforting to think that when age strips away that little speed I have in my legs and the hairs from my head, maybe I can focus entirely on improving my stamina for the longer distances and put a 37 year old or two in their place.