Daddy gone running.
If that’s your child’s first sentence, you know you have an issue.
I started running at 2, round the edge of the wreck, which I much later found was the Rec. While mum walked the diagonal path. And never really stopped.
School pre-sports day at 10. Selection for Drake House, 2 spots in each event: sack race, egg and spoon, obstacle race, 50m, 25m. Shebbear primary had 3 boys in Drake House. I was last. In everything. Gutted. But on the day there was the “round the field race”, maybe 300m, which anyone could do. Whoopee! something for mum and dad to watch. And so there I was, in the lead, 250m run, and whap whap whap three boys went past. But am I bitter 40 years on at the missed medal?
Shebbear College boy’s School. Myopic and rubbish at rugby. Therefore deemed rubbish at cricket, despite being able to see. “Running group for you boy”, with Mr. Williams. Mr.Williams wasn’t the sportiest of teachers, and although Ashley later became a woman’s name, he’s now called Christine anyway. Running was a punishment at Shebbear, so after that I got lines instead.
Sporty boys do real sports, geeky kids don’t. So it was a bit of a shock when I won the 800 and 1500m at sports day, and a good tongue lashing for not trying on the Rugby Pitch. Ho hum.
15, and I got to go to Devon Schools Cross Country. In Lyme Regis. No one from Shebbear had been before, so how exciting was that? Well, not very, everyone buggered off and were out of sight after the first lap, and last place might have been a salutary large fish/small pond moment. But on reflection it was more “solitary fish/small pond” thing.
Next year, stealth racing. The only athletics match we ever had, at Kelly College. 16s and 17s, and for some reason they ran the two races together, two per school. Four of us went ahead, four behind, Kelly boys ready to reduce us to dust with their sprint finish. Any proper runner should race like Steve Ovett. So with 200m to go, Kelly’s coach starts yelling and screaming when he realises I’m in the “wrong” group. Too late. Just before leaving hme at 17, I ran my first open race. Bideford – Barnstaple, 10miles in 69 minutes.
All this in plimsolls. So 1980 my first paypacket (@£45 a week) went on a pair of new-fangled Tretorn “running shoes”.
1981. Fresher’s fair at Oxford. This “orienteering” looks fun, 8:30 Sunday morning of 1st week and a hangover put paid to that. Cross country club, and the discovery of where I rated among peers: the fifth (and last) team.
1982. More cross-country, no improvement. And a London marathon, delivering a hard-hit wall and many miles of walk, for a legendary 3:59:59 finish time.
1983 More fifth team XC. 5-10 mile Road races at about 6mins/mile. Paris marathon. 3:19:57. Cute time 🙂
1984 Graduate. Arrive at AERE Harwell for a D.Phil, and meet a man all enthusiastic about a new sport he just tried: “orienteering”. This is Roger Thetford, I join him at his second event, my first, at Youlbury. White. 1 k/5 controls 5 minutes. That’s fun! Orange takes significantly longer.
And this is the turning point in my life. In the short term its the turning point of my running, in introduces the two key sessions you need to get better. The long run, and long intervals.
Long run is easy, Orienteering courses are taking me 90 minutes+, mainly dashing about like a headless chicken. Long intervals “3 minute runs” have just come to OUAC, and Dave McIntyre has heard of a session by someone called “Hyman” in Scotland. So every six minutes, we set off and ran for three. In a year near-6 min/miles became near-5.
For a couple of years it was mainly orienteering, creeping to near-elite level, and the odd running race (now at the pointy end), and a 2:58 marathon in Amsterdam. 10m got down to 53mins (running the last two miles with Richard Nerurkar who was out of a training run and caught up for a chat…), 5 to 26 and in 1987 I went for an athletics blue.
And failed. Perhaps unique in Varsity match history as I raced my teammates yelled things like “slow down”, “take it easy, Graeme”. I missed the Blue’s time, and although I beat both the ‘tabs, they decided not to give me an optional blue. To explain, a few years earlier, future olympian racewalker Tim Berrett got the 3k walk into the Varsity match. Competition for places was not exactly fierce, so I taught myself to walk at 5min/km, got on the team, collected a half blue in, er, 15:27, and have never racewalked again. I had hopes of making the cross country team, but got sick and ended up back in the 4th and 5ths at Shotover. At least my Oxford days ended with a win.
and one day, I ran 3.3k at world record pace for 10k. Although Scott Fraser and Murray Strain later became really top rate athletes, back in 2005 we were all just club standard. Kenenisa Bekele’s world record stood at 26:20.31 and we had varying amounts of performance related sponsorship for the BOF squad. So we ran a 3-man paarlauf: one junior, one senior, one veteran, 200m run, then rest while the other two ran a lap. We knocked off 10k in 25:51.7! I’d never have guessed how easy it was.
The Seven Hills of Edinburgh
The original urban orienteering race. A simple idea – visit the summits of Castle, Corstorphine, Craiglockhart, Braids, Blackford, Arthurs Seat and Calton Hills, the optimum route was always open to debate. It always suited me, to try to drop the hillrunners on the early road sections, and the road runners on the later hill sections. I was lucky enough to win seven times between ’91 and ’03, losing twice, to Neil Wilkinson in 94 when a gang of hill runners followed me assiduously all the way (including a stop behind a bush on Craiglockhart!) and in 2000 while still wrecked from the marathon and the wheels completely came off. Two second places in 04 and 05 seemed a good time to bow out gracefully.
I got invited to a meeting in Washington DC in 2004, and it turned out to be the week of the Cherry Blossom 10mile race: with 16000 people the biggest in the world. I’d missed the closing date for the ballot, but the more run-savvy Brian Kirkwood suggested I write and blag an invite as a vet. I was Eastern States half-marathon champion, I mumbled something about breaking there record for them and they were well disposed towards foreigners – not only did I get an entry, I got invited to the elite pre race party! So I was committed to running well. I spent the week jealously guarding my jet lag and running at 7am to get in sync. On the morning it was bitterly cold and very windy. I ran well to win, but everyone was slow and I could only manage 55:27 behind the leading women (the first time in 20 years). So much for the record! I didn’t feel too bad about it: the awards stage blew away and the prizegiving had to be abandoned anyway!