I’ve met some truly wonderful people during my time at Tyne Bridge Harriers, and Keith Rooney, who sadly passed away today (Monday, 17th June 2019), was certainly one of those.
A big man, both in stature and character, Keith joined the club in 2011 and soon became one of the club’s most colourful members. Quick in mind as he was on foot, Keith was a fabulous wordsmith and his race reports lit up the club website on a regular basis.
But it will be for his running prowess that will always stay in my mind.
Turning up for his first session in baggy cargo shorts and well worn trainers, Keith looked more like a rambler than a runner, and there were certainly some quizzical looks that evening. But over the coming weeks and months, the transformation in Keith was outstanding. Losing weight, gaining confidence and improving on a weekly basis, Keith optimised everything that the club stood for; never giving less than 100% and striving to be the best they could.
His name may not feature on any winning team lists, or feature in the club records, but to everyone who encountered him there’ll always ever be one Keith Rooney. Rooney! Rooney!
As a tribute to Keith, this is his race report from the 2015 Heaton Memorial 10K.
“Pocket to socket, Rooney, pocket to socket!”
I looked up, and could’ve sworn, I could make out, amidst all the murk, Coinneach Mor‘s loomingly lean frame, repleat with admonishing finger, that same look of quiet intensity, always unruffled, even when dealing with some petulant child.
” Pocket to socket, Rooney“.
But that can’t be right. “Pocket to socket“? Wasn’t that the day we spent scrambling around on the slime baked slopes of Holywell Dene, attempting to perfect our xc technique? I gazed ahead…Nothing seemed more out of place, here, on the featureless expanse of the Town Moor, than those muddy undulations in the leafy cool of a sultry, late Summer’s day down by the coast.
Nope, today represented an altogether, different sort of challenge. Pocket to socket just wouldn’t do at all, not here on The Moor, the horizontality of it all broken only the occasional snake line of a fence….oh, of course, and those 2 hills, emerging from the autumnal haze, cheeky as ever – but that was another tale, another challenge engrained in the memory of sweat cold and filth.
This was the Heaton Memorial 10K (Sunday, 8th November 2015) and as befitting such a day of sombre reflection, clouds piled up from the South West, smokey grey, carried on an unpitying wind, dowsing everything in an opaque murk. Still, the wind was a southerly, which meant it was, at least, at our backs, outward bound; the smooth start seeming to endorse this as the terrain flicked past with a satisfying, fluid regularity.
“C’mon, c’mon, work for Christ sakes!” I must’ve sounded almost demented, as I feverishly scratched off the muck and moisture from the face of the garmin, imploring the digits down. We were heading south back across the Moor – I hated this bit, the path was coated in broken and splintered stone, the occasional jagged edge finding its way through into the soft, fleshy underbelly of the foot, or providing sufficient impediment to snag the unwary toe – and into the wind; it raked unimpeded over the moor, pulling our tops, ripping our numbers and stifling our pride.
“Oh c’mon! 6.30 pace, always bloody 6.30 pace!“
Frustration and sheer bloody rage bubbling up once more at the unresponsive garmin. I must’ve looked like some demented, latter day Basil Fawlty. Only in his case it was the car he was going to give a damn good thrashing. In my case it was, well, the possibility of chucking the bloody thing away, stamping on it in a fit of gleeful contempt. God knows what the other runners thought, maybe something along the lines of: ” TBH must be producing some right nutters these days…God help Ethiopia….” But, even in this state of exasperation and pique, there were moments of relief: the site of our very own wing-footed Apollo, James Dunce, limbs gesticulating wildly as he fled past; Stevie Barker with that peculiar, characteristically hunched and unerringly metronomic style, never flagging, always plugging away, and, of course, Steve Cairns, scurrying past like some frantic mammal, legs and arms lost in a whirl of momentum, eating the ground up with frenetic ease. TBH was going to be well represented at the sharp end. Good.
But, of course, in my introspection I had been negligent. I was forgetting myself. These flashes of black and white raging past with such deadly purpose, such intent reminded me the dash to the finish was not going to be uncontested, not even from amongst our own. I had pushed him out of my consiousness, at least for the first half, trusting to my fleet of foot, fast first 5k. Now, as the final stages of the race unfolded, I became aware of his presence, I knew he was there, expecting at any moment the tell tale scampering step, the trade mark silver bonce, the Badger‘s bite. It hurt like hell, that final stretch. It’s one of the more psychologically disorientating aspects of the moor: you run like hell and don’t seem to be going anywhere. And then there’s the wind, of course, it relished its final role, playing merry hell with us minions of nature, toiling, labouring, slogging out the final metres, wanting only to stop, fill the lungs, stretch the limbs.
“John, John, John, John!” A sudden explosion of noise to my left. I recognised at once Coinneach Mor‘s harsh, vernacular tone, caught a glimpse of of the whippet frame, leering by the side lines. Seemed my nemisis had indeed tracked me down, joined the fray, it was, after all, to be a contest to the last. But, what the hell was this!? The John Tollitt bloody appreciation society?!? I admit, I felt a spasm of bitterness: ‘calls himself a Highlander!? Bloody Border Reiver more like!’ I blocked out the irritating noise, hauled myself forward and crossed the finish. He’s a tenacious bugger, I’ll give him that. There he was with me to the last grating breath. I held him off, but he had me; a handful of seconds; an idiosyncratic feature of the chip timing system. It was a hard day, a hell of a fight and it’s why I love this sport of ours so much. It’s as much about the fight against oneself, ones own feelings of uncertainty, ones own insecurities; and as much about the fight against the elements, as about the fight against each other.
We did well, Tollitt and me: first 100 finishers out of a field of hundreds; he 7th in his age category, I 10th. So let it be known to all who compete in this uncompromising arena of ours: us vets can give the young’uns a run for their money any day. Would also just like to say thanks to Heaton Harriers for the organisation. The Memorial 10K adds its own unique colour to the regions running scene. Will be back next year – God willing.