*Pic: My first race. The 5 mile Beer race, Braishfeild.It’s tough to know where to start this article as it is 10 years of my life and a very big part too. I’ll briefly go over how I got into running…
I was 36 years old in 2011 and the previous year I was 18 and a half stone. I had quit a 13 year smoking habit but had replaced it with food and was quite depressed after the passing of my mum.
I planned to lose weight as a new years resolution. I took up my very first charity event. “Swimathon”. I had 3 months to swim as far as I could and raise money for Marie Curie Cancer care. I hadn’t long ago lost my uncle Geraint to Cancer too. I was a terrible swimmer but I could swim. I started going 3 times a week with my old man doggie paddle style. My friend “Steph” from work helped me out. I was eating healthy and the weight was coming off.
One day my work friend Steph saw me trying to run home from work in my jeans and carrying a big rucksack on my back. I would barely manage one lamp post to the next. I would be soon walking with some very heavy panting. She offered to help me. She said I could run a mile if we went really slowly. She said she new a nice route too. It was really hard obviously but one day I did that mile. A whole mile! I really couldn’t believe it. I was on a high.
I ran more, but not long after, my shins were hurting. It was the onset of shin splints. I didn’t know about running shoes and injuries. I went to “Up & running” for a gait analyses and got some new shoes. Asics of course because that’s what all the new runners seem to buy.
I was back running in no time and training for my swim. I was doing so well. I had lost 4 stone in about 4 months! People said it was way too much as I lived off cottage cheese sandwiches and a yoghurt and fruit all day. I was always hungry and I was often tired too but I was very focused at the time. I did my swim, swimming 93 lengths of the pool and raising over £500 for charity.
I was buzzing with a great sense of achievement after that race. What was next? I saw there was a 10k race only a couple of weeks away. The Lordshill 10k. I was tempted to enter it but wasn’t sure if I would get around. It was an extra 2k in distance. I sat at home on the Saturday night before the race and battled with my anxieties. On the Sunday morning I gingerly walked up to Oaklands school to enter on the day. Back in 2011 you could enter any race on the day and races did not sell out. Running was nowhere near as popular as it is now. I paid my £10 to a Lynda Cox and got my number. I was on my own here and knew no-one. I was petrified. I walked down to the start following other runners to Redbridge lane. It was the 26th of June and a very warm one. I think I left my handheld water bottle at home too.
I got around in a rapid time of 48 minutes and 24 seconds. I grabbed a free banana and my first Lordshill glass tumbler and sat on the grass. I watched as others came in and chatted to some other runners. The Lordshill road runners who organised the race were so friendly and supportive of everyone. I wasn’t expecting this as Lordshill was a bit of a rough area I thought when I was growing up. I was expecting bullies and arrogance for some reason? It seems so ridiculous now!
What next? On a Monday night I went to the common to join in on a Lordshill training session. Again, I was very nervous and stood to the side, not making eye contact or engaging with other runners. I felt like a fraud amongst these “proper runners”. I was “Looking out for Lynda” as the Hue and Cry song goes. I think it was them anyway? All I got was a Rob Kelly. He was the Koach at the time. He came over and introduced himself and made me feel very welcome and put me at ease. I got asked a few questions I didn’t understand about running but they helped me out anyway. I can’t even remember that first training session or what we did. I still remember Rob saying to me “One day you will be able to run to training and run home as well”. I really didn’t think it was possible at the time. The concept of this just seemed nuts!
The next thing you know, I have joined the club. £15 a year which I thought included UKA membership but speaking to Mike Letheren last week, UKA wasn’t a thing yet in 2011. I even went to my Natwest bank to get a cheque book to pay the £15. Most races back then had to be paid by cheque book or postal order There were no online entries then. We sure have come a long way in 10 years! Back then, when I joined, I think I was the 88th member? Not such a big club back then but very together and supportive.
Training was on Monday and we did a social run on the Thursday from Oaklands. I loved the Social runs more and they were still pretty well paced unlike the last couple of years I went along. You would have Jim Shepherd (then Chairman), Sioux, Helen, Derek Goodchild, Mike Letheren, Patrick and Angela, Mike Dukes, Di And Mike Mattingly, Roger Bradley, Luke Cole, Ian Rutherford, Dan Campion, Lawrence Chen, Ellie, Gary Painting, Kevin Yates, Darren Foy, Adam Wills, Rob Benham, Stuart Smith etc.. Luke would usually lead these runs and we would chat and be running 7.30’s. Sadly, the last time I went I couldn’t even get a group to run at 8 minute mile pace.
I discovered so many new places on my doorstep too. Testwood lakes, Eling tide mill, Toothill etc.. I always looked forward to Ian leading as the pace was faster and the routes more scenic. Then everyone went to the pub. They always said it was a “Drinking club with a running problem”. Brilliant. I was one of the youngest at 36. I also met Tamysn and Stuart along with Larry Chen back then. There was lots of other faces too but my memory ain’t so great.
The proper training sessions were done with Rob Kelly (Koach) and Jim Davies (Captain). They would push you hard but always encourage you personally. Something I think that got lost over the years by those who subsequently filled the roles . There would never be a coach like Rob or another captain like Jim. Jim would know your race times. He would message you before a race and going through your plan. He gave his ideas and made you believe in yourself. He would be at every race to cheer you in and push you. No other captain did all that in the club when I was there. So much commitment. Cheers Jim. Great carmaderie and fun too. Always short shorts and vest on race day.
