NEW – Running for Fun
By author, sports writer, and former investigative journalist Don Hale - An amusing look back at his early running and football career – with fitness tips and advice. This short book was originally published in 1986.
*The early days from a jogger to a marathon runner (drawing by the late Norman Taylor)
NEW RUNNING FOR FUN by Don Hale
Without doubt it is one of the most amusing and yet fully informative books ever written about running. It explains the enthusiasm of the FUN & SERIOUS RUNNER ...
PUBLIC REACTION TO THIS MASTERPIECE: -
* I found that I couldn't put the book down - Foreman at the glue factory.
* My own performers were anxious to get their teeth into it - Lion Tamer.
* A very useful item, the section on leg injuries was most interesting and it has now stopped my
sideboard from wobbling - DIY Enthusiast.
* My wife and I both rushed for a copy at the same time – there was nothing else to swat the fly with!
*The Mersey Tunnel 10k in 2018 with a new PB of 47 mins 52 secs at the age of 65 and Welsh international recognition.
NEW - RUNNING FOR FUN – By Don Hale
All rights are reserved, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. This publication shall not be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the copyright owner's consent.
This publication shall not be reproduced in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent
purchaser. First published in print in March 1986 and updated February 2021. Published as an online digital version in March 2012 and again updated February 2021. Copyright@ Don Hale, February 2021.
Chapter 1. The First Leg.
Chapter 2. All change for soccer.
Chapter 3. Back to square one.
Chapter 4. Hooked, line and sinker.
Chapter 5. In tune with running.
Chapter 6. From the gasworks to the cowshed.
Don Hale OBE is an author, sports writer, and former investigative journalist. This book is a combination of fun, fitness ideas, and sporting recollections. First written in 1986, it includes recollections from Don’s early sporting career as an athlete and as a former professional footballer, combined with his experiences of trying to keep fit, and running, amidst a very busy and controversial career in journalism.
This short book recalls his early struggles to prepare and run a series of fun-runs, competitive races, and eventually marathons. The journey takes Don from a novice to an experienced runner, enjoying both training and life enhancing fitness regimes.
The book has been revamped by popular demand and this latest version takes him to semi-retirement and acknowledges that at the age of 65, he was selected to represent Welsh Masters Athletics as part of the Celtic Nations team versus England. He remains a keen runner and loves to take part in regular Parkruns.
*First M65 runner in the Deganwy 5-mile dash
Foreword by the late Norman Taylor (ex-Buxton AC)
IT gives me great pleasure to put a few words together in the hope that many readers will eventually share some of the joys of running. I believe there's room for us all. The fun-runner and the dedicated athlete, we can run for whatever reason we like, either on our own or with thousands in a marathon, but
enjoyment is essential, try to savour every precious moment. There is no need to set yourself targets, as you will later appreciate your own potential.
At first train a little but often and gradually your fitness will improve. If you compete in road races you will forget your own finishing times but still remember some of the people you met and the places you
visited. You will remember the glorious sunshine, and the pouring rain or the snow and ice, and the runners’ vocabulary. You will be judged to be either great or barmy, and probably both.
The running bug bit me at the age of 42 and changed my lifestyle. And from the formation of Buxton AC many years ago in a car park, the club and the sport has progressed rapidly. Familiar ground perhaps too many but Don and I believe in the fun and adventure of our sport - and we all believe there's plenty of room for us all...
About the late Norman Taylor
Norman was a real character and a great source of encouragement to novice and experienced athlete alike. A former British Rail engine driver, and part time cartoonist, he was a veteran runner before he started in the sport and helped to form Buxton Athletic Club. As the former race director of the
popular Otter High Peak half-marathon, he also coached many top Derbyshire female runners.
DON first became interested in athletics at school in the late 50's and early 60's, winning many honours as a county standard sprinter. Later he played professional soccer for several league and non-league clubs, before he was 'written-off' in his early twenties with a recurring back injury. In his alternative career as a journalist he achieved popular acclaim with unusual sports features and regular broadcasts with BBC local radio.
The story of his own personal fitness fight in the newspaper, combined with a unique 'Joggers Corner' section created considerable interest amongst a new generation of FUN-RUNNERS. As the author of this book, he describes some of the many amusing experiences throughout his early career as a 'Jogger,’ to later become a serious veteran athlete.
CHAPTER ONE – The First Leg
DRESSED in an old pair of soccer shorts, moth-eaten string vest and well-worn black pumps, it was not too surprising that my first regular jogging sessions through the streets of north Manchester, dodging around shoppers, often caused much amusement. Workmen would stop and shout, "Show us your legs" or "Get your knees up". My familiar plod, plod, plod echoed through the subway tunnel, in and out of the precinct, across the old iron railway bridge, and up Parr Lane to the pole at Unsworth... and at last the sanctuary of the rough un-adopted road by the four-mile point. As I gasped for breath, a few horses grazing in the nearby fields would momentarily lift their heads as I passed by along this final mile of my familiar route back to school. A jogger or runner in those bygone days was often considered
something of an 'eccentric' or a 'freak'. There were no publicised marathons in the popular press, no fun runs, and in the sporting world, the only respected runner competed on four legs at Haydock Park or
From an early age, I thoroughly enjoyed my running, any distance, long or short. I preferred the 100 yards, but at that time it was simply an alternative sport. Cross Country was considered only as a punishment and frequently used by vindictive schoolmasters. I loved the open life and changed schools to Albert Road in Whitefield, where a new secondary modern had just been built.
