**Guest post** Chris Bexton from Nottinghamshire began running at 53 and quickly found she could improve her times. Now in her sixties, Chris continues to be a competitive age group runner despite experiencing a major health setback just three years after starting running. She says, “Running has really satisfied a need in me that I didn’t know was there – a need to be competitive.”
Thank you Chris for sharing your story here.
I ran as a teenager at school and have a vague memory of running in the Nottinghamshire County Championships at Harvey Hadden stadium, probably around 1973. I competed in the 800m and there was only one other girl in the race. I remember running in plimsolls as I did not have any spikes. There was no real encouragement to participate in athletics. I gave up athletics on entering the Sixth Form, when we were allowed to choose our sports. My friends and I chose to go bowling and ice skating. I did not run again for decades but have been a keen cyclist and pedalled many miles over the years.
Chris with her friend Andy after their first race in 2012
2012 – starting running again at 53
Some years later, on our way back from the pub, I told a friend, Andy, that I wanted to run a marathon before I was 60 and he offered to train with me. We started our Couch to 5K on 1 January 2012, and before long we were entering races and not coming last! The Robin Hood Marathon was cancelled that year, so we ran the Half Marathon instead. My time was 2:08 – the younger runners in the office had finished in 2:25 and their jaws dropped when I told them my time! Andy stopped running after that, but I continued by myself for some months. In January 2013 I joined the Sports Centre gym at the University of Nottingham (where I have worked for most of my career) and with the help of a personal trainer was able to improve my half marathon time to 1:57 at the Belvoir Half Marathon in April. I was now hooked on running and realised that I could get faster.
Joining a running club
At this point I thought I was fast enough to join a club and became a member of Beeston AC, as I live very close to Chilwell Olympia leisure centre where the club meets. I set myself some targets and started to train for my first marathon, the Mablethorpe Marathon in October 2013. I raised funds for the charity Dementia UK as well. My friends and I booked a cottage and went off for a weekend away. They were spectating and I was able to see them four times on the figure of 8 course. I finished in 4:05, slightly disappointed not to get under 4 hours but ecstatic at completing my first marathon.
During the rest of 2013, my times started to tumble as I got quicker. My 5k time went down to 22:55, I ran 45:30 at the Wilne 10k and in October I achieved 1:45:43 at the Worksop Half Marathon, gaining my first v55 gold age category medal in the Nottinghamshire County Championships.
2014 – a golden year
2014 was my golden year. I set myself new goals including sub-4 for the marathon. I was running four or five times a week and the club training was very beneficial. This was the year in which I set most of my personal bests:
- 21:15 for 5k
- 43:45 for 10k
- 98:39 at the Keyworth Turkey Trot half marathon, at which I won a turkey!
- 3:41:43 at the Robin Hood Marathon.
I won the Nottinghamshire County Championships v55 gold for all of these distances, plus silver for 10 miles. I came second overall in the marathon in the County Championships, 90 seconds behind the winner. I also won the v55 category in the Nottinghamshire Summer League (a series of road races). I ended the year ranked in the top 40 in the UK for my age category.
2015 – a major setback
I had an entry for the London Marathon in 2015 and started training for it, aiming for sub-3:30. Unfortunately I had a major setback in February 2015, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for which I needed an operation. I probably over-trained as I was determined to hit the target by way of compensation. Unfortunately, a few weeks before the marathon I started to have a painful heel, which I ignored as it went away when I ran. This was a big mistake; the pain in my foot started at mile 11 and gradually increased until, by mile 20, I was in such pain I could barely put my foot to the ground. I walked the next 3 miles whilst other runners streamed past, then by mile 24 my foot had lost all feeling and I was able to start running again, albeit slowly, and completed the race in 4:05. I have never met that 3:30 goal and don’t think I will do so now.
I ended up having to have three operations in 2015 as the first one did not remove all the cancerous cells. Nonetheless, within six months I was able to compete again in various races. My running was a real help in speeding up my recovery and also helped with my mental health. In September that year, I ran the Robin Hood Marathon in 3:45, and I was again second in the Nottinghamshire County Championships, which went some way to easing the disappointment of London. The five years of treatment following the diagnosis nonetheless have had an effect and I’ve never regained the speed I had in 2014, having peaked in my running career after only two years (according to research, most people peak after 7 years). I am hoping that the compensation will be that the slowing of my times will not be as fast as it might have been.
2018 – turning 60
I turned 60 in 2018. Mainly because I fancied a weekend away, I entered the Manchester Marathon in April along with several others from the club. I had read about the Age Group Masters selection in emails from England Athletics and, as this was a qualifying event, I ticked the box and thought I may as well have a go. To my surprise, I was actually selected! I spent the summer training for the Chester Marathon in October and was delighted to achieve 3:45 again, which ranked me 13th in the UK that year. The other highlight of the year was a personal best at the Notts 10 mile race (77:10), winning the v55 gold and a crate of beer, to the delight of the family.
Chris competing in an England masters vest at the Birmingham 10k 2019
That year, I was invited to join the Vets League team for Notts AC. I have really enjoyed my return to my first love, track running and it has given me the opportunity to compete against some of the best age group athletes in the country. I’ve also had a go at long jump, javelin, the 2k walk and the shot put in the Midlands Vets League.
The biggest highlight of 2018, though, was being voted Athlete of the Year by Beeston AC in recognition of my achievements.
I qualified to run as an Age Group Master again at the Yorkshire Marathon in 2019, and I was picked for the 10k at Birmingham in May 2019.
By the time I was 60 I had indeed run a marathon and ticked that goal – eight were completed by my 60th birthday and London Marathon 2021 will be number twelve.
2021 – a final marathon
I am currently training for London Marathon in October 2021. Among others, John O’Donnell, Chairman of Beeston AC and run leader, has provided help and support with the training for all my marathons, and once again he has been supporting me with the long runs. I have had some fantastic support along the way. This will be my last marathon as I now have asthma, and sometimes this results in breathing difficulties in races. I am very sorry to give up marathons, but it is becoming untenable.
Looking to the future
My main aim now is to stay fit, and if possible, still be running at the age of 75. I am trying to give back to the sport by supporting other runners as a run leader (running Couch to 5k courses and accompanying others in their runs) and also as the current Club Secretary for Beeston AC.
I am proud to be competing against others in my age group and it certainly doesn’t get easier!