Athletics: 'That's the problem with running - you can lose to anyone'

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The Independent Online

It's not every day I can boast of beating an international runner in a road race. In fact, until last Sunday's Barking and Dagenham five-mile run, my first competitive outing for more than 20 years, it was not any day.

It's not every day I can boast of beating an international runner in a road race. In fact, until last Sunday's Barking and Dagenham five-mile run, my first competitive outing for more than 20 years, it was not any day.

But it gives me some pleasure to report that I showed P Jones where to get off on the streets of IG 11, finishing two seconds ahead. OK, P stood for Pam. And, OK, she was 67. Which I suppose made her a former international. Two seconds, though - some margin, I think you'll agree.

Sadly, I was not able to resist a tide of others who swept past me in the course of the event. That's the problem with running - you can lose to anyone.

Football is more straightforward. There you only lose to blokes. Although come to think of it, some of the blokes I used to play against in the Fleet Street Midweek League were well into their 50s, and a few of the older Express Vets were probably into their 60s.

The Vets did even things up with a few ringers, of course. I won't forget the day when that technically correct but fallibly-jointed outfit turned up with a winger who seemed oddly familiar. As he turbocharged away from me shortly after the kick-off, it became clear that this was indeed Lyndon Lynch, whose exploits in Bishop's Stortford's FA Cup run several years earlier, which I had covered for the local paper, had earned him the headline name of Bald Eagle ( News of the World, as memory serves).

And I had another 89 minutes left of trying to mark him.

That same sinking feeling came to me as I traversed Barking Park for what felt like the fourth time last Sunday morning, my mouth exam-day dry with nerves (absurd, but there it was), and one after another non-male, or non-young, or too-young runners padded past me, staring fixedly into the middle distance.

It shouldn't be a problem to lose to women. I mean, for God's sake, Paula Radcliffe was the first Briton home in last year's London Marathon. But I would be lying to say it felt the same when the pad-pad-pad passing was a female rather than a male footstep.

In the end I took comfort in concluding that all these women must be dedicated club runners, out training every night, probably doing the marathon.

As for the stringy, tanned men with greying ponytails - well, they were just faded hippies hooked up on the sad old Californian jogging ethic.

And the youngsters? Well, that was youngsters for you - not running properly, just dashing around.

And the elderly? All very well getting out and about and a leathery tan, but there had to come a point, surely, when exertion became unwise. Their time would come, I concluded.

The rest - well, they were just the fit, young, male élite...

Shame upon me! I was missing the bigger picture. In a week when the British Heart Foundation has warned that increasing numbers of Britons are risking coronary disease through a combination of bad diet and terminal inactivity, events such as the one held in Barking should be warmly applauded.

After all, it stirred a wide cross-section of the local population - from eight to 80, from Thrift Green to Thurrock - into action. God willing, I'll do it again next year, as will many others. This is where the seeds of national health sprout and grow.

That said, I've just checked the results again and - great news! I beat the over-70s champion by almost four minutes! So that means that if I get no more than four minutes slower in the next quarter of a century, and I'm still alive, and I run the same course, in the same weather conditions, then...

Oh, I give up.

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