A runner by accident!

The latest in our “Profiles season”, everyone’s favourite…David Collins.

Most of us have been asked by fellow runners “How long have you been running for?”, shortly followed by “Why did you start?” So here, in probably more detail than anyone is interested in, is my inglorious running background.

As a sedentary forty something year old with an ever expanding waistline, I decided to take up cycling. Well actually, I bought a bottomish of the range mountain bike from Halfords and took to riding a few miles once or twice a week. I wasn’t the classic Middle Aged Man in Lycra, as my kit involved some long legged corduroy trousers and a pair of boots – ever the fashion icon. Interest quickly became obsession as I began to do the 16 mile round trip to work most days of the week, as well as taking in longer rides on a weekend. My weight started to come down, my fitness improved and I would have withdrawal symptoms if I couldn’t ride every day. After several spills on dodgy winter roads, I eventually came off on a patch of ice and broke my elbow. Believe it or not, I did try cycling one-handed the next week, much to the frustration of the physio.

So with that bad experience and another winter looming, I needed something to keep me fit when I couldn’t cycle. Cue someone at work suggesting that I run with them one lunchtime. I commandeered a pair of my son’s football trainers and tagged along fully expecting the worst. My previous dabblings with running had always ended in breathlessness, walking, and usually both. Much to my surprise, I coasted the 4 mile run, and actually enjoyed it. As with cycling, I soon became obsessed, but still refused to buy any proper gear, and rarely ran more than 5 or 6 miles at a time. This was back in late 2004 (just turned 43 for anyone who is trying to work that one out), and even once it became safe to cycle again, I kept the running up.

Then, never having done a race in my life, I entered the Liverpool half marathon in the Spring of 2006. I knew even less about training then than I do now, so I did several short runs in the week and then each Sunday ran 13 miles as fast as I could! I wasn’t really used to hurting when running, but that first race did, and I was ecstatic to get under 1.35. Rather than kick on from that race, I just went back to running for fitness. However, I obviously still had some unfulfilled ambitions, as I decided to enter the London marathon ballot. Unbelievably, I managed to get in on that first attempt.

I downloaded an “Intermediate” training plan from Runners World and followed it to the letter. As part of my build up, I had to do a half marathon, and this time selected Blackpool. As a vocal critic of those who run in baselayers and wear earphones, I have to confess that donning a Lance Armstrong cycling shirt, Ron Hill tracksters and having my iPod to listen to was an amalgam of all that I now look down on. Needless to say I overheated – lesson learned.

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Running dressed like that?!

And so to London. I loved every minute of it. High fiving, waving, running with Bertie Bassett, and recording a negative split, I got round in what I considered to be a respectable 3.42.

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A Stella before encountering Barry (Ed’s note – nice vest!)

Having a few well deserved Stellas in the hotel bar, I overheard a conversation involving Wigan, butted in and got talking to that marathon legend Barry Abram. Barry had just run yet another sub 3 hour marathon and I was in awe of how he made it sound so matter of fact, while congratulating me on my effort. I had toyed with the idea of club running, but like most other runners I didn’t feel that I would be good enough. Barry assured me that I would and encouraged me to come down to Wigan Phoenix.

From the first time that I went along to training, I enjoyed it. It’s no coincidence that many of the friends that I now have at the Harriers were the first people to talk to me and help me to settle in. Andy Eccles was particularly welcoming and encouraging, and in those early club running days I never realised what a phenomenal runner he was. We all trained hard, three sessions and a regular  70 miles plus a week – the more I tell the story, the greater the mileage becomes.

My first race as a club runner was the old Haigh Hall 4 miler and I couldn’t believe how hard I ran. I’d never pushed myself to that level before and managed to sustain it. A few months later, I ran my first 10k, at Rufford, and was just behind Tracey Dutton in 40.22. I was now getting ambitious and began to set myself targets; a sub 40 10k and a sub 90 half to start with. I achieved both of these within a few months and re-adjusted my aims. In those days, I never thought too much about training or racing, I just did what I was told and then raced as hard as I could!

Like most people who join a club, I saw consistent improvement over the next few years, and surpassed virtually all of the targets that I had set myself; the exception being that I never managed to break the 80 minute barrier for a half marathon. My most satisfying achievement has to be running under 3 hours for a marathon, which I did in London in 2010. It was shortly after this that the split started to develop at Phoenix, and under the guidance of Dave Waddington and Andy Eccles, I ran what I consider to be my best race; 1:20:12 at the Palma half marathon, which Mike Harris still insists must have been a short course!

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Towards the end of the Palma short half marathon

Trust me that age does catch up with you, and although I have not suffered as bad injuries as some of my contemporaries, I have slowed considerably. I now seek solace in calculating my age graded performance, and setting new age category pbs – V55 this year!

The setting up and development of the Harriers Endurance Group has been extremely rewarding for all of those who were involved from the start. I probably gain more satisfaction now from the performances of our members rather than my own. I particularly remember Pauline Foster breaking the hour mark for 10k after coming so close on several occasions. Team spirit has always been important to me, and the way people have embraced events such as cross country and the relays has been very satisfying.

I have no coaching qualifications whatsoever, but I have listened to a lot of experienced and talented runners, and taken on board a great deal of advice; I’ve also dismissed a lot of it! Unless you are a “natural”, then you will need to train hard and run lots of miles to get decent times. In my opinion, a large part of racing is done in the head. If you let the negative thoughts in (chimp!!!), they will take over and you will lose. If you are hurting, then there is a good chance that everyone around you is too, so try not to show it!

Good luck to all of our members. Set yourselves realistic goals, whether they be distances or times, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourselves – you may be surprised at how good you actually are. Since first reading it, I have always liked Charlie Spedding’s sentiment – accepting that only a few can become the best, you need to “become the best you can”.

Favourite race: Harrock Hill.

Toughest races: Rossendale cross country and Great Langdale marathon.

Worst race conditions: Manchester marathon 2012 – ask Graham Millington.

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Best performance: Palma half marathon 2010 – 1:20:12 – best age graded performance of all my races.

Worst performance: Never had a bad one!

Biggest problem: Memory loss.

Biggest dislike: Inaccurately measured long courses.

Most entertaining race: Snowdonia 2014, thanks to the non-stop chat from Chris Burgess.

Most respected runners: Andy Eccles, Barry Abram and of course Jayne Taylor.

Biggest fear: Being beaten by Jayne!

Favourite statistician: Mike Harris.

PBs: 5k 17:23, 10k 36:25, 5 mile 29:57, 10 mile 61:42, Half Marathon 1:20:12, Marathon 2:58:24

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