It had an open outlook on two sides - until the developers eventually arrived to construct a concrete jungle and the M-62 motorway. The route home stretched across soft and muddy fields to Thatch Leach Lane and past the swamp. Varied routes around the area proved an instant attraction, and for about half an hour every other day, I could put on my new PE kit, escape from the joys of maths and physics and
retreat into my own private world, by going out for a RUN.
The 1960's were exciting times, the Beatles were churning out hit records, Georgie Best was upsetting Manchester United, and sport in general was becoming very popular and very important to me.
In the corridors of power (school), I had to really persuade my PE teacher and form master that I WANTED to run in my lunch-break.
They said it was 'unthinkable', even 'ridiculous', and thought my actions might encourage the whole of the second year to join in and ruin their staff rota's. Eventually permission was granted but life was dogged by explanations to teachers who constantly wanted to steer me in other sporting directions.
I was brought up in the neighbouring town of Prestwich - about four miles from Manchester towards Bury, and at junior school loved competing at the annual sports gala. Regular events included the sack race, egg and spoon, and the beanbag shuttles, together with short sprints.
The sprints were always favourite, and each year, first and second places would be contested by class mate Stuart Jump and myself. Stuart would usually win - but often by a disputed whisker, however in
later years his pace was fully recognised and he went on to play professional soccer for Stoke City and Crystal Palace before moving to America.
Junior sports were very much FUN events, with house points, ribbons and certificates awarded for victory. At the award ceremonies each year, our Headmaster would say, "It's not the winning that counts, it's the taking part".
Running was totally ignored for some time at secondary school until a teacher would be forced to enter a team in the Prestwich, Radcliffe and Whitefield Schools’ (PRW) cross-country championships. The finals were usually held just out of the area at Bogart Hole Clough near Blackley, and the thought of that place still sends shivers down my spine... It always seemed bitterly cold, and the tough two-mile plus course meandered through frozen streams, around several football pitches and back through the trees, and if that wasn't bad enough, we had to suffer ice-cold showers at the local school.
On the return journey home on the bus, many of our team dodged the showers and we sat with mud glued to our legs, it wasn't always very comfortable but we usually secured the whole of the top deck for
ourselves. I persevered with many other sports and later showed a keen interest with soccer, yet I continued with regular trots about town. Athletics was seldom mentioned apart from one of the most important annual summer events - the town trials.
Suddenly, one day during art lessons, a student teacher appeared and asked for volunteers for some races. My hand was in the air almost before he had finished speaking, "Yes, OK Hale you and four
others come with me now!"
Within minutes we were outside on the grass verge by the playground preparing for a 120-yard dash towards our rather dotty religious teacher Miss Jones, who was frantically waving a coloured handkerchief somewhere in the distance.
"Right lads, ready, set .........
"Just a minute, please Sir", I hastily interrupted.
"Yes, what is it?" he enquired.
"May I take my 'blazer off first please?"
"Alright, but do hurry up!" he demanded impatiently.
A slight adjustment and we were ready; within seconds the count-down re-started, and as he was about to wave us away, the class clown Andy, muttered "Don't SAY-GO, say rice pudding," and as we started to chuckle the teacher stooped down and bellowed GO, right into my left ear. I ran for all I was worth and could gradually feel myself pulling away, but dressed in short grey trousers, shirt and shoes found it very difficult to obtain a firm footing on the dry grass.
As I hurtled towards the finish, I felt slightly off balance and remember the next few seconds as if watching a slow-motion action-replay. Within the last five yards of the race Miss Jones suddenly stepped forward to congratulate me and caused one almighty crash. My dipped head thumped into her breast - momentarily lifting her completely off the ground. Slowly we rolled down the slope and onto the hard path, much to the astonishment of two visiting school inspectors and the entire first year who were about to depart for lunch.
Several hours later as I wrote for the 500th time, "I must learn to run more carefully," I considered how selfish adults were, then smiled and remembered that at least I had won and should be through to the finals. A few days later after all the fuss had died down, we were all grouped together again for a re-run; this time in full kit on the sports field. The first race was easy with the same verdict but then the Deputy Head arrived with several older boys, and I was asked to compete in three more races.
Each time I won easily, and each time the teacher remarked 'Amazing', as he checked the time on his stopwatch. Eventually the penny dropped and the school let me run whenever I wanted and I was entered for the Inter-schools 100, 200 and 440-yards races. The 100 yards was short and sweet, but everything depended upon a good start and it wasn't until many years later that I realised the importance of spikes and official starting blocks. Hard work and determination brought their rewards and I continued to represent the school in several County Championships, although my proudest moment came in 1967
when our 4th year relay team won the prestigious Panter Cup.
Many runners at school were very under-rated and my relay colleagues Andy Preston, Martin Lane and Allan Kincaid were often treated with contempt by rivals. Indeed, our school held a poor reputation in senior relays - but we were all very determined to put matters right.
I was particularly encouraged by our senior maths teacher Miss Ineson, a popular Lancashire athletics official, and under the expert tuition of our PE master Mr Bennett, we practised continual baton changing, MORNING, NOON and NIGHT. At last the day of the race arrived, the senior boys 4 X 440-yards relay finals.
Events seemed to happen very quickly and we hardly had sufficient time to warm up before the gun sounded and we were off... we were slightly down after the first lap, struggling against the favourites
Radcliffe, and the tough home team and holders Hey's Road (Prestwich), but well ahead of the two competing grammar and private school.
We crept ahead by the third lap and I just managed to hold out to the line for a dramatic victory before the packed gallery. It was the equivalent of Rochdale knocking Spurs out of the FA Cup but the trophy
and medals were ours... unfortunately though, not for very long, as only weeks later thieves broke into the school, smashed open the display cabinet and stole our beloved Panter Cup and as far as I know, it has never been seen since. Happy memories.
*PE teacher Mr Bennet with me and team mate Alan Kincaid and the famous Panter Cup
FAME AT LAST…OVERLOOKED! Newspaper review.
The Prestwich & Whitefield Guide 1967.
A YOUNG man who deserves credit for his athletic achievements is 15-year old Donald Hale, of Lime Grove, Prestwich - but no matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries it seems he is always over-
looked! As an athlete, he gave his school – Whitefield County Secondary -valuable points in the recent Town Sports when he won the fifth and sixth year 100 yards and 440 yards’ events. And having won the 100 yards for the second successive year, his time of 10.6 seconds beat the Lancashire standard, time, and his time for the 440-yards was also a record.
Following up that success, at his school’s sports he won the 100 and 220 yards, won the long jump, ran in the winning relay team and became the joint holder of the School’s Senior Trophy; which really is quite an achievement. When Donald leaves school there will be every opportunity for him to take up physical
education, but his one ambition really to become a professional footballer. He already plays for
Bury Amateur Juniors, and for the past two years he has played in and organised matches for a team of enthusiastic local boys at Half Acre, Prestwich.
To help reach his goal Donald was contacted by Blackpool Football Club, who asked him to attend a trial, and then club replied to let him know that when he least expected it they would also send a scout to watch him play - but said that in any event they could not approach him until he was sixteen.
From what Donald says the Blackpool scout has already seen him play. His sixteenth birthday
is on July 31st, and if he has the ability to play professions football, then it’s hardly likely that
Blackpool will overlook him.
*September 1967 and winning the 220-yards final at the town sports
CHAPTER TWO – All Change for Soccer
IN latter years at school I joined Bury Athletic club at the old Market Street track and occasionally noticed a former top international sprinter Barrie Kelly who readily offered advice to youngsters. Eventually after
several months of regular coaching I found that my stamina and performances over a short distance had improved dramatically.
I was also playing football for the school and town team, and after onematch in the English Schools’ contest, was approached by Bury Football club's chief scout Colin McDonald, a former international
goalkeeper, and asked to consider schoolboy forms with the club. "Wembley here we come", I thought, for England had just won the World Cup, and I had already set my sights on leading out the lads for
the next tournament. It had always been my ambition to earn a living from sport and after discarding my chances of success in the famous 'Powderhall Sprints', decided to try and build a career in football.
My soccer ambitions affected my running and other studies, and for several years, I had to train twice a week on the floodlit car park at Gigg Lane with many other promising young players. For some time, I concentrated all my energies on the game but found the training very hard and together with school matches found myself playing three and sometimes four times most weekends - and often against boys several years older than myself.
During the summer holidays I was invited to train for six weeks each year with the apprentices and some senior players including the legendary Bobby Collins, former Bolton and Blackpool star Ray Parry, and
local personality Paul Hince (later as a journalist with the Manchester Evening News). As an eager young schoolboy I took great pleasure from beating most of them in a series of end-to-end sprints across the Gigg Lane pitch.
In those days, summer was summer, and often the last two runners of any event suffered under the turf sprinkler for an early bath. Generally, though, many players were not very keen on ordinary running and
preferred to train in the small gym, run shuttles or practice their ball work. The pre-season stamina work was hard and I can remember one particularly hot July morning just after all the squad had returned to full training. The manager drove out of the gates bound for the golf course at Hollins, about three miles down the road, and left strict instructions with the physio that we were to follow immediately, on foot, jogging.
Despite their excellent match fitness many players suffered in the heat over the short distance and by the time they arrived, looked as though they had completed a marathon. I had led part of the way but taking the advice of our skipper, decided it would be more diplomatic to slow my pace right down and drop back amongst the main pack. On reaching the green we were put though at least an hour of sheer torture, running up many of the hills in the area: forwards, backwards, and even sideways.
