IN the bright January sunshine that greeted 2020, a record-breaking 606 people gathered to get the year off to a healthy start by running three laps of their local park.

In amongst them, more than holding his own, was a bespectacled, unassuming man who provides all the inspiration anyone needs to commit to their New Year’s resolution.

The remarkable Ian Barnes completed the 5k course of the New Year’s Day Darlington parkrun in a time of 30 minutes and 38 seconds. What makes it remarkable is that Ian had hotfooted it straight from clocking a time of 30 minutes 53 seconds in the Sedgefield parkrun…and that he happens to be 85 years old.

One parkrun a week is more than enough for many of us, but not Ian Barnes. Two on the same morning – the first at Hardwick Park, near Sedgefield, and the second an hour later at Darlington’s South Park – is well within his capabilities.

Ian, a retired legal executive, is a law unto himself. Born to run and determined to keep going for as long as possible.

“I suppose it’s just been a lifelong love of running,” says the softly spoken grandad. “My wife says it’s time to call it a day, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m not ready to stop just yet.”

Born in Northallerton, the son of a railwayman, Ian started running in 1955 when he finished his National Service. He’d worked in the War Office at Whitehall and was inspired by watching track legends such as Roger Bannister, Chris Chataway and Gordon Pirie at nearby White City.

“I was too lightly built for football or rugby, so I thought I’d give athletics a go,” he recalls.

Back home in the North-East, he joined Darlington Harriers and went on to represent Northumberland and Durham in inter-counties cross country championships.

In 1957, Ian entered the Gateshead Congers Boxing Day Road Race, starting and finishing at the Royal Hotel, in Consort Road. First prize was two guineas, the runner-up got a guinea, and the third pocketed 15 shillings. He still has a copy of the programme, complete with an advert for Newcastle Brown Ale, priced at one shilling and ten pence.

Sixty-two years later, he was back on Tyneside, competing again in the 2019 event, now held on December 21 over 10k in Saltwell Park. Fittingly, he was given a special mention by the race announcer.

“It was very nice of them – I don’t suppose they get many who ran it 62 years ago,” he smiles.

Closer to home, Ian has held most positions in his beloved Darlington Harriers and is now Joint President. In 2012, with Parkruns becoming a magnificent global phenomenon, he accepted the responsibility of starting the Darlington version in South Park. Regularly attracting around 350 runners at 9am every Saturday, the New Year’s Day event was the biggest yet.

“It’s really taken off and it’s wonderful to see so many people keeping fit and enjoying the fresh air,” he says. “There’s such camaraderie amongst those taking part and you don’t have to be a champion.”

Ian’s best time for the Darlington parkrun during 2019 was 27 minutes 58 seconds but, on average, he reckons he’s slipping back by about half a minute every year.

Mind you, in the summer last year, he became the UK’s fastest man aged over 80 to run a mile, recording a time of seven minutes 54 seconds on the track at Shildon.

“I was rather disappointed with the time,” he sighs. “I should have been 20 seconds faster, but I was sharper in the Spring and I’d gone off the boil.”

Having celebrated his 85th birthday on December 6, Ian’s aim for 2020 is to keep on running, even if it puts him on collision course with his wife, Margaret.

“I have to accept that I’m not going to go on breaking records but I’m just very lucky at my age that I enjoy good health and, if I can keep running, I’ll be content.”

This story could run and run...

FOR the record, yours truly – aged 58 – ran the New Year’s Day Darlington parkrun in a magnificent time of 32 minutes 41 seconds. That put me in 423rd  place – a mere 64 places behind Ian. By my calculations, with a bit more training, I reckon I should be able to take him by the time he’s 90.

KEEPING up the New Year’s resolution to get fit, I was out for a post-Christmas run around my local village of Hurworth-on-Tees, a few days later.

Can I just say that when you’re feeling like an asthmatic hippo, the last thing you need to see coming the other way – striding out like a carefree cheetah – is Boro captain George Friend, giving you a friendly wave. Just saying.

  • parkruns now take place every Saturday morning at more than 1,400 locations in 22 countries. Junior parkruns, over two kilometres, are staged for children aged 4–14 weekly on Sunday mornings. To find out more about your local Parkrun, go to