At 81, a grandfather from County Durham has been honored to be the fastest octogenarian in the country – and now he’s aiming to be confirmed as the best in the world. Peter Barron reports
It wasn’t until he started a mining village newspaper tour as a child that Laurie Cummings first realized he was a better runner than most.
The tour took him a mile and a half from his home in Easington Colliery to the nearby village of Grants Houses, and he ran all the way, with a bag stuffed with copies of The Northern Echo and some Daily Mirrors .
Instead of bothering to open the gates, he would step over every wall and fence that got in his way, then go home for breakfast before running another mile to school.
“I always knew I was a good runner – it came naturally and I haven’t stopped since,” smiles Laurie, who now lives at Aycliffe School.
More than seven decades may have passed since her paper days, but Laurie is achieving the fastest times for her age group in the UK.
Last week he was among the honors at the 46th Darlington Sports Winners Awards in recognition of a stellar 2021, in which he was number one in the country for more than 80 years at one mile, 3,000 meters and 10 000 meters, as well as the 5k Parkrun.
“Yes, I must be happy about that, mustn’t I?” said Darlington Harrier, 81. “I’m running well but there’s still more to come.”
There have been countless records and trophies since he reigned supreme as cross-country champion at Easington Secondary Modern, instilled with a tenacity passed down from his “tough as nails” ancestors who all served in the pit.
Young Laurie left school on a Friday, followed the boot prints of his ancestors on Monday, and served as an electrician four miles beneath the coal-black North Sea.
After seven years underground, he joined Durham Police, rising from bobby to sergeant, with roles that included being a physical training instructor at the cadet school.
But whether miner or copper, Laurie kept running, averaging 90 miles a week in his prime, and he shows no signs of stopping 30 years after his retirement.
His times during a golden 2021 were more than anyone else of his vintage could match in the country: 7.41 for the mile; 14.52 for the 3,000 meters; 51.51 for the 10,000 meters; and 24:30 for the 5 km parkrun, in Darlington.
There are over 10,000 parkrunners over the age of 80 in the UK and Laurie is the best of the lot. Out of 164 parkruns, he set 82 bests in the 70-81 age brackets, and his daily training regimen would be enough to leave men half his age needing a long bed.
It starts with 20 minutes of self-exercises at home, followed by a one-hour session in the gym – including more exercises and speed training on the treadmill. Laurie then subjects her body to a minute on the “Power Plate” vibration machine to gain strength, and finishes with either six 200-meter sprints at her local track at Oakleaf Sports Complex or a 5k road race.
“I have Sundays off but running is such an important part of my life. If you have a problem go for a run and chances are you will find a solution because it gives you time to think and concentrate,” he advises.
Always there, encouraging him – stopwatch in hand – is his wife, Judy. As a physical education teacher at Staindrop Comprehensive School, she spent 30 years coaching youngsters, but is now totally determined to get the best out of her 81-year-old husband.
Judy – or driver Laurie, as we might call her – plans each training program down to the minute and schedules all of her events. Between them, they keep track of every run Laurie does, so they can track her time.
They met through The Northern Echo’s Two’s Company dating feature in 1999 and Laurie did all her courting in typical fashion, running seven miles, twice a week, from her home in Bishop Auckland to see Judy in Aycliffe School. They were together for 22 years before finally getting married last July.
Covid restrictions permitting, they spend half their time in Egypt, where Laurie trains in the desert, while pursuing her other passion – scuba diving. He has completed 13,000 dives, all logged, and is a qualified instructor.
Remember, scuba diving almost cost him his life last November when he cut his leg coming out of the sea and ended up in intensive care for three days with a dangerous infection called erysipelas.
“They said I would have died if I hadn’t been so fit,” he says. “I’m still recovering now, and I haven’t quite gotten back to my best times, but I’m getting there.”
And Laurie is far from having finished with her ambitions. His goal for 2022 is to be confirmed as the fastest man in the world in his age group over four miles.
“There’s a guy in Scotland who holds the record, but I’ve done two minutes less in training so I just need to find a recognized event where I can have it officially confirmed. I’ll let you know when I do,” he promises.
From paper lathe to world drummer – that’s a track worth streaming…
Maintaining an awards program for 46 years is a great achievement, congratulations and thank you to the organizers of the Darlington Sports Winners.
This year’s event again had to be held virtually due to the pandemic, but it drew more than 10,000 views when it was broadcast on Facebook last week.
Organizer Brian Dobinson said: “After 46 years, we continue to be overwhelmed by the quality of the nominations we receive, and this year was no exception. It’s a joy to see so many great sporting achievements happening at the grassroots in the Darlington area. Let’s just hope we can start hosting the in-person event again next year.
COMPLETE ROLL OF HONOR
Abi Porter, for his bowling achievements: cross-country runner Alex Boyer; Beth Davidson, for retaining her national veterans fencing title; Carmel Football Team of the Year 8; athlete Catherine Anderson; the Darlington Harriers senior track and field team; Dave Bell, for his support of the Darlington Harriers; swimmer Filip Wilczynski; Hilary Bevan for her support of the Darlington Harriers and Darlington Parkrun; Hummersknott Academy Year 7 and 8 Boys Swimming Team; veteran athlete Ian Barnes; tetraathlon champion James Wilcock; athlete John Clifford; Thai boxer Jordan Murphy; veteran athlete Laurie Cummings; athlete Lucy Erin Hunter; Maizie Wrangham, for her dedication to the West Park Academy Energy Club; Mark Tallon, for his services to the Darlington Harriers; netball coach Millie Walker; diving coach Sheila Elliot; taekwondo champion Sonny Mason; weightlifting coach Ste Gordon; junior kickboxing champion Theo Spinks; Tom Addison, for providing IT support to Darlington Harriers; track and field timekeepers Trevor and Linda McDermot; junior rugby player Will Hopkins.