Running has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are running round my parent's garden which I’d turned into an obstacle course. Perhaps that’s why I’d take up cross-country and the steeple chase in the future?
I can still remember my first competitive race in 1987 – the Devonshire County Cross Country Championships at Rolle College, Exmouth – when I was 13 and where everyone else seemed like giants. Surely they weren’t in my race? This would be the norm for several years to come, with the older boys seeming to tower over me and the other younger boys. I would also make a friend for life at this race. Matthew Cox, a fellow Exeter Harrier who trained in a different group, was determined to beat this unknown whipper snapper. He beat me on this occasion and we would go on to have many more competitive cross country battles, as well as on the road and track. Being beaten though, didn’t stop me years later asking Matthew to be one of my ushers at my wedding and a god-father to my first son.
It would be whilst I was at Exeter Harriers that I would end up training with the future Olympian Joe Pavey; the Exeter Harriers also being where she would meet her future husband. I would get to meet quite a few Olympians during my time with Exeter Harriers. Lynford Christie came and visited; however, he wouldn’t train or even jog around the cinder track with us in case he got injured. Many years later, Exeter Harriers would move home and we would finally get a tartan track, with Tessa Sanderson performing the opening ceremony. A few years later, I would get to meet one of my idols, Steve Cram, who would spend a day training with us. I can still remember getting up in the middle of the night to watch him competing in the Olympics.
Growing up, running helped me get my GCSE English, when I wrote an essay about a cross country race, which I remember getting an A for. Years later, I wrote a poem about running when I did a creative writing course at Stoke College and got a distinction for that. You can read the poem ‘They Run’ here.
Running would also come in handy when I got my first job as a paperboy, particularly when my bike had a puncture and also when I worked at a local hotel in the kitchen, I would regularly run to work. Moving away for University, then moving away for a new job and going away on a training course, running has helped me explore the area and find out where the local shops and amenities are.
It was my passion for running that influenced me in buying my first house on the doorstep of Apedale Community Country Park, where I would train every day. It would also be the place that I would ‘cut my knee’. Over the years I’ve had a few injuries, although I seem to suffer more now than when I was a youngster. I can still remember my first injury, when I was only 14. Having qualified for my first Inter-counties Cross Country at Meole Brace School in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, I would get elbowed on the nose in the first hundred meters of the race and run the rest of the race with blood pouring down me. Thankfully my nose wasn’t broken.
Many years later, my father-in law, would recount the story of my ‘cut knee’ to everyone on my wedding day. “I received a call from Steve, saying he was at the hospital having cut his knee and could we come down? This was an understatement.” I had actually cut the skin across my kneecap down to the bone, resulting in two operations and a week in hospital and a further five weeks off work. Thankfully I hadn’t damaged any tendons or broken anything. Not surprisingly, running would also form a part of my best man’s speech and my own speech that day. The guests learning, as my girlfriend and now wife had learnt, that a dirty weekend, was in fact a cold wet December weekend, watching me running round a muddy cross country course.
Running has taken me all around the country from Cornwall in the far south of England all the way north to Edinburgh and even to Northern Ireland for the University BUSA Track & Field Championships. I’ve even travelled abroad to race. Whilst working for Bombardier Transportation, in 2007, I would be part of an international team representing the company at the Berlin road relays, running around the Tiergarten, where our team would come 2nd. The following year in 2008, we would return and win the race and with our B-team coming 2nd. Working in the rail industry, meant I was eligible to run for UK Railsport, being selected to represent the UK at the 15th European Railway Cross-Country Championships at Ceska Trebova in the Czech Republic in 2008. Then in 2010, I would get selected to run at the European Railway Marathon Championships in Switzerland.
Lying in a Swiss hospital on a drip having suffered a severe bout of travel sickness after a very turbulent flight, I wondered what I was doing, especially as I’d said "never again" after the London marathon in 2009. Thankfully by the Sunday morning after a full day’s recovery, I was ready to run. I would finish 6th, smashing my personal best by nearly ten minutes in a time of 2 hours 39 minutes and 5 seconds; yet even then, I would be a little disappointed. I had been in 5th and having the race of my life. In the distance, ahead of me, the group were battling it out for third. I would push on in an attempt to catch the group, but instead would hit the wall in the last few miles and get overtaken. Running can be full of self-doubt. If only I had waited for a few more miles and until after the hill. How much quicker could I have run and could I have caught that group in front?
Running is also emotive. There’s the joy of having had a good training session or a good race and then the exhilaration of winning a race. Running is frustrating too, like when someone you know or even a team mate passes you in the last stages of a race. Despite having run your hardest, you feel like you should have run harder to stay with them. Then theirs joy, pain, frustration, all at once, which I experienced running the London Marathon. There is the excitement and exhilaration of the crowds cheering you on around the course followed by hitting the wall and the pain with your muscle’s screaming at you. Running up The Mall and crossing the finishing line, there’s happiness and tears of joy and relief at finishing, but at the same time, frustration at only running 2 hours 48 minutes and 19 seconds. I had run sub three hours in my first marathon in a time that lots of club runners would be happy to run, yet I was disappointed as I had been in fantastic shape and looking to run close to run 2 hours and 36 minutes. My wife; however, was simply glad that I’d finished. In fact, she doesn’t care where I finish, as long as I come back in one piece!
Thanks to running, I’m a Guinness World Record Holder. I first ran for charity when I was only thirteen years old, when I ran the Devon Air fun run, running 9 miles around Exeter and winning the 1st Junior prize for the most money raised. In 2009, I would take my first steps to running in fancy dress. After the birth of my first son, I ran the Staffordshire Moorlands Christmas Cracker, dressed up as Santa complete with a white beard and Santa sack to raise money for the North Staffs Neonatal Intensive Unit, where my son had spent the first few weeks of his life.
Then in 2014 I would take on my biggest run yet, running the BUPA Great Birmingham Run dressed in a nurse’s uniform in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the ‘Fastest Half Marathon in a Nurse’s Uniform (male)’. The birth of my second son in 2013 with a complex heart condition providing the motivation for the run as part of a twelve month fund raising challenge for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House Charity and the British Heart Foundation. I would smash the existing record of 1 hour 25 minutes and 56 seconds by over 5 minutes, finishing in 1 hour 20 minutes and 39 seconds and raise over £2800 for the British Heart Foundation in the process. Running would also help me during the many weeks my son would spend at Birmingham Children’s Hospital recovering from open heart surgery, providing a break from the intensity of the Intensive Care Unit and help me explore the local area. You can read more about my Guinness World Record charity run ‘The Running Nurse! But Looks Can Be Deceiving’ here.
I might be getting older and not be as fast or competitive as I was as a youngster and struggle with injuries, but I’ll keep on running and you might even see a nurse running around Stoke again!