Friday, 24 April 2015

Marathon runners and other inspiration

Given my recent operation, I have plenty of time on my hands and have found myself reading and watching some very inspirational stories.

Last week I was reading the book "parkrun - much  more than just a run in the park". This book contains details of the history of parkrun, it's starting's, it's growth, plus numerous stories from parkrunners. As you can probably imagine, many of these stories chart how the parkrunner was introduced to running through parkrun and has gone on to achieve many greater things: faster times, longer distances, joining a running club, even completing marathons. Some of the recoveries from illness and injury that are associated with finding parkrun are truly amazing. I found many of these stories the perfect medicine for me as I start to consider what sporting possibilities might lie ahead of me and my new hip.

This week I have moved on to another book. I rarely read, so this in itself is no mean feat. I am now reading Charlie Spedding's autobiography "From Last to First". This is a very well written book (the review from The Independant quoted on the front says so!), and incredible as it may seem, I'm finding it even more inspirational than the parkrun book. Charlie Spedding isn't the household name like other British distance runners of his era: Brendan Foster, Seb Coe, Dave Moorcroft and Steve Ovett to name but a few, but perhaps he should be.

Charlie admits many times over in his book that he was not the greatest talent, he often turned in mediocre performances, and finished way down the field in many of his track and road races. But, he also knew how to get the best out of himself and produce the absolute maximum from his talent, through hard training of course, but also by concentrating on a few races that he gave the greatest importance to. For example, he won hist very first marathon in Houston in 1984, followed a few months later by winning the London Marathon, then just a few months later he came third and won the bronze medal in the marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics. On each occasion he was far from the best athlete in the field on best previous time, but he knew he could do it, he trained and ran to a plan and he found a way to do it, when many of his other performances suggested it was improbable to say the least. The English record for the marathon that he set in 1985 stood until 2014 when a certain Mo Farah only managed to beat it by 12 seconds, and we all know how good Mo Farah is!

Charlie's story, and particularly his recovery from many injuries and operations with many weeks and months of rehab whilst not even being able to walk properly, has really helped me see what is possible. I don't think I'll be winning an Olympic medal next year, but this is not what Charlie was aiming for - he just wanted to ensure that he made full use of his talents and that is something that everyone can do, and something that I will aim to do too.

Yesterday I watched the film "Invincible". This is the story of Vince Papale, a thirty-something part time teacher and bar worker who went along to the open trials to try to play for the Philadelphia Eagles (American Football) in the mid 1970's. He had never even played college football, which is usually a pre-requisite to play professionally. Against all the odds, Vince made it through the trials and all the cuts and eventually made it into the team through sheer hard work and determination. Vince really showed what is possible, and even when others thought he was too old he proved that he wasn't. You would have thought this was all Disney/Hollywood make-believe, but the story is true. More truly inspirational stuff showing that you are never too old to live your dreams.

Today I read a BBC sport article about Paula Radcliffe. Paula is a real hero of mine. I have always felt a great affinity with her, having been at and represented Loughborough University at the same time as her. I'm sure she still mentions that time when Ian Wilkinson overtook her on a run around campus as much as I do! Though she probably makes more of the fact that she was walking at the time!

Paula is aiming for one last competitive run at the London Marathon this weekend. She hopes she will be back again in the future, but she will not train hard for it again. This really is one last hurrah! Paula has suffered greatly over the past few years with some horrible injury problems, the most severe of which saw her almost unable to walk for many months. The fact that she has recovered enough to train is amazing and to get enough fitness to run a semi-competitive marathon whilst in her early forties is pretty incredible, Paula's determination is amazing and I truly hope she gets the outcome she is hoping for.

And finally.....on Sunday we have another huge serving of inspiration to look forward to as 40,000 or so amazing people of all shapes and sizes, and with the full range of sporting talents between them, do something truly incredible and run the London Marathon.

I certainly feel nicely topped up with all the inspiration I need to make a good comeback and perhaps take on some new sporting challenges when the time comes. I may not have the flexibility and speed of youth any more, but I intend to make full use of the experience and stamina that comes with age having been totally inspired by the amazing stories I have mentioned above.

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