Joyce Bell – becoming a runner

Joyce Bell runner over 60 at Chester Marathon
21 March 2021

** Guest post ** – Joyce Bell from Kent writes about how she finally became a runner in her early sixties. Within a few years of her first parkrun, she ran a marathon and surprised herself by qualifying to represent England as a Masters athlete. I met Joyce at an online get-together of her running club, Istead & Ifield Harriers, when they invited me to talk about the history of women’s running on International Women’s Day. Joyce spoke enthusiastically about how running has benefitted her. I was very pleased when she agreed to write this post about her running career.


I ran for many years before I finally felt that I could call myself ‘a runner’.

Of course I have heard it said that if you run, you are a runner, but that isn’t the way it felt to me.  With a husband and two children involved in running, it was natural that I would give it a go myself, and over the years I must have done a fair few miles. But I didn’t really enjoy it, I didn’t think I was any good at it and I didn’t really improve. Looking back, this was all because of my mental approach. Basically I didn’t think I was good enough to call myself ‘a runner’.

Discovering parkrun

That all changed in May 2013, when, just shy of my 61st birthday, I accidentally came upon parkrun on one of my weekly plods. I decided to give it a go and, like all the best love affairs, ‘it just started quietly and grew’. By the end of 2013 it would have been unthinkable for me to do anything else on a Saturday morning. parkrun taught me that, although not the fastest, I certainly wasn’t the slowest. And, even if I were, it would not have mattered. Because I was already doing some running, my times did not fall as dramatically as some people’s – starting at 31:29 in May 2013 and breaking the magic 30 minute barrier in January 2014. More importantly I started really looking forward to my Saturday runs and was motivated to get out during the week and increase my distances.

First races

One of my parkrun buddies and I dared each other to enter a 10k and in May 2014 I ran the Folkestone 10k. I was delighted to break the hour (59:09) and, to my astonishment, won the age group prize! From there I took on all the distances – 5 miles, 10 miles, Half-marathon, even cross-country events. If you’d have told me that five years earlier, I wouldn’t have believed you!

Well, of course there was one distance I hadn’t taken on – the marathon.  I was fond of saying that I was thinking of doing a marathon so that when the time finally came to hang up my running shoes, I’d have ticked off every distance, but I’m not sure if deep down I had any intention of doing it. Then a friend’s husband said to me – “you will regret it if you don’t give it a go” so I decided it was time to take the plunge. I entered the 2017 Chester Marathon – far away enough for nobody to know me – and I told only a few close friends and family. If I was going to fall on my backside, I didn’t want too many people to know about it!

Of course, I didn’t fall on my backside. I completed it in 5:06:09 and I cannot describe the sense of achievement. For a couple of weeks, my first thought every morning was – I’ve run a marathon!

So there it was ticked off my bucket list; I’d got the medal, T-shirt and photo to show the grandkids. But it wasn’t an experience I planned on repeating.

England Masters team qualification

Then a few days later I got an email: “Congratulations – you have been selected to run for England in the Celtic Challenge at the 2018 Chester Marathon”. I don’t kid myself that this was because I am such a talented athlete – it was just a matter of numbers. The first five in each age group in a number of qualifying events were invited – and I snuck in at 5th place. Despite a bit of an ‘imposter syndrome’ moment I decided the chance to pull on an England vest was too good to miss.

I trained really hard for this one and did a PB of 4:49:03 which also gave me a Good for Age for London 2020. The England experience was great and although I was way slower than most of the other Masters runners, everyone was really supportive and I enjoyed it much more than my first marathon.

My ‘one and only’ marathon has turned into four and counting. My husband Barry and I both qualified for the England Masters team for the 2019 Yorkshire Marathon and then I decided to take up my Good for Age for London 2020. That of course did not happen, and my place has been deferred to 2023. Because I was fundraising, I decided to do the Virtual Marathon in October, where I had amazing support from other members of my running club – I had around 20 people running different sections with me and had a brilliant experience.

It remains to be seen whether I decide to do London in 2023 ….

My running club

Because Barry was a long-serving member of Istead & Ifield Harriers, I joined the club in 2014. Had he not been, it is possible that I would not have joined a club, but I would urge anybody taking up running to join a club. Their support and advice are invaluable and I have made some really good friends. There is nothing better than turning up at an event where we have a big presence and feeling part of ‘the team’. I might have expected some of the faster runners to dismiss me, but I have honestly never felt that and am always impressed by the support I get.

Joyce Bell Istead and Ifield Harriers

The benefits of running

Running has given me countless benefits – I am fitter than I was at 40 and I can take satisfaction that I am doing my best to keep myself in good shape as I get older. It has also done wonders for my confidence and self-esteem – my children are very proud of the achievements of both me and my husband and I think we provide good role models to them and to our grandchildren. If it weren’t for running, my social life would revolve around people of a similar age and outlook, whereas running encompasses a far wider range of age groups and backgrounds – and that can only help keep me young! Running, and especially going out with a couple of special ‘running buddies’, has really helped throughout the pandemic – it has got me out of the house and having people to meet up with (within the rules) has been invaluable.

Some people have asked if I regret not finding my love of running when I was younger and I’m really not sure of the answer to that. In some ways it has been good to find something new at this stage of my life – when it might have been easy to think that everything was going downhill! As it is, I am still motivated and although my times may have plateaued, I have goals to work to – and that’s got to be good!

Joyce Bell


 

 

The banner photograph shows Joyce and her husband Barry after the 2018 Chester Marathon.

 

3 Comments

  1. Jack Spratt

    A really enjoyable read, that. I know that sometimes I can be a bit of a running snob when it comes to others’ stories. If I don’t see a sub 3 in the story I might tune out but I love what you say about the benefits and being a good role model to the kids and grandkids. Well done and good luck for London 2023

    Reply
  2. Simon Parrin

    What an inspiration story of Joyce Bell I know her husband Barry well I’m proud to know both of them well and there children I was a member for Istead years ago they have lovely people there and great people. Joyce I’m amazed of how well you’re doing – well done keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Katie Holmes

      Thank you for your message Simon, I will email Joyce to make sure she sees it. Katie

      Reply
Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like….

Christine Oldfield –  a runner with staying power

Christine Oldfield – a runner with staying power

**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....

read more
Female Ultrarunners over 50

Female Ultrarunners over 50

In January I added three women to my list of running bloggers over 50. I noticed that all three of them run ultra distance races. Alene Nitzky, from Colorado USA, has been running ultras since 1991 and has run the Badwater 135 race twice. Carolin...

read more
Older runners and walkers at the Equinox 24 hour run

Older runners and walkers at the Equinox 24 hour run

"Should you be doing that at your age?" If you're an older endurance athlete you may well have been asked this question. As a recent article in the British Medical Journal pointed out, the prevailing attitude is that exercise is for young people...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This