Hong Kong Run 1981
Hong Kong waiting to start circa 1981     

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:

  1. A sense of accomplishment, completing something I was not sure I would be able to achieve.
  2. 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. 
  3. I didn’t need talent, just hard work, effort, and commitment to accomplish my goals.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Related:   Get up and go! Take a leap forward – part 1 – Leadership in the Raw


Competing in Spandau Forrest   
  The Berlin Infantry Brigade X Country Champions (I am back row first left)

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Related:  30 leadership lessons from 30 years of running and athletics – Leadership in the Raw


Training during Covid19 – self isolation in the back garden

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.

Related:  Being Bettina’s Dad – Taking the time to be grateful and showing gratitude – Leadership in the Raw

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.

Related:  Project Management – Project Managing your Life – Leadership in the Raw