first published 15 Feb 2023, updated 3 Mar 2023 with some details of Lou’s personal life from sister-in-law Patricia, thank you!
I’m writing with sad news to report the death of Lou Gilchrist on 17 December 2022. She was 89.
Her funeral was on Monday 20 February in Manchester.
Lou’s Personal Life – from Patricia Baxter
I met Patricia (Lou’s sister-in-law) and her son (Lou’s nephew) at the funeral and she kindly emailed me a few days later with all of this information.
Lou was the eldest child of Jane and John Baxter. She had a brother John, sister Jean and sister Josie (who died when she was 6). Mr. Baxter took ill and was in hospital for about 2 years and died when Lou was only 9.
At age 11 she passed her school scholarship and attended Notre Dame Catholic Girls Grammar School for the next 5 years.
Lou worked as a typist at the ICI in Blackley and as typing supervisor for Rochdale Council. Maybe other jobs too but I am not aware of such. She married in mid sixties when she was in her early thirties to my brother, Eric Brian Gilchrist.
In her early 50’s, Lou was diagnosed with varicose veins in her legs, operated on, and told to keep active – hence brisk walking and then running!
Lou and Brian had no children but was aunt to 6 and great aunt to 12. They had property in Wardle, Rochdale where they lived but also in Tenerife, this property was sold in the late nineties.
Brian died in 2012.
Lou and Brian visited us and we them many times over the 44 years I have known them but we spoke more of the present than the past!
Lou did not like her baptismal name, a name after her grandmother, Lucy, so was always known as Lou. She altered it legally to Louise in the nineties.
Lou was an absolutely fantastic pianist playing only classical music. John, my husband, her brother, was good but not a patch on her.
Lou’s Running Life – a Summary
Lou only started running in the early 1990’s when she was nearly 60. By the end of the decade she’d won the W60-64 category of the London Marathon twice and won 3 medals in the W65-69 category of the World Veterans Athletics Championships. In the 2000’s she set five world records for W70-74 for distances from 5km to half marathon and the set further world records for W75-79 including 49:31 for 10km which remains a world record 14 years later. In the 2010’s, at the age of 81, she ran a 5km parkrun in 28:45. Her last parkrun was in 2017, aged 84.
Lou was a Valley Striders Life Member, awarded in 2007 for “W70 world best performances at 5km, 5 miles, 10km, 10 miles, half marathon”. But Lou lived in the Rochdale area for all the time she was at Valley Striders, indeed for more than the last 50 years, so as well as telling you about her running career and world records, I also need to tell you about how she came to join our club.
Starting to run
I had also asked Patricia whether Lou ran as a schoolgirl. She contacted Lou’s sister Jean who said that she couldn’t remember Lou doing any sport when younger.
In an interview with the Manchester Evening News in 2009 Lou said that she was advised to do some walking after hospital treatment. She continued “After that, I felt fit and thought I’d try to run a mile. I did and I enjoyed it – and it snowballed from there, really”.
The 1990’s (age 57 to 67)
Lou lived in Wardle, 4 miles north-east of Rochdale. By 1993, she’d joined Middleton Harriers, a long-established club which was 6 miles the other side of Rochdale towards Manchester.
As mentioned in the introduction, Lou won the FV60 prizes at the London Marathon in 1994 and 1995 but I haven’t found the times that she ran.
During the 1990’s she ran a number of local races – at Rochdale, Radcliffe, Blackburn, Salford – and also at Frecketon and Llandudno, but I suspect this is by no means a comprehensive list. In 1998 and 1999 she ventured across the Pennines to the Wakefield 10k.
At some point in the 1990’s she met Max Jones, possibly at the London Marathon, I don’t know, but I suspect this was her reason for coming to Wakefield as Max was also running there.
