Firstly, a big thank you to Andy Pearce for the nomination! I am not sure I can live up to his Ironman pedigree but I will do my best.
I am writing this while recovering from the virtual London Marathon, so apologies in advance if it is a rambling mess. Like my legs, my brain is still a little tired. And please don’t go into this with any great expectations just because I am a writer by trade. In my professional life, I always have the benefit of an array of script editors and producers who are all too keen to point out the many ways in which my words could be improved!
Now I have lowered your expectations, I shall start by saying how much I have enjoyed being part of the Club since I joined in 2017. It has been amazing to make so many new friends, to take part in lots of races I would never have entered before, to feel my running improve, and to relive my youth by trudging around muddy fields while random strangers shout at me. I was truly honoured to be asked to be Men’s Captain last year, especially as I couldn’t beat our previous captain in a race if he had both legs tied together. P&D is now a huge part of my life and I am very grateful to you all.
When did running begin for you?
My earliest memories of running are from when I was a kid in the 1980s and my family was living just outside of London. My Mum had joined Runnymede Runners as a way of keeping fit and meeting new people. When I was 5 or 6, I used to join her on little jogs “around the block” before she’d go off and do a proper run. Our loop was probably less than half a mile, but I’ve no doubt that at the time I considered myself to be a very serious athlete, frowning in concentration as I ran alongside her. Mum went on to do the London Marathon in 1990 at the age of 40 and then again in 2000 when she was 50, so she definitely introduced me to running as a hobby and sowed the seed of my own running ambitions.
I remember going to cheer Mum on in one of her races. A 10k, maybe, though I can’t recall exactly where. We were waiting for her to finish when a clubmate of hers sprinted across the finish line, then immediately went to go and be sick behind a tree. I was baffled as to why anyone would want to do that: pushing themselves so hard that they’d make themselves ill. To be honest, I still am. But it also made me curious. What is it about running that can inspire that sort of determination? All those crazy, sweaty people must be onto something, right?
As I got older, the jogs around the block stopped. I never really got into athletics at school, partly because I couldn’t sprint to save my life (still can’t) and partly because I just wasn’t massively interested. Cross country felt like a sadistic act of punishment on behalf of our teachers. I preferred rugby or football, which I played with enthusiasm albeit with no discernible talent. My older brother was always “the sporty one”, whereas I was the smaller, bespectacled academic one. Then, at 17, I got roped into doing a ten-mile charity run with my school. I was dreading it so convinced myself to go on a few training jogs to make sure I could actually get to the end. A grumpy teenager, running by myself through the streets of our town, I realised that I secretly quite liked it. The rhythm. The time to think. There was a lot going on in my life at the time. My parents had just split up, so things at home were pretty chaotic. Running felt like a way to escape, calm my mind and put things in perspective. I kept running every now and again throughout the rest of school and university, always by myself, never with any particular goal in mind. I’d run when I felt like it and go where I wanted. It never occurred to me to enter a race or run with other people. It was just something I did.
It wasn’t until living in Cardiff in the mid-noughties that I got into the habit of going out on more regular runs, but even then it was only once or twice a week. In 2006, I heard about the Cardiff Half Marathon and the fact that (back in those days) you finished by doing a lap of the Millennium Stadium pitch, which as a rugby fan sounded pretty cool. That was my first proper race and I started running more often to prepare for it. When I got near to the end, just outside the stadium, I saw some of the runners peel off to do a second lap of the course. Back then you had the option to double-up to a full marathon. Watching them go, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could run as far as I’d just gone TWICE. It seemed totally impossible. Which, of course, made me want to do it.
Why do you run?
As I’ve already hinted at, I think I’ve always run to keep sane as much as to keep physically fit. Whether life is going well or badly, it helps to keep me grounded. One foot in front of the other. Keep moving forward. It wasn’t until I was injured a couple of years ago that I realised how much I’ve come to rely on the emotional and psychological benefits of running. I suffered a bit with depression in my twenties and running became my way of keeping that under control. Whether it has been a bad day at work or the state of the world is making me anxious, I always feel better after a few miles. I feel enormously privileged to live where I do, with Cosmeston on my doorstep, countryside and coastal paths, hilly routes and flat routes all within easy reach.
Of course, keeping fit is a welcome bonus. As a writer, spending hours sat in front of a computer screen, it is important for me to get up and out into the world. And I enjoy seeing what I am capable of, challenging myself to beat my times etc. Now I’ve hit 40, I’m very aware that I have to keep up the running or I won’t get away with all that cake and beer. But it wasn’t until I joined the Club that I made any concerted effort to actually get better. So why did I join the Club?
