On 27th October 2014, my daughter, Gabriella Till, ran a mile round the field at the back of our new house, and changed my life. She got me wondering. I should be able to do that, I thought.
Let me give you a bit of context. I had been a runner since 1971, but, since early 2010, when my left knee went dodgy and my right foot quickly followed suit, I had only really run in parkruns, not training at all during the week. Inevitably, I had lost fitness, put on weight, got slower, lost more fitness, put on more weight……… – to the point where I could just squeeze out a sub-30 on a very flat parkrun, but my Alice Holt parkrun times were typically 33-35 minutes. Indeed, my tailrunning times were becoming indistinguishable from my other performances!
So, on that beautiful autumn morning, I went out into the field and slogged my way round – slowly, tentatively, painfully – but at the end, I was smiling and glowing, and I felt like a runner, like an athlete, for the first time in nearly 5 years.
After that – well, you runners know how it is – one thing led to another. I ran two miles the next day. Then a bit more. I started eating a bit more healthily. And suddenly, I was running 31 at Alice Holt, then 29. These weekly boosts of confidence inspired me to run more, add speedwork, stretch, do more in the gym – and eat more intelligently too. My knee and my foot stopped me from running more than 3-4 times a week, but I was doing everything else I could to get faster.
On non-running days, I would race-walk uphill as fast as I could, hoping to boost my metabolic rate without stressing my joints. I started rowing for half an hour on every gym visit – soul-destroying but body-enhancing, I called it. I made small dietary changes – Americanos instead of lattes, porridge instead of buttery toast, salad instead of crisps and dips, chicken tikka instead of chicken tikka masala.
And I had discovered, almost by accident, the perfect virtuous weekly circle of running more often, eating more healthily, getting fitter and seeing my times improve, which then gave me the motivation to carry it all on the following week. (The weekly challenge of parkrun was crucial to keeping that momentum.)
It felt great. I did improve almost every week. It was exciting. I didn’t know how far I’d get, but I thought if I could just set one more Alice Holt parkrun PB (it was 28:21 back then), I would be happy.
Well, having now set 10 more Alice Holt PBs and numorous at other parkruns too, I am at the point where I am doing 23 for a flat parkrun and am down to 24:51 at my beloved Alice Holt. I have also run longer races, even slogged round a marathon. I EVEN won a (handicap) race; I EVEN EVEN overtook a certain Harry Till on Dragon Hill once. My lead was temporary, but no less jubilant for that!
So, I want to thank those concerned for your encouragement and support (your surprise at my acceleration and weight loss has been an extra motivating factor!!) – thank you, my family, my friends, all you great people at Alice Holt parkrun (if you’ve never had the pleasure, it’s the sort of place where total strangers cheer each other on and come up to you and congratulate you on a PB!!) – and in particular I want to thank the only runner I know who has improved more than I have in the past couple of years – and, ironically, the one who kicked it all off in the first place – Gabriella Till!