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!