Ask McCarkiss: Colin Bricher Special – Part One

Please can you ask Colin Bricher to guest edit a column on this excellent blog?

So we did…and of course there was only one subject, the decline in British distance running. So in a guest editotial that rivals the likes of Brand, Hitchens or Dawkins in the New Statesmen, we give you Bricher at MCKEP.

On a serious note this is a gread read, well, I think it is absolutely fantastic. (Macca)


Fifty years  … and the Clock’s Still Running

The olden days used to be when my grandmother was in her prime. It now seems to be my younger days. I started running for real in April 1962, aged 15., although I had always enjoyed running and used to round the playground perimeter at junior school.

Running was athletics and centred on the track: Cross-country was mainly something you did in winter. There was a small core of men whoo pounded the roads but road-running was really a minority sport but well enough organised to have formed the Road Runners Club and it was not before I signed up. There were fell runners but as a laddie in London I had no great awareness.

Terms like trail running and multi-terrain were not in currency and the Fell Runners Association was not formed until about 1970. I became a member 273 or thereabouts when I had a stint in the North-East. My present no. is in 5 digits.

Competition was segregated and it was rare for women to run distance on the roads. Mass participation started in the mid 70s and women were suddenly allowed to join our races, though technically they were separate races. It was of great annoyance when Rosemary Cox floated past me at 23 miles in the ’76 Harlow Marathon. Not only was I running 30 secs/mile sub par but I got beaten by a woman. Since then women have got faster whilst I have got slower.

 I always preferred off-road running but my action meant being far more successful in competition on the road. Having an unstable right foot I used to strike the ground exceptionally hard and lever myself forward. Although, like most of trail running colleagues I run for the enjoyment, I am still a competitive animal at heart.

Our average age was considerably lower. Let me illustrate from race results I have to hand. The 2012 Silverstone 10k had 630 out 1112 finishers being vets. Although the proportion of vets had started to increase, the 1972 Shaftesbury 10  (miles) had just 31 vets in a field of over 200. We were also much faster.

The 2012 Daventry ’10’ had 172 finishers with just 6 breaking the hour. The Shaftesbury in contrast had had112 under the hour. Bringing up the rear had been Ed Sullivan, in some ways a man ahead of his time, in 109.13 over 20 mins off the back. The Daventry race had three slower runners and four ladies not much faster. The excitement of the females in front could have inspired him to run even faster/

Behind this lies the reason for veteran status being what it is. The former environment was strictly competitive. One’s career, or perhaps marriage, made it difficult to maintain the training. The prospect of running at the back well separated from their fellow back markers was not attractive, so runners would retire from the sport in their 30s Those who reached 40 had survived the drop-out zone and were veterans in the sport. Thus the origins of the term have little to do with being decrepit, which most manifestly most 40 year old runners are not.

Before veterans groups became more formalised, the count of 40+s started to rise and many who had just turned 40 were ‘stinking fit’ and many promoters offered prizes for the over 43s rather than over 40s. The different age, W35, for women came about for quite different reasons. They often raised families in their 20s and returned to the sport in their mid 30s.

In 1985 I seriously damaged my right adductor. This caused great conflict with my instep problem and my running action had to change (with the help of orthotics) to allow me to to continue running. I had to build up my distance credentials again and mostly did my distance work in races. I had further accidents but details are not for this article.

With the arrival of the new millennium I found myself myself veteran of 40 years running belonging to a different era. Since then there have been even fewer Saturday afternoon races – everything used to be on Saturday afternoon: runners have continued to get slower at both the front and the back and the average age older. People come into the sport much later in life, often after giving up football.

As a competitive animal I almost scream at the standard at the front of races. At the same time I am very aware that if running was what it was when I started I would no longer be part of it. There is not much attraction in running a 5 miles being six minutes off the back and 10 behind third from last. I have people I can run with and others that I can beat

I started to look forward to celebrating 50 years of running. I got within four months when I got hit by a brute of a heart-attack (or blocked artery as royalty prefers to call it) shortly after finishing a race. One of the doctors at the hospital did say they would have me back running again but I started to have misgiving as the continued to keep me off running. April 2012 came and went and still no running. Finally in June I was allowed ½ hour mix of walking and jogging.

After five months off I needed to re-establish myself in order to demonstrate continuity. In October I even got an event under my belt. It was great delight that at the end of October, fully delayrd by six months, that ~I brought a cake to the running club to celebrate of 50 years running – and racing/.

Here’s to the next 50 🙂

Our sincere thanks go to Colin for allowing us to publish this, tune in next week for Part Two, “Why are there so few of those guys?” where we get into the detail,  ‘These days there seems to be too much concentration on gear inc shoes and fancy theories. Serious diet control might make sense for a international, but a 3.20 marathon performer would better be advised to get out there and do the work.’

Stay tuned.

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