When John Ramsden turned 70 he marked the occasion by walking 700 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End. 15 years later he has added the parkrun 250 Club to his list of achievements.
We asked this former London cabbie, who has been running since the 1960s, to share his secret of running longevity and to give some words of wisdom to anyone embarking on their own running journey.
I started running in the early 1960s after completing “The Knowledge” and becoming a London taxi driver. My life then mainly consisted of sitting and eating and I started putting on weight, so a group of five drivers decided to start running together at Victoria Park in East London.
My first running shoes were a pair of Dr Marten boots with carpet inside to soften them up! Gradually my running buddies dropped off, but I continued as a lone runner. Running gave me the chance to unwind, relax and think things through, whether I was on the roads of London or running to and from work along the canal.
In 1972 I retrained as a primary school teacher and continued running every day. My wife Maureen (Mo) are I are Lifetime Members of the YHA and have walked lots of the long distance paths in England, Wales and Scotland. For about 15 years, a team of teachers and I took children from inner London – many of whom had never left the city – on weekend walking adventures in the countryside.
During this time I ran five marathons – two in both London and New York as well as one in Paris – as well as many half marathons.
Long before parkrun came along I was a real fan of milestone runs. I ran 40 miles for my 40th birthday, 50 miles for my 50th and 60 miles when I turned 60. For my 70th I thought I’d step it up slightly, so I decided on 700 miles from John o’ Groats to Land’s End.
When I arrived at John o’ Groats I collected an ‘End to End’ form and along the route I had to check in at certain places to prove that I was covering the distance on foot. I also had to keep a diary. I had to find a youth hostel or B&B each day too, which sometimes proved extremely difficult. Covering that distance alone was challenging as I missed my family a lot. Mo met me at several points along the way – and my daughters insisted I carried a mobile phone – otherwise I don’t think I would have finished it. After 49 days of around 18 miles per day I finally made it. Luckily I finished that day, as the next day was horrendous with hails and storms at Land’s End.
My running hasn’t always been well-timed though. During The Great North Run in 1998 our first granddaughter was born, so I ended up going to a pub with the guy from the B&B I was staying at to wet the baby’s head!
Mo and I retired to Hove in 1997 where I finally started to run with a group and joined the Athletics Association. I still run several times a week and, in addition to track sessions, I have recently taken up weight training.
I started parkrun in 2007 in the early days of Brighton and Hove parkrun, which was only the second parkrun outside London. I’ve run there 225 times, but switched to Hove Prom when it started two years ago as it is practically on my doorstep. My 250 shirt is one of my prized possessions and I proudly sport it every Saturday morning.
For older people, the social benefits of parkrun are just as important as anything physical. It’s a great way to meet new people, there is a real sense of camaraderie, and for many people it’s a chance to enjoy a whole new interest. And just like I often do, you can walk it.
parkrun has changed for me since 2007 as it is now more of a walk/run, and Hove Prom has created an unofficial volunteer role of ‘Johnny Walker’ to accompany me around the course. There are some things that will never change though. Just as in my racing days, Mo is always waiting for me at the finish line, and she is still telling me that I never stretch well enough!
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