**Guest post** I’m delighted to feature this article from my friend and fellow club member Christine Oldfield. Her running story started more than 30 years ago and, now in her seventies, Christine is definitely a runner with staying power.
I have never seriously thought of myself as an ‘athlete’. How could I, when I have never been in the habit of doing what others would call training and have always been pretty slow? But then I look down the long Excel list of my race results starting from 1991, and ponder, not only all my participation medals, but also those for performance. I consider myself to be very lucky to have avoided major injury and to still be running at the top end of the 70-74 age group. It shows that at least I have stickability! Running has kept me fit, mentally and physically, has provided me with a purpose and goals (no matter how modest), has strengthened my confidence and given me something to be proud of. So, I don’t think it really matters what I call myself.
Starting running at 42
I was almost 42 when my husband John and I went to teach in Dubai in 1986. Although I enjoyed walking, I hated anything sporty. I had never tried running, but not wanting to be left alone for a couple of nights a week, I decided to go along with John and join the Hash House Harriers – a worldwide (dis)organisation sometimes known more for its drinking than its running. Their system of false trails and checkpoints (and some strategic short cutting) meant that I could almost keep up with the rest of the pack, and I grew to enjoy, not just the social aspect, but also the experience of running on compacted sand and over the dunes. I ran Dubai’s first ever 10k road race and realised I had quite a competitive streak.
Hash House Harriers in South Africa
In 1989, we moved to Bophuthatswana, an area designated as a “homeland” by the South African government, and now defunct. By then we were both hooked on Hash House Harriers – so started up the Bop Hash from scratch. Running in the bush was somewhat different to the desert and between hash runs, although warned against doing so, a small group of us often ran around the perimeter of our compound on a circuit that took us through a local village. The occupants gradually got to know us, and we were a great attraction to the children.
Road racing in Australia
Things became more serious in 1991 when we arrived in Perth, Australia, to work and spend time with family. Not only did we run with the hash, but we joined The West Australian Marathon Club which organised weekly Sunday runs and other events. Despite the name, they did organise shorter distance races too. Each month there would a couple of 10km races (my PB of 53:16 comes from those days). There were also many 12km and 16km races and, in my first ever half marathon, I clocked up 1:59:59, the only time I have run under 2 hours for that distance.
Towards the end of 1991 we also joined ‘The Vets’ (later to be called MAWA – Masters Athletics Western Australia) which did the same sort of things as the Marathon Club but was more social – with breakfasts by the riverside after the Sunday runs. Between the two clubs I got lots more races under my belt, including several more half marathons, some cross-country races and a 12km City to Surf.
Bahrain Half Marathon
Our next stop, in 1993, was Qatar where there were no running clubs or public races – but the Qatar hash was thriving. In January 1994 a small group of us took a trip to Bahrain for their half marathon. In temperatures of about 35 degrees and with the heat from the sand making a great effort at baking us, we all completed, and went back to Qatar with more than our fair share of large trophies. I was 49 at the time and ran a slow 2:13:05 – but finished first in my 45-49 age group.
Scotland – running my first marathon at 59
In January 1993 we moved to Scotland and bought a flat close to central Edinburgh and in 1994 we retired from full time teaching. During the next ten years we had a few trips to Perth (Australia) where we slotted back into the running clubs as if we had never been away. But, mainly, our running was in Scotland. We eventually decided that the Hash was not quite the same in a cold climate but there were numerous road races of various lengths. I fondly remember the year 2000 Great Caledonian 5 mile race around the Balmoral Estate, where we rubbed shoulders (and shared the changing facilities) with the elite. Their race went off first and then some of them, including Sonia O’Sullivan, joined in the mass event and worked their way through the pack chatting to everyone.
What I thought must be the top point of my running career came in 2004 when I decided to run the Edinburgh marathon – just a few months short of my 60th birthday. I did do a bit of training for this but never got past about 18 miles. I wasn’t confident that I would finish – and John was sure I wouldn’t! The last 6 miles or so was absolute agony and I had to walk much of it. But I finished in 5:06:26 and was so elated that I wrote a book – Running Shared. The next year I had more idea of what was involved – but I was 60 and everyone said I must be mad! These were the days when the route was circular and took you halfway up Arthur’s Seat and along Salisbury Craggs – much more taxing than the one-way, net downhill route that it takes today. I didn’t do much more training than I had done the previous year but, helped in the last miles by a torrential hailstorm which soaked and numbed the whole body so that you couldn’t feel any pain, I improved my time to 4:40:11. That then became the pinnacle of my running career.
Taking up track racing in my sixties
A two month visit to Perth in 2005/2006 saw us running with the Masters club again. In addition to their road and cross-country runs they also organised two sessions a week on the track, and John and I were persuaded to have a go – and we continued over the next 10 years or so as we avoided 5 or 6 months of the UK winters. I got used to being lapped a couple of times in 3000m races and even more frequently in the 5000m and 10000m. But I was not alone, and the culture there was to just run and enjoy, rather than worry about times.
The club organised an annual Track & Field trophy competition, a sort of decathlon, over about one month and covering both track and field events. Your best 10 events counted and had to contain at least 3 field events, including one jump and one throw. Points were based on age graded percentages. Most of us saw this as a bit of fun and an opportunity to try new things. So, I ran everything from 60m to 10,000m, did both long and triple jumps, put the shot and threw the discus and javelin. I ended up with a damaged shoulder from the shot put and decided that I was neither a thrower nor a jumper! So, apart from a couple of pentathlons, I confined myself to the track and, over the years, as well as an Australian record in the 800m relay, picked up a ridiculous quantity of State and Australian Championships medals. Many of these were by default – no more than three competitors in my age group – but I was assured that you ‘can only compete against those that turn up on the start line’ and that completing a race was something to be proud of.
