With lots of people all now gearing their sights to a spring marathon, during my competitive years this was the same for me too.

However, on four occasions I also took part in an early season marathon. Twice in January and twice in February. 

All four were overseas too, which also meant any Christmas and New Year celebrations had to be taken into consideration with wanting to do well in these marathons, especially when someone (race organisers) had paid all my expenses. 

The first one was in Hong Kong in January 1987 and as mentioned before this was also on the back of one heck of a January snowfall with snow drifts up to six feet high in places. 

Running over the top of cars (unbeknown to me) under some of those drifts and whilst it really was difficult to train properly, never being one to give up, I wore running spikes on my feet just to stay upright. 

Then having arrived in Hong Kong six days before the race and whilst the weather was very warm which was in complete contrast to what it had been at home, I also struggled badly with the time zone difference and the only time I felt like sleeping was the night before the race. 

Eastern Daily Press: During the early stages of the Malta Marathon in 1989 with Neil Featherby leading the way with

I really did not want to get out of bed upon receiving a 5am call from the race director on the morning of the race. 

Nevertheless, I finished third behind Rick Mannen of Canada and the USA’s Doug Kurtis. Rick and his wife Josie are still very good friends of mine to this day and so is Doug for which this means even more to me than my third place finish in an international race. 

My next early season marathon was in February 1989 in Malta. 

Whilst previously I had to deal with the bad weather, this time it had been a case of doing three weeks of my marathon training from the Jenny Lind Hospital in Norwich after my son Greg, 2 at the time, snapped his femur on Christmas Eve. 

I stayed in the hospital with him, having had a bed made especially by the nursing staff. 

I also had a bad Achilles tendon at the time, which Tim Shepherd, the then Norwich City physio, said there was no way I would make the marathon. 

However, I did and once again finished third. Meeting Emil and Dana Zatopek, Ron Hill and Ian Thompson, who had been invited out to the Island as guests, made for another great experience. 

I also came away with more long-standing friendships in Dave Jenkin and Alan Whitfield from the north east who were both excellent marathon runners. 

Now whilst the previous two marathons had both been super experiences, the next one in Bermuda really was amazing. 

It was in January 1990 and what a fantastic trip that was; I absolutely loved the Island. 

It was a week of being thoroughly spoilt. 

Eastern Daily Press: Neil Featherby being presented with a trophy after the Malta Marathon by Emil Zatopek the only

Staying in the most awesome hotel, which was built into the rock, with fantastic food and some brilliant sightseeing. 

I also had my 32nd birthday out there (the day after the race) which coincided with a yacht trip along with two of the other British guys - Ian Corrin and the late Jimmy Doig - who both ran in the marathon. 

However, I think it is also fair to say that we were all in awe of Steve Ovett who had been invited out as a guest who not only came on the yacht trip, but also spent a lot of time with us during the week out there which also included some early morning group runs together. 

He even took me out for a beer after the yacht trip to celebrate my birthday. 

With regards to the race, I finished fourth but took first place in the age 30 to 39 category albeit the actual race winner and fourth placed finisher in the 1980 Olympic Games marathon, Vladimir Kotov, from Russia was also in his 30s. 

Now whilst the above three marathons were all superb, I do have mixed feeling about this next one. 

It was February 1992 and once again in Hong Kong. 

This was different to the 1987 race though as it had been organised and staged to be what was the first ever cross border marathon from the then independent Hong Kong into China. 

To say there was a lot of rigmarole about this race is an understatement. 

Lots of signing of paperwork whilst agreeing to not to do this or do that when in China. 

We even had to race with ID collar tags around our necks from the start in Hong Kong before taking them off and handing over at the border check point. 

My only regret is that I was very ill going out there and in truth it would have perhaps been best not to have travelled. 

Just before heading out, my grandmother had passed away and I had gone down with a heavy cold which turned into a bad chest infection. 

But then when being told everything had been paid for, it was just a case of sucking it up and getting on with it. And get on with it I did! 

Whilst I never really got going, I still finished in a respectable eighth place and all in all it was still a fantastic trip. 

I am still in contact with friends from that race too although and in truth, two of them (Hammy Cox and Ian Bloomfield) were already good mates through previous running trips and ventures before going out there. 

In hindsight, I am not sure running an early season marathon was/is the best preparation for a real good effort come springtime, but it’s the people I met along the way and lifetime friendships made which when looking back on it makes it all so very special. 

Would I change anything if I had the chance to do it all again? No way!!!