‘A Cooling Breeze to the Midriff’
‘That’s your title right there – A Cooling Breeze to the Midriff’, was the instant email response from Publicity Officer Ed when I offered to write one of these articles, and as usual he was spot-on. Not just because I’d told him it’s what I most remember about the mesh-panelled Bolton School running vests of the mid-1980s, but because the photo I’d sent him brings back so many memories. And yes, that is one J.R.Walsh in the middle as team captain. Not that we were a very good cross-country team; it was more of a football school. But it’s where my running story started, and I’m glad it did.
Bolton School, Boys’ Division (there was a separate school for the girls) was (and is) a fine institution with strong traditions, one of which was the annual inter-house cross-country race – participation compulsory. Usually I would finish around 15 th or 16 th out of the 130 or so boys in the year. Not bad, but that all changed in the fifth form, when I stopped playing football, at which I was OK but not great, and starting running every week instead.
I must have got fitter and faster, because 200 yards into that year’s race I was amazed to find myself leading the field. I remember thinking, as we turned out of the school gates onto Chorley New Road, ‘If I carry on like this, I’m going to win’, and that’s exactly what happened. I won the race in the following two years as well - titanic battles on both occasions with my friend and rival Chris Bannister. The truth is that Chris was a better runner than me. He used to beat me every week in Saturday morning fixtures against Bury Grammar, Cheadle Hulme or Manchester Grammar School. But I always raised my game once a year for the House cross-country, as it was the only race of which the non-runners (i.e. 98% of the school) took any notice.
I stopped doing sport completely at university. Without the routine of Mr Gottard (Master in charge of cross-country, and a man to whom I owe a lot) geeing us up for training or driving us in the decrepit school bus to the next Saturday fixture, it never really occurred to me to get involved in the University athletics scene. Looking back, that is a real regret, as there was time to do it and, I’m sure, great facilities to enjoy, but I let it pass me by.
Fast-forward 14 years to 2001 and my friends Rachel and Colin were running the London Marathon. That set me thinking – not that I should run a marathon too, but more ‘Hmmm – I used to be a runner. If Rachel and Colin can do the marathon, perhaps I could do some running again’.
I remember going to Run and Become in Westminster and telling the very helpful staff that I wanted some running shoes, not for anything serious, just for running around the local park.
For a while that’s what I did – running around Wimbledon Park and sometimes doing what I considered a ‘long run’ with a loop past the All-England Club. It must have been about 3 miles in total.
I moved to Letchworth in 2004 and continued running solo. After a while I read something about the Standalone 10k and thought that would be a good challenge, but it was still some months away, so I looked around and entered the Flitwick 10k – my first race since school. I remember getting to about 7k and thinking ‘Wow – I’m going to finish this!’. It was the furthest I had ever run and I was pretty pleased with the achievement.
I ran Standalone later than year, then Flitwick again, then a work colleague talked me into the Watford Half-marathon and then I did Grunty Fen Half and then Watford again and then – well you all know how where this leads. Sure enough, a few years after telling the Run and Become lady that I just wanted to run around the park, I found myself lining up on the Champs Élysées for the start of the 2008 Paris Marathon. As I hobbled back to the hotel in the post-race drizzle, a concerned-looking van driver wound down his window: ‘Monsieur – vous avez fini le Marathon?’ ‘Oui’, I grinned / grimaced back - ‘J’ai fini le Marathon’. ‘Bravo, Monsieur! Bravo!’ he shouted as he drove off. Wow – I was a marathon runner.
A few months earlier I had plucked up the courage to go along to North Herts Road Runners, after a year or more of stalking on the Club’s Forum. I immediately wished I had joined earlier, as everyone was so friendly and positive. After a year’s interruption when living and working in Leeds, I started to get more involved, turning out regularly for training and races. NHRR had become part of my life.