Max was 6 years older than Lou, he’d been at Cambridge University and competed at cross country against Oxford University’s Roger Bannister (first 4 minute mile) and Chris Brasher (Roger’s pacer for the 4 minute mile). He then kept fit by being a football referee but restarted running in the marathon boom of the 1980’s, running in the first London Marathon in 1981 (aged 54) and then ran all the next 21 London Marathons being one of only 35 people to do so. He was also a self-taught coach with a firm belief that high quality short runs were much better than steady long runs – even for marathon and longer distances. He proved this by being a multiple world record holder at age 65 and 70 for 50k, 50miles, 100k and 24 hour races. And he was also an avid collector and user of statistics (in days before Google and Wikipedia), in particular with a fascination for age-grading. https://www.valleystriders.org.uk/archive/maxjones.htm
I’m sure Max would have been sharing his knowledge with Lou fairly soon after they met.
The next big event where they met was the World Veterans (i.e. aged over 35) Athletics Championships when they came to Gateshead in 1999. Lou and Max both competed there, Max in the marathon and Lou in … read on.
Max persuaded her to join Valley Striders in 2000 as a “second claim” runner (effectively this meant that she could run for Valley Striders when in Yorkshire).
The article in our club newsletter in February 2000 was an introduction of her to the club.
“Max has brought three new members from afar into the Club this month. All are WAVA World Champions, two current and one former; two are World Record holders and one was a full GBR international not so long ago”.
Two were ex-pat Brits living in the USA, the third from “afar” was from Rochdale.
Max wrote “Louise Gilchrist – Lou was first W60-64 in the London Marathon in 1994 and in 1995. She then got bored – and injured – training for marathons, but, concentrating on shorter road races, she now holds the W65-69 WR for 10 miles in 74:30. Deciding on the last possible day to enter the WAVA Championships in Gateshead last year, she won the W65-69 cross-country title in the first race on the first day. In her first track race ever, she won the silver in the 5000m; in her second, she ran 6:08.69 for the bronze medal in the 1500m, a time which was only a second off the British W65 record and which led the British rankings in 1999 by almost 19 seconds. She and Brian – he was a contestant on the Channel 4 show Fifteen To One a few years back – live in Wardle, near Rochdale”.
Just to add to Max’s information, that 1500m time was only 6 seconds off the World Record.
So Lou’s mile in 1990 had indeed “snowballed”.
Max died in an accident at home in 2012 and I asked our members to write up some stories to pass on the family.
Lou wrote “It was because of Max I entered the 1999 World Veteran Championships. He was so confident that I would win medals. I wasn’t particularly bothered. Eventually to please him I entered three events and to his great delight ended up with 3 medals. To this day I think that taking part in the World Championships was one of the highlights of my running career – for which I have to say “thank you Max””.
Finding race results
I’ve been trying to find as many of Lou’s race results as possible
Our club has a comprehensive set of results for club members since 2007 because we introduced performance awards certificates for all club members. Although this scheme stopped in 2013, the performance database is still maintained to support the our club “Grand Prix” groups and the club handicaps.
U K Athletics maintain a database of race results called “Power of 10” which now collects all results from most races but this realistically only started in earnest about 2010. However it also had a facility for athletes to add their own personal results from races. I found about 50 of Lou’s race results which seem to have been added in this way – I suspect these were added by Lou and Max. https://www.thepowerof10.info/athletes/profile.aspx?athleteid=11822
John Schofield started his UKResults service www.ukresults.net in the mid 1990’s; he regularly went to races and provided computerised results from the front seat of his car. But he also allowed race organisers, whether or not they were using his services, to send race entry information to be added to a calendar page on his website and also to send race results to be added to the same calendar page. John was and is based in Lancashire, so that there is a wealth of historical results from this area of the country on his website, and word got out so many other races and results from other parts of the country (including Yorkshire!) are listed. Indeed it was the go-to website for me to use when I was planning my running and also to post the entry details and results of the two races that our club promoted each year.
These sources cover races in the UK, but the Manchester Evening News article says she competed in Europe and the USA; if I find these results there will have to be a second edition of this page.
The 2000’s (age 67 to 77)
In the 1990’s, Lou had been to London twice, to Llandudno and to Gateshead, but in the 165 races I’ve found from the 2000’s she didn’t stray outside Lancashire and Yorkshire, except for one.
This is quite possibly because there were so many races on her doorstep.
Andy O’Sullivan promoted a lot of races in her area including at several 5km races each year at Littleborough (2 miles from home), and several 4.2 mile evening trail races each year at Cown Reservoir at Whitworth (6 miles from home).
