Running stalwart Ian Barnes, from Darlington, is preparing for new challenges after celebrating his 80th birthday. Graham Bell tells his remarkable story
THERE are not many 80-year-olds who are still active England internationals, but Ian Barnes is nothing less than a running marvel.
At an age when most of his contemporaries are happy to relax in an armchair, Ian thinks nothing of ploughing over hills, streams and muddy fields in his pursuit of medals and glory.
Just a couple of weeks before his landmark birthday, he was part of the triumphant England Over-75 team that won gold in the British Masters Cross-Country Championships at Nottingham – and he can’t wait to step up to octogenarian events on the track next season.
But it’s not just personal achievement that drives Ian. As president of Darlington Harriers, he was the prime mover and inspiration behind the phenomenally successful parkrun, which celebrates its second anniversary this month and attracts huge fields of runners of all ages to South Park every Saturday morning.
Passionate about athletics all his life, Ian was a decent club runner in his twenties and thirties, enjoying his proudest moment when he lined up alongside Morpeth’s famous Jim Alder for Northumberland and Durham in the 1963 Inter Counties Cross-Country Championships.
But it was not until he reached 50 that he enjoyed his greatest successes. A 1500 metres specialist, he became unbeatable on the North-East Veterans’ circuit. In one afternoon as a comparative youngster of 51, he won their 800m, 1500m and 3000m titles.
Ian made his big breakthrough in 1997 when he became European Over-60 champion at 1500m in Birmingham.
He went on to win several national 1500m titles before gaining his first England vest at cross-country in 2000 at the age of 65, becoming the oldest man to do so. He came away from the meeting in Dublin with a team gold medal and followed that up with a bronze medal five years later, this time at Over-75 level.
Ian’s versatility is such that he is equally adept at longer distances. He became national track 10,000 metres champion at Over-60 level and has also enjoyed success over the same distance on the roads.
The retired legal executive still does one track session a week at the Harriers headquarters of Eastbourne Sports Complex and has no plans to hang up his running shoes.
“I have been lucky enough to enjoy good health for most of my life and I’m convinced running has played a major part in that,” he says.
“I still enjoy the thrill of racing and the euphoria you feel when you have had a good one. Reaching 80 gives me an extra incentive because I can race in a new age group, and I’m thinking about competing on the track again at national level next year.”
Last weekend found Ian diligently setting out the cross-country course for a local league meeting at Croft Circuit. He has been a member of Darlington Harriers for 60 years and has served every role on their committee during that time.
Most Saturdays find him helping with marshalling duties at the parkrun, the national running festival that Ian helped to adopt locally with the support of Darlington Council, the NHS and the local Lions Club.
“It’s been a wonderful way to encourage so many new people to running,” he says. “We regularly get fields of more than 200 and luckily there is no shortage of volunteers to marshal the course.”
His greatest supporter is his wife, Margaret. “She has become very knowledgeable about athletics over the years,” says Ian.
“But I suppose that’s not surprising after all the events she has accompanied me to over the years, including two Olympic Games.”