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Neil Featherby: The stats that show how running has changed over the years

Colchester Harriers' Adrian Mussett takes first place at GEAR. Picture: Matthew Usher

Colchester Harriers' Adrian Mussett takes first place at GEAR. Picture: Matthew Usher

Matthew Usher Photography

My column this week has to start by congratulating the ever green Adrian Mussett (Colchester Harriers), for his second win in the GEAR 10k at King's Lynn last Sunday.

I have known Adie for years going right back to when he was a junior and now competing in the aged 45 plus category. All I can say is what an awesome career he has had. My admiration for him is immense made even more so by his genuine modesty. Apart from wins in the GEAR 10k, his five win record in the City of Norwich Half Marathon goes right back to 1998 with his last win being in 2015.

There are lots of athletes who run from one decade to another, but Adrian really has been at the top of his game right throughout his long career and still so eager to take on athletes 20 years his junior. An out-and-out born racer I think it is fair to say.

Needless to say career debilitating injuries play a major role with athletes especially after the age of 40 and although I do know Adie had an Achilles tendon issue earlier this year hence why he didn't run in this year's City of Norwich Half Marathon, I would suggest that one of the biggest reasons for his longevity has to be down to being able to hold on to his tremendous enthusiasm for the sport whilst being able to keep grinding out the training sessions, week after week, year after year.

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Nevertheless and going back to Sunday's race which really was a fantastic event, I compared some of the stats to what was a basic club 10k road race (The Sprowston 10k) held in Norwich by the Norfolk Olympiads nearly 35 years ago back in December 1984.

Now before I go any further, I will point out that this is absolutely not one of those rants about how the standards are in decline with regards to racing at the front of most of today's local road races, but stats to show just how running really has changed so much over the years.

Whilst the results from the old Sprowston 10k showed that there were seven finishers all under 31 minutes with one of them actually being under 30 mins, there were also 101 runners all finishing under 40 minutes. At the same time, there were only 177 runners in the race as opposed to the staggering 2,328 finishers at King's Lynn on Sunday.

The race started and finished in a great setting which is the Sprowston Manor Hotel, so I am sure if the same race was held today, the numbers would be at least five times greater. With regards to the subject of longevity, at the GEAR 10K, runners aged over 40 actually made up for 55 percent of the field as opposed to just 18 percent back in 1984. Even if I was to just take the first 177 finishers from GEAR, the over 40s accounted for an amazing 45 percent of the race field. Just as remarkable, the ladies, also accounted for 44 percent of the entrants last Sunday as opposed to just 14 percent, 35 years ago.

By race times comparison there is a three-minute plus difference all the way from first place right up to 50th i.e. 29:22 to 32:46 and 35:37 to 39:24.

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After that though things start to get a little closer whereby the gap has reduced to 1 min 39 secs at 100th place and by the time you get to 150th positions, things have now switched whereby the GEAR race is now producing the quicker times by two and a half minutes (45:42 to 43:11).

In fact at GEAR there were 325 runners (chip time) all bettering the 45-minute barrier with 651, also chip timed, under 50 mins. This really is a staggering amount of people who are all running what has to be regarded as very respectable times indeed and even more so when you take into consideration the large proportion of the field who were aged 40 years or more.

Even though the times at the sharp end may not always seem to be quite as fast nowadays in local races, the fact that there are so many more people running at all ages, without a doubt makes for a huge positive when it comes to running being such a brilliant activity for people from all walks of life and really is such a long way from those days of old whereby each time you went out for a run you were guaranteed to have at least one call of "get your knees up" or told you were getting too old to keep going out running once over the age of 30.

One other person who I must mention and that is Norfolk Gazelles Kevin Youngs who just happened to finish in 20th place in the Sprowston 10k when aged just a mere 36 years of age. Last Sunday at GEAR, now approaching 71, he finished in 146th position in a super time of 42:55 for which I am sure even Adrian Mussett will be more than happy with when he eventually gets to the same age.

In Adie's own words: "I really did enjoy winning last Sunday in 32:46, but the one thing you can never do and that is turn the clock back." which was in reference to when he ran his 10k PB (track) nineteen years ago in 29 mins and 10 seconds.

For those who may ask about the comparison in respect of the ladies race winning times, the first three at Sprowston were all internationals with the top three finishing times of 36:07, 36:55 and 37:47. At King's Lynn, they were a little slower, but still super-fast times of 38:45, 39:51 and 40:42.

Whilst I picked out the Sprowston 10k road race as an example, other than the really big races, I do also think it was a reasonable representation of local club road races back then and whilst numbers may have been a little down, 500 entrants would have been considered as a large field.

With regards to those who may question the accuracy of road racing course measurement back in the dark ages of the 1980s, all registered races back then were measured exactly the same way as course measurement is today with a calibrated Jones counter.

The Sprowston course was measured by Dr Max Speake (I witnessed him doing it) who was a leading course measurer for years and is still to this day one of the 11 London Marathon ever presents.

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