For years I was a solitary runner, treating it as a form of meditation. Then, at the end of 2016, I ran past a bunch of runners doing reps of Cliff Hill. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Enjoying themselves while running up and down a hill! What’s that about!? Suddenly, I felt like I was missing out. For the first time I got the pang to run as part of a club. Now P&D is a huge part of my life and a massive reason why I run so regularly and why I enjoy it so much. The social side of our training sessions, being part of a team on race day, the motivation, the friendly competition, getting bullied by Lisa into running around muddy fields… What’s not to like?
What race or moment in your running career holds the most significance and why?
Finally getting to do the London Marathon last year was a massive thing for me. I’d wanted to do it for years but never managed to get through the ballot. Every year I’d apply and every year I’d get that rejection magazine through the post. I got so frustrated waiting that I started looking for other marathons to do instead, even though it was London that I’d set my heart on. I was due to do Manchester in 2018 before I got injured. Then, eventually, I was lucky enough to get picked as the reserve for the 2019 London charity place through the club. When poor Debbie had to withdraw due to injury, I finally got my chance. It wasn’t a great race for me in terms of time – I’d had a few niggling injuries that affected my preparation – but it was amazing to experience the atmosphere and the support, as well as being able to represent the Club and Lymphoma Action. It is such an iconic race and finally crossing that finishing line is something I’ll never forget.
Other highlights include Ponty Reverse 10 2017, which was a proud moment as it was my first race in a P&D vest, and the three Welsh Castles Relays I’ve been involved in. I love the whole experience of the WCR, especially being able to run as part of a team and getting to support everyone on their legs. Of all the cancelled races this year, I think the WCR weekend is what I have missed the most.
Who is your running inspiration?
I’m not going to pick any famous athletes, although Eliud Kipchoge is obviously an amazing ambassador for the sport. Personally, my biggest running inspirations have been my Mum, for reasons I have already said, and my father-in-law, who used to run for Les Croupiers and who back in his day churned out times I can only dream of. Also, when we were clearing out my Grandfather’s house, I found a gold medal from a 120 yards hurdles race, which he won at an Amateur Athletics Association Championships in London during the war, so it is good to know I am keeping up some sort of a family tradition!
I would like to give a shout out as well to Lisa Cleary, for her amazing enthusiasm for running and the unwavering support she offers to everyone in the Club. And to Chris Nellins, who has been so generous with his time and energy over the years. Not long after I’d joined the Club, I remember Chris turning up to a Monday night training session the day after doing a marathon, looking like he’d spent the whole weekend relaxing with his feet up. Heroes.
What event, past or present, would you like to take part in and why?
This year was supposed to be my first attempt at the Snowdonia Marathon. Ten years ago, I would never have contemplated trying to run 26.2 miles over hills and mountains, but having heard the stories from other Club members I couldn’t resist throwing my name in the ballot. I’ve always loved a challenge and that definitely sounds like a challenge. Fingers crossed that it is able to go ahead in 2021 and I will get to tick another race off the bucket list. Also, Marathon du Médoc sounds like huge amounts of fun. Wine, food, crazy costumes? That’s my kind of running!
What golden piece of advice would you give to other runners?
I’m not sure I am qualified to give anyone advice about running. I have bad form, I don’t stretch enough, and I still go off too fast at the start of races. That said, I’ve certainly learned a few lessons along the way. Like don’t try to rush back from injury too soon (running Cardiff Half Marathon 2017 on a sprained ankle was a BAD idea and led to more time off running in the long-term). Have specific goals but don’t put too much pressure on any particular race. And, most importantly, remember to enjoy it. In fact, I often use that as a mantra when I am halfway through a run, feeling tired and sore, wondering how much energy I have left to push through to the end. I make myself smile and tell myself; “Remember that you enjoy this.”
That’s a hard question in these uncertain times! I am nearly at the end of my marathon-per-week challenge. At the start of the year, I promised myself that I would run at least 26.2 miles every week for the whole year and… so far so good. Only a couple of months to go. I’ve found that having 26.2 miles as a minimum weekly target has meant I’ve kept a stronger baseline of fitness throughout the year and remained (touch wood) injury free. So, come 1st January, I’ll need to come up with a new challenge to help me keep ticking along in a similar fashion. I am desperately hoping that Welsh Castles Relay 2021 will go ahead so I will get the chance to lead the team for the first time as Men’s Captain, which would make me enormously proud. Other than that, I am just looking forward to a time when we can all squeeze into an overcrowded, smelly starting pen again, experiencing those pre-race nerves and looking forward to a piece of cake and a couple of beers on the other side. When that will be, who knows?
Who would you like to nominate?
We’ve had a few close races over the years, so I’d like to nominate Colin Caesar!