Bob Stephens

On the Run - Bob Stephens Inheriting the Crown

With Nigel Roberts in banished in exile to Trump land, I seem to have rather dubiously inherited the crown of the oldest runner in the club. As a non-royalist (I dare not use the word Republican), the crown does not fit at all well, and is much more suited to Nigel’s bald pate than my hard-to-find white hair. As I come up to my next significant birthday (in maturity every 5 years is significant), I can reflect back to both battles with Nigel and with my former self. 

I was rather surprised that Nigel did not boast of his faster marathon time than mine, but he was probably afraid of the riposte as to who was ahead in the shorter (and indeed longer) races. A ‘world record’ for the fastest 50+ over the Kepler – just over 6 hours, and a one mile in 4m.24 in my youth, are times I look back to with pride. Sprints were never allowed to enter the competition as hamstrings, Achilles and any other tendons would not be able to take the strain, and timekeepers would have packed up and gone home. 

And I look back to the times achieved when in my youth, even several sub-40 minute 10kms when a spritely 60. But today, a 30 minute run unfortunately took just under an hour. And with youths passing by as if the breeze and hills were never there: bah humbug children, you too will get old. Some even say, keep it going Grandad – at least none have quite got to the cheek of calling out great-granddad. Nigel may well get there first. 

Luckily, many road and cross-country races have had course changes, so the plotting of one’s downfall is not possible. As Nigel has said, the advent of GPS etc. has been rather disheartening. I don’t like coming back from an hour’s run to be told that we have done 7.52km. It is the hour that is important, and the camaraderie, rather any precise distance. And this fad of carrying water bottles when running – they destroy your stride and it is easy to find out where taps are (but you can’t toss the bottles away as they are plastic). And toilets! – the necessary bete-noir of the older runner.

But history is replete with tales of how the younger usurpers take the crown from the older harrier, but often the older harrier comes back from exile with his newly found vigour and takes the helm again. So Nigel, can you gather your troops, or functioning body parts, to retake the Crown. Let us hope so, it is lonely at the top! 

My aim these days is to have nobody older than me in front of me in inter-club races. So far so good over the last few seasons, as my elders become mere spectators. While Nigel thinks he can challenge that record, I am sure that he will toss himself off some other cliff on Ruapehu again, or decide to co-inhabit with the 800 year-old Rimu in Otari. But I might find that scrambling up waterfalls or scree-slopes in the Tarauas has similar outcomes of bruises or even broken bones. Lyn Clark can testify to how tramping is excellent training for running, being out for 6-8 hours (with occasional 10-12 hours after we have got lost, again). But she runs ultras. 

So, I accept, reluctantly, the Crown of age, even if there are walkers who are even older: maybe there is something in bum-wiggling that is good for longevity. Those who are younger will always stay younger, and recruiting geriatrics is not an easy task. But next year, I look forward to Nigel’s retaking of the Crown, but not the front position in the field. Except in handicap races where JT is starting to recognise the problems of age and will provide suitably generous handicaps to ensure that the 70+ group now receive the trophies.