HOW IT STARTED
Sweat beads are rolling down my neck, my running vest is already damp, and I haven’t started running yet. A typical hot day in downtown Kowloon in Hong Kong. I am standing on the start line waiting for the start of the inter department 2-mile relay at Ordnance Depot, Hong Kong. There is a crowd gathering from the local factories to watch. We are a mixture of British soldiers, Hong Kong-Chinese soldiers, and Chinese civilians. I am not sure how I will do as I am relatively new to running as a sport and I think I have been chosen for my youth (early 20s) and I play football (badly).
I do surprisingly well and I am part of a winning team. My time is just over 12 minutes which is not bad given it is 32c and 95% humidity. I am thinking I could be quite good at this and I love going up to pick up my trophy – something my wife, Joyce, will tease me with for ever more.
Five Lessons I learned that day:
- A sense of accomplishment, completing something I was not sure I would be able to achieve.
- A sport I could do as part of a team and also as an individual. After the race and for the remainder of my two-year tour in Hong Kong, I would regularly go out for runs and take in some of the sights from a different angle.
- I didn’t need talent, just hard work, effort, and commitment to accomplish my goals.
- It doesn’t cost much! My kit for my first marathon included a pair of running shoes which cost £5 in China, a pair of Hawaiian beach shorts and an old orienteering vest.
- A sport that could easily fit in with my personal and work life, as long as I did a little planning first – I just needed to work out a routine and stick with it.
HOW IT WENT
New Year’s Day 1987 early in the morning, it feels a little surreal as I run ankle deep through spent fireworks from the night before as I head towards Spandau Forrest which will reach out to the Berlin Wall. It is the first day of our family posting with the Army. During our 2-year tour I will compete in Cross Country Championships, win 5000m track races, complete a marathon, a 25km finishing in the Olympic stadium, half marathons and come 3rd in a Berlin 10km. You could say I got the running bug after Hong Kong.
Seven Lessons I learned as a runner
- Running would open new possibilities to travel. Before arriving in Berlin, I had completed marathons in London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, and Manchester; countless 10Kms and half marathons in Belgium, Germany, and Holland. Later I completed a 2-day ‘Original Mountain Marathon’ (OMG) in the Brecon Beacons.
- You can train and run anywhere! During my posting with the Royal Marines we would often be aboard ship for long periods but that didn’t stop us from going for a run, we just utilised the car deck (although it was an incredibly boring route).
- You get to join a special community of like-minded people who are both supportive and fun to be around. When I played football, players shouted at me (I was that bad) whereas fellow runners and athletes shake your hand at the end of a race or laughed when I completed a 110m Hurdles for my club.
- You learn from different cultures and nationalities. During my time in Berlin, I joined a civilian club (LG Spandau) and before arriving in Berlin I was part of a Belgian Club which included runners from 16 nationalities.
- You have the opportunity to help others become better at their sport. I also coached, captained, and managed running and athletic teams. Sharing my knowledge and the lessons I have learned is something I enjoy doing.
- You could use your running fitness to try new activities and sports. During the 1980s and 90s I was involved in Hang Gliding (qualifying as a pilot), rock climbing, canoeing and tried – to varying degrees of success – biathlons (in Norway) and a triathlon.
- To maximise my performance I needed to consider what I consumed. So lots of fruit, fresh food and cancelling alcohol were the order of the day.
HOW IT IS GOING
As I type I am days away from reaching my 65th birthday. I am proud to say I am still a runner after 40 years. I fit in five sessions a week which includes a long run on a Sunday. Although I am a little kinder to myself in regard to intensity and mileage, I still have goals and ambitions such as coming first in my age group for Colchester’s Parkrun this year.
Soon I will be visiting one of my favourite places, Whitby, where I go for a run at 7am each morning. As I run along the beach front I will take the time to be grateful and show my gratitude.
My Top Tips for Getting Started and how to keep motivated when you really don’t feel like doing it.
- Build up slowly. For my first marathon I started with 5-minute runs, slowly increasing mileage by 10% each week. Every third week I would do 10% less, so my body recovered. I recommend this tactic to avoid injuries.
- To get the best out of your running (for me) it is about three things:
- Breathing – getting a rhythm that you are relaxed enough to be able to talk with your running partner when you are running – can’t talk? You are going too fast.
- What is going on in our head – don’t neglect your mental health – find ways to make your mind more healthy and stronger so you can execute under pressure.
- Miles in the bank. Early on a fellow soldier I admired for his running said I could be as good as him if I trained as hard – so I did. It is one of the few sports you get out what you put in. (I could have played football all day and still be rubbish at it).
- Lay your running kit out the night before – you are now committed.
- Remember the hardest bit about running is your first step out of the house. The rest is just tenacity.
- Seek out a running partner preferably someone who is a bit better than you.