At 81, a County Durham grandad has been honoured for being the fastest octogenarian in the country – and now he’s setting his sights on being confirmed as the best in the world. PETER BARRON reports

IT was only when he started a pit village paper round as a kid that Laurie Cummings first realised he was a better runner than most.

The round took him a mile and a half from home in Easington Colliery to the neighbouring village of Grants Houses, and he ran all the way, with a sack crammed with copies of The Northern Echo and a few Daily Mirrors.

Instead of bothering to open gates, he’d hurdle every wall and fence that got in his way, then race home for a bit of breakfast before running another mile to school.

“I always knew I was a good runner – it just came naturally and I’ve never stopped since,” smiles Laurie, who now lives in School Aycliffe.

More than seven decades might have passed since his paper round days, but Laurie is delivering the fastest times for his age group in the UK.

Last week, he was among the honours at the 46th Darlington Sports Winners Awards in recognition of a stellar 2021, in which he was the country’s number one for over 80s at a mile, 3,000 metres, and 10,000 metres, as well as the 5k Parkrun.

“Aye, I’ve got to be pleased with that, haven’t I?” says the 81-year-old Darlington Harrier. “I’m running well but there’s more to come yet.”

There have been countless records and trophies since he reigned supreme as cross-country champion at Easington Secondary Modern, instilled with a toughness handed down from his “hard as nails” forefathers who all served down the pit.

Young Laurie left school on a Friday, followed in his ancestors’ boot-prints on the Monday, and served his time as an electrician four miles out beneath the coal-black North Sea.

After seven years underground, he joined Durham Police, rising from bobby to sergeant, with roles that included being a physical training instructor at the cadet school.

But whether miner or copper, Laurie kept on running, averaging 90 miles a week at his peak, and he shows no signs of stopping 30 years after retirement.

His times during a golden 2021 were more than anyone else of his vintage could match in the country: 7.41 for the mile; 14.52 for the 3,000 metres; 51.51 for the 10,000 metres; and 24.30 for the 5k parkrun, set in Darlington.

There are more than 10,000 parkrunners aged over 80 in the UK and Laurie’s the best of the lot. Out of 164 parkruns, he’s clocked up 82 records in age groups from 70 to 81, and his daily training regime would be enough to leave men half his age in need of a long lie down.

It starts with 20 minutes of free-standing exercises at home, followed by an hour-long session in the gym – including more exercises plus speed training on the treadmill. Laurie then subjects his body to a minute on the “Power Plate” vibration machine to gain extra strength, and finishes off with either six 200 metre sprints on his local track at the Oakleaf Sports Complex, or a 5k road run.

“I have Sundays off but running is such an important part of my life. If you have a problem, go for a run and there’s a good chance you’ll find a solution because it gives you time to think and focus,” he advises.

Always there, urging him on – stopwatch in hand – is his wife, Judy. As a PE teacher at Staindrop Comprehensive School, she spent 30 years coaching youngsters, but is now totally committed to getting the best out of her 81-year-old husband.

Judy – or the Laurie driver, as she might be called – plans every training schedule to the minute and plots all his events. Between the pair of them, they keep a record of every run Laurie does, so they can keep track of his times.

They met through The Northern Echo’s Two’s Company dating feature back in 1999 and Laurie did all his courting in typical fashion, running seven miles, twice a week, from his home in Bishop Auckland to see Judy in School Aycliffe. They’d been together for 22 years before finally tying the knot last July.

Covid restrictions allowing, they spend half their time in Egypt, where Laurie trains in the desert, as well as indulging in his other passion – scuba diving. He’s completed 13,000 dives, all of them recorded, and is a qualified instructor.

Mind you, scuba diving almost cost him his life last November when he cut his leg climbing out of the sea, and ended up in intensive care for three days with a dangerous infection called Erysipelas.

“They said I’d have been dead if I hadn’t been so fit,” he says. “I’m still recovering now, and I’m not quite back to my best times, but I’m getting there.”

And Laurie’s far from finished with his ambitions. His aim for 2022 is to be confirmed as the world’s fastest man in his age group over four miles.

“There’s a fella up in Scotland who holds the record, but I’ve gone two minutes quicker in training, so I just need to find a recognised event where I can get it confirmed officially. I’ll let you know when I do it,” he promises.

From paper round to world-beater – now that’s a headline well worth delivering…


TO keep an awards scheme going for 46 years is a great achievement, so well done and thanks to the organisers of the Darlington Sports Winners.

This year’s event again had to be held virtually due to the pandemic but it attracted more than 10,000 views as it went out on Facebook across last week.

Organiser Brian Dobinson said: “After 46 years, we continue to be overwhelmed by the quality of the nominations we receive, and this year was no exception. It’s a joy to see so many great sporting achievements are coming through at the grass roots in the Darlington area. Let’s just hope we can get back to holding the event in person next year.”


Abi Porter, for achievements in bowls: cross country runner Alex Boyer; Beth Davidson, for retaining her national veterans’ fencing title; Carmel Year 8 Football Team; athlete Catherine Anderson; Darlington Harriers Track and Field Seniors Team; Dave Bell, for his support of Darlington Harriers; swimmer Filip Wilczynski; Hilary Bevan for her support of Darlington Harriers and Darlington Parkrun; Hummersknott Academy Year 7 and 8 Boys Swimming Team; veteran athlete Ian Barnes; Tetrathlon champion James Wilcock; athlete John Clifford; Thai boxer Jordan Murphy; veteran athlete Laurie Cummings; athlete Lucy Erin Hunter; Maizie Wrangham, for her dedication to West Park Academy Energy Club; Mark Tallon, for services to Darlington Harriers; netball coach Millie Walker; diving coach Sheila Elliot; taekwondo champion Sonny Mason; weightlifting coach Ste Gordon; junior kickboxing champion Theo Spinks; Tom Addison, for providing IT support to Darlington Harriers; athletics timekeepers Trevor and Linda McDermot; junior rugby player Will Hopkins.