I completed two more marathons – Barcelona in 2009 and London in 2010 - and was pretty happy to get my time down to 3.08.26, but by then I had proved to myself that I was better at the shorter races – especially cross-country, so that is where I have focused my running. I’ve clocked up plenty of 5ks (17.39 PB), 10ks (37.26), Midweek League and XC races for the Club. Highlights have included running in the National Cross-country Championships – an epic event that I’m glad I’ve done three times - and being part of teams that have won the County XC Champs and the National Masters 10k title. None of this would have been possible without the brilliant coaching and encouragement we get at NHRR.
There have even been some individual successes, such as winning the Swavesey 5-mile race, though all the serious runners were doing the accompanying half-marathon the same day. Another small-scale success that I particularly enjoyed was winning the Isles of Scilly 10k in 2008 and being interviewed on Radio Scilly – one of the UK’s smallest radio stations. It was startling to hear my post-race comments being replayed over the PA system in the Co-Op the next day.
The most rewarding things I have done in running have involved sharing my own enthusiasm with other people and seeing them get joy and satisfaction from their own efforts. NHRR is really good at this and we see it in spades at the events we organise. Away from running I am a very keen birder and our annual Bird Run, where a sizeable group of us jog around Oughtonhead Common and take in the local birdlife, has become an offbeat but enjoyable fixture in our Club calendar. I’m still trying to work out whether it’s my pointing out of the local wildlife or Astrid’s post-run home-baking that is the main attraction.
I’ve even managed to make a 5k social run an ‘official’ part of the pensions conference I help to organise in my day-job and it’s great to see how many delegates turn out for it. Men and women in suits come up to me throughout the year and ask ‘James – is the run on again at this year’s
conference?’. Of course it is! Every conference should have one!
Undoubtedly the best thing I have done with NHRR was helping to lead a Beginners Group through the ‘Couch-to-5k’ programme. It was uplifting to see so many people get so much satisfaction from becoming fitter and healthier through running with NHRR. Many of them are now stalwarts of our Club. It’s something we should definitely repeat when the time is right. (No doubt someone on the Committee will collar me about it when they read this….)
Anyway, back to the running story. By 2015 I was pretty heavily involved in the Club, but even so I was surprised when our President, Richard Harbon, asked whether I would consider becoming Chairman. I wasn’t even on the Committee, so I guess they must have been pretty desperate! I did two years in the role – a lot of hard work but hugely rewarding, capped off by us winning the Club of the Year title in the Comet Sports Awards. It’s been fantastic to see the Club go on to flourish even more under Astrid’s brilliant leadership.
I have been pleased to serve for a couple of years as Publicity Secretary and to help on the Race Committee, though I have stepped back a little over the last year due to work demands.
As for my own running, I’ve had quite a lot of niggly injuries over the last 3 or 4 years and haven’t been able to run at anything like the level I would like. There have been too many races where I have been taking photos rather than running. I’ve had to accept that I am a bit older, a little slower and certainly more injury-prone, but I still love being involved with NHRR. It’s the most positive and ‘can do’ organisation I’ve ever known.
Our Club is a fantastic force for good in the local community, whether it's raising money for charity, putting on superb events or helping people get fitter and healthier. We can all be very proud to be members of North Herts Road Runners. I certainly am.
One last comment on that 1980s school running kit, and again it’s from Ed’s emails: ‘Those vests are cool’. Really? I’m not so sure about that. Perhaps he was joking, but who cares? It’s where my running story started, and it’s been a good one for me.
My running, like most people, started at school and I was one of the strange kids that actually enjoyed cross country and joined the Norton school running club. I remember watching the early London Marathons and being in awe and thinking only proper athletes did that. I was never any good, but I enjoyed it.
Well, again like lots of people, when I finished school the running stopped and for me alcohol and motorbikes became much more interesting, and at the age of 25 I started motorcycle racing. Not long after I started I realised that I needed to get myself fit again, so along with cycling I started jogging again. It was slow and probably no more than a couple of miles (no Garmin then). It definitely helped though, and after about 7 or 8 years of it and a few 2nd 3rd and 4th places in national club championships, and of course meeting my now wife Jo - I like to tell her she’s the best trophy I ever won! Well, it all went a bit wrong with a 120 mph crash at Cadwell Park and a shattered hand/wrist/arm and nearly 4 months off work!!! So with a mortgage to pay we decided maybe it was time to pack it in and be sensible - although I’m still thinking of having another go!!!
So over the next few years again running dropped out of my life and with career changes that eventually took me to lorry driving for Sainsburys my fitness dropped and my weight rocketed, so I took up golf and after seeing a photo of a charity golf day that my wife took and seeing 6 or 7 typical rather round truck drivers I was horrified that I was the one in the middle (getting close to 18 stone). So it was off to GL14 gym (now Bannatynes) and having improved my fitness a bit I spotted a poster for Standalone 10k (2008 I think) and my gym instructor challenged me to do it, so I started running to the gym and back very slowly with a workout in the middle and then realised I enjoyed the running much more than the gym. Well Standalone arrived and I was so pleased/surprised to finish in 59 minutes that I was hooked so I carried on doing more running and my next 2 Standalone’s got slower by a minute each time!!! So my neighbour convinced me to join the Road Runners as they were doing a beginners group. Well what a difference training and encouragement made: 2011 Standalone was done in 54 minutes (I think).
More 10ks followed, getting down to 50 minutes and 10 mile races and half marathons, my first being St Albans, and I remember finishing in about 2 hours 30 and saying “I am never doing anything like that again”. Well later that day I was entering another one!!!
And then I just thought I’d put in for the London Marathon because I won’t get in.........well you guessed it: Got in first time! Again, with help/advice and great encouragement from the fantastic club, I was so pleased - not to say amazed - to finish in 4h 23 and ran all the way. I’ve now done 5 marathons which I would have said was impossible as that 18 stone trucker.
I have to thank the wonderful members and coaches for all the help, encouragement and fun over the years, and I feel I have made some great friends at the club too. Recently, I have been struggling with my running mojo, but I’m still getting great encouraging messages from club friends that are getting me to put those trainers on and get out there. And like the kid at school, I’m still never going to be any good, but I enjoy it.
Running? This was just not part of my upbringing. So, bear with me when I am trying to set the scene to my running story. Dad cycled and played squash, and mum played and watched tennis. And for me, at an early age, I stumbled (literally, as I was not very talented) into gymnastics. My younger sister followed suit but turned out to be a natural, quickly progressing to the competition squad. One day a member of my sister’s team was missing for a key competition and for the lack of a better alternative, I was summoned to make up the numbers. After that, I remained in the competition squad. Still not talented, but very determined (stubborn one could say), I slowly earned my place in that squad. I never acquired the grace needed for a beautifully looking beam routine, but I learned that with blood (yes, my hands often), sweat (no comments) and tears (well I was a teenage girl after all), one can achieve a lot and my vault, bars and tumbling routines became pretty decent.
From about 15, I started coaching gymnastics, and by the time I was about 20, while still actively competing, I was a member of the coaching team, sat on my clubs and regional competition committee (no surprise there), coached other coaches and delivered strength and conditioning sessions for the local swimming/triathlon club.
Fast forward to 1998, an opportunity arose to move to England for work. I naturally joined the closest gymnastics club (Marriotts) but discovered that the club’s and regional set up at that time didn’t help with establishing my new UK-based social life (I won the 3 counties over 14’s competition at the age of 27, and on a hangover – say no more). A chronic shoulder inflammation and sampling too many English puddings convinced me that I had to try something else. The work gym was the choice but was mostly boring (I say mostly, as I met my husband Steve there). I joined a Taekwondo club and my flexibility put me at an advantage but didn’t have the desired weight loss effect. So, I started running on the treadmill….
