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Baffled by this topsy-turvy (running) life

Relief:  another 10,000m race completed

Dilemma upon dilemma.

Indecision resolved by decisions, which next day are quickly reversed. Back to square one.

Is this the mental turmoil that all sportspeople face as the body slows and energy fades?  The deciding when to quit.

Common wisdom says the clever ones know when to stop. They accept the situation for what it is: the closing of one door and the opening of another. Not a dead stop but simply a change of direction.

Or, in running terms, the passing of the baton to those who can still go the distance with comparative ease.

The question would appear to be a simple one: is it time to quit?

Last weekend, after weeks of internal debate, it was answered by wimping out of a ten-mile race along Cornwall’s hilly country lanes.

The body heaved a grateful sigh, the brain poured scorn upon such weakness. And so another day of debate ensued that made even the Brexit dialogues look constructive.

In the end, a bottle of bubbly was put to chill, a chook was marinated ready for the oven and dinner became a boozy celebration of the past alternating with commiseration for what was to come.

By bottle’s end, the decision had been made. After some seventy years  of competitive running (give or take a break or two) I had hit the final hurdle, and mind and body would simply have to cope.

After all, I had quit before. Several times. The Nellie Melba of running, said some.

There were those f**k it moments when the pressures of family, work and a job that offered an excess of five-star living put paid to any athletic activity.

And it was “no contest” when the choice lay between a long weekend freebie in Beirut, Barbados or Beirut, or churning out the wintry miles on the South Downs of Sussex.

Finally there was the promise I made (to others as well as to self) to quit when I could no longer run a sub three-hour marathon – a deadline that occurred in my sixty-seventh year on a tropically hot and humid day in Brisbane when I staggered home in 3:16.30.

But, like all addictions, the running habit was too hard to kick. It provided too much of a high to be able simply to say “No more” and walk (or even jog) away.

So here I am, sixteen years on from my last “retirement” and still battling  the voices that say enough is enough.

Judged purely by comparing times posted by fellow addicts in the same age bracket, I can still be considered in my prime, an elite.  Those times, however,  ensure my finishing place is way down the bottom of the results sheet.

They also mean I have probably walked, or even stopped, somewhere along the route.

That’s not running as I have always known it. And is it something I really want, or need, to do?

Would the body not be better served by a good brisk yomp along the ever-enticing wonder of the coastal path or high up on the moorlands of Bodmin or Dartmoor?

All too often the older competitors in masters’ athletics are portrayed by the media as oddities and curiosities; wizened bags of bones staggering towards the tape, hoping to get there before their heart shuts down.

It’s not a photo-shoot I wish to be a part of.

And yet I am still looking at the race calendar for 2018 and sending in my entry fees. The dilemma persists.

These words were begun with the intention of saying farewell and thank you to my immediate running community, and also to all those far and wide who have provided support, encouragement and companionship through the running years.

But, as I write, I find they also give voice to my inner turmoil, setting out the pros and cons, and the  dilemma others will face, whether through age or injury or other circumstance. And I still cannot bring myself to make the decision that is demanding to be made.

So it seems it’s not quite the intended goodbye after all; but I’m afraid it’s getting close. Very close. How many more hills can I climb?

Keep running, and enjoy it while you can.



Let’s be clear about this …

Leave a comment



Paul Wright says

What a tremendous piece Tony, you're an inspiration to so many. Because of osteoarthritis in the knees, I've been forced to give up running after competing at a senior level for just over 5o years. When I was advised by the specialist that my running days were over I went into shock during the consultation. I miss training and competing terribly. I'm still involved in the running scene as coach at least 5 times a week, varying ages (6 to 70+) and abilities, I'm currently writing training programmes for 35 people and last year qualified as a UKA Timekeeper. In summary, hang on in there and if you do decide to throw in the towel after such a brilliant career in the sport, why not share your experience with others by taking up coaching and/or becoming an official in the sport. Looking forward to seeing you on the racing circuit again in the very near future.

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Tony Berry says

Thanks greatly Paul; very cheering words. I guess this piece was a plea for help ... but I know the only one who can help is myself ... by accepting the situation, being grateful for all the enjoyment and success behind me and making the most of the years ahead. Hope to see you on a track somewhere in the not too distant future. Tony

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Jenni Brown says

Tony, Roger Federer faced a similar challenge a couple of years ago due to injuries. He decided to be more selective about the number of tournaments he plays in, went to work improving his fitness and is now playing some of his best tennis. He just doesnt play as many tournaments. I guess I'm trying to say maybe if you cut back the number of events you compete in you will find it easier to cope. You can still run for training/pleasure in betweenbut keep the goals realistic. And dont forget to be very thankful that you even have this dilemma as there are those of us who would give anything to be able to run for 50 metres but the physical ability has been taken away from us!

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Tony Berry says

Thanks Jenni; good and encouraging words, although the Fed probably has more years ahead of him to afford time off than are available to me.
This was not a moan or a wallow in self-pity, merely seeking answers to a dilemma which, in all honesty, only I can solve.
I am grateful for what has been and especially for still being in rude health. I would like to again achieve the required minimum of completing eight out of 15 races and will try to do so without pushing quite so hard.
If I can overcome nagging doubts about the stresses and strains on the body, then perhaps I'll keep going. Better than the knacker's yard.

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Mike Coupe says

Now that I'm in my 80's, your comments are oh so close to my thoughts. Tony, I'm grateful that you've put into words exactly what is in my heart.

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Tony Berry says

Good to known I struck a chord, Mike. I hope you are still running.

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