09/06/2014

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner..?

Alan Sillitoe's 1959 novel, subsequently turned into film in 1962, captures what was, for a generation, the spartan, isolated existence of the long distance runner.

 

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner

A world inhabited by mild eccentrics. Eccentrics like World 10,000 metre record holder David Bedford, who ran 200 miles a week in training and whose Early-Seventies moustachioed image more latterly inspired the 118 118 commercials...

David Bedford and 118 Commercial

More on David in a while.

This was my world. In 1978 I joined Reading Athletic Club as a school boy. I loved - and still do love - athletics. I ran and trained in all weathers and across all surfaces with a small band of dedicated 'clubmen'; messianic devotees like David Bedford, even if they weren't as talented.

Nobody else went out running in 1978. 'Get those knees up!' was the usual, stunningly original chant of bemused onlookers; mostly in jest, although on occasion by way of mocking and irrationally vitriolic, personal abuse! I wasn't committing a crime, was I?! If you were really lucky, you were treated to an impromptu rendition of the The Monks' 1979 New Wave 'classic', 'Nice Legs, Shame About the Face'.

'Enjoy' it again here...

 

Long distance running even defined my first experience of Park House. On a cold and snowy Saturday morning in February 1979 my nice legs (but shameful face) carried me to the Berkshire Schools Cross Country Championship Junior Boys title in a race over a course that finished by the tree next to the Cricket Scoreboard. It's still there.

The reward for my efforts was a trip a month later to Leicester to take part in the National Cross Country Championships in Leicester as part of a Berkshire Team managed by none other than Park House's very own sporting inspiration and legend, Mr Doug Cook! The cover from Athletics Weekly, the sport's 'Bible' on 24 March 1979 gives an impression of the austerity of the event. Beards and moustaches were obviously compulsory! And the magazine only cost, bizarrely, 22p!

Athletics Weekly March 1979

How times have changed!

Since the early 1980s long distance running has of course become a hugely popular leisure pastime. A sport for the many, not the few. And that's fantastic.

London Marathon The Mall

The London Marathon, which was held for the first time in 1981, is widely credited with starting the running boom in this country, as the New York Marathon did a couple of years earlier in the United States. 30,000 people running together around the streets of capital. Hardly lonely! Somewhat ironically, however, the Race Director of the London Marathon is of course a certain Mr Dave Bedford...

David Bedford

So how times change, but how too can they also uncannily sometimes seem to come round again.

Thirty-five years ago my first, brilliantly positive impression of Park House School was formed when running around its cross country course. A lonely long distance runner. A generation on, I wonder how many more such impressions were formed by a community of over 330 runners and their families who shared the very special collective spirit of both this sport and our school as they ran around that very same course at our brilliant Charity Run and Fun Day on 18th May...

Charity Run and Fun Day

A selection of pictures from our recent Charity Run and Fun Day. See our facebook page for more!

Archive: