Christopher Kelsall: What do you owe your very long international running career to? Is it a mileage volume thing or perhaps genetics?
Roger Robinson: I was a slow starter, only moderately talented as a student, but every now and then surprised myself with unexpected successes – like winning the Surrey cross-country in 1963, and then making the England team in 1966. Those kept me going. It wasn’t that I had high ambitions, but I somehow never felt I’d passed my peak. So the late bonuses kept on coming – I never hoped I might run for New Zealand, but that came in 1977; and then, to my good fortune, the running boom and the masters movement were beginning as I turned 40. So I ran my first marathon at 41, and it all started again. Maybe I’m just stuck in an arrested childhood.
CK: So perhaps a degree of mind over matter, mixed with the pursuit of happiness, while running with a sense of structure?
RR: There may have been a physical/genetic element, maturing late. More likely it’s just that I didn’t train hard enough until later. On happiness, yes, I’ve always wanted what in “Heroes and Sparrows” I call “the balanced life.” I think I was a better academic because I was also a runner, and probably vice versa.
CK: Do you follow Ed Whitlock’s career, with all that record breaking going on? Do you think the effect will be demoralising or motivating to aging runners?
RR: I’m a fan. I can reveal that Ed and I grew up three miles from each other, in Tolworth (Ed) and New Malden (me), modest outer suburbs of London. We didn’t know each other then, but nowadays we sometimes wax sentimental together about Saturday morning kids’ pictures at the Tolworth Odeon and biking on the Kingston Bypass. If it was something in the air, I got only a diluted dose. He is raising the sights of what older people might achieve, and that’s always good. Clearly genetics play a major part - his uncle lived to be Britain’s oldest man, at 108 – but Ed also shares my belief (see above) that it’s best, and still amusing, to keep going. It’s the racing he loves, not the records. I’ve written about him several times (see Roger on Running, March 2013, “New research on older runners – the Whitlock Mystery may soon be solved”). Living in Canada hasn’t changed his Brit reticence. The toughest job in running is interviewing Ed for the crowd at races. It would be easier to beat his times.