I used the WAVA (now WMA – World Masters Athletics) age graded percentages as my benchmarks and, to start with, was very happy when I managed around 65%. With the amount of running I was doing, my times improved, and my aim was to get to 70% – which I achieved. In those days the tables were very generous for older runners, so my performances looked rather good against those of the younger competitors. But, as more woman continued to compete as they got older, WMA revised the tables in 2010 so that they became a bit more realistic. And that meant that I was back down to the high 60s, with the odd 70% in some events.
A move to Nottingham and more road racing
In 2006 we spent the summer in Nottingham with a view to moving south permanently. This was when we joined Holme Pierrepont Running Club. At that time, I could actually keep up with the slowest running group on club nights. I ran the Notts AC 1 mile, 5 mile and 10 mile races and won the silver in the British Masters Athletics Federation Championships at the Mansfield Half Marathon – then ran the Newark Half 10 minutes quicker. We decided that, with the running and the cricket (for John) there was plenty of scope for us in Nottingham, so we moved down in 2007, but continued to spend UK winters in Perth, Australia.
World Masters Athletics Championships 2007
That year, the World Masters Championships took place in Riccione, Italy – too close for us to miss. We spent a fantastic couple of weeks there as part of the Aussie team. In my age group, in the 5000m I came 24th out of 31 and in the 8km cross country, 29th out of 39. I had expected to be very close to last, so was pleasantly surprised. At the same competition in Lahti, Finland, two years later, I came away with a World Championship medal – bronze for the team cross country.
Track and field officials
In Australia John and I had become involved with officiating Track & Field and had already achieved some qualifications. So, in 2007, we presented our certificates and a glowing reference to UK Athletics. They were delighted to add us to their list of officials but insisted we start on the first rung of the ladder again. So, we duly complied and having achieved the top level in Track, in both Australia and the UK, we turned our attention to the other disciplines to give ourselves a bit more versatility. Field officials are always in great demand, so I worked my way up to just short of the top grade. Between us, John and I could offer 5 different disciplines and, being so flexible, we became a very sought-after couple, ending up officiating at 3 or 4 meetings a week – Grangemouth, close to Edinburgh, Cleckheaton, in Yorkshire, Oxford, Cardiff and all points in between, particularly across the Midlands.
The problem was that officiating and running did not mix well. I found that I seldom actually felt like going out for a run. And I didn’t have the energy, or the speed, to run on club nights. By 2012, I was hardly racing at all in the UK – I just ran a few of the Nottinghamshire Amateur Athletics Association Summer League races, the Holme Pierrepont Running Club Grand Prix and Lake Handicap races and competed in the odd County Championship event – winning several medals in 2008 in the masters W35+ category, including gold for the long jump! I knew it was good for me, healthwise, to keep going and these little rewards helped to keep me interested. In Australia we only officiated once a week, so I continued on the track and added to the medal tally there. Fortunately, 2012 was the year that parkrun came to Nottingham and we ran at Colwick and Rushcliffe and then at several of the Perth venues.
In 2013 John and I were selected to represent both the UK and Australia as part of the international team of officials at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Brazil. It was a very disorganised event and our team was there to make sure all the important things were done correctly. It was very satisfying to be able to help with that and also to be called in several times as a translator (because of my knowledge of Spanish) to sort out problems between athletes and the local officials who only spoke Portuguese. This was the high spot in my officiating career.
parkrun keeps me running
It was not until 2015, when we cut back on officiating, that I started doing road races again. We also restricted our Perth visits to around just one month every year and a half so my track running more or less ended. I have always needed a reason to go out and run and parkrun became the one thing that kept me going, especially during the UK winters which I found quite hard to manage. Despite the fact that parkrun is not supposed to be a competitive event, I have set my sights on the Age Category Record at all the venues I have attended – where remotely possible. At one stage, between the UK and Australia, I held 16 ACRs. All the UK ones have since been broken but I still hold 6 Australian ones. When I turn 75 in November, I shall be looking to add a few more. I have also had some great battles with myself and the clock which have kept me motivated.
In the past few years I have picked up several Summer League and County Championship medals, road and track. And it was this year, at just short of 75, that I had another high point. In the 10km British Masters Championship, held as part of the Blyth 10k, I ran 62:20, my fastest time for many years – and came second to World Champion, Angela Copson in the v70 age category.
Having two other ladies in the club in my age group has been tremendous encouragement to me. With both being far better and quicker runners than I have ever been, I have always had an incentive to try to do better, or at least keep going. I like to think that the three of us have been an inspiration to the younger members of Holme Pierrepont, to members of other clubs, and to parkrun afficionados, who might otherwise have called it a day as they moved into their 60s. I almost feel I have a duty to carry on running for as long as I can to encourage other women to do the same.
Christine Oldfield July 2019
Interested in finding out more about runners over 70? Read my interview with Sandy Poole.
Photography credits: banner photo, parkrun photos and photo with Sandy Poole are by kind permission of John Oldfield.
An explanation of age grading from the British Masters Athletics Federation website: “Age-Grading is a way of measuring your athletics performance taking into account your age and sex. It enables you to produce a percentage score for each run or other athletics event based on how old you were when you did the competition and the comparative performance of world record holders taking into their age and event itself.”
Christine was interviewed by UK Athletics about her experience of being a Track & Field official for International Women’s Day 2019.