Wednesday, 22 October 2014

He chucked his running 'bling' into a skip!

AWAY WITH YOU! 200-plus running trophies are condemned to a skip....
WHEN a landmark birthday looms – usually the 40th, 50th or 60th – us runners tend to take a long hard look at training and lifestyle. Our little brows furrow and we fret over whether big changes are in order. 

One of the best-known figures on the Ipswich/Colchester running scene did just that when his half-century loomed . . . and decided to chuck more than 200 running trophies, medals and other mementoes into a skip and start afresh!

Once the dust had settled, this guy found himself a new sporting challenge, opting for a serious crack at duathlons (running/cycling). It’s all worked out rather well: Not only did he find himself with oodles more shelf-space at home, he got selected for Team GB at the grand old age of 50.

Nigel Powley ran in the colours of Ipswich Harriers, Ipswich JAFFA, Felixstowe Road Runners, Colchester Harriers and Belgrave Harriers between 1983 and 1997, winning races galore and chalking up sensational PBs. He won the Bury St Edmunds 20-miler in 1:44, the Norwich half-marathon in 67 minutes, the Hemel Hempstead 10-miler in 49 minutes and was in the top 25 (out of 32,000) at the Great North Run. He was even sponsored by sportswear giant Mizuno.

A chef in his day job, Powley’s running won him considerable local fame in these parts. I know, I typed out his name often enough when working for local papers. There was one occasion when he climbed into a taxi, surprised to find the cabbie was a well-known former Ipswich Town footballer; instead of “Where to, guv?” the driver did a double-take and asked: “Are you Nigel Powley?” Now that is what I call fame . . .

Powley quit running in 1997 because comebacks from injury had become increasingly tough: “I remember actually limping from start to finish during races,” he says. “I would warm up and be limping. Mizuno were going to offer me another contract as they were loyal to their athletes – but I knew I couldn’t do them or myself justice.”

Seventeen years later he’s back – and some. He told me this week: “I got divorced in 2010 and decided a new start was needed. The running trophies represented an old life and were just dust collectors, so in the skip they went! I am now happily married and my competitiveness is back thanks to the motivation wife Joanne gives me. You only live once. Have no regrets, new challenges come along all the time. Just getting older gives more opportunities. Suddenly I’m a good 50-year-old athlete compared to other 50-year-olds it seems. When I am 55 - if I can still walk - the challenges and targets will keep on coming hopefully. I'm aiming to take current achievements to another level next year having qualified to represent GB three times in two years. I believe I am the most competitive person I know. Here’s to a winter of very hard training. Hopefully I can keep injury free!”

Nigel Powley, training near Tunstall Forest
When Powley took up running aged 19 in 1983, the modern running boom was just taking off in Ipswich and he soon became one its first star names. The Ipswich JAFFA club was just beginning to flourish and as my local club of the time, I joined them. I was pleased to achieve 10k times of sub-35 minutes, but couldn’t live with the likes of Powley and Co up at the very sharp end! 

It is fascinating that, despite all his victories, Powley says he was never a ‘natural athlete’ and often did the opposite of what so-called experts told him. He ignored people who told him he was too young to tackle marathons, for example – and 31 years later is hoping to prove people wrong again: “I won races around the country and have some very good PBs . . . I’ll never run those times again, but now there are different challenges.” 

At the Duathlon European Championships in Austria this summer he was second GB athlete in his age group and 12th in Europe. He loves the cycling aspect of duathlons and admits: “If I was a teenager now, I’d be striving to become a professional cyclist. Cycling, if not already, will become the number one sport in this country.”

Interviewed recently by the ex-Felixstowe runner Rob Sears (boss man at Focus4Fitness), Powley told a horrendous story that will resonate with those of us familiar with the annual Woodbridge 10k. It’s a race that always seems to be staged in hot conditions - and 1995 was no exception, the temperature soaring to around 90 degrees F.

It’s another scorching hot Woodbridge 10k! 
 Yours Truly is making an ultimately unsuccessful bid to
 stay with the leaders, but at least I didn’t need
 the infamous Felixstowe Road Runners ambulance!
He recalled: “The heat was only exaggerated by the narrow streets and many dragging hills. I managed to win in 32 minutes but after finishing remember sitting in a doorway level with the finish line literally unable to move. I couldn’t lift my chin off my chest. I tried to beckon help but nobody took any notice. Next thing I knew, the second-placed runner from Felixstowe, my occasional training partner Dean Robinson, was being stretchered past with a white sheet over his head and body. I honestly thought he was dead!

“He was put into an empty garage nearby, still with a white shroud covering him.  Next to come past on a stretcher was the third-placed runner. To cut a long story short, Dean was not dead, but we all ended up in an ambulance with blue lights and sirens zooming to Ipswich Hospital, three very dehydrated runners inside. The other two got the beds in the ambulance and I got the floor! I remember looking out and seeing the road flash past, thinking the winner should have at least got a bed!”
(*Rob Hadgraft's books on running and football history now available via Amazon in paperback and as e-books for Kindle. Further info:


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Saltmarsh 2014: Panic on the streets of Tiptree!

One man and a dog - It's a busy day on the Saltmarsh route!
THERE was momentary panic on the streets of Tiptree last night in the build-up to the big Saltmarsh ultra-race at the weekend. The anchor-leg runner in the village running club's relay team encountered a horrifying incident which involved a washing  machine, her race number, and a bottle of Lenor (the one with 'Spring Meadows' fragrance).

Returning home from a club training run on Tuesday evening, Valerie (for it was she) hurled her running kit into the washing machine, setting the programme for a robust 1hr 40 mins at 60 degrees centigrade. The churning was well underway by the time the awful truth dawned: Inside the pocket of her running trousers was her precious Saltmarsh race number. It had been folded and labelled neatly inside a brown envelope by diligent relay-team organiser Wendy. Now it was turning to mush!

Quelle horreur! Valerie's shrieks could be heard for miles across the flatlands of the nearby Dengie Peninsula. "It won't stand a chance!" cried the distraught Normandy-born athlete. After a quick glass of Shiraz to help calm herself down, she did what all modern runners would do - she posted the awful news on Facebook.

Messages of sympathy flooded in as Valerie contemplated the brand new problem she'd created in addition to the nerves, stress and logistical issues that would accompany this weekend's big race along the Essex coast. 

But wait! Early this morning, unexpectedly good news began to emerge. The cherished race number apparently went through its soapy ordeal without major damage! Tiptree's carefully-assembled relay team could breathe again. When she brings the team home on the final stage, Valerie will be properly dressed after all!

She emerged this morning to issue the following statement: "Well, as it turns out it's all absolutely fine! I got the brown envelope out and the number is still intact - just a little bit cleaner and smelling of spring meadows, courtesy of Lenor!"

What this little domestic crisis does illustrate is that the numbers being used by the two-day Saltmarsh event are tough and built to last. This could be crucial, because the weather forecast for the Maldon area this weekend involves rain on the first day (70 per cent likely apparently). Light rain is expected throughout the middle part of Saturday, when runners will be making their way along the infamous third stage between Burnham-on-Crouch and the remote Othona Community site near Bradwell-on-Sea. The race organisers, rather ominously, refer to this section of over 13-miles as "the big one" and the award-winning book Britain's Wild Places identifies it as "the darkest, loneliest place in Essex". Trail Running magazine recently gushed about its dramatic and bleak beauty, calling it "wild, remote and isolated."

Runners from local clubs and much further afield have signed up to tackle the entire 75-miles plus over the two days, with those of a more cautious nature buddying up as relay teams. Your correspondent fell into the latter category and, what is more, wasn't brave enough to volunteer for the fearsome Stage 3 described above either. Maybe next year?

Instead, I find myself again manning the opening stage of Day 2. This leg, from Steeple to Maylandsea, is relatively short, but there was still time for a small bunch of us to go wrong at last year's inaugural event. We added some difficult and unnecessary terrain to our journey in 2013 and must have annoyed the hell out of our relay partners waiting up ahead for the imaginary baton to arrive! The reason for our navigational cock-up remains a mystery, but I can promise we definitely didn't go off course because we were distracted by looking for the wreck of Darwin’s Beagle, or trying to identify wading birds or the fascinating remains of artillery and aircraft paraphernalia to be seen at low tide.

The hardy souls doing the full distance all alone will no doubt be a bit more careful when it comes to navigational issues, especially as their task is rumoured to be nearer a hefty 79 miles than the 75 in the race's name. Here at the Tiptree club we are well represented this weekend in the 'solo' race. Our line-up includes last year's top female performer Tracy, and our up-and-coming ultra star Mark L, who has swapped the adrenaline of motorbike racing for legging it across vast swathes of countryside. His namesake Mark S is settling for two legs of the relay, a chance no doubt to loosen up in advance of his band Mouthful of Ashtrays appearing at Colchester's Bullstock music festival in a week's time (blatant plug alert). And, of course, going solo will be experienced campaigner James, whose relationship with mud in the Maldon area is legendary - a love affair that has even seen him feature on broadcast media in the Far East, believe it or not.

The coastal route between the start in South Woodham Ferrers and the finish at Salcott-cum-Virley is one of Britain's least populated areas, but if you do happen to be passing, give that wind-battered runner an encouraging cheer or two. They will need it!

* Rob Hadgraft's books now all available as e-books for Kindle, via:
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