Plagued with nagging foot problems for most of 2017 and thinking his 50-year career would end, veteran runner Bob Freeland thought he would finish the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club season in a whimper.
Instead, he has ended it with a bang.
That’s the thing about handicap racing; the slowest and oldest has as much chance of winning as the youngest and fastest.
His win in the 5km Ivan McDonald Big Hill Handicap at Stawell on Saturday – five days before his 68th birthday – was the second in his past three races.
Freeland 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 afterwards 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 16km Stephen Baird Handicap, which was 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 the 75-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,” Freeland said.
“I didn’t think he was going to pick himself up again.
“But Gary is 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 23 seconds behind.
In the 1km sub juniors race, rookie Romy Maloney, finished strongly to defeat Jay Jay Nitschke and nine-year-old Will Maloney.
Maloney ran with distinction, after also starting in the seniors race and clocking an impressive 23.51 minutes.