Former Great Britain senior international set for comeback as a masters athlete

During a senior running career highlighted by a top-20 place at the World Cross, Dave Heath missed out on competing at a major championships on the track, but now, 26 years after he clocked his 1500m PB of 3:41, he is set to be among the masters athletes heading to Beijing to take part in special races at the IAAF World Championships.

In fact, 2015 could be rather special for the France-based Blackheath Harrier as he recently turned 50 and is ready to attack the world M50 records.

Heath, who coaches France’s 2013 European cross-country champion Sophie Duarte, made the most recent of his several comebacks last year.

“I decided at the start of the winter I was going to get fit and have some decent racing this summer, mostly 1500s and 5000s,” he said.

However, his focus turned to the two-lap distance when he heard in February that World Masters Athletics were inviting applications for top-class 50-plus runners to contest one of two races at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this August – for women at 400m and men at 800m.

On March 28 he ran 2:01.74 to ultimately secure one of the nine places for the 800m. He has since run 1:59.61 and is within a second of the world M50 record.

Born in 1965, he had to compete with a generation of high-quality domestic runners. He says that as a junior he was not quite quick enough and was then injured for much of his twenties.

He told AW recently: “I wasn’t fast enough to be a world-class 800m runner when I was younger, although I was always dreaming of it and thought it was going to happen and I probably spent too long doing 800s rather than moving up.”

That said, he ran 3:41.0 in 1989, the year in which he broke four minutes for the mile. His 5000m PB was 13:47.95 and came in 1999. That was the year in which he gained the first of two major GB vests, finishing 19th in the World Cross short-course race at the age of 33. The next year he was 38th in the same event. However, a knee operation in 2001 spelled the beginning of the end of his senior elite career.

“The family was on the way then and I thought, ‘I’ve had my share of athletics,’ and put it on the backburner for a few years,” he said.

He suffered a heart attack in 2002, although within a year he was back racing for his club. That was it, though, until 2009 when he resumed running “just to get fit again”. He added: “I’d put on a bit of weight and I was stressed from work. As always, once I started to get fit I wanted to get even fitter.”

He clocked 3:54.28 for 1500m in 2010, having just turned 45, to go top of the UK all-time rankings for the age group.

Heath then broke his foot and suffered other injuries, which kept him out of action until last winter. Now his sights are set on the world over-50 marks of 1:58.64 (800m), 4:05.2 (1500m), 4:25.04 (mile), 8:41.2 (3000m) and 14:53.2 (5000m).

He ran 8:41.02 prior to his 50th birthday, while the times for the two shorter distances should be well within his grasp.

Knowing he his able to keep up with athletes he coaches who are less than half his age, already being involved in the sport in this way made it easier for him to find the motivation for a comeback.

“I’d certainly encourage any veteran athletes to get into coaching if it interests them because it does help,” he said. “There’s a lot to offer when you’ve had several years of running behind you.

“I never thought I’d get into veteran running, but what I love about it is that there seems be quite a buzz about at the moment in the M50 category and people are getting quite enthusiastic. We’re starting to talk to each other and comparing what we’re doing and I think it’s motivating all of us. For me it’s a pleasure to be running well at my age without too many problems.”

Britain’s Sally Read-Cayton is also among the 18 athletes selected by World Masters Athletics as veterans athletics takes place in the IAAF World Championships for the first time. The over-50 women’s 400m and over-50 men’s 800m will take place in the Bird’s Nest Stadium, Beijing, on August 29, the penultimate day of the championships.

Applications were extended to athletes in the age group who ran below 65.0 and 2:06.0 in 2014 or 2015. Read-Cayton turned 50 in April and clocked 60.85 last year. Guildford & Godalming’s Virginia Mitchell is a reserve.