All Andy’s races were named after local runners past and present and I went to one of Cown Reservoir ones in 2003. It was called the “Bob Jackson 60th birthday race” so how could I resist (just to note I was only 52 at the time). And Lou was there so we had a good chat before and after. In case you want to know the result, it was won by his son Rob, and I was 22nd but only 2 R. Jacksons in the results as Bob (60) wasn’t fit.
Of her 165 races, 30 were 5k, 14 were 5miles, 69 were 10k, 10 were 10miles, 10 were half marathons, 32 other, and definitely no marathons.
The one race she did outside Lancs/Yorks was being part of a 20-strong Middleton Harriers Ladies Relay Team running the Welsh Castles Relay. She wrote in Max’s obituary “He was my ‘driver’ when I went to take part in the Welsh Castles Relay this particular year was I think 2002 and the Middleton Captain (I was first claim Middleton at the time) in her wisdom allocated me the old lady to do a mountain leg – Leg 7 I believe it was 9.8 miles Dolgellau to Dinas Mawddwy – 6 miles up hill and 3.8 downhill – the cars were in first gear it was that steep coming down. Two seconds from the start I was completely alone on the road. Max, bless him had asked me what I wanted him to do and I said just keep driving on a mile and wait for me – that way I knew exactly how far I had come and to have someone rooting for me every mile was unbelievable. I actually overtook a couple of runners so I wasn’t last!!”
Lou switched to first claim with Valley Striders in late 2003. I never asked the specific reason but I wonder whether she found it hard to get to Middleton Harriers for training; also she was doing a lot more races in Yorkshire. In 2004 she joined Royton Road Runners as second claim so that she had a more local club to train with.
Lou turned 70 in 2003 and it was in that year and the next that she set her F70-74 world records
- 0:22:36 for 5k at the Littleborough 5k
- 0:37:00 for 5 miles at the Sale 5
- 0:46:37 for 10k at the Manchester 10k
- 1:18:28 for 10 miles at the Sale 10
- 1:43:41 for half marathon at the Manchester half
Note that these performances all rank in the top 5 in the UK nearly 20 years later!
Athletics Weekly’s reporter at the Sale 5 reported “the most impressive female performance and arguably of the whole race was W70 Louise Gilchrist, who ran 37:00”.
Valley Striders award Life Membership for long service to the club and/or international representation and/or exceptional performances. Lou was awarded Life Membership in 2007 for those F70-74 records.
Then in 2008 she turned 75 and set her F75-79 bests, 3 of which were definitely world records at the time
- 0:24:42 for 5k at the Littleborough 5k
- 0:40:18 for 5 miles at the Sale 5
- 0:49:31 for 10k at the Trafford 10k (WR)
- 1:22:05 for 10 miles at the Sale 10 (WR)
- 1:51:39 for half marathon at the Wilmslow (WR)
Her 10k still holds the world record 14 years later. All except the 5 mile time are still UK bests.
Here’s a feature article from the Manchester Evening News after her race at Wilmslow https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/louises-life-in-the-fast-lane-950123 (the date on the article is 2010 but it must have been first published in 2008)
Max died in March 2010 and that June our club decided to remember Max’s life on his birthday by running 2 or 3 laps of his training route. It was a 1.9 mile circuit which he chose because of a problem with his left eye so it had no left turns and crossed just a few minor roads. When training for ultramarathons he ran up to 10 laps of that circuit. About 25 Striders including myself ran that evening, and including Lou who came over from Rochdale.
2010’s (age 77 onwards)
In the 2010’s Lou ran 66 races in this period, of which 33 were parkruns.
She ran her first parkrun in June 2010, this was at Heaton Park. Heaton had started in July 2009 and was the 13th parkrun to be set up in the UK (there are now over 700) and only the second in Manchester (the other, Bramall, being the wrong side of Manchester for Lou)
Her run of 26:26 in October 2010 at the age of 77 at Heaton Park scored an age-graded percentage of 96.47% and is the still to this day the best AG% at Heaton by any runner.
Her final parkrun (and final race) was at Chadderton Hall parkrun on 7 October 2017 where, at the age of 84, she ran 38:06.
