I was about 50 when I first discovered ‘veterans athletics’ as it was then known, and being a lover of running and athletics I was astonished that I had never heard of it before.
Admittedly I had retired from senior level around 31/32ish, when I started dropping down the field, but it was already established in this and other countries; I had no idea. The truly international side as it is now had not started at that time, the first World Championship was in Toronto 1972 with just a handful of countries (compared to now) participating, and I still had no idea.
In fact, it was by pure chance that I heard about it. A friend at a dinner party, knowing that I liked to keep fit by going for a run (apart from football) mentioned that a relative of her’s had won a silver medal in what she called ‘The Old People’s Olympics’ in Canada.
Back to basics
That intrigued me, then sort of slipped to the back of mind, but I could not resist trying to find out more so went along to my old club, Enfield Harriers (as it was then), to make some enquiries. Not expecting to see anyone I knew after many years, to my surprise there were quite a few; some coaching, some training, but no sprinters.
I met up with the Club Secretary, whom I remember as a young sprinter/hurdler, who in turn remembered me, and advised me, yes indeed there actually was older people’s athletics, ‘veterans athletics’ and it got better and better when he told me about national outdoor and indoor championships.
He mentioned that a 50-year-old from Barnet AC was a European Champion.
“But how could that be?” I said, “Not at 50.” To which he replied, “No, it’s European Vets, and it’s in 5 year age brackets.”
Wow! This was too good to be true, and when he told me there was also a World Championships — and get this — anyone can enter, I was a young man again, my schoolboy dream of being an Olympian could come true.
That is how it started for me.
A sporting background
As I was pretty fit from playing football (I actually formed a vets section at my local club and played every year up to age 73), I started entering as many races as I could.
I travelled all around the south of England and up to the Midlands, but although I was fit I was astounded by the fitness, condition, and speed of the athletes I met of all ages. I entered the M50 rankings around the top 12 to 15 and soon realised I was totally outclassed by guys in the top five; even top guys in the age group above were quicker than me.
So I had a lot to do and a lot of planning and training, this was now serious stuff.
The Bedford Grand Prix
One of the events I enjoyed immensely was a summer Grand Prix, organised by Bedford AC and run on a Wednesday evening once a month, with sprints, middle distance, and the full range of field events. You were encouraged to give everything a try — enjoyable at the time but in retrospect dangerous with regard to possible injury!
However, it was very well supported. Incorporated into the track events were several rarely run distances which made up really fun and interesting programs with trophies for individual groups and an overall winner in the different age categories.
Sadly, after many years the meetings came to an end due to the retirement of the organiser, with no one stepping up to continue the event. I think there could be a demand for this format to be resurrected, I have considered it myself, but would need some committed assistance as I am still full time with my manufacturing business.
It occurred to me that although there was a national indoor championships, there were no specific indoor open meetings for vets only. If you wanted to race indoors you had to race in senior opens, and that was limited to 60m as there were only two 200m tracks in the country, RAF Cosford and Kelvin Hall, Glasgow.
So, I decided to host and organise a full vets only indoor meeting set in a facility (one of only a few) in White Hart Lane, Haringey, next to Haringey outdoor track. That was a November around 1992. I committed myself to hiring the facility, organised all the required officials, planned the program, invested in Athletics Weekly and Vets Magazine event advertising, and secured a sponsor for medal trophies, all in the hope that I would have enough entries to cover my expenditure, although I was prepared to make a loss just to get the event off the ground, as there were not any vets only off-season indoor events on offer.
Looking back now I proceeded without official sanction or any form of insurance, due to my ignorance and no one advising me. It was very slow at the beginning and I really thought it was going to be a disaster, but as in most things, ‘Joe public’ and in this instance ‘Joe vets athlete’, the entries picked up coming from the South West, Wales, the North and the Midlands, and many from London and the South East.
The meeting eventually turned out to be a complete success competition-wise, and I covered my expenditure with a bit to spare. I was inundated with requests for detail of the next meeting which at that time was in my mind but unplanned, so it was ‘watch this space’ (and the magazines).
I decided to go ahead with a second meeting the following February on exactly the same lines, with plans to make it a regular feature and perhaps in the future incorporating an ‘Indoor Grand Prix’ over several indoor meetings based on the Bedford format, adjusted to cater for the limited indoor (at that time) facilities.
The second February meeting was also very successful and I was very optimistic about the next season and started to make plans for the forthcoming meetings.
The third year
First thing was to secure my facility bookings for next season and that was when the whole project was blown out of the water.
In the meantime, the lease of the facility had changed hands, it apparently was a separate entity to the Haringey track and the hiring fees had gone through the roof and were enormously expensive, which meant a massive increase in entry fees to cover this new cost.
I quickly did as much research as I could on whether there would still be interest, first trying to get some sort of sponsorship, but lacking both experience and time, I was not successful. The limited feedback I had with entry fees was such that they would be considered too high.
It would be different now — we seem to be prepared to pay a fortune for our events. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to take a chance and was forced to abort my plans, never to be fulfilled.
Now though, with several 200m tracks around the country, and one on our doorstep, perhaps it might be time to reconsider the ‘Masters Indoor Grand Prix’ format. I am aware there are some vets indoor events and some so-called Grand Prix single day or evening events, but not on the conventional Grand Prix format across several meetings.