We sprinted, we jogged and we hopped until suddenly our coach had a brainwave... he had recently returned from Scandinavia and was anxious to try out a new idea. It involved running with your eyes
shut and holding your breath over a fixed distance of about 150 yards. He also introduced terns such as ‘interval training,’ and ‘fartlek’s.’
In theory, running blind, it supposed to be exciting, invigorating and most beneficial. As you can imagine it proved a real showstopper and the following weekend I came very close to making my debut against Northampton Town due to an unprecedented spate of sudden head injuries. Bury like many other soccer clubs, managers came and went in the continual revolving door, but Les Shannon seemed very keen fitness and somehow, I knew we would return to the sand hills.
He was busy building an exciting team of young apprentice professionals’ including Terry McDermott (later of Newcastle and Liverpool) and David Holt, later of Burnley), but the boss reckoned we all needed stamina building and brought in Joe Lancaster a top athletics coach.
Joe certainly added variety, revising many of his ideas from a spare ‘How to torture the inmates’ type book. Sessions were rough and tough, and often included visiting Leverhulme Park at Bolton, the home of Bolton United Harriers and base for the number one Olympic marathon man Ron Hill. We learned the importance of careful pre-exercise warming-up and stretching and heard about many new running terms. Over a period of we developed a regular and sustained pattern of training working on the track.
We ran for a full lap, jogged for half, and had timed recovery periods and although there were no half measures with Joe, all the players found his methods most rewarding.
At the rear of the track lay a notorious, slippery and sloping cross-country track and after about forty minutes in the main arena, Joe would suddenly switch across for three varied laps of the course. The first was nice and easy, the second we sprinted at the hills and relaxed but on the third lap we were organised into a great long line rather circus animals with the last man sprinting to the front. Each player completed at least two runs but it was surprising just how many times my turn always seemed to start at the base of a hill. Joe remained involved with athletics for years and wrote for many national newspapers, but he really sparked-off my interest in the sport.
*As a 16-year-old apprentice professional footballer with Bury FC, Don was delighted to have been part of the club, youth team and first team squad for several years, including relegation from the old Division Two and immediate promotion back to Division One, concluding in the successful season of 1968/69.
The squad is pictured at the start of the season at Gigg Lane with a full crew of juniors, apprentices and first team players. (Back row l-r) Dave Lyons, George Jones, Hugh Tinney, Neil Ramsbottom, Keith Eccleshare, and Alec Rae; (Middle row l-r) Brian Turner, Greg Farrell, Paul Hince, Alf Arrowsmith, Roy Hughes, Roy Parnell, Brian Grundy, Ben Anderson, Jimmy Kerr, Ray Parry; (Front row l-r), some of the young apprentices that I can recall, including Terry McDermott, David Holt, Don Hale, Law, Ball, and 3rd from right Charlie Gisbourne.
The Sack Race
Some months later however, my name was unfortunately entered for another popular event, the SACK RACE, following yet another managerial merry-go-round, which saw (jolly) Jack Marshall arrive from Blackburn Rovers with former Manchester City star Jimmy Meadows, fresh from GO, GO, Stockport County. I didn’t find Jack very (jolly) however, and I thought he was a very hard character and not very interested in youth development.
Within weeks of their arrival I received the dreaded FT (free transfer) and suddenly hit the road for pastures new. After a few years of visiting soccer outposts across the country; a very painful back injury, originally sustained at Bury, suddenly made me re-consider my future in the game and I gradually drifted into non-league soccer with several clubs, before later enjoying some happy times with Lytham St Anne’s, and visiting many friendly outposts in the old Lancashire Combination/Cheshire League.
CHAPTER THREE – Back to Square One
WHEN sportsmen and particularly soccer players retire, it's surprising just how many temporarily lose interest in sport. I was no exception and whilst trying to progress at my chosen alternative career as a journalist, opted out of active games for quite a while. It wasn't until suddenly one day, something snapped (in my case a belt buckle due to an expanding waistline) that I decided after four years of
semi-retirement and restricted exercise, to make a positive commitment and get back into shape. But How?
Later that day whilst driving along the road into town, I passed a couple of joggers and convinced myself, this was the ideal solution and immediately set about a return to my former hobby. It had been a long time since I had trained regularly and wondered if such a gap could be bridged that easily.
My time for active sport was limited but nevertheless I was determined to try. I had no realistic target in mind other than obtaining a reasonable standard of fitness but my campaign coincided with the very first
London Marathon and I followed the event with keen interest. My initial round-the-block efforts were rather pathetic and I ran after dark (so that neighbours wouldn't see). I dashed out of the gate and
down the road past the golf course, but within about three hundred yards had to make a grab for the railings by the bus stop for support - whilst also gasping for breath.
It was a mild summers evening and I certainly looked the part but felt a complete fool, and my mind was working overtime trying to figure out the best way home. Was this really a good idea? I had little choice but to continue and staggered on with a mixture of jog/walking and it took practically every ounce of strength to complete the one-and-a-half-mile route back.
I was soaked in sweat from the sheer effort and worry and my wife Kath must have thought I'd jogged around the marathon course. It was difficult to climb the stairs, and for the next few
days my legs, back and shoulders were terribly stiff and sore.
