Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 26 Jun 2001 09:03:04 -0400

Marathon Masters


What is it about those older ex-Brits, born before or during World War II and then moving elsewhere? A special toughness blends with durability to make them the longtime leaders of masters marathoning.

The first great master, and still possibly the greatest of the men, was Jack Foster. Before you say, "Yes, but he's a New Zealander," note that Britain was his birthplace.

Foster didn't begin running until his mid-30s. At 41 he ran 2:11:19, which stood as the fastest masters time for the next 16 years.

Jack turned 69 this spring. He still runs some but is more involved with his original athletic love, bicycling. The current world masters marathon record is less than a minute faster than Foster ran in 1974.

The greatest woman master is, without question, Priscilla Welch. Like Foster she waited until nearly 35 to start running while serving in the British Royal Navy. At 42 she ran 2:26:51, which is into its 15th year as the world record.

In the meantime Priscilla has fought off breast cancer. Now 56 she is a U.S. citizen and coaches high school runners in Colorado.

John Keston began running at about the age Welch is now. Born in England, he taught the performing arts at a Minnesota college before retiring to Oregon.

John, now 76 and still chasing records, was until recently the oldest runner ever to break three hours in the marathon (2:58:33 at 69-plus). He also held the over-70 world record (3:00:58 at 71).

Which turns this history lesson into current events. Both of Keston's marks fell to Ed Whitlock. He's Canadian now but was born -- where else? -- in Britain.

Last fall at Columbus, Ed became the oldest sub-three-hour marathoner with 2:52:47. He turned 70 in March, then ran his first marathon of the new age group in May.

Ed was half-disappointed with his time in London, Ontario. He broke Keston's world record by 35 seconds -- but he missed breaking three hours by 25 seconds.

"For some reason I'm not running as well this year as last," Whitlock told writer Mike Tymn. Everything's relative. He's still running better, at 3:00:24, than anyone his age ever has.

Another ex-Brit made news recently for reaching his final finish line. Clive Davies died at age 85 from complications of a stroke. His name is little known among today's runners, but he deserves to be remembered.

Welsh-born Davies settled in Oregon shortly after World War II. He didn't begin running for another two decades but became his adopted country's greatest runner ever at 60-plus. His records for ages 60-64 (2:42:44 in 1979) and 65-69 (2:42:49 in 1981) survive him.

So does his artwork. A Davies painting of runners among the rocks on his beloved Oregon coast hangs in my office.

Paul Reese writes of his age-mate, competitor and friend Clive, "I likened him, as a runner, to poetry -- the bulk of us being prose. In his 60s he had the fluidity of a college runner."

The great masters are all that way. A great many of them have British roots.

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