While I had considered myself quite fit, there had never previously been a need for me to run more than 22.25 meters (my run-up to vault) so this wasn’t easy. I persevered, and after a few months, work hosted a 5 mile race that some work friends had entered. Thinking ‘how bad could it be?’, I entered too …. Well, the first mile or so was OK, and then my laces came undone. I stopped to tie them and then sprinted to catch my friends. That sprint happened to be the steep hill in Ware (for those of you who know, will know) and the damage was done. I barely made it to the finish, in pain I had never experienced before. I didn’t run again for at least 2 or 3 weeks after that.
Once the pain (or humiliation) was forgotten, I started running more regularly at lunchtimes and it didn’t take long before some work NHRR folks asked me to join them: Paula Adam, Nick Smithers and Ian Owens to name a few. The perseverance I learned from my gymnastics days certainly helped when they took me along to do hill reps in Knebworth Park or the infamous ‘eight ploughed fields’ loop.
Not too long after, I did my first Standalone 10k and signed up to become a member of NHRR straight after the race. I started training at the club (Wednesdays only) and I still remember my first race for NHRR, the XC in Wootton with everyone calling me Ingrid (some people still do). Despite the name faux pas, I was taken by the inclusiveness and tolerance of the club: it didn’t matter where you came from and what you did, there was no judging. This felt like a family, just like the one I left behind with my gymnastics club.
Now, nearly 20 years later, I could not imagine not being a squirrel. I have met so many amazing people and had so many opportunities, not just running-wise but also by getting involved in club matters. I have learned things about myself that possibly not many other sports could have taught me. But most importantly, I have made many good friends and even more good memories for life.
Thank you NHRR
My first runs started with the Sunday Times Fun runs around Hyde Park in the early 80’s. I then started to train a lot more and completed the Luton 1/2 Marathon in 1984. This encouraged me to participate in more races and then in 1986 I responded to a request by John Atkinson in the local paper to try and form a running club. This is now North Herts Road Runners (see the club’s full club history here).
Joining the club helped me improve my overall ability to run better. I ran in our very first Cross Country league when we were nearly always at the bottom but improved as the years went on. Apart from running races at all distances, my highlights would have been the London Marathon in 1990 and 1993 both below the 4-hour mark and also the Great North Run.
I still enjoy races from 5k through to 10k and also the Midweek League, but not so much the XC now. After all these years it’s been great to see our club grow to the strength we are now. Hopefully I will be able to continue running or be part of our fantastic club for years to come.
Believe me when I tell you that nobody is more surprised than me that I have become a runner later in life. At school, in Sheffield, I was the archetypal ‘last boy to be picked’ for the football team, being the skinny one who was usually to be found at the back, avoiding the gaze of the team captains. My only claim to fame on the school sports field was to garner the nickname of the ‘unidentified flying object’ due to my speed and prowess in the sack race – a moniker that friends and family still remind me of to this day.
For decades, sport held little interest for me, and whenever I spotted an exhausted looking runner pounding the pavement, I used to wonder why they were doing it to themselves. What could
possibly be so good about putting yourself through such pain? Ironically, it was a bout of back pain in my mid-forties that forced me to re-evaluate my lifestyle – it seemed that years of driving to work and sitting at a desk all day wasn’t conducive to good health. To counter this inactivity, I joined a gym, where I discovered, to my great surprise, that I actually quite enjoyed frantically moving my legs while going nowhere, i.e. running on the treadmill.
Aware that my back pain had receded, I wondered what I might do next, and I began to consider
whether real running might work for me, despite years of aversion to the idea. A trip to a sports
shop and a gait analysis later, I surprised myself by paying a small fortune for a pair of ‘proper’
running shoes. Of course, my first attempts at running were pretty poor, however, things soon
began to improve, albeit slowly. Starting running at the age of 47 was more challenging than I had
My first experience of racing came in early 2014 when I saw an ad for Sport Relief and figured, “well,
why not”. A few weeks later, on a freezing cold March morning, I arrived at a sports field in
Biggleswade, ready for my 3-mile challenge, and a little while later, the deed was done. Despite my
exhaustion, I was elated to have raised over £200 for a very worthy cause and couldn’t wait to sign
up for my next race.
