Masters athlete Ron Stevens keeps on keeping on
By Gary Nesbit
Ron Stevens turned 76 last November at the beginning of a track season that was to prove very successful for him. He capped the season off with wins at the NZMA National Track and Field Champs in Tauranga over 5000m and 1500m, but this wasn’t really the highlight of the season for the distance runner who has been running since 1954 despite suffering rheumatic fever twice as a child.
Ron Stevens on his way to winning the M75 1500m at the National Masters Track and Field Championships. Photo: Jim Tobin
The season started off on 28 November at the South Island Masters Championships in Mosgiel where he competed at the 3000m, 1500m and 800m. The Canterbury athlete not only won his grade at all these distances but broke the championship records in each as well.
He came back home to Christchurch and set a New Zealand record over 5000m, then added the 10,000m New Zealand record just before Christmas. After Christmas he added the 1500m New Zealand record. Finally, near the end of the season, came the 800m New Zealand record.
Ron thinks the 10,000m, run on a really wet evening on 19 December, was probably the best achievement. Taking a few more seconds off his own record, his time of 43min 51 sec put him into the 90 percent level. Ron says his time probably ranks him at fourth in the world.
His favourite distance these days is 3000m. He says that he used to like the marathon, but that’s a long time ago - these days the longest distance he races is the half marathon. Four years ago he won the Masters Half Marathon World Champs in his age group when it was held in Auckland.
Ron keeps a training diary and reckons he has run about 100,000 miles. He usually runs about 2000 miles a year.
Ron’s memorable performances over the years include the New Zealand track record for 15 miles in 1961 where he ran 1hr 17min 45sec. The 1961 Kaiapoi to Christchurch road race over twelve miles was one of the highlights of his running life – he ran it in 60min 30sec (not a bad time on the world stage back then). Ron notes that there was not a tail wind that day and this record was never broken.
Ron suffered rheumatic fever twice, first as an 11 year old then as a 13 year old. As a result he had to spend a year in bed each time. He says that this is supposed to be incapacitating as far as the heart is concerned, so at school he wasn’t allowed to play sport. His father was principal of Karamea District High School where they lived, and when he left school he worked in a sawmill for four years. He says “physically that made me, and I’m only five foot five inches, so when it came to running I was strong, and all I had to do was knock my legs into shape.” It was only two years after that that he made the Canterbury Cross Country team.
When asked what keeps him running and motivated he says “at the moment I am very lucky – one of our women in the Christchurch Olympic Harrier club is a World Duathlon Champion. She’s 55, and just before Christmas she asked if I would like to train with her - so at the moment I am doing five lots of 16k a week with her.” He adds with a laugh that “I haven’t trained so hard for years. Then I have another couple of runs with a chap that I have run with for 40 years, that’s Neville Reid, this brings the weekly distance up to 60 miles a week.”
Of injuries he says “I get none at all at the moment. For a long time I had sore achilles, but (Christchurch Physiotherapist) Bruce Milne with his really strong fingers fixed that and I have been fine ever since.” This has happened twice, and apart from that he rarely sees the doctor or anyone else involved with medicine.
Ron has been retired for 18 years, before that he was a senior lecturer at teachers college. These days in his spare time he also writes for the masters magazine “Vetline”. Jim Tobin the editor says “Ron is one of the most erudite that we have.”