Cath on the podium at the European Masters Championships in Italy last year. Picture: PETER DUHIG.

Gavin Caney shines the spotlight on Spain-based Ryston Runner CATH DUHIG,
a world-class walking competitor

When did you first get into running?

In the early 1980s some chaps where I worked (Gaywood Park High School, as it was then) were training for a half marathon and I said I didn’t think it was such a big deal so they challenged me to do it too. 

The first time I tried to run a mile it nearly killed me. But, having had a long-standing eating disorder, and realising I could run and not have weight issues, I persevered and started to really enjoy it.

An injury, which resulted in an operation, ended your running career early. Can you even begin to describe how that felt?

The in-word now is “devastated”. I’d just found a way to control my anorexia/bulimia issues, and was doing well in competitions, when crunch. An old, untreated trauma injury from my teens came back to bite me. After an operation to try to fix it, I joked; “If I can’t run, I’ll just have to learn to walk faster.” Me and my big mouth…

Walking became a viable alternative. Was it hard to get to grips with a new style and rules of exercise and competition?

I didn’t really know much about race walking at the time. Pete, then my coach, now my husband of 20 years, took me to watch a walking race and asked me if I thought I could do that. I was lucky that I took to the basics fairly easily and then had the chance to train for a short while with Ray Hall, one of the best race walking coaches in the country at the time. 

The fact that race walking is judged can be frustrating. You feel your technique is fine but a judge sees something different, and getting ‘carded’ can put pressure on you in a race.

National and international championships followed, as well as international recognition. How is performing at an elite level?

Masters athletics is self-funded, so you don’t feel that ‘elite’ as you’ve had to sort out your own entries, travel, and accommodation. Great Britain Masters also have to buy their own kit. 

Despite all I’ve won now, I still don’t think of myself as one of the elite so it always takes me by surprise a bit to realise other competitors have me down as one to watch.

Sum up how you feel about Ryston Runners and why you’d encourage people to get involved with the club.

Ryston Runners has been a huge part of my life since the mid-1980s. If you like to compete, being part of a club gives you the opportunity to be part of a team that adds an edge to your personal performance. 

Being a member of an affiliated club means you are covered in training and competition by the governing body’s insurance and safeguarding measures and it allows you access to professional coaching as well as a range of competitions and benefits. Most of all, being part of a club, sharing that identity and having the support and friendship of fellow members is something you can’t put a price on. Although I now live abroad, I would never want to sever my links with Ryston and still do the club’s press reports and edit the three-times yearly club magazine.

You now live in Spain. What effect has the climate and way of life had on your performance levels and training?

It is infinitely easier to want to get out and train in a warm, dry climate. Facilities here are available and cheap, if not free, to use. I have two all-weather athletics tracks within seven miles of each other, easily accessible from my house, which are free to use. 

I travel about 25 minutes to the track where my club trains in Torrevieja. Races are far cheaper to enter, and seldom over subscribed, as entries only open a month or two before the events, except the big city races. 

My club membership and national affiliation fees include entry into any regional or national competitions and Spanish Masters (for whom I am now competing) provide competition kit for free. 

My performances have benefited hugely from having the time and will to train more consistently and without having to choose between races because of costs.

Cath in action at the Spanish 20K Championship earlier this year.

As someone who loves exercising, how hard has the coronavirus lockdown in Spain – where you can’t get out to exercise – been?

It has been awful. Where we live is very quiet so going out for a few short laps round the block would probably not cause a problem, and, indeed, one policeman gave us approval to do that. But a few days later one of his colleagues saw things differently. I was officially warned and booked and now I’m wary even of going to the recycling bins at the end of our road. 

We ordered a treadmill in anticipation of this ‘lockdown’ but it hasn’t arrived yet so I am trying to cope by doing various video-linked exercises, including Ryston’s twice-weekly Facebook Live sessions and a weekly Zoom yoga session with my old yoga teacher from King’s Lynn. I’ve also done some rather unsatisfactory laps of our balcony (6m x 1m) or roof terrace (5m x 2m), which are no good for my knees or dizziness.

When things are back to normal, what’s your next set of goals?

All my race plans for this year have been disrupted. The European Masters in Madeira are currently listed as postponed until late October, so, if they go ahead, that will be my target.

Fortunately the Spanish Masters 20k Championships took place pre-lockdown and I was delighted to record my best time and age grading for several years so 2020 has something I can look back on with a bit of a smile, even if I won’t get the chance to build on that performance just yet.

The facts are…

Name: Cath Duhig

Date of birth: 19/10/1954

Birth place: Grimston

Grew up in: Grimston

Secondary school: West Norfolk & King’s Lynn High School for Girls 

Club: Ryston Runners/CA Millennium Torrevieja

Achievements (selected): European W60 20K champion; won it aged 64 and 11 months and was the oldest in the age group (W60 is for ages 60-65)

Sporting hero: Jesús Angél García Bragado (Chuso) 

• Cath has spent most of her working life as a teacher (English and drama) at Gaywood/The Park High School in King’s Lynn.

• Her dad was the first Mayor of the Borough of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk.

• In 2003, the Ryston Runner qualified as a ‘Centurion’, for which you have to walk 100 miles in under 24 hours. She was selected to walk for England in the Roubaix 28-hour race.

• Cath, by her own admission, was pretty much hopeless at sport at school. She only got into athletics in her early 30s and now competes as a ‘W65’.

• While active with DADS (Downham Amateur Dramatic Society) one of her many roles saw Cath fulfil a long-held ambition to play the rear end of Daisy the pantomime cow.

Quickfire questions

Restaurant or takeaway?

Night in or night out?

Bath or shower?

Tea or coffee? 

Sweet or savoury? 

Summer or winter? 

Day or night? 

Cinema or theatre?

Favourite food: Vegetables

Least favourite: Anything pickled in vinegar 

Favourite TV programme: Quizzes like QI

Least favourite: Soaps, multi-season things or Reality TV

Favourite film:
Cool Runnings

Least favourite: Over-complicated sci-fi or anything violent

Answers in italics