The next logical step was the Standalone 10k, and it was at this point that North Herts Road Runners
came onto my radar. With perseverance, I managed to shock myself by completing the race in 52:48,
which was much faster than my training times. It wasn’t long before the Greenway Challenge half-
marathon beckoned, and I managed 01:55:09, which I was over the moon about. On both occasions,
I remember being most impressed with the race organisers, who I felt had done a magnificent job.
Though the seed of an idea to join a running club had already been planted, it took a few years for it
to finally blossom. My brother, a life-long runner, had always extolled the virtues of being in a
running club, and after joining me for my third Greenway Challenge in 2018, pointed enthusiastically
towards the ‘North Herts Road Runners’ stand, telling me to “get a form and join now!”. Though the
membership form remained untouched that day, a couple of weeks later, everything had changed. I
had become a member.
My first experience of club running was at the First Saturday of the Month run in June 2018, and
although I was apprehensive and didn’t know anybody, I felt warmly welcomed. Training nights soon
followed and now the club has become such an important part of my life, I can’t imagine being
without it. 2018 wasn’t the easiest year for me personally, but NHRR was a shining beacon during an
otherwise challenging time – proof, if proof were needed, of the mental health benefits of running.
At the age of 53, I don’t honestly think I’ve been fitter, and my race times for 5k to 10k have
certainly improved since becoming a member. I’m hoping that faster half marathons and more PBs
will soon follow.
So, a big thank you to North Herts Road Runners for helping dust down the old ‘unidentified flying
object’ and getting it airborne once more, rusty warp drive and all. You’ve really made a difference
to my life.
I liked to run at primary school, and I remember being desperate to take part in the 100 yard sprint on sports day (yes – yards, it really was that long ago). Instead, rather ignominiously, I was entered for the egg and spoon race. Refusing to be discouraged, I took part - and won! My first (and only) podium position. I also ran in a mixed relay team for County Athletics in my last year of juniors – we were a poor third on that occasion, but it was very exciting to be there nonetheless. Once I got to secondary school, other pursuits claimed my attention and I didn’t run competitively again for over 30 years.
My running story proper started around 2003 when I took part in my first ‘Race for Life’ in Bedford. Now in my forties, I decided to try and get fitter and had joined a gym about a year or so before this. At about this time, some of the fitness instructors at my gym started a beginners’ running group. This was well before the days of Couch to 5K, but we followed a similar programme and I found, somewhat to my surprise, that I started to enjoy running outside. Our target was to take part in a Race for Life that summer. On the day of the race, I was so nervous I felt sick! My target was to finish in under 30 mins, which I just about managed. One of my fellow runners in the group was a bit faster than me, so my motivation was to try and stay with her. By 2005 we were no longer beginners, and it was time to take on a ‘proper’ race. Our choice was, of course, Standalone 10k.
My target this time was to finish in under an hour – I managed this fairly comfortably, and I still
have the black (cotton) finishers’ T-shirt to prove it. The following year, I ran Standalone again, but was a bit disappointed to take only about 30 secs off my previous time. I’d also recently joined the online running community, Fetcheveryone.com, and my virtual running buddies had encouraged me to enter my first marathon. I knew I’d got to start doing some proper training, so I looked for a local running club. Having run Standalone, my first choice was NHRR.
In those days we used to meet at Letchworth Corner sports club, and I remember my first training session, running reps around a Cloisters Road loop in the January dark – I tried to keep up with Lindsay, but it was hard work! We all ran together at training in those days – there were no Blue, Green,Yellow or Purple groups. I started training regularly and noticed a steady improvement. I often did my longest runs out towards Preston – if you know the route you will know that there is a big hill to climb up into the village. At the time I was training, my mum was ill with cancer and undergoing gruelling treatment. If I struggled to get up that hill – and I always did - I told myself that if my mum could endure her cancer treatment, then I could run up a b****y hill!