It took over a month of limited runs around the block using my jog/walking system before I could finally complete a full three-mile circuit. For variety, sometimes I reversed the route or gradually added on a couple of extra streets to extend the course; sometimes as a special treat I drove to nearby Heaton Park to run on softer ground or through wooded areas to enjoy some picturesque and pleasant scenery.
In September 1982, I went to watch several of my neighbours run in the Pony Marathon at Bolton and from a safe position near the twenty-two mile mark, saw them struggle past. I thought if they can do it, then so can I. The running bug was beginning to bite. I set about a more serious training plan with a view to possibly completing the run the following year.
My training continued through the long hard winter and I soon came to understand the meaning of the
'loneliness of the long-distance runner'... trekking along cold deserted pavements and through the park in all weathers, and at all times of theday and night. I had always enjoyed jogging and often visited Bury Athletic club, even during my soccer career for occasional midweek pack runs. Now was the time to re-join.
One or two recurring injuries had hampered progress due to my concentration on high mileage rather than quality mileage, but after discussion with several club runners, I re-programmed my schedule to include more speed work on the track and some sustained long pack runs.
Within a short space of time my basic fitness returned, I also shed a couple of stones and found running eased my back complaint. The club nights were preferable to long lonely stints but due to the nature
of my work, I could only train regularly for Thursday night sessions. The pack runs varied in pace and distance and for me each outing was something of a mystery tour.
I have since attended club nights across the country and found the atmosphere and camaraderie very similar everywhere. Newcomers tended to be paired-off with someone of equal pace, but in my case, try finding a snail by 7pm Thursday! Until this time, I had never actually entered a road race or fun run, and
as this was practically the first year of publicised events, felt the 'ultimate challenge' of a marathon was beyond my capability. However, as May approached my training pace improved considerably and club colleagues persuaded me to enter the Piccadilly Manchester marathon.
Within about six weeks I stepped up the training from about twenty-five miles per week to nearly forty... but really it was just too much too soon. I would never recommend to anyone that they should enter such a race with so little preparation.
My plans began to take shape and I entered with a partner, my neighbour Charlie Horford, who was a survivor from the Bolton Beast run. Surprisingly enough on the day, Manchester was very hot and humid
and as we waited amongst the near eight thousand starters outside Platt Fields, I began to think of all sorts of reasons for not being there - and I don't think I've ever visited the loo so often in my life before.
Ironically, my running hero Ron Hill fired the starting gun and slowly all the runners moved off but
I soon realised that a marathon is not a race for most people; just a long hard slog. I was also surprised that it took well over a minute to cross the actual starting line as runners hastily adjusted their timers and turned into a warm headwind along Wilmslow Road.
The pavements were packed with cheering supporters who rapidly created a carnival type atmosphere. By the time we reached the first feeding station just past Granada TV at about three miles, my mouth was
as dry as a bone and I foolishly gulped down two helpings of water.
Masses of discarded plastic cups littered the road as the runners scrambled clear and I chased after Charlie to regain our planned eight-minute-mile pace. The miles seemed endless and at halfway (1 hour 50 minutes), I was ready to call it a day; my legs were sore and I was struggling to maintain an even pace.
I waved Charlie ahead and took time out at each subsequent feeding station. The temperature was rising and when you have lost your partner and heading for totally unknown territory it is a long, long way to run.
By twenty-one miles I was running on autopilot, but the crowd roared if anyone dared to stop and I counted down the miles as if in a dream. Towards the twenty-four-mile marker someone shouted out the time, four hours, I could hardly believe it; panic set in and the old adrenalin started pumping. I grabbed a cool ice pop offered by a spectator, made a determined effort to put my act together, pick up the pace and FINISH.
Twenty-five, twenty- six miles gone and I could hear the crowd in the park. I tried to run faster but a mass of blisters began rubbing against the inside of my shoe, but so what! The end was near. Inch by slow inch I approached the finish and revelled in the glory - four hours, thirty-two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. It was finally over.
My first ever marathon and first ever road race completed... suddenly the effort was beginning to tell, my legs turned to jelly and I could hardly maintain my place in the finishing funnel. At last a pretty young girl placed the medal around my neck and I gazed at this small piece of silverware and wondered if it had all been worthwhile. Never again, we all said, as hundreds of tired competitors searched for a quiet corner and collapsed.
*The Piccadilly Radio marathon in Manchester in 1983
CHAPTER FOUR – Hooked, Line and Sinker
ONCE the initial euphoria of completing my first marathon had worn off, I realistically began to examine my time, performance and attitude to the race... and I wasn't too pleased with the results. I took a couple of weeks off from training following the 'Pic' and on the first week back felt quite stiff and sore, with odd twinges in my knee and left ankle. Gradually training improved but I was forced to run at a much slower pace for a while, before I could eventually re-join the club packs.
Within three months I entered a couple of half marathons and several fun runs before attempting Vince Reagan's Bolton beast. The crowds were excellent all the way round but I found the course disappointing,
and I imagined Plodder Lane to appear like some mysterious mountain, or at least prove as difficult as the Krypton Factor course. However, I was totally thrown by little old Smethurst Lane, which practically had me crawling up to the summit, and my rubber legs almost buckled during the final 200 yards’ dash across the soft squelchy grassy area to the tape.
