Dear, oh dear – would you just look at them?! Three fully fledged males from Shipton with not a six pack in sight. They look happy enough even if they resemble little more than a trio of loosely clad tuning forks. Familiar faces? Anyone who lives in the Wychwoods has almost certainly seen one or other of them at some stage, ‘running’ around the villages. The term ‘running’ needs to be interpreted with a certain degree of ambiguity for these three individuals are, as they say, a little past their sell-by dates; not so much Billy Whizz as Billy Wizened. The average age is 68 but one is 66, one 68 and one 70; readers might like to guess which is which because the Wychwood Magazine is much too diplomatic to reveal their respective ages.
They are rarely seen together, each one preferring what author Alan Sillitoe wrote about as The loneliness of the long distance runner. They are, perhaps in the nature of their sport, singletons, each ploughing their lonely furrow. And while LSD might be a familiar term to those of a certain age as the initials of a recreational drug, for would-be athletes it stands for ‘long slow distance’ and that fits our local heroes very nicely. But who are they?
Phil, at the top of the slide, is the fleetest of the three by some way. A retired GP, he moved to the Wychwoods just three years ago having spent much of his working life in Bolton. For him, the Cotswold hills are mere bumps, for this is the man who used to run up Rivington Pike before breakfast. A self-confessed non-sportsman, he took to running ten years ago, quickly discovering that distance running needs little in the way of muscular bulk, speed or coordination. He probably runs further than the other two, although all three are relatively secretive about their distances. Running up to ten miles at a time, he has a simple ambition: he wants to run on every footpath on his local map, although as he hasn’t disclosed the scale of that map, that may not be as aspirational as might first appear.
Phil is happy running alone, avoiding natives who might criticise his lack of speed, his style or, indeed, his mentality. The quiet lanes are his favourite. It is not long ago that this keen Christian was running on the back road to Fifield, nobody around, when he heard a voice:
A disembodied voice. Was this ‘the call’, the voice from on high? Seconds later, a neighbour’s electric car drew up alongside, dashing any pious hopes.
What about Paul, apparently clutching onto the slide for grim death? His sporting past in tennis and rugby is well behind him but he bravely goes where few have gone before, shuffling gamely along the lanes, a fine example of continuity against all the odds. A former manager with the Royal Mail, he cares not one jot for appearances – baggy shorts, tights, fluorescent tops, baggy cap, the alpha male of athletic fashion. And those shorts are often put to good use; passing the Co-op, he frequently calls in, buys his breakfast croissant and stores it safely before going on his way rejoicing, confident that the shower followed by porridge and croissant are enough to put the hairs on anyone’s chest. But before reaching home, he has to run the gauntlet at Prew’s garage where the proprietor has been known to wave and grin broadly while, with his other hand, point questioningly towards the defibrillator hanging from the wall.
Paul, in common with the other two, is a keen advocate of exercise for all, believing that everyone can only benefit from regular exercise of whatever form; as he says himself:
“Running throughout the year around our beautiful country lanes is therapeutic for both mind and body. I get annoyed with myself it I haven’t run during the day. An hour out on the roads leaves me with a very positive feeling, a warm glow. My aim is to do some form of exercise very day whether it be yoga, tennis, cycling, walking, running or swimming.”
Out of the three of them, Bob has perhaps the most reason to feel crestfallen at his current state of suspended animation. This used to be a class runner. Back in the day, if fact back in the last century – that really makes him sound old if not severely past it, he represented four different county teams, regularly ran two and a half hour marathons and even won one marathon – yes, just one, tasting victory in the Milton Keynes marathon of September 1986. The day after this success, at morning assembly in school, despite his silence on the subject, word had got out and two grinning children entered the back of the hall with one battered trainer on a green cushion, presenting him with the Sweaty Trainer Award 1986 for his achievement. The children suddenly saw their brand new headteacher in a very different light. Joy shared!
Each of them has also gained huge satisfaction from the weekly park runs held in Witney, Moreton and Oxford among other places. No longer are they the slowest kids on the block – there’s overtaking to be done, even if the novelty of passing horizontally challenged members of the opposite sex can pall after a while; readers in this age of LGBTQ+ should be wary of assuming which gender group is being referred to here.
Yes, these local runners may look out of place in an era of lycra, mobile phone pouches and headphones, indeed they may occasionally appear like codgers making a spirited but ultimately doomed bid to abscond from their care home, but they run on into the sunset, a picture of enthusiastic energy ………………………………… despite their apparent lack of muscles.
(Article sent by our Swedish correspondent, Lars Legs)
Following on from the above, readers may be interested to know that our vicar was recently observed running up the Swinbrook road to the crossroads, a progress which he described as exhausting but worth it for the view coming back down again. Perhaps he is running in the footsteps of his predecessor, Kate Stacey who went from non-runner to London Marathon finisher during her time at the Wychwoods.
December 2019-January 2020