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Tired of Benidorm? Try Battersea!

Terry Eakin

Over the past 20 years I've come to spend an awful lot of time in London's Battersea Park, an area more famous for its Dogs Home and an unusual holiday destination if there ever was one. Although the Park is quite near Victoria Station, it is an oasis of unusual recreational activities -softball, American football, volleyball and roller-skating are all popular but what brings me there is the multitude of vets races.
I was first attracted to the Park by an Athletics Weekly advert for a Sri Chimnoy race. Bet you've never heard of him. He's apparently some sort of guru who is trying to achieve world peace through organising races. The idea is that if everybody is totally knackered we will all have no energy left to fight each other - has the NT Secretary of State thought of that one yet? Sri Chimnoy's policy appears to be working well; at Battersea races are held almost every Monday night during the summer and I've not seen a riot yet!

Most of the field seem to be vets and these events are always extremely friendly affairs. It's a new experience to see a businessman in a pin stripe suit walk hurriedly towards a park bench and then proceed to change into his running gear which he removes from his briefcase. Many of the runners seem arrive by bicycle - have they all heard of Desi McHenry's training techniques?

Race distances vary from 2 miles to a full marathon and all are run over the same absolutely flat one-mile loop. For the 26-mile marathon, each runner has an official lap counter. One unexpected hazard is grey squirrels dashing across the paths; I was told that with a bit of practice it's possible to boot the little buggers back into the undergrowth without breaking stride.

A great attraction on Mondays during the summer is that the entry list can include just about anybody who happens to be passing through London, hi one race the top six finishers were all from Eastern Europe -when did that last happen at Ballyclare?
If you have any energy left after Monday, Tuesday at Battersea often brings a Vets AC event. Only open to runners over 40 years old and only members can win prizes. These races mostly seem to be nm over the strange distance of 5.1 miles and, even more unusually, a large proportion of the field elect to compete as race walkers. So it's not that hard to impress your friends by sending them a holiday postcard with tales of a top ten finish in a London race. Last year, Liam O'Hare (from Dublin) and I just managed to hold off a super-fast walker and a motley crew of M60 runners for a rare Irish one-two victory on English soil. Something which, I'm told, hasn't happened since the 1951 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Wednesday and Thursday nights at Battersea often bring vets track races at the stadium where Seb Coe used to train. One night I ran as a guest in a 1500 metre Southern Vets League race in a field of about 50 starters and managed to bring down three leading club runners on the last lap. After that, I've not had the nerve to go back near the place but these events are also great fun -just don't wear a Lagan Valley AC vest and you will be made very welcome!