Almanac Life: The comeback



I started running again.


Well, to be fair, that is an overstatement to a degree; perhaps think shuffle in a Cliff Young sense, sans gumboots and not as far.


I ran a lot in the 1980s (see Footy Town ISBN-13: 978 0987434326 pp 271-275 for some of my boundary umpiring exploits) and as my children took over a large part of my life I ran less and less.


Circa June 2005, I completely stopped running.  Chuffed with excitement that my youngest child had won their grade three cross-country and progressed to the next level of the Northern Bellarine region run, I suggested that we do some training together.  Down to the local footy oval which has a reasonable sized small hill behind the clubrooms and next to the netball courts.  My recommendations were quite clear, my anticipation of the fatherly accolades coming my way profound in my mind.


“How about we run up that hill, behind the netball courts round the oval back here and we do that three times?”   Enthusiasm all round.


Is it possible to be 100 metres behind before you have finished saying ‘let’s go’? He’s up the hill, he’s down the other side.  I cheat by missing the hill (I don’t think he or anyone else noticed) and try to catch him before he gets to the back of the oval.  A forlorn optimism. I concede defeat by yelling “you seem to have that running thing down quite well” and trudge back to where we started as he sprints past on his second lap and back up the hill.


About a decade later I gave up cycling. Well to be fair I wasn’t really ever a cyclist. [No applicable book reference detailing cycling exploits].


By this stage, my son is regularly making State Championships and pushing for National selection.  He offers a challenge:  he will run while I ride my bike.  The tables have turned: he chooses the course; around the pony club, along the rail trail and then back up the steady incline of Princess St towards our house.  After about half a km I realise I am in a bit of trouble here.  I actually haven’t been on a bike for half a decade and my burgeoning waistline caused by a lack of running means my fitness is poor.  I am not ashamed to admit I cheated again and missed the pony club (I don’t think he or anyone else noticed), I did catch him on the downhill part of the rail trail and kept with him for a while before the aforementioned steady incline was too much for me.


I can’t even win on a bike.  It’s over.  I’m old.  Sport is for others.  My future of exercise is gardening.


Fast forward another eight or so years.  My daughter tells me I can do it.  I ask again how far it is and the same response of ‘5ks’ gives me no confidence.  She calls it parkrun, she of two recent half-marathons.  I remain unconvinced but her arguments are compelling.  “It will be good for you”. I pretend she didn’t look at my stomach.  “You can walk some of the way”.  I roll my eyes in the manner of an early teenager knowing that I will definitely have to walk part of the way.


Some of you will know that my background is in statistics and maths.  I am confident that in my first run I disproved the theorem “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”.  Arms and legs pumping, lungs and chest heaving, mouth and nose gasping, muscles long since assigned to ‘use by teenager and young adult only’ awakening, face red with lack of oxygen but the whole body barely moving.  It’s like one of those horrible dreams where you are sprinting up the ramp for the train but no matter how much you run the body does not move and the train disappears into the distance.


Twenty parkruns later I admit to being hooked.   Rolling out of bed early on a Saturday morning to run the still daunting five kilometres is always a challenge but at least now I run, er shuffle the whole way.  My preparation is good now – the previous Saturday is my training for the next one!  My focus before I go to bed is to concentrate on the course.  I feel like Daniel Riccardo going through each turn and hill in his mind before an F1 race.


I passed someone one week; I looked back to encourage her to keep going and noticed her walking stick and a small dog so figured that she was just going for her morning walk.


Whilst muscles and body parts don’t work as well as 40 years ago the competitive nature is as strong as ever.  My current Personal Best (at time of writing) is 33:16, down from my first event of 37:31, and I have five PBs in the last 10 runs.


Based on this piece I can also confidently proclaim: “I started writing again.”




The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE


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About Noel McPhee

Noel's background is in statistics including 13 years at the ABS. More recent employment has been at Deakin University and Services Australia. He has worked on every State and Commonwealth election this millennium plus a few Local Government Elections. His weekly article, 'The Stats Bench' appears in the EFL's football record - The Eastern Footballer. Noel's legacy as a sportsman is that he tried hard; two cricket fielding trophies, a tennis premiership and boundary umpiring about 80 EFL senior games.


  1. Got to hand it to you Noel. The addiction must help. But the discipline to get it to that stage is admirable.

    How are the knees and feet?

    Golf is the natural limit in this neck of the woods.

  2. There’s a few twinges in the knees, sometimes I wake up and my body says no. There a people there a decade older running times of 22 minutes.

  3. Well done Noel. I am currently having a quick chill on the couch before I don some runners and hit the grey skies and wet pavement. I can relate to your words (esp the shuffle bit) however, I discovered running by covid accident or covid necessity last year, not years ago like yourself – I’ve been a walker for the most part. I am a bit addicted to it and particularly love doing trail runs out in the bush. The quest will be to sustain the practise.
    Thanks for your words.

  4. Thanks Kate, keeping going is the challenge. Good work you!

  5. Peter Fuller says

    Congratulations on your return to the fray, more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than ninety-nine that have no need of repentance.
    I’ve never really stopped, except for a couple of enforced layoffs, when I was eager to get back as soon as the physio would allow.
    Your experience with your children having your measure reminds me of the night when my 17 year-old nephew effortlessly ran off me when I was going flat chat; that was on a pre-season road run with Eastern umpires. Dan is now mid-40s and an outstanding field umpire and ultra marathoner, so I wasn’t disgraced.
    I’m pleased that you’re involved in Parkrun, it’s a great activity; your string of PBs suggest that you’re bound to be a gun at vets.

  6. Jarrod_L says

    Great stuff Noel, may your running and writing nestle hand-in-glove for as long as you see fit!

  7. Thanks guys.

    Peter – when were you with the EFL? I was there 1980-83.

  8. Peter Fuller says

    Noel, 1990s.
    I wrote about my experiences for the Almanac website a while back.

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