But running does strengthen the heart muscle, it does result in lower rates of osteoporosis (which affects women more than men), and it does raise self-esteem. All things I thought a feminist would endorse. Does it cause lasting harm? I train with Mick McGeoch, who until 2002 (he was injured in 2003) had run every London Marathon — and averaged under 2:30 overall. The wife of a fellow runner works in the same place as him, and has, on more than one occasion, related, with tears of laughter in her eyes, accounts of his exit from his car in the morning. But Mick is, as well as being as truly nice guy, something of an obsessive. Still, he’s nearly 50, and beats almost all younger runners. Sebastian Coe took up judo in order to practice with William Hague. Steve Ovett was a triathlete, until a car hit him. Steve Cram still runs. “Agony and disability” don’t seem to mar them, nor the other BBC ex-athlete journos, like Sally Gunnell or Sharon Davies.
The exception to that rule would seem to be Brendan Foster, who looks like his training in the 90s consisted solely of pies (he's lost weight recently) yet he still regularly does the Great North Run.
It got me thinking about what happens to other sportspeople after they retire and, without any statistics to back this mostly anecdotal argument up, it seems that footballers are perhaps those who suffer more for their sport than any others (though I'd expect rugby players - in both codes - don't do too well either). I can recall when Steve Bull announced his retirement from professional football, one of his reasons was that he wanted to remain fit enough to be able to play football in the garden with his son. Consider also Gordon Strachan's hip replacement, Marco Van Basten having to retire young because of the damage to his knees and all the others who quit because of the damage caused by a catalogue of injuries. There's also the stereotypical image of the former pro sitting at the bar of his pub, watching his waist measurement grow with every year. In comparison to the athletes that Dave mentioned, it seems the urge to remain in shape post-retirement isn't as strong amongst footballers as athletes.
I was thinking about cricket too, but there it's hard to make any real judgements, as it's only been recently that there's been any real consideration of general fitness amongst players and it's still a sport where someone the shape of Rob Key , Arjuna Ranatunga or Shane Warne can have a successful international career. Yet when you see former players like Mark Nicholas, David Gower or Geoff Boycott on the TV, the last thing you think is that they've let themselves go. Mike Gatting, of course, is still as rotund as ever, yet Ian Botham, thanks to his charity walks, is perhaps slimmer and fitter than when he was competing internationally. Perhaps we'll have to wait for a few years to see how the current crop of fitter cricketers look after they've retired, and what the effects of today's longer seasons with more intense matches are on the body.