Lou used to give me a call every year when her membership fee was due – although she had free club membership as a life she still had to pay England Athletics affiliation as a competitive runner – so we were able to chat about what we were doing. She relinquished her E A affiliation in March 2018 as she was no longer competing.
Age Group Placings
I have 250 of Lou’s results but only 161 of these show her place in her age category. Of these, she won 154, there were the two world championships where she had a 2nd and a 3rd, there was a race where the oldest age category was W55 (she was 73 and 5th), and 4 other races not 1st probably for a similar reason.
After the age of 40 (or so) we all get slower, so there is little point in comparing our race times with THE world record. However by comparing our time with the WR for the same age we can see whether we are relatively improving or not.
The Age Graded Percentage for a run is calculated by dividing the theoretical world record for the same distance and the same age by the runner’s time, e.g. if the WR for an age was 20 minutes and the runner ran 40 minutes it would be 50%, if they ran 25 minutes it would be 80%, if they ran 19 minutes (!) it would be approximately 105.2%.
As described in the preface of the 1994 paper version of the first AG tables to be published, “The purpose of age-graded tables is twofold:
- To correct a person’s performance, no matter what his/her age, to what it would have been (or will be) in their prime years. By so doing, all kinds of interesting comparisons can be made. You can compare back to your best performances. You can compare your performances to other people of any age, such as open-class athletes, etc.
- To provide each individual with a percentage value which enables them to judge their performance in any event without bias to age or sex. No matter how old one gets, this performance percentage will always be judged against the standard for one’s age. As your performances decline with age, so do the world standards that the tables use to calculate your percentage, giving a true measure of your performance.”
When Max and I introduced Age-Grading to Valley Striders in 1994 we did this by posing the question Which is the best performance? 10k in 35:41 aged 40, half marathon in 1:18:45 aged 40, 10miles in 60:56 aged 45, 10k in 38:12 aged 50, marathon in 3:01:46 aged 55. The answer was that according to the tables, they’re all the same – all equivalent to 80% of the theoretical age best at each distance/age.
The age graded tables are partly science – gathering as much data as possible about lots of distances for lots of ages – and partly “art” – a smooth curve must be drawn across all ages to show the theoretical word record for each age (e.g. if the actual WR for a 70 year old is less than that for a 69 year old, the value for the 69 year old must be adjusted).
Here’s a link to some articles on age grading from our club website https://www.valleystriders.org.uk/archive/vsagegrd.htm
and another explanation of age-grading from Tonbridge AC’s coach https://tonbridgeac.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Age-Grading-explained-by-Alan-Newman.pdf
and a page on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masters_athletics#Age-graded_tables
As years go by, world records for races are lowered at all ages and so the tables need to be adjusted for this. Age graded tables were first published in 1994, followed by revisions in 2004, 2010, 2015 and 2020. A new set is being published in 2023.
Lou’s Races and Age Graded Performances
This is a link to a spreadsheet showing all Lou’s races that I found – date, location, race distance, race position and time … together with a calculation of the age graded % using all the tables 1994-2015 and highlighting in bold the table that was in place at that time.
Between 2005 and 2009, while the 2005 tables were current, Lou set 16 times which were greater than 100% i.e. all quicker than the theoretical world record. It was not a surprise when the 2010 tables were published that all the world records had been reduced. But we all know now that Lou was the cause of the times for the F70-F80 ages being reduced!
From John Schofield and Andy O’Sullivan
I sent a draft of this page to John (mentioned in the “Finding race results” section) and Andy (mentioned in the “The 2000’s” section). They kindly replied
- John said “Lou invariably had a smile on her face whenever I saw her at a race and, if I did see her name in the entries, I could very often say to my wife – “Lou’s here to win her age group!!””
- Andy said “Lou was a REAL CHARACTER! Lou regularly rang for a chat and often passed on her prizes to me for my Races! When it was Ron Hill’s 70th 5K at Littleborough, it was on LIVE BBC tv, Lou spoke at the start!”
If I get any more comments as a result of publishing this on the website, I’ll add them here.
Lou Gilchrist count of races by age
Lou Gilchrist best times by age
Lou Gilchrist best age graded percentages by age (2005 tables)