Over the Hills and Far Away
An emailed conversation with a good friend recently focused my thoughts on the origins of how I began this addiction called ‘running’ many years ago as a twelve-year old with an attitude and an inclination. My friend Margaret and I have shared a few miles on the county’s footpaths and country lanes, we also at one time were part of the Redhill Road Runners club but that’s probably a story for another day. Safe to say, we have both had our share of pleasure, friendship, heartache, frustration and achievement over the years taking part in the sport. did I say sport? Perhaps more a way of life because I find one begins to define oneself as a runner in many ways.
When I think back to when I began running it brings a smile. Not quite into my teens and obviously knowing everything* I was probably kitted out in a pair of Tesco jeans, ‘Tesco Bombers’ as us Levi’s-deprived lads termed them. Completing my running clobber would be an orange Mickey Mouse t-shirt and pair of very flat-soled trainers which had starred in many a school playground twenty-a-side, tennis ball, football match.
Where to run, that was the first thought? I’m not sure how I knew but I chose a circuit (badly) which though employing a piece of local countryside’s footpath, also entailed dicing with death in the shape of articulated lorries on a roller-coaster local road known as Lime Lane. Boy, was it a relief to finish that particular stretch and no doubt it sliced whole minutes off my time for this route so desperate was I to complete it.
After a few times completing this route which was probably around a stamina-sapping 2 or 3 miles (and imagining that I was top middle-distance runner of the time, Dave Bedford) I decided that more of the same was literally the next step.
At this time the great jogging boom was just around the corner. Shortly afterwards, Frank Shorter of the USA won the Olympic marathon in Munich in 1972 and created mass running interest in the States. The revolution was aided by the likes of writer US Jim Fixx and suddenly everyone was doing it, doing it, doing it.
Finland’s Lasse Viren breating the tape to win Gold yet again. Lasse was my first great running hero of the time. He won Gold in the 5000m and 10000m at both Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976.
I joined Notts Athletic Club and would tear around the suburban streets of Bilborough, Nottingham trying to keep up with senior runners twice my age. Once I was memorably and spectacularly ‘ill’ at the culmination of a training run outside Harvey Haddon Sports Stadium. Undeterred I continued to turn up every Thursday evening, usually in below freezing temperatures wearing a thin football shirt and shorts, with my elders and betters asking if I was ‘going to be alright dressed like that?’ I’d always have a lift to within half a mile of my home and I always remember it as the longest half-mile walk of my life as I wandered up the road with already-stiffening legs.
Before long this was not enough. I had a cunning plan to miss out the Techical Drawing class in school one afternoon a week and discovered an escape route out of Redhill Comprehensive School to aid this. This entailed attending registration then sprinting off through the woodland in the school grounds known as ‘The Jungle’, across a field and on to freedom! One out I would head to a path that led to the local country park and rid myself of the school uniform for the running kit I had diligently worn underneath my clothes when attending school. A local chap who would be out walking his dog would often greet me and let me leave my sports bag in his back garden hidden behind the kidney beans!
I was away!
I can’t ever actually remember feeling as free as when I used to set off up the road in ths sunshine and off to Papplewick village for my now increasing ten-mile runs. You know what? Somehow I wasn’t missing Technical Drawing in that old schoolrom with barely a window to look out of as I sped enthusiastically through the green trees to the local village. I’d never experienced a feeling like this before. I was feeling nature, hearing the birds and the rustle of the trees in the breeze, my breathing in time with my running shoes tip-tapping at a healthy clip over the trails. This felt like what I should be doing.
I’ll never forget those days, my early days running. That’s probably why all these years later I still run and just can’t stop, nor ever would do willingly. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a pair of knees that have lasted me decades unlike some less fortunate runners. The inclination is still there and it still feels good. It’s all down to those pleasant and heady afternoons back in nineteen seventy-one.