An article in a fitness supplement of last Saturday's 'Guardian' about my old friend Ajit Singh brought back some very happy memories of our early association. I first met Ajit on a sultry July afternoon in 1992 after the last runners had crossed the line in the Pennine Marathon. My attention was drawn to a diminutive turbaned figure at the edge of the crowd watching the prize-giving. I doubt if he weighed 7st, his spindly legs were bandaged to above his knees and he sported the long grey beard and moustache of a typical Sikh. To my amazement his name was called to collect a prize in the MV60 category. He'd just completed this strenuous marathon with it's 2,000ft of ascent in 3.51.27. Here was a man I just had to get to know and it wasn't long before we became firm friends.
As a 'good for age' veteran he'd automatic entry into London '93 and insisted I should apply for an entry too to run it with him.
"Sorry Ajit, I can't possibly afford a night in London, I'm out of work and on the breadline".
"No problem, you can stay with me and my friends in Dagenham, it wont cost you a penny" he said.
"But it costs money to get to London, and I don't like big cities". I countered.
"It's only £15 return fare on the coach" he said, "you must come, you will easily beat all the over 60's".
Eventually I gave way to his positive persuasion, sent off the appropriate form and was granted a 'good for age' entry.
|Ajit - No. 22168|
Only yards from the front of the Red Start I was over the line in seconds and straight onto automatic pilot, closing eyes and ears to all the race day razzmatazz and focusing all my faculties on the job in hand. My body responded like some well oiled machine programmed to get from A to B in the shortest possible time. Apart from obvious landmarks like Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, I remember very little about the race, no elation (or otherwise) at the finish, or quite where I met Ajit to be guided to Victoria Bus Station for the journey home to Huddersfield. All I wanted was to get out of London as quickly as possible. I felt terribly claustrophobic. I hate crowds, I can't stand noise!
It wasn't until three days later that the reality of what I'd done finally began to sink in and invoke an air of well deserved smugness. I'd picked up a copy of 'Athletics Weekly' in WH Smiths, turned to the Results section and learned what Ajit predicted had indeed come true. My time of 2.54.18 was good enough to win the MV60 title among runners from all four corners of the earth in what many regard as the world's most prestigious marathon, a virtual World Championship.
I am deeply indebted to Ajit for bringing about one of the highlights of my racing career. Without his friendly persuasion and help of his friends in Dagenham I would never have got to London. Maybe it was something to do with his Sikh religion that Ajit experienced great joy from being the catalyst of my success. At the Pennine marathon he'd recognized a wee spark within me and fanned it into a flame. Thankyou Ajit, you are a truly magnanimous and wonderful friend to whom I'll be eternally grateful.