In October 2007, I ran my first marathon – at Loch Ness. Possibly not an ideal first marathon – it’s certainly not flat – but a superbly organised and friendly race, with the best race-day scenery I’ve ever seen. I was disappointed with my finishing time of just under 5hrs 12mins, and had struggled during the race due to lack of long distance training. I crossed the finish line and burst into tears! I was in such a sorry state I forgot to pick up my finishers T-shirt, and had to contact the organisers later to request one. I’ve since run Loch Ness twice more (and faster) and have loved it every time – it’s still my favourite marathon.
I was determined to better that first marathon time, and the following year I ran Abingdon marathon – a lot flatter and faster than Loch Ness, although without the spectacular scenery. I improved my time by a whopping 35 mins, and I was hooked! Since then, I have run eight more road marathons, one trail marathon and one trail ultra. I finally broke the four-hour barrier at Abingdon in 2011 with a 3:59:23 – a long-held ambition. I had one final go at another sub-4 in 2015, again at Abingdon, running a best and final marathon time of 3:58:29.
Two of the things I like best about being a member of NHRR are the Midweek League and Cross Country. I was hesitant about taking part in MWL initially, thinking I was too slow, but I was persuaded to participate and found I loved it – also discovering an unexpected competitive side to my personality. It’s hard to choose between them, but I think I probably love XC even more than MWL – if anyone had told me, when I dawdled reluctantly to school PE lessons, that one day I would enjoy battling through thick mud, up hill and down dale and through rivers and smelly cow puddles – all on a freezing cold winter morning - I’d have thought they were mad!
Since hanging up my marathon shoes, I have concentrated on shorter distances and have been
content to see my WAVA scores go up along with my advancing age. There have been a few club records won – and lost. There have been a few medals and trophies for age-group placings along the way. At the end of last year I qualified to run for England Masters as an F60 athlete at 10k – and I have a shiny England masters vest of which I am very proud. None of this would have happened had I not decided, back in early 2007, to join North Herts Road Runners. So, thank you NHRR – it’s been real!
Twenty-four years of running! If some of you do your calculations, you will work out that my running started a few months after the birth of my second daughter, Katie. I was a postnatal wreck, overweight and a bit lost. Rich and I decided I needed to find an easy way to get fit between feeding new baby so we visited ARO Sports to kit me out in a pair of shorts and some trainers. A bad attitude meant that the only way I was going to actually run further than the front path was to drive our Astra Belmont some distance from home, chuck me out and then follow me home in the car. Fun times, and how hard was that?
Kit was a bit more restricted in those days, and I can remember my shorts flapping in the wind. I can also remember feeling so much better about everything and a cloud lifted every time I felt myself go a bit further. So, I was getting my mojo back but needed to check out this racing lark. Royston 10K was my first race. My friend Hayley held the baby, I breastfed ten minutes before the start and finished the race to the sound of a screaming pink Katie. But, I had done it. Time? No idea, I had found a new hobby.
Rich found me a running club who happened to be holding their AGM at Letchworth Rugby Club where he still played. I joined, I stayed and I have loved it ever since. I ran a few good times, well good for me, and my greatest running achievement is probably the London Marathon in 3 hours 41 minutes. I still sleep with the medal. But, times and stuff are not for me. I love running midweek leagues, cross country and relays. I also love running with my club mates and get a real kick from seeing my daughters loving their running as well. Although the day we ran the Pirton boxing day fun run and both overtook me was a bittersweet memory.
