Plagued with nagging foot problems for most of 2017 and thinking his fifty-year career would end, veteran runner Bob Freeland thought he would finish the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club season in a whimper but instead has ended it in a bang.
His win in the five kilometre Ivan McDonald Big Hill Handicap at Stawell on Saturday, five days before his sixty-eighth birthday, was this second in his past three races. He was runner-up to Gary Saunders, the club’s most senior runner, in the race in between.
In both wins, Freeland relegated champion schoolboy athlete Tom Walker to second on the podium and afterward commiserated with the young flyer who conceded up to 16 minutes start to the winner.
Just four weeks ago, Freeland had an almost unthinkable 51 minutes start on Walker in the 16 kilometre Stephen Baird Handicap, won by Horsham’s Sharon Howden.
“Tom ran incredibly well and he was unlucky that Big Hill is virtually in my backyard; this is where I train,” Freeland said on Saturday. “But that’s the thing about handicap racing; the slowest and oldest has as much chance of winning as the youngest and fastest. “
What turned Freeland’s season around was a gentler training regimen, with less hard slog running, and combining gym, swim, and golf.
“Most runners know that your weekly workout must also include a run that is long, slow and disciplined. I’ve been doing more of that, plus my usual speed session on Mondays and I’ve come good. I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
During the race, Freeland thought that the seventy-five-year-old Saunders once again would be the man to beat.
“He was flying, but then he tripped and hit the ground like a bag of spuds. I didn’t think he was going to pick himself up again. But Gary’s as strong as an ox. Had it been anyone else they just might have stayed down.”
Freeland’s winning margin over Walker was over a minute with Mark Urquhart sliding into third place a further twenty-three seconds behind.
In the one kilometre Sub Juniors race, rookie Romy Maloney, finished strongly to defeat Jay Jay Nitschke and nine-year-old Will Maloney, who ran with distinction, after also starting in the seniors race and clocking an impressive 23.51 minutes.