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Why I Run: How a free tracksuit led to Paul Barnes becoming a marathoner

Paul Barnes started running as part of a 'Get Fit' campaign...and hasn't stopped since. Picture: Paul Barnes

Paul Barnes started running as part of a 'Get Fit' campaign...and hasn't stopped since. Picture: Paul Barnes

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Broadcasting legend Paul Barnes talks about how he got into running and how it continues to keep him active... even when he doesn’t feel like it

Paul Barnes with Chris Young at the Norfolk Marathon. Picture: Paul BarnesPaul Barnes with Chris Young at the Norfolk Marathon. Picture: Paul Barnes

It was the TV Times’ “get fit” campaign that got me into trainers.

Anglia TV “volunteered” me to take part. They bribed me with a free track-suit and a badge.

The first morning I flew through the front door and after about 100 yards, wobbly and breathless, I came to a standstill.

I didn’t realise I was in such bad shape. Next day I went a little farther, and then a little farther still, and then began doing circuits of Chapelfield Gardens. This was in the early eighties; I was 40 and so was defined as a veteran even before I’d taken the first step.

Paul Barnes' Norfolk Marathon number. Picture: Paul BarnesPaul Barnes' Norfolk Marathon number. Picture: Paul Barnes

The Chapelfield circuit became a bit of a treadmill, rather boring.

The streets of Norwich beckoned. Gradually, I could run for a little longer each day: 15 minutes, half-an-hour, one hour – and feeling better all the time, losing weight too. According to the books I should finish up with the figure of a teenager, a Grand National winner’s stamina and the mental serenity of a Buddhist monk.

Fed up with city running, the noise and fumes, I explored country routes, checking the mileage by car, and found the perfect place, with distances that vary according to which way you turn. There used to be a couple of undertakers in the village. A cheery wave from a passing hearse spurred me on now and then.

Then I read in the EDP that Anglia had volunteered me again, this time for the first Norfolk Marathon.

Touched by their faith I straight away ran one of my routes, and then ran it again: 11 miles. Yippee! It was the best yet.

Seriously training, I started doing 50 miles a week. On marathon day my time was four hours, 27 minutes. It was relatively painless, but I concluded that one marathon was enough for a lifetime, though I did run a couple of half-marathons.

During one of them this chap was constantly at my shoulder, slightly behind me.

MORE: Love running? Join the Run Anglia Facebook group here

Mildly irritated, I eased ahead but there he was again. I couldn’t shake him off.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he said, “but I’ve seen you run on television and I thought I could learn from you.”

Six weeks earlier he’d had a heart bypass at Papworth hospital and they’d encouraged him to run.

At the finish we had a very cheerful beer together.

Sociable running is not really for me. I prefer to be solitary so that the only contest I face is between me and the terrain or the weather.

Apart from my trainers, singlet and shorts there’s no fancy kit, only old t-shirts, sweatshirts and old socks.

And there are gloves for those chilly days when the numb, white fingers of Raynaud’s syndrome appear. I don’t even carry a watch these days; I judge an outing by how I feel.

Inevitably, some days are better than others but I always bear two things in mind: that I’m lucky to be able to do what I’m doing considering the number of people who can’t do it through illness, injury or infirmity; and no matter how well or badly the run goes it’s got to be doing me good.

As the years advance so my distance has diminished.

I used to run 20 miles a week, finishing with a couple of sets of 35 press-ups. Now my running is best described as a determined plod during which I can be overtaken by a man with a limp, a walking stick and a very old dog; the weekly mileage has shrunk to five or six, taken in instalments of half a mile at a time.

I tell myself: whatever you do, keep it all going, keep moving, and just think of what you’d be like if you didn’t do it.

Once in while there’s been the odd boost to the morale, like the girl I met running in the opposite direction.

About 25 I’d say, tall, tanned and finely made she ran like a gazelle. She beamed and said “Ah, you’re my inspiration!” After an encounter like that I couldn’t possibly give up, could I?

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