England Age Group Masters meet Marathon Challenge

England Age Group Masters runners demonstrated that age really is no barrier to performance as they took on the MBNA Chester Marathon in style. Sporting the specially designed retro-style England Age Group Masters kit the 150 strong team of men and women representing England in the age groups V35 through to V75 took on the 26.2 mile race, with the added challenge of competing against a Celtic Nations team of runners and a strong field of club runners of all ages.

The organizers of the MBNA Chester Marathon were the perfect hosts making this a special day for many of these dedicated club runners.

This new initiative launched by England Athletics last autumn aims to recognize and reward the performances of the age group runners who make up a sizeable proportion of many a club membership. England Athletics are looking to further develop similar opportunities at other distances that will also add to the existing opportunities offered through the British Masters Athletics Federation.

Runners were invited to pre-register their interest to run in one of the five qualifying races, with the top five men and top 5 women in each age group at each race gaining automatic qualification for the team. Sunday was the culmination of several months of training with the whole team coming together at Chester in this inaugural event. Proud friends and family members were there to support on this special day where old rivalries were revived and new friendships made.

Conditions were near perfect for marathon running and so it was perhaps not surprising that given the strength in depth in the age groups that the overall race was won by a member of the England Age Group team. Fresh from a third place at the Great Bristol Run over the half-marathon distance last month, it was Lloyd Biddell V35 (Mercia Fell Runners) who was first across the finish line in a personal best time of 2:26:11. In fact, the top 10 runners were all age group masters, with Tom Aldred V35 (London Heathside) taking second place in his second fastest marathon of all time and Stuart Hawkes V35 (Tipton Harriers) finishing in third.

Like many on the team Biddell is a relative newcomer to running."I only started running 2 ½ years ago after the best part of 10 years of a sedentary lifestyle so hopefully there is still some room for improvement before age starts to work against me!" he said after the race. James Watson (Taunton AC) was first of the V40s in a new PB of 2:28.25. Whilst Kerry-Liam Wilson V45 (Cambuslang Harriers) was the first to break the strong hold of England runners with an age group win for the Celtic Nations team. The top eight runners all broke the 2hr 30 barrier.

In the women’s race it was also the case that the overall winner was an England Age Group runner, with Sarah Lowery V35 (Sheffield RC) taking the race title in 2hr 44.24 which was a lifetime best. Diane Moore (Headington RR) was the first of the V40s in 2hr 52.01, also a personal best. A further seven women on the team cracked the 3hr barrier, including Treena Johnson winner of the V55s (Dewsbury RR) in 2:58:38.

There were also many personal bests in the other age groups. Jane Wilson V45 (North Yorks Moors) ran a personal best to win the match for the V45s, as did Helen Sida V50 (Lewis AC) and Lynda Hembury V60 (Tring RC) PB. Yvonne Twelvetree V65 (Totley AC) and Shirley Gibson V70 (Darlington H & AC) were also age group winners.

In terms of good for age performances there were some outstanding performances in both the men’s and women’s age groups. Paul Mingay V60 (Tiptree RR) who ran 2:49:53 was one such performer. What made this all the more impressive was that he also broke his personal best from 30 years previous. When we quizzed Paul about how you set PB at V60 he simply put it down to having more time to train properly.

Also covering the 26.2 miles in a sprightly 3:26:49 was V70 Timothy Kirk (pictured). Clearly delighted to have earned an England vest at V70 Timothy informed us that he never expected to gain another international vest, having last worn the Great Britain vest back in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics as a cox for the rowing team. Fellow team mate and septuagenarian Dave Phillips (Massey Ferguson RC) made this his 486th marathon.

Of the 150 team members nearly 130 clubs were represented, with runners representing a wide range of clubs from long established clubs with a past history of producing performance athletes to much newer off track clubs.

Jerry Smith V60 (Chorlton Runners) summed up the day for many of the runners; "It was a fantastic experience to run in the England vest and one which I will always treasure." Deidre Heydecker added, "You have created such a wonderful opportunity for us runners to take part in a remarkable event. I felt it was a huge privilege to be able to wear an England vest and to be part of a strong, highly able team."

photographs courtesy Simon Warburton