In my first competitive season, I tackled six half-marathons, two ten milers, three full marathons and dozens of varied fun runs, finally rounding off the year with the very tough and undulating - (how I hate that word) - Macclesfield Silk Marathon. The Macclesfield run of 1983 was enough to finish anyone off.
Starting from the soccer ground several hundred hardy runners went out through the town in torrential and freezing rain and into the countryside via a succession of narrow and winding country lanes. There were very few mileage markers, hardly any feeding stations and NO spectators.
Running a marathon without any spectators was an unusual experience, particularly in those conditions, and it was soul destroying. As usual the leading hares soon disappeared with Mr Plod (me) and a few fellow trotters trudging along for many rain sodden miles. Water swilled down the lanes and covered our shoes, and our kit glued to our bodies, and the wind and rain really smarted.
Through the gloom, cows sheltered under convenient trees, but a barn owl just didn't give a hoot! The strong wind blew many branches across the road and hundreds of conkers littered our route.
Fortunately, this was another one of the few occasions that I have run with a partner, and I was very glad of the company. Chris Oldham my Bury AC colleague had a similar pace – two snails in one race, can you believe it? And together we made steady progress.
Prior to the start, we were advised that the course was both picturesque and UNDULATING, but I think climbing Snowdon would have been easier that day. We faced hill after hill and everybody groaned as we trudged to the peak of one climb, thinking this was the last, before jogging 40-yards downhill only to face another test. The road twisted and turned until we all lost our sense of direction; to add to the problems, my watch misted up with the rain and we both steamed.
We maintained our pace very well and passed several good club runners who were struggling with cramp. Neither of us dared to stop for at times we both felt hot and cold but we chatted with fellow runners and the time soon passed.
We ran extremely well together until the last few miles when the narrow lanes suddenly started to descend very sharply. We both had twinges of cramp and found great difficulty checking our stride down a particularly tight bend. Suddenly Chris cried out in pain, his leg stiffened, and he was forced to stop with a pulled muscle, severe cramp or both!
I stayed with him for a few minutes as he massaged the tender area but I could feel my own calf muscles tightening in the damp conditions, Chris begged me to continue and after walking together for a time I
decided to run-on alone. The lane dropped down to the main road and at last a mileage marker,
just two miles to go, 'about time' I thought for the last one that anyone could remember had been at fifteen, and since then, the vast majority of runners had simply lost their sense of distance.
My partner was so near to the finish I thought he would make it now, for it was harder to drop out and risk hypothermia, than to struggle on and complete the course. On the last mile, Archie Clephane my veteran colleague from Bury suddenly came hurtling along the road towards me, and pulled me through to the finish for a PB of 3 hours 43 minutes.
Archie had raced home over forty minutes earlier but had come back down the course to help others, and steered me home to the finish. He then dashed back out yet again to find Chris and returned about twenty minutes later with a broad grin across his face and declared: "Just call me Bo-Peep." It was a typical gesture from the big fellow and he was always a great source of encouragement to others,
but tragically died suddenly the following year from a heart condition.
Practically all the available runs in '82 and '83 seemed to be either half-marathons or distance events and it was some time later before the shorter and fun events became popular. I always enter a race with the knowledge that victory is practically impossible, although I have collected one or two spot prizes (before I tried Clearasil), and at some meetings I have surprised notable colleagues by winning a new pair of socks or shorts for my reward.
In addition, I always prefer a race with a medal for it's my memento of the occasion, as my only other realistic target is a PB, personal best time for the distance. Nowadays I often prefer the training to racing and I particularly enjoy running on warm summer evenings, relaxing after a hard day at work.
Even on a relatively short five-mile run I can return feeling mentally and physically refreshed. Training though just prior to a marathon can be difficult, and sometimes it's very hard to motivate any enthusiasm during the wind-down period to a big race but if I miss a day's training, my wife say's I become moody and irritable... she is probably right and I look forward to my daily grind whatever the weather perhaps the bug has really bitten?
CHAPTER FIVE – In Tune with Running
ONE of the attractions with certain half and full marathons is the opportunity to run in the same race (I dare not say compete) with many top athletes such as David Lewis, Charlie Spedding and many others - and at one time it was suggested that I should change my name to 'Domestos' or something similar, in order to become a similar household name.
My biggest problem then, was that unless I pushed my way through towards the front prior to the start of a race, it was doubtful whether I would ever see the stars again later. However, decades later, my journalistic career often brought me into regular contact with many top personalities and I recall meeting
and interviewing Steve Jones in Bolton shortly before he made his name in the Chicago and London marathons.
He was a very polite young RAF mechanic with the determination to complete punishing training sessions, and the ambition of a champion, yet readily offered much encouragement and advice
to novice runners. My regular scribblings provided plenty of work and later attracted the attention of BBC Radio Manchester, who were launching new community radio stations throughout the region. Senior producer David Hulme invited me to present a regular twice-daily live sports programme at Radio Bury, and backed by an enthusiastic management team we produced some excellent and unique outside broadcasts from many varied events.
