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The Race Against Time by Richard Askwith, a review

The Race Against Time
Richard Askwith
Yellow Jersey Press
978 178 729 0525
Can we still be good runners when we get old? Seriously old? Yes we can, discovers Richard Askwith, in his inspiring book The Race Against Time, Adventures in Late-Life Running. A review. 

‘I was in my early sixties; Charles, Sarah and Titch were in their mid-fifties. … We thought of ourselves as fit, but it was a long time since we had tested ourselves against the fells, and today’s test was turning out to be unexpectedly tough.’

Painful truth

A weekend away with friends, a weekend running on the fells, makes Richard Askwith discover a painful truth. He isn’t the youngest anymore. Running uphill, something that went easy in his younger years, is suddenly a whole different story. Partly it’s his body telling him, partly his eyes: ‘They (a group of runners; jk) steamed down at us unstoppably, skimming over the rough ground as if they were weightless. … This was proper running, utterly unlike the middle-aged pussyfooting we had been doing. … It was hard not to feel exhilarated by the spectacle. This was fell-running as poetry, while ours was mere grown-up prose. But it was harder still to suppress another, more poignant thought; we used to be like that.’ 

Getting older

Getting older is one thing. It’s inevitable. We – runners – can accept that, but getting slower? No! That’s something our ego can’t handle. Most of us identify ourselves with our personal bests. I am a 2.45 marathon runner. Yet the day will come, that our personal bests are just the remains of our personal history.

What will we do then? Hang-up our running shoes, or push-on? Knowing that we will never be fast again. ‘Look at me. White skin stretched thin, scuffed and fragile as perished plastic. Weary eyes. Bones too big for my muscles; hair just a bit too sparse for my forehead. … One shoulder habitually drooped: that’s my mouse arm. One foot pointed slightly inwards: I’ve no idea why. There was a time when an unexpected glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror could feel fairly cheering. … Today’s mirror mocks me: sorry, mate, you’ve been let go.’


A warning sign

t’s not just the mirror looking down on Askwith, it’s the whole of society: ‘It wasn’t long, for example, since my long-term job had disappeared and my search for alternative employment, in my late fifties, had proved dispiritingly difficult. … I had been hearing it from many quarters: not just potential employers but, for example, insurance companies, health professionals, financial institutions. My date of birth had become a warning sign.’

It all leads to the one big question the author is asking himself: am I a has been? Too old to run? Or is there still a spark of hope on the horizon? Something to achieve? A reason to put on his running shoes every day?

An old person who has nothing to do is ready to be buried.

Elena Pagu


Askwith’s first quest to find an answer leaves him to a parkrun: ‘In the Diana Fountain car park the mood is one of uninhibited hilarity. At least, it is if you’re anywhere near the bit of cardboard on a stick on which someone has written ‘80 AND OVER MEET HERE’. … It’s hard to count confidently, because excited octogenarians resist herding. But there seem to be at least forty.’ 

All of them make it to the finish: ‘Grubby, sweat-stained and radiant, the octogenarians potter and mingle near the finish. Some have run astonishingly fast. Graeme Baker, from Teignbridge Trotters, was fastest of all, completing the 5 km course in a fraction over 28 minutes. Eva Osborne’s time is a new age-group record, as is the 31:08 recorded by eighty-five-year-old Tom Harrison, from Reading. None of these runners seems drained by the experience. Instead, they clap energetically as the ‘oldies’ – as eighty-year-old Hilary Bradt describes them – continue to arrive.’

Breaking world records

If octogenarians can still run, Askwith should still be able to run. But should he, for his health? And how do you run when you’re in ‘the last phase’ of your life? The Race Against Time will give you the answers, as Askwith visits all kinds of specialists and athletes that keep breaking world records in old age. Spoiler alert: it’s healthier to keep on running, no matter how old you are, than to quit. 

It’s these meetings that make the book so inspiring to read. That and Askwith’s own story to revive his athletic career. Interestingly enough the more athletes tell him that a positive look on life has helped them to fight off old age, the more depressed the author becomes during his quest. To the point where you want to kick him in the butt, throw a bucket of cold water in his face and tell him to smell the roses, either make him read my own book Yoga della Felicita (Yoga of Happiness) to make him understand life is not about being fast, life is about joy and happiness. 

Run till you die

And as for personal bests – as Askwith discovers as well – you might not be able to set a new pb anymore, but there are still the age categories. You can still set a personal best for your forties, and your fifties. All the way till the day you die, as a runner instead of a couch potato.

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