There were some fantastic training nights at the club and lots of variety too. We did Sports centre hills. I’ll never forget Roger Bradley yelling at me to lift my head up when running up the hill by the pub. “Dean, how are you supposed to get oxygen in your lungs with your head down there?”. My first hill session was a mess as I didn’t quite get the concept. Stuart Smith had to explain it to me in the end as I was sprinting the downhills and jogging on the ascent..lol.
One of my most memorable sessions was running in a big circle with someone of similar pace. At the time it was the lovely Phil Dimech. We have to try and catch each other running in one direction and then that direction would change. So that the hunter became the hunted. No-one ever caught anyone because there was too much determination in both runners!
Angela Lee once asked me why I carried a handheld water bottle with me on an 8 mile social run. I never used that bottle again.
The 1k reps of Nursling industrial estate were legendary as well. A 1k loop around the estate dodging articulated lorries. I used to try and stay with Stuart Smith but I never could. I was close a few times though. Obviously, I barely even saw Campion or Mike Bisson.
Over that summer of 2011 I did a few more low key races. The Sway 5, the Everton 10k, Hursley 10k, Hengistbury 10k and Stockbridge 10k. My times were certainly improving!
Then I got told about the HRRL. The Hampshire road race league. A league for the club runners of Hampshire. You were running for yourself but also for your club for a place on the leaderboard. My first HRRL event would be the Victory 5. It was the 18th of September. It was starting on a running track. My first time running on a proper running track. I warmed up with the speedy Mike Letheren. Lawrence and I were still trying to catch up with this guy in training. He was over 20 years older than us, but he was so fast back then. It would take us about 3 years before we passed him in a race! I saw a few other Lordshillers including an unknown then. “Who’s that?” I nodded in the direction on this lean dude with cool looking shades and muscles. “That’s Mike Bisson. He’s our speedy guy”. He doesn’t really talk to the likes of us”. I couldn’t tell if Mr. Letheren was joking or not. Apparently he was… Mike Bisson is a lovely and supportive guy.
Anyways, I did the race in 33.44. Everyone was so nice and congratulatory towards me. I was on a high for ages. Being a part of this club now meant so much to me. It was so consuming but in the best way possible.
The Solent half marathon was my first half marathon on 9th October 2011. It was another HRRL race. I came in with a time of 96.13, beating Stuart Smith in a sprint finish. I was over the moon. I also made the A-team for the Hampshire league. Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t make the “D-team”. That’s how much things have changed!
The week after was my introduction to parkrun. There was this place called Lakeside in Eastleigh and they held this low-key parkrun thing. I remember Lynda Cox picking me up with a very fat Lawrence Chen at the time. She drove us there and it was cold. We parked and there were quite a few Lordshillers there. In fact, I think it was a take over day full of Lordshill marshals and various Hampshire running gingerbread men were made for the occasion. Today would be another battle with Stuart Smith, but not really as he was super fast and I was miles behind him. I certainly got lucky at the Solent half! I came in 11th place with a 19.54. It was so painful that I vowed never to do a parkrun again. Stuart smashed it with an 18.53 that day and came in third. This new dude from Yeovil called Ben Pitman came first that day with an 18.49.
There were 172 runners that day. It was a busy one back then.
After the pain and horror of parkrun. I had 15 days until my first 10 mile event. The Great South Run. By now I was entering races left, right and centre. I had the racing bug. I was running for the British Heart foundation as my Dad had recently had Heart surgery at the time. It was such a big event with the crowds, celebrities and being shown on T.V too! Such a fantastic day out. Every time I see South today though, I am reminded that weather girl Alexis Green beat me by 5 seconds. She also ran for Lordshill back then. 69.22 for me.
Then I did the Gosport half marathon and got a half marathon PB of 93.24. Almost 3 minutes off my Solent half time. This time I made the B-team. Another great day out with the club. A week later, I took Mike Mattingly’s place at the Downton half marathon and got another PB of 92.29. I remember telling everyone on one of our Thursday night social runs about my recent PB success at the time and Derek Goodchild said “Nevermind, that’ll soon pass”. We all laughed.
Then I tried to be sneaky. Searching for more races before the year was out. So, I ran my first half marathon in October and then I went a bit mad and entered a marathon in December! I had entered the Portsmouth coastal marathon but I didn’t tell anyone. I was keeping it a secret as I wasn’t sure if I could get around the whole thing. But nearer the time, someone found out. Next thing you know, I wasn’t alone. Gary, Ellie and Tim Withers had entered too. My name was seen on the entry list by someone. It was a great way to end my first year of running.
It was a very cold and icy December morning. It was ok though. A lot of us went wrong that year on the course and ended up climbing over a road barrier up a steep bank. It was only when I did the race again that I knew this. The distance was still accurate despite this.
I was struggling at 24 miles and walking. People were encouraging me and other runners told me to run a bit with them. It was so hard. I ran a bit and walked a bit. I was going through so many emotions. And with about a mile to go.. I saw Jim Davies with a tray of jelly babies. It made me cry, Jim made me cry..lol. I was super emotional. Anyway, I carried on and got it done in 3 hours and 39 minutes. I couldn’t use the steps to retrieve my bag from the Pyramid centre so had to use the wheelchair ramp minus a wheelchair.
It had been a great first year of running. What a year for me. Running had opened me up to so many new things, people and places. It would inspire me and make me more positive and help manage my depression and anxiety better too. 10 years on and it still gets better.