The public following was amazing and despite a terrible winter dozens of people attended a fun-run and Christmas handicap event at nearby Clarence Park in freezing conditions. The successful format was followed and slightly improved at Rochdale, where with the welcome addition of warm weather we
organised a very popular family fun day at Springfield Park which also included a major fun-run and attracted hundreds of competitors for the four-mile course.
The three R's, running, writing and recording, encouraged a notable list of correspondents, and a few months later I gave up freelance work to become sports editor of a popular Lancashire newspaper.
I later accepted the post of editor with the Bury Messenger following the purchase of the title from Eddy Shah. Through the Messenger I introduced a 'Joggers Corner' section complete with a 'runner’s' diary of events, training tips, advice, injury notes and many regular features and results. The column proved very popular, particularly with novice runners who eagerly tried out many of the suggestions throughout the summer months.
Brian Rigby from Rochdale Harriers, Dave Dickenson and ex-wrestler Eddie Caldwell and his wife Marie provided me with plenty of advice, which soon helped to establish this unique service. We helped to promote the Nangreaves Nightmare', a tough local four and half mile race through the newspaper, advising potential runners on how to prepare themselves mentally and physically. On the day runners arrived from all parts of the country to try their luck on this gruelling course, and similar ideas throughout the season helped to stimulate considerable interest within the area.
A charity team of runners was formed and competed in a variety of different running and sporting events raising over £22,000 for many organisations; including a special collection of £750 through a joint sponsorship promotion with my local MP Alistair Burt in the 1985 London Marathon.
Alistair, a keen soccer player with the famous 'Westminster Wobblers' team of MP's, helped me to achieve a very personal ambition, by competing in the 'runners cup-final', the London marathon. We trained together many times, plodding through his constituency, and ran in the London race for the Bury Hospice Appeal, encouraging readers to donate via the paper.
The London was one of the great sporting occasions, and to be amongst nearly sixteen thousand runners cheered on by hundreds of thousands, and watched by millions on television is a memorable experience.
I stayed with Alistair and his wife Eve in London for the marathon weekend, visiting the Royal Festival Hall exhibition, and sampling the delights of the pasta party with host Ron Pickering and the lovable
pensioner Madge Sharples, and top wheelchair athlete Tammy Grey. Sunday though, was a long weary day starting with an alarm call shortly before 6am and a light breakfast.
Marathon debutant Alistair and I, both had unexpected butterflies, not for breakfast, as we wrapped up in thick sweaters and track suits in readiness for the early morning dash across London to catch the special trains from Charing Cross to the start.
Unfortunately, the race computer placed us both at different starts and I had to scramble along the platform to climb aboard my train to Blackheath. Athletes packed the carriages like sardines and as I tried to start a conversation with fellow passengers, felt rather like the man from MARS (not the chocolate sponsors), before I realised that the majority of my companions were either Swiss, French or German runners. One or two managed a few odd sentences but after a while I gave it up as a bad job, sat back and enjoyed the journey.
Half of London seemed to disembark at the tiny station, and I enjoyed an emotional procession through the village to the sound of many national anthems. Hundreds of runners marched in an orderly file up to the main assembly area and slowly the atmosphere began to build up, as more and more runners arrived, followed by TV crews, radio interviewers and a couple of helicopters.
Eventually the loud speaker bellowed out the instructions to runners and the great mass of bodies surged across to the markers. I was surprised to meet some colleagues from Swinton, Middleton and Bolton
amongst the crowd - and they all promised to wait for me at the finish. Suddenly everybody took their positions at the start, the big cannon sounded, and we were off... The course seemed packed from start to finish but I thoroughly enjoyed the run and a marvellous weekend. Despite feeling rather unfit on the day I just managed to clip the four-hour mark - about thirty minutes ahead of my right honourable friend.
CHAPTER SIX – the gasworks to the Cowshed
I enjoy road racing and love the atmosphere of a big event when the police close a stretch of road and the crowd pack the pavements to cheer on the runners. One of the Cheshire half marathons was interesting recently, with the start and finish, taking runners around the motor racetrack at
Many northern runs often finish in a major athletic stadium and now some soccer clubs are also jumping on the promotional bandwagon flinging wide their doors once a year to allow fun runners and supporters
to reach their own 'goal'. Many events are regular annual dates and I find it very interesting to compare times for different courses. I relish a challenge and if I've struggled on a tough route one year, only to return again determined to overcome the problem. It's always difficult to particularly select a favourite race but I would certainly recommend the Moonraker half-marathon at Middleton near Manchester. The organiser Roger Coulson offers graded medals dependent upon finishing times and the course always provides one or two surprises. One of my favourite marathon courses was the Piccadilly Manchester
route out through Salford, Worsley, Trafford Park, Stretford and the suburbs returning to Platt Fields.
Last year I was invited by the race director Tom Tyrell to run with the prestigious 097 frequency special race number.