I cannot write about my running journey without mentioning Katrin Rippel, a lovely lady who ran with Karen and I back in the day. A very generous person who always congratulated everyone and encouraged us all, she was my nemesis in virtually every race we entered together. The gloves were off when we ran, and the three of us were frequently close together. Three very competitive ladies who took no prisoners. At the finish line however, all was forgiven and we would congratulate the winner on that occasion. Katrin sadly died very young and I still miss running with her.
I’m still running, slightly slower but still loving it. I have lots to thank this wonderful club for: great friends, fabulous memories, huge laughs and so so much I could tell you about, like stopping at a water stop for 20 minutes with lightning during the Welwyn 10K, running through a huge pile of excrement thinking it was a solid pile of tarmac, Smiler as a jockey at the Gilbey Gallop, running down the Mall to the London Marathon finish feeling like I had actually won, and running in the pitch black for the Round Norfolk Relay listening to Voodoo Doll on full blast. Many more memories to come no doubt.
I have also had the huge privilege of helping with our races, in particular the Standalone 10K, which I have seen change over the years in so many ways. The First Saturday of the Month also has a special place in my heart. It’s a great start to the weekend, seeing people run, and a good chat with running buddies. Remember the guy who ran the December one in a pair of swimming trunks? What a moment, but not a patch on the man who ran the Greenway in gold lycra budgie smugglers. I am going to have to stop now and go for a run…
Thank you for reading my story.
I remember watching the London Marathon as a child and announcing I was going to run it one day…my family thought I was mad. Although we were a very outdoorsy family (which explains my love of a muddy, hilly XC), at the time we weren’t a running family and to run that far seemed impossible. I always loved running at school and was even relatively speedy at 800m representing my school in Preston schools competitions and I also enjoyed the schools cross country races but for some reason I prepared myself for it by cycling up and down the hill at the end of our road. I was interested in joining our local athletics club, Preston Harriers, but it was on the other side of town and I have a couple of younger siblings which made it tricky for my parents to get me there so I didn’t join.
I started to get properly into running in my final year at university in Edinburgh where I saw an advert for a new running club and decided to join. Through this friendly club, I discovered I loved running, the places running can take you and meeting likeminded people so when I moved to Hertfordshire in Autumn 1999 for a three month contract I contacted a few local running clubs and North Herts Road Runners were the first to respond. I was living in London Colney at the time so NHRR weren’t the most handy club but I was more than happy to drive up the A1 for Wednesday night training at Letchworth Corner Sports club. I think one of the first people I ran with was Karen Dodsworth and I vaguely remember running the 5km series that used to be on Winter midweek evenings in Stevenage and Bedford Cross Country as some of my early races.
After chatting with a couple of other members in the changing rooms after training and listening them talk about in the bar at Whitethorn Lane, I was inspired to enter London Marathon and miraculously got in at my first attempt. In 2001 I completed the London Marathon like I said I would when I was a child! I have been a member of NHRR for 20 years now and I can’t imagine not being a member. I’ve now run 15 marathons, countless other races of various distances and completed a 40 races in my 40th year challenge but I think my favourite is XC. Although family commitments mean I can’t always make training at the moment, NHRR is a big part of my life and it has been great to have watched NHRR grow with and around me over the last 20 years. I have made friends (and met my husband!), spent time with lots of great people and enjoyed being part of the committee. So what next in my running story? At the moment, my aim is pretty low key, get rid of an injury and get down to the club on a regular basis.
Yifter the shifter they called him…….
This was the start…..
A 10-year-old watching the Moscow Olympics on the telly in 1980. This guy just took off on the last lap. Wow! – The drama of it all - the others seemingly going backwards, all anguished faces and flailing arms as this guy sped off into the distance.
And there I was – miserable summers spent indoors, suffering severe hay fever, all puffy eyes and wheezing lungs. Frequent hospital visits for treatment were the norm. No running outdoors for me.
