After a promising start into Athletics as a skinny 12 year old, my teenage years as a runner were full of ups and downs with not a great deal of 'success'. Here's how my early life as a runner started and panned out...

The next few pages of my website (as I still have loads of available webspace left, and might as well use!!) will concentrate on parts of my running life from way back in 1985 when I began to train with my local Birmingham based club 'Birchfield Harriers' right through to 2003 when I wound down the intensity of my training, and just ran occasionally mainly to keep fit. I'll take up my story from the beginning, which was a couple of years before I discovered 'real athletics'...

 

As a youngster I was always on the move, 'playing out' with friends, which more often than not involved games that required running, and looking back, we probably covered a fair few miles each day without noticing it. The first recollection I have of noticing I was ok at longer distance running was when our primary school held a 'fun run' around the school playground involving several laps, going round and round! I must have been around eight or nine years old, and started with my friend Gary Brown, a black lad who was the fastest runner (sprinter) who would always win the 100m at 'sports day'. After the first few laps, Gary was starting to struggle, and sensing I was a little fresher, he unselfishly urged me on to catch the runners ahead. I initially declined, but was 'biting at the bit' to get after the runners infront. Another couple of laps on and I couldn't hold back any longer, and with the encouragment from Gary I went after the runners ahead, passing them one by one to eventually catch all but one by the finish...a lanky 11 year old, who given another couple of laps may have been caught as I seemed to be getting quicker as the race went on!

After the initial excitement of the race had subsided, and not really knowing anything about athletics at the time, I carried on as normal, just enjoying the feeling of running within normal kids games at school, and after school until darkness fell each evening. It wasn't until Senior school before I was put into another 'organised situation' of running, which was in P.E, where we raced over distances from 100m up to the 1500m in our first year around the school grass track. I can still remember running around the lumpy surface, 'up' the back straight (literally as the track was painted on a field with a fair gradient!) hunting down the early leader Andrew Ward who was the years best footballer. Andy trained regularly with top local schoolboy team, 'Bustleholm Boys', and was a strong runner too, finally holding off my challenge by 2 seconds to win the longest event of the P.E lesson. My time of 5':37'' for 2nd was nothing special, but after my Dad had spoke to a work collegue whose wife was involved with coaching at local athletics 'giants' 'Birchfield Harriers', I was urged to try out training at the club to see if I enjoyed it. Initially I was very apprehensive, imagining I would be 'blown away' by the propper runners at the club, but after much persuation and reassurance from Dad, I decided to take the chance, and as they say 'never looked back'!

Above, shown 'striding out' in an early 1500m race where I ran a p.b by 30 seconds after starting training at Birchfield Harriers, running 5':07''.

 

I was introduced to a group being coached by a chap who turned out to be my first coach for the initial 2-3 years of my running life. Terry Roberts was a great coach, always making training enjoyable and intresting, and without fail would find an 'open XC', road or track meeting for our group to participate in every weekend. My very first race for the club, after joining in the summer of 1985 was the 'Uttoxeter open XC' races, where the whole family of my big Sister Sarah, my Mom and Dad all came to support me. Dad drove our Volkswagon Beetle to the race, a car that would ferry us around the country for the next 10 years from race to race without a single hiccup. After pinning on my race number (13!!) things could only get better I hoped. With the cheers of my family urging me on I ran pretty well, although 'slipping and sliding' most of the way in a pair of Nike trainers which were not the most economical items of footwear when scrambling out of the 3 stream crossings which had to be negotiated on each lap. I finally wound up in 28th position out of the 200 or so 'Colts' or U/13's as we now know them, with Terry, as enthusiastically as ever telling me I had beaten some good lads! Terry can still be seen coaching many youngsters down at Birchfield with the same zest and enthusiasm over a quarter of a century on! Without the time and dedication people like Terry devote to club athletics, most clubs would not survive and many more young athlete's would be lost from our sport.

 Above, shown in a very early XC race at Perry Barr, home of my club 'Birchfield Harriers', leading a group in the 'West Midlands Young Athletes XC league' where I seemed to finish in 9th position more often than not, but never any higher!!

 

Unfortunately the 'Uttoxeter XC' event was to be the only ever race my Mom got to watch me in, as not long after she was taken ill, and after a year long battle, passed away at the end of 1986. Although I carried on running, my results as a teenager were not a great success, and progress was riddled by illness and injury, with Terry's famous words of ''Wrap him up in cotton wool'' having to be used way too often where I was concerned!! Even so, I still enjoyed my running and continued to train daily without fail throughout these years, running the 1.3 miles to and from school each day racing the school bus home, with an evening short run of 2-3 miles thrown in for good measure. Along with twice weekly 'club night' training and races most weekends, my grounding as an athlete was gradually being constructed each and every week.

As a fifteen year old I had progressed into a new training group along with one of my best mates, Martyn (Dowling) under Dave Skelchers guidance. Dave had been part of 'Geoff Warr's' legendary training group in the 'sixties' and 'seventies' down at Birchfield, which had also included brothers, Ian and Peter Stewart. The Stewarts went on to achieve great things at International level, notablty Ian becoming the last Brit to win the 'World XC', along with an 'Olympic' bronze medal in the 10,000m, and Peter becoming UK 1500m champion and a 3:55 miler! Dave chose to put more back into the sport than most after his competetive days were over, but unfortunately for the small group of dedicated runners under his guidance, he had come from the 'hard school' of training, which he passed on to us with interest! Poor old Martyn, being the fastest runner in the group faced the 'wrath' of Dave's 'stopwatch' and 'whistle' which he would blow in accordance with each 200m 'set split' that he had worked out beforehand. Martyn was a talented runner who had finished 13th in his first 'English Schools Jnr XC' after only taking up running a few months earlier. He also finished 2nd in the Midlands 'youths' XC and 8th in the 'Inter-Counties' XC, along with a 'first year Junior' World XC trial result of 12th in 1992, proving his undoubted talent for the sport. Dave would set Martyn ridiculously fast schedule's for our twice weekly track sessions, putting immense pressure on such a young lads shoulders, but Martyn seemed to 'lap it up', and would often tell Dave 'where to go' if the set times had not quite been achieved. I managed to (luckily) keep a slightly lower profile within the group, with Dave concentrating on Martyn's weekly progress, and often just shouting ''Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday''!! or more worryingly ''January, February, March''!! as I finished each rep, heavily hinting I was obviously way outside schedule!! With 6x800m or 12-16x400m Dave's particular favourites for Tuesday night's, along with 10x200m or  3sets of (3x300m) the norm for a Thursday evening, sessions were often long, especially for such young runners, and unwisely always run on the track (which I would not advocate knowing what I now know years later.) Times of 'sub 28'' were set for the 200's, and if a 28'.1'' was run, we would hear the dreaded words...''jog a lap of the park and we'll start again gentleman, and NO, I'm not joking!!'' Yes, Dave loved to work us hard and with the odd 1200m session thrown in to boot (scheduled at 3':18's, well supposed to be!!) our teenage training was by no means soft, and somehow, myself and Martyn were still as enthusiastic as ever and still gradually improving. By the age of 18 and upon starting longer runs with the large Birchfield Senior squad, my results were gradually starting to improve thanks to Dave's tough regimes, although they were still nothing worth bragging about!! I must add that even when Dave passed us over to Ian's group to train, he still insisted on taking us over to Ian's house on Saturday's for the famous ''Tea-Pot Ten'' run, aptly named because of the enormous tea-pot we would pour tea from after our exertions. Dave would also 'ferry' us around on Sunday's, either over to Wolverhampton to meet the rest of Ian's group at 'Aldersley' stadium for our long run, or over to Rob Foster's house in Aldridge for sometimes two Sunday runs! Rob's parents would put up with many 'ravenous' lads ''eating them out of house and home'', with Rob's mom Joan, cooking us all a big 'fry-up' upon finishing our long morning run. We would often re-tie the old trainer laces for a second run in the afternoon around the Aldridge lanes, with Dave 'backing us up' in his car as we climbed 'Lazy Hill' back up to Rob's house. For this amount of commitment shown by a coach, I feel our group is incredibly indebted to, and lucky to have 'crossed paths' with a man like Dave, and I'm sure if he were still alive would still be ''blowing his whistle'' and shouting at young athletes to his hearts content! 

 Above left, collecting 'Bronze' in the 'Warwickshire Youths 1500m' behind 'Godiva' duo of Rob Scanlon (left-who would go on to run 3':41'' in future) and Steffan White (middle) A future 3':40'' man who went on to win the Junior & Senior 'National XC' in 1993 & 1996 respectively...And right, an illustration of my Dad in his vets 'England' kit which he earned in 1993, which is explained below.

 

By this time in the early 'nineties', my Dad was also well into his running after only taking up the sport at the late age of 45. After beginning life at Birchfield as my personal cheer leader at races, and being given the very important role of ''Cheif coathanger' along with several other parents on club nights and at races, (that also included the late Steve Platt - who later took up coaching and guided the 'Darlaston Dart', Mark Lewis-Francis to 'World Junior 100m Champion'.) Dad decided that this 'running lark' looked like fun and decided to give it a go for himself, initially in a bid to get a little fitter after years without taking any excersise. After his initial tentative steps partaken around our estate in a pair of 'Dunlop Greenflash', at first in darkness...he quickly progressed to a good level within his training group, and later to a much higher level in veteran athletics. By his 50th Birthday he was racing 50-60 times per year, running 10k times consistently around the 34 minute mark, and by 52 ran a 5 Mile best of 26':54'' along with a 10 mile time of 55':25''. After only seven years of taking up the sport, he had progressed from 'wheezing' walker/jogger to a Veteran XC International athlete where he represented 'England' in the 'Home Countries International XC' and collected team 'Gold' in a highly competetive field. Dad had progressed much quicker than me, showing no doubt that he would have been a force to be reckoned with in the senior ranks had he been introduced to Athletics at a younger age as I had been lucky enough to have been.

Above, Dad racing in the 1996 Midlands XC at a 'snowy' Sutton Park.

 

It wasn't until the age of 19 that things started to fall in to place for me, and after a big political 'bust up' at rival club 'Wolverhampton and Bilston' which saw many of it's key members move from the club to join Birchfield Harrirers. A certain Mr Stewart had decided to retrace his roots by rejoining Birchfield, and in the process bought with him all of his large training group, which included several of the countries leading 'youths' and 'junior' runners at the time. Most notable of the 'younger' athletes were Steve Lloyd, the 'Midland Youths XC champion', who went on to get silver in the 'National', and the improving Darrius Burrows who under the guidance and influence of Ian went on to achieve stardom as a junior athlete winning most titles on offer, and also reaching World XC senior teams as a very young senior athlete. The group also consisted of Mike Shevyn, a talented runner with a lightening finish who had missed winning the AAA junior 3000m by 100th of a second after a storming 55 second final lap, and a certain Karl Keska, the 'Midland Junior XC silver medalist' at the time who went on to finish 7th in the Sydney Olympic 10,000m final only finishing behind 6 african athletes in 27':44''! Along with many strong senior athletes, you could say the group was 'bursting with talent', and you can read more about some of their achievements on the page 'Illustrious training partners' later on the website...

Right: an early appearance for the Senior Birchfield team in the 'National 12-Stage Road Relays' on 'short leg' (3 miles) duty as an 18 year old, running a p.b at the time of 15':06''...A year later would see an improvement of 45 seconds over a similar 3 Miles plus distance at the 'Wolverhampton Road Relays' explained later, proving that the training was working!

 

Training with these lads was hard, and I can still remember my first run with them...(well actually on my own, with them disappearing off into the distance along the Wolverhampton canals!!) which I vowed would never happen again! As a matter of fact, unfortunately it did, with Sunday 15 milers being more like a 15 mile race for me, often ending in a crawl up the stairs for an afternoon recovery lie-down! The other lads would meet for an afternoon 'fartlek', but I was nowhere near strong enough initially to think about that. The hard training continued seeing me more than double my weekly milage whilst joining in with Ian's schedule. His influence on us as a group instilled a 'steely' determination that bred success, and as they say 'success breeds success'. My results were still nothing to shout about, especially amongst a group of lads that were winning top level national events.

My modest standards continued, as did the hard training, where it wasn't until the West Midlands Schools XC championships that I finally started to reap the rewards for the effort I had put in. The race went well, after clawing back Tipton lad, John Brownhill's lead (a talented runner who had finished 4th in the previous years English schools Inter boys XC) I went on to record a good win, and more importantly boost my confidence going into the forthcoming 'English Schools XC' championships. After having had a disasterous run the previous year finishing 122nd, I was eager to make amends and was gunning for a 'top 15' place. Upon arrival at the course, our team manager gave us a 'pep talk' and told us we had a great chance of collecting team Gold in the Senior boys race. He then told us where he wanted us to line up in the starting pens, and asked me (as he said I was the best at starting steady and working my way through) if I minded starting last in the pen! I had won the 'trial' race and so by rights should have been starting first in the pen. After all, the start in a XC like the English schools was crucial, and once you were left, there was really no way back, unless you were head and shoulders above the rest!! Like an idiot, (not being one to speak up for myself at the time) I reluctantly agreed to this and carried on warming up, now with 'negative' thoughts thinking 'how the hell am I going to get through the wall of runners I'm going to face'? As we lined up, I'd almost given up my chance of a good run and as the gun fired, the initial 'flat out' charge  

saw the usual 'elbows flying' and 'spike clipping', but I was nearer the back of the large field of almost 400 of the countries leading young XC runners. Into the 2nd lap of 4 I had worked my way just into the first half of the field, with Dad shouting ''160th'' as I passed shaking my head at him. I heard his voice over the rest of the cheering crowds lining the course ''don't give up!'' By the start of the third lap I had progressed to ''56th'', and going into the 4th and final lap I had whizzed past another 30 runners into ''26th'', and I was feeling amazing!! I was passing lads who were good runners too, and with 800m to go I was into the top 16 and still closing! The final sprint for the line saw me pass another 6 runners and just miss catching a certain 'M.Steinle' from 'Kent' by a mere second (who we all know later went on to finish 'top 6' in the London Marathon in 2':09'') but my 10th place finish was a great result given the circumstances. But I was left thinking 'what if' whilst scanning the results page on the way home...only 15 seconds down on 2nd, and 6 down on 5th etc... At least the team Manager was right when he forecast our West Mids team for victory! It was no consolation for me at the time though!!

The end of the season continued to go well too, with our Junior team consisting of Martyn Dowling, Tim Werrett, Karl Keska and myself taking 'gold' in the 'National XC relays' at 'Berry-Hill', Mansfield. This was a great result for us with me, Tim and Martyn all running times within 1 second of each other, and Karl running 20 seconds faster for the 'fastest lap of the day' to beat Sale Harriers. Our victory was particularly sweet taking into account Tim, Martyn and myself were all best mates and had regularly trained together from the age of fourteen, which was made all the easier by the fact that we all lived within 4 miles of each other and would cycle to each others houses to meet for runs in our teens.This result certainly went towards making amends for our 'silver' medals from the 'National', where we had been favourites, and were well on course to win until late into the race when Karl suffered a bout of sickness (literally on all fours!!) and faded from 5th to 49th in the final 'km', leaving 'Sale' to pick up the pieces and reap the rewards. And so things were finally going in the right direction, and with an 18th finish in the Junior National XC the following year, I was beginning to make inroads into the advantages some of my peers had held over me previously.

Above:(No:660) battleing through the field at the 'English Schools XC' where I raced from the back of the starting pen into a 'top 10' finish...This photo was taken on lap 3 of 4 where I was in approx 60th position, and just about to catch 'West Mids' team mate, John Brownhill (2nd from right) who just made the top 60.

 

Finally, my 'breakthrough' run came just after my last race as a 'junior', when in a 'low key' road relay race at Tettenhall near Wolverhampton coming the week after running a 17 second p.b of 14':49'' in the Midlands 12-stage, I produced a run that would have been worthy of a performance up with all but the very top lads of my age. Only running in Birchfield's Senior 'C-team' such was the strength in depth at the club at the time, I had noted that National Junior XC champion Steffan White of 'Godiva' had run 15':41'' for his 3.3 Mile leg the previous year, with me running 16':23''. I was aiming for around the 16':00''-16':10'' mark which would have improved my p.b on the course by a similar margin to the one I had sliced off my 'short leg' run the week previously. Pleasingly, I managed to exceed all expectations to produced my best run so far at the time to run 15':41''(a time I would only improve to 15':29'' in future) to match Steffan's time. White was an athlete who I'd always looked up to as he had won everything throughout my junior years, and so I was ecstatic about running as fast as his best form the previous years race!! My time ended up being the 2nd fastest of the day in the whole race, only behind 63 minute 'half' man & Birchfield team mate Darren Pemberton's 15':34'', and infront of many notable senior runners whom I had worshiped whilst growing up as a young athlete. I had calculated my run was worth around 14':20' for a 'short leg' at Sutton Park, and with the relay being our club 'trials' for the forthcoming 'National 12-stage Road relays' scheduled for the following weekend, my run had promoted me into the 'A-Team' as a young 19 year old. With my best at Sutton Park being only 14':49'' set the previous weekend, I was confident of 'smashing' that mark, and maybe dropping into the high '14-teens', which for my age would have usually been up somewhere near the best. I was excited at the prospect of running a time that would potentially see me not too far off the fastest legs of the day, which were usually around the 14':00'' mark or just under, with 14':20'' usually good enough for at least a 'top 20' time amongst the countries fastest 'short leg' runners.

With only two days remaining to the big race and after things had been going so well, suddenly went completely 'hay-wire', and whilst out on a 5 mile run I had a terrible pain in my chest and back...exactly as I had done on several worrying occasions before, with many visits to my G.P resulting in missed diagnosis of the true problem. The pain had previously struck a couple of months prior to this latest attack, a few days before the Midlands junior XC. It had left me 'stranded' out on a run, having to crawl back home fighting for breath and having to take many rests on garden walls along the way, wondering what on earth was happening! It felt like I imagined having a heart attack would feel like, with immense chest and back pain, but only whilst trying to walk or run. Sometimes the pain would disappear almost as quickly as it had occurred, leaving me able to run again, but wondering when the next 'attack' would strike. One attack actually happened whilst taking a bath even!! I still managed to run the Midlands Jnr XC, and after a very cautious start at the back of the field, worked my way through to finish 5th which seemed like a 'miracle' after only two days previously hardly being able to walk without fighting for breath! This suggested to me, along with a 'crackling loose' sensation in my chest whilst leaning forward that the problem was to do with my lungs? More visits to my G.P revealed no positive findings, with him sticking rigidly with his diagnosis of a ''pulled muscle'' along with a suggested remedy of ''taking six months off excersice''!! This latest episode before the '12-stage' finally saw me make a visit to the local hospital's A&E dept, where I was lucky enough to see an extremely knowledgable Doctor who quickly diagnosed a 'Pneumathorax', more commonly known as a 'collapsed lung'! I was immediately operated on where they drew several large syringes of 'leaked' air from my chest cavity to reduce the pressure which was causing the pain in my chest and back! What a relief!! All this time, the problem had been ignored by my G.P, with potentially dangerous consequenes. I was just glad we now knew what was wrong, and could hopefully get it sorted if it ever happened again. Altogether, I had had about 5 or 6 'pneumathorax' attacks, and was told if it ever happened again I would need surgery to permanently attach the lungs to the cavity chest walls to stop them collapsing...apparently it is fairly common in tall, thin, fit young males, and I have since heard of several athletes having the complaint in their late teens/early twenties before 'growing' out of it. The most notable athlete recently has been Bedford's Mark Draper, who I heard has actually had the same operation after also having several 'pneumathorax' attacks. He has since gone on to represent GB several times and post 5k times in the 13:30's region, so I'm not in bad company!

 Above left: racing around Sutton Park in Birmingham as a 19 year old, just weeks before my 'breakthrough' run, and disapointingly just before 'Pneumathorax' struck again!!...and above right, winning the 'Rowheath Easter 5' showing off my fine physique ha ha!!

 

It took me a while to get back into the swing of things after several bouts of 'pnuemathorax', and my first track season as a senior athlete was disappointing after my Road Relay breakthrough. The next few seasons saw me gradually improve under the guidance of new coach Keith Holt, still down at my local club of Birchfield Harriers. I had got my road times down to 24':11'' for 5m, 30':49'' for 10k and 50':01'' for 10 miles between the ages of 20 and 22, off a diet of rarely racing on the roads and mainly concentrating on XC'. I was now consistently finishing in the first 12 in 'Birmingham Leagues' in my early twenties, with Keith's training schedules and recovery massages (we all put his skills to good use!!) taking effect. My Midlands Senior XC's had started pretty well too, with my first attempt coming in a complete 'mud bath' at Corby, where I ran my first good race in muddy conditions to finish 15th. This proved that I was finally getting stronger as an athlete, and more able to cope with the tougher demands of strength sapping courses than previously. My next Mids 'X' saw me finish 8th on the fast terrain of Mansfield, followed by a 6th at Wollaton Hall and then another 8th over the undulations of Alton towers later in 2003, so my consistency was never in doubt, apart from when it came to the 'National XC' where I never seemed to get it right for the big occasion. My first couple of attempts as a youngster had been fairly 'average' performances with 100th in my first year as a 'senior' followed by 67th the following year. These runs were then followed up with a string of 'under-par' performances in the 'National' with finishes ranging from 48th through to a 'disasterous' 103rd in 2000, after which I ended up in Hospital on the night with stomach pains and a 'lump' in my lower stomach. Tests revealed everything was OK thankfully, and I finished off the '2000' season with a 'flurry' as you will read later. My best 'National' result came right at the end of my best years in 2003, when I was no-where near as fit as most other previous years, but managed to pull a good performance out of the bag in very heavy conditions at Parliament Hill. After struggling right until the final lap, where I was in 'only' 56th postion, I then clawed back a massive amount round the final 2.5 Miles lap to finish 22nd and wishing the race could carry on forever! The sight of a certain 13':09'' 5k runner in the shape of 'Basildon Bullet', Rob Denmark coming back to me provided a good incentive, as I'm sure it did with many of the runners around us. Even in conditions, ''not to his liking'' as a rather large understatement, I still couldn't get on terms with the 'bouncy' track superstar, but was happy to get within a few seconds of such a superb runner. 

Above, last minute checks before the 2001 'National' at Durham. I should have checked the 'tightness' of my shoes better though as after a 'tangle' with Salford's 1998 AAA's 10k 'runner up' Eric Crowther on the 1st lap, I ended up running the rest of the race with only one shoe, finally winding up in 48th to continue my 'woeful' National XC record. The same had happened to me only two months earlier in the 'Warwickshire' county XC champs where I had lost the same shoe in a 'bog', but managed to still hold on for a 6 second win.

 

'Re-tracking' back a few years again to the 'mid nineties' after a promising start to my 'senior' career, I now felt another breakthrough was long 'overdue'. I longed for a nice big improvement that would see me much closer to the top men I was racing week in, week out. Although improvements were made and I managed to get down to 30':06'' for 10k, I felt my p.b road times were never quite in line with other performances I had achieved, and I never really made that ultimate 'breakthrough' to close in and really challenge the countries elite.

I hope you've enjoyed this first chapter of my running life and please, continue on to my 'Training diary' pages for more of my race reviews and schedules and to learn more about my running career. Also, my 'Training Pals' page later on may interest you where you can learn more about their career highlights as well as read a few funny stories too!!