It was now or never.
I’ve ran to varying degrees of success since I fluked my way into the national school cross country championships and almost died coming 107th out of 337. My abiding memory of that 2002 race was being freezing cold, feeling very slow and almost throwing up as I crossed the line, gasping for air.
It knocked my confidence a lot but wasn’t enough to put me off pounding the pavements fairly frequently to stay fit for football or as part of having a crack at a couple of Grand East Anglia Run (GEAR) attempts. One, in 2017, saw me set some 5k and 10k PBs in training that I’m still to improve on.
My running stepped up again during lockdown one and, as the reality of 11-a-side football retirement hit, I found myself reaching for my trainers more than my beer. At a time when nothing was in my or anyone’s control, running allowed me to have power – power over what was happening in my world.
I started to enjoy longer and slower runs and engaging with the great outdoors. That continued until the point the six-a-side football league I play in got stopped, again, because of coronavirus.
At 33, with another son on the way, I realised time was running out for me to put everything into running like I had football for more than 20 years. Thankfully, my wife – who has probably had enough of my sporting or work obsessions but probably enjoys being rid of me for an hour-and-a-half on a long run – gave me the green light and I haven’t looked back.
I’ve always run by myself but this time I thought it might be a wise idea to join a club or group to help push me along. So far it’s the wisest decision I’ve made. While I’ve missed weekend football less than I expected, I probably miss being part of something, a team, more. Joining Renegade Runners has already given some of that back, albeit virtually.
Formed in 2017 by well-known, very speedy and inspirational runner Matt Pyatt, the Renegades is a place for runners of all ages and abilities who want some guidance and togetherness without the perceived pressure of being part of an official club. So far it’s provided me with insight, support, laughs and inspiration – which, in truth, isn’t always forthcoming from every part of a football dressing room.
We all have our own goals, our own abilities and demands but everyone is there for each other, willing each other to achieve and not surrender to the pain.
Who knows what I’ll be able to achieve in 2021? But I feel it’ll be more than I would have had I not been guided by Pyatt and joined his Renegades.
Some running tips for beginners
Pace yourself. Start slowly rather than just bolting out the front door like Usain Bolt.
Run short distances, or for short periods of time, and even mix walking with running.
Lamp posts or telegraph poles are handy tools as you can use them for a walk-run strategy and apps like the Couch to 5k or 10k are very helpful.
It is also advisable to get the correct footwear as the wrong choice can lead to time on the sidelines.
For the first year or so running 5k and 10k is fine. Take your time before stepping up to bigger distances like half marathons.
Consistent training is a key for all levels of runners. Strength and conditioning work is a great way to keep strong and injury free and this can be done in a gym or at home.
And join an all-inclusive running group. Build confidence, make new friends and improve at the same time.
When Parkrun returns, it’s another great place to improve and then socialise over a coffee among fellow runners.
Renegade Runners founder Matt Pyatt
Safety plea for evening exercisers
It takes a lot of commitment to exercise throughout the winter.
It’s usually cold and pretty much always dark for those who can only exercise before or after work. So it’s more important than ever to wear gear that can protect you – as Helen Driver was quick to point out.
“Driving home along the A10 from my run with Charlotte the vehicle in front swerved,” wrote the Renegade Runners member on the group’s private Facebook page.
“I assumed it was something blowing in the wind but to my shock, horror and utter dismay there was a man running, dressed in black with no hi-vis or lights. He was lucky the van swerved.
“Please everyone make sure you are visible when you are running, walking, cycling or whatever. You may think you’re fine but remember if a vehicle hits and injures you, or worse, the driver has to live with the consequences.
“Thing bright, think light… just think!”
It’s an important message for new runners but also people who take unnecessary risks.
Other than those who run through well-lit town centres, most of us in West Norfolk villages have to pound the road on dark back roads. So it’s absolutely vital to be as visible as possible.
I don’t enjoy wearing my hi-vis – I recently bought a new one with lights included that’s lightweight too – or my head torch but it’s much better than getting hit by a vehicle.