My decision to run came about in the summer of 2005. I’d always loved sport, both playing and watching, but running had never appealed. At university as President of the Rowing club, I’d dreaded the bridge run (between two bridges near the boathouse and about a mile and half long) in our training. I’d had a fair amount of speed over a short distance but my lungs would burn over a distance and my legs turn to jelly. Then in 2005, nearly 8 years after Uni I had moved back to York and an opportunity to run the Great North Run for the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign came about. I was passionate about the campaign and wanted to raise money for them and assumed as I was reasonably fit I’d be able to run the half marathon with little difficulty. I remember the first training run clearly. My wife and I set out down to the same river and bridge from my Uni days! Boy it was tough. I think we did about 2 miles that day, maybe a touch more. I’ve only convinced my wife to run with me a handful of times since (though she is fitter than me, running hasn’t gelled for her) and we both struggled that day.
Somehow I kept up a modicum of training as I was keen to complete the task and raise the money.
That GNR was great. To experience the atmosphere of a race like that, with thousands of runners, thousands of supporters and my wife and friends at the finish line was amazing.
However, it wasn’t the start of running more regularly for me. In fact, though I continued to keep fit through the gym and circuits I didn’t really run for a bit. My daughter was born in early 2006 and life changed. Freya was born profoundly deaf and this put a strain on all of us. However, Freya has never appeared to notice and is now an 11year old, flourishing in Year 6 and preparing for high school. She is hardworking, dedicated, intelligent, a great friend and daughter and utterly adorable (but I guess I’m bias).
Her deafness, though proving to be manageable (not least because of Freya’s ability to cope and the bilateral cochlear implants she had fitted at age 2 and 4) did change life. Somehow my wife and I have got through the strains we’ve had (Freya was followed by twin boys in 2009!) and the fact that she is with me after 12 years of marriage is no small testament to her. I have been difficult to live with at times and put my own strain on things.
The other area of life that changed due to Freya being deaf was the new community we became a part of. This included amazing charities that work with deaf children and their families. DELTA (Deaf Education through Listening and Talking), The Elizabeth Foundation and The Ear Trust have all been amazing through the years and offered me my way back into running. Between 2007 and 2015 I ran a number of 10k’s, the GNR a few more times and all to raise money and awareness for these deaf charities. In addition Freya was there to watch, cheer me on and celebrate at the finish at a number of these (though I am convinced the draw of Mo Farah was greater than my competing at the 2015 GNR!).
In May 2015 tragedy struck when my best friend’s daughter, Elin, died from a rare form of cancer called Ewings Sarcoma. Elin had fought this awful disease for over 4 years with a level of bravery which astounding everyone. She was born a few weeks before Freya and as families we have always been close (her father, Martin, was my best-man and vice versa). In fact Freya and Elin referred to each other as SOCs (Sort-of-Cousins). They had grown up together and the images of them performing their own musicals in our living room will live with me forever. At Easter, just a month before Elin died they were running round our garden playing in the mud! Life can be so cruel.
This brings me onto the next chapter in my running life – Ironman 70.3. After Elin’s death Martin wanted to do something to both honour her and to raise funds for a charity in America that had helped them and Elin with treatment in 2013/14. Team Inspiration work with children with cancer and their families and they had 2 places available in Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire. If I am honest (and I guess that is part of the cathartic joy of a blog) I didn’t really know what Ironman was! Sure I’d heard of it but wasn’t sure what it involved and certainly was unaware of the distances! Martin, however, had always been keen to compete in one. For those like me I shall explain. Ironman 70.3 is a half Ironman. This means one needs to complete a 1.2miles swim in open water, 56miles on a bike and then a 13.1mile run (hence the 70.3miles). Obviously the full Ironman is DOUBLE these distances! I half-heartedly agreed to compete with Martin but didn’t really think much more about it. I didn’t even own a bike!
We talked a lot about this over the latter months of 2015 (the race was in June 2016) but I guess I didn’t think much more about it. I ran the 2015 GNR steadily coming in just under 2hrs but hadn’t trained as much as I’d have liked to and hurt my back a few weeks before in what can only be described as drunken high jinx’s!
Then it all became a bit serious. I knew that once I asked people for sponsorship I would have to train seriously for the event. I bought a bike in late 2015 and started going out at the weekend for long rides. I started swimming twice a week and running a good couple of times and followed a training plan supplied by the charity and using TrainingPeaks. Swimming slowly came back to me, though front crawl has never been a strong suit of mine. Running I was loving again. As for the bike – it was a different story. I’d never particularly liked it, save for messing around on my Raleigh Grifter pretending to be ‘Streethawk’ with my mates in the 80s! However, the pull of the money we could raise and the personal element really inspired me to get on with it. I purchased a Canondale CAAD8 through the ‘Bike to Work’ scheme and went for my first long ride with Neil (who was also doing a half Ironman and is now training for the Full version). Those 40 miles seemed ok. Until I got home. It was whilst I was in the bath that I felt the need to text Martin
- You’ve cycled for a long time. Do you ever lose feeling anywhere after a long ride?
- Never mate. Why?
- ERMMM. A lack of feeling in a certain area.
- -Brilliant! Where?
- My fella has died!
At this stage I employed Google Doctor with the task! Apparently it can happen if your seat isn’t angled correctly for you! I was assured that the feeling should return within 2 weeks (TWO WEEKS!!!) and if not seek a real doctor! Thankfully it was exactly 14 days later that the sensation returned and the ability to staple it to a table with no pain ceased (not that I did, though Britain’s Got Talent may have been improved by this trick!)!
So my training began. I stuck to the plan as well as I could with work (I am a teacher, head of Politics and head of year) and three kids. My wife was amazing. Giving me the time to train in the evenings and weekends (long rides would be over 3 hours with a brick run afterwards). I met up with Martin to train occasionally. He lives near Brighton and I am in York so it wasn’t easy but we also keep in touch and could update each other on our ‘achievements’.