It's a pity in many ways that the race eventually merged with the Bolton event. I always try and avoid the three or four lap courses and the embarrassment of being lapped several times by quality runners. The club 10-mile championship at Bury tended to be held on the track with forty soul-destroying laps. With the light fading rapidly to match my enthusiasm and stamina, I was often lapped, but felt reasonably satisfied if I could eventually overtake a couple of stragglers and dip the 68-minute mark.
Success in journalism has run parallel with my involvement with running and the most recent chapter in my varied career was finally completed when I agreed to move from Bury to become editor of the Matlock Mercury in Derbyshire. It was later to become to be a move with earth shattering, and life changing consequences!
I was always told that a change is as good as a rest, and although I now have only two basic running speeds, slow and stop, generally feel that my batteries have been rejuvenated by the fresh country air. My biggest problem though was always the hills, there was simply too many of them, and it was difficult to run for more than a couple of miles without climbing steeply.
From my base at Tansley, a couple of miles out of Matlock, the country lanes offered a splendid variety of picturesque routes. In theory, I can finish with a fast five-miler, or go across Matlock Moors for a more
lethargic ten. In winter though the weather soon changes, and within a couple of miles it can be blowing a gale and snowing on the tops, whilst brilliant sunshine just a couple of miles below.
One major drawback of the countryside is the lack of street lighting, and at times it's difficult to see your hand in front of your face. Running at night therefore tends to be limited to flat stretches along the main A6 to Darley Dale, or in the other direction to Matlock Bath and Cromford. These are the only adequately lit routes - and beyond that locals say you'll fall off the edge of the world.
After running through busy streets for many years, and having to stop and wait at road junctions, it then seemed odd having run in practically total silence through deserted lanes with only my own heavy breathing (no phone calls please) for company. Some of the main hazards seemed to be barbed wire, or rather smelly muck spreaders, and avoiding cows bound for the milking shed.
It was a considerable contrast from the industrial wastes of Manchester, and the northern towns, but perhaps the transition from the gasworks to the cowshed was near completion.The Dales were very famous for fell racing (a new sport for me to try), village fair-runs and orienteering, and a vast programme of athletic events was available throughout the summer.
The worst weather for over forty years hampered my own training pattern and on many runs, I've left home looking more like a walking wardrobe with several layers to guard against the bitter cold.
Earlier that year I completed the Matlock and district cross-country championships with the course buried beneath thick snow and mud. I temporarily lost my bearings in the dazzling white glare and realised my chance of honours had finally vanished when I just managed to overtake the race-marshal en-route during my final lap, busy retrieving markers before he went home. I enjoyed running in a new area though, running more against the clock than a measured route.
Lancashire and Yorkshire hills tend to be short and sharp, but in Derbyshire, they are steep, very steep and or just plain impossible. To be a slow runner however, you need a thick skin, or preferably be a
little hard of hearing to put up with all the well-meaning abuse... but with a Christian name like mine (Donald), it's just water off a ducks back! Running experience though is very important, and each time I go out whether training, or dare I say (racing), I think it all adds something to the old grey matter.
The marathon remains the ultimate ambition for most runners but later, when they have sobered up, they tend to return to shorter events. I’m particularly pleased to note that many organisers are including family fun-runs within their programme, for my own boys Robert and Andrew, took up the sport, and without parental pressure seemed to be enjoying themselves.
I often met many former running colleagues at events nationwide but particularly welcomed a band of Lancashire lads, who soon put me on the right track several years ago and provided the much-needed encouragement to keep me going. Roy Daintry, then a super fit vet from Chorley with the Northern Vets was always a source of much amusement, and usually also had the last laugh over me... often finishing a few minutes ahead, after trailing in my slipstream, and sometimes using me as his pacer, for much of each race.
For me, running is fun, but I also have a chuckle at the antics of some good club runners who often scan the local papers to note where a rival may be appearing that weekend - and hastily switch their attention to another race for an anticipated 'pot of gold'. As soon as a top race finished, there was usually a scramble for the computerised results sheet to find out who's done what, and to check the finishing times. I am just pleased to gain a brief mention by the end of the third or fourth sheet.
I think I could survive without actually entering a race but I doubt whether I could voluntarily stop running but it all seems a long way from my early days in north Manchester, and a rather short-lived football career, when for a time, I worried about 'walking' never mind running. I still have vivid memories of that first marathon when my finishing dream could have been a nightmare rather like poor old Jim Peters tragic collapse in the 1951 Empire Games in Vancouver.
I had no ambitions of joining elite sport, or of winning trophies, but I do hope that my experiences will help encourage many other people to take their first faltering steps along the road to fitness. Running has certainly brought me much pleasure and many new friends and associates. The hardest part is often the beginning, but I believe the final journey will prove worthwhile…
*Following an absence of about 10-years from competitive running and racing and a retirement move to North Wales, Don was soon able to re-start his interest in athletics and joined North Wales Road Runners. As a veteran runner, he now regularly competes in local and national events, and Parkruns, and has since won many trophies in his 65-plus age category. Don eventually competed in 17 marathons, including 6 at London, and took part in many others in Manchester, Bolton, Macclesfield, White Peak, and elsewhere.
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