School athletics often saw me side-lined with a sick note. Yifter the shifter had gone, replaced by Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett at Los Angeles 1984. The London Marathon featured on the telly. More drama, more excitement, but now, thanks to an inhaler and weekly hay fever injections, I was able to participate. Sports day yielded a 1500m time of 5:20.6, and my 800m time was 2:48. Trying to replicate Coe and Ovett’s performances on the track, the reality was a bit different – being able to breathe at the finish was enough! However, the whole concept of endurance running fascinated me.
The inevitable loss of interest in my early work years followed as I discovered wine, women and song – a familiar story to many; and a fairly sedentary life beckoned.
Then working in Germany in my late 20s to avoid spending every night in the bar, I was talked into going for an occasional run with a colleague.
Our route went up “the hill”. Short and sharp, my first attempt to run up it I was almost sick! Legs like jelly at the top, it became the focus of each subsequent run. Eventually able to run without stopping, it became enjoyable, and I started spending more evenings running rather than drinking.
This was the start (again)!
Fast forward through a few years of sporadic running, with no real idea of what I was doing and with plenty of injuries, and I found myself at my first Standalone. With a proper training plan from Runner’s World I became a runner!
A discussion with a club coach met at work convinced me to join a club (he actually tried to get me to join his club!). He said it would work wonders for my running.
The weekly paper showed results from local clubs – NHRR seemed to be the best performers, and finishing the Buntingford 10 just behind one of their top guys (age group triathlon world champion, no less!) convinced me this was the right club.
The first few club sessions were great – the atmosphere was so welcoming and inclusive, and a great bunch of people made fitting in very easy. A structured training programme set by the club coach meant things started to improve…….
I asked one of the faster club runners at a midweek league race how many times a week he trained.
“Two……”, he said hesitantly “……times a day”
“Really!!”, I said, in awe. This was extreme! And I was hooked!
Now - this really was the start!
Now in my 6th year at NHRR, running for me today is as habitual as cleaning my teeth, a consistent, daily thread running through the sometimes ruffled, twisted fabric of life. It sets the agenda for my day, every day. In the background, NHRR, and the greater running community, provides the structure and network of like-minded individuals, who, just like me, wouldn’t want to be without it.
I was one of the kids at school who would do anything to avoid PE. Being overweight, it was my idea of torture! It was a theme that carried on throughout my life until the age of 43. But then, having been inspired by a fellow slimmer, I signed up to North Herts Road Runners’ Couch to 5k course, primarily to help me continue losing weight. I must admit, as someone who was still five stone overweight, I expected people to laugh at me, but I honestly received nothing other than support and encouragement.
I completed the Couch to 5k course and was immensely proud when I ran my graduation 5k. The club were there to support us and gave us certificates and the biggest cheers. Approximately 30 of us graduated and we felt like we were part of something special. And then the club asked us if we would like to join. I couldn’t believe it. My first 5k took over 45 minutes – there are runners in the club who complete 5k in a third of that time! Why on earth would they want someone like me as a member?
It speaks volumes for NHRR that they were willing to commit not only to putting on the Couch to 5k course, but also to nurture a core group of novices going forward. Tens of club runners volunteered to operate a rota of running leaders to train us and we have grown in confidence, strength and ability as a result. We proudly wear our club vests and some of our group are now posting very respectable times themselves. I still regard myself as a plodder, but I’m close to a 30-minute 5k now and that will do me!
Being part of the club is about so much more than running. I’ve learned that volunteering as a marshal is just as important (and rewarding) as running sometimes and I’m always proud to go and cheer on our faster runners at important races. Since I’ve joined, even the fastest of our runners have found time to shout words of encouragement to me as they have whizzed past me on their second lap – they’ll never know how much that means to someone who only discovered a passion for running later in life. And our coaching is superb, the time and dedication that is put into the club is frankly incredible.
If you’re considering joining a club, please do. I’ve made friends for life, I’m inspired by the people I run with (behind mostly!), I’ve accessed expert coaching and I’m immensely proud to be part of this club. How I wish my PE teachers could see me now!