My column this week features two athletes who I have written about individually in the past. 

Pete and Cath Duhig’s careers spanned several decades in representing their club, the Ryston Runners and Norfolk with distinction. They also ran for Great Britain in various age categories. 

Unfortunately, the last few years have not been quite so kind to them. 

Having moved out to Spain in 2017, albeit with trips home as well as lots of running friends making visits out to see them, Pete suffered a heart attack towards the end of a 10k race in Spain just six months after moving out there. 

If this was not life-changing enough, after what seemed a pretty good recovery from his heart issues, he then suffered a stroke in November 2022 followed by a lesser stroke last August. 

Whilst Pete’s running days had been curtailed somewhat after his heart attack, Cath was still active, winning race-walking titles with further plans ahead. 

Since Pete’s stroke though, rather than saying life-changing, I think it is probably better phrased by saying their life has been turned upside down. 

“It’s hard to know where to begin really,” she said. “There aren’t enough words and at the same time too many. Living through it is tough enough, reflecting on it and thinking about how to say it as it is, is almost as big a challenge.” 

Like several other friends of theirs I like to try and stay connected as much as possible and follow Cath’s Whatsapp group which keeps all friends up to date; but having done so much with Pete years ago, I personally find it hard. 

I can also feel the loneliness they both must feel at times. 

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Pete really is a remarkable man and not just because of his past running exploits, such as running 10 miles in under 50 minutes or 2:25 for the marathon plus of course his UK Indoor M40 3,000 metres indoor record which stood for 11 years, but for just the sheer adaptability of the man. 

What do I mean by this? 

Years ago, he told me that if you set your mind to something then you can just about achieve anything. 

He most certainly did as recorded in his autobiography - ‘The Prince of Pace.’ Apart from being a great athlete, he has also demonstrated that he is a pretty good artist, musician, poet/song writer, and author what with having written what I think is a superb novel ‘Tullylease’ – When Irish Eyes are Miling. 

As for Cath - ‘The Rock’ – just like her husband, she also has an amazing athletics CV especially as a race walker having won many titles and medals at domestic and international level. 

Also, and just like Pete, very modest and humble about it all such as when saying that her stand out moments was when winning the W60 20k European Title – five weeks shy of her 65th birthday and then when winning the W65 title. 

Sadly though, it was just five months later when Pete had his first stroke, which as already said changed all their lives and plans going forward. Typically – though and in true Cath style, she said: “It was nice to feel I ended on a victory.” 

Whilst she says those 20k victories are her stand out moments, I think it is fair to say that in truth she has so many more such as when she set her 20K PB of 1 hour, 50 mins and 22 secs in 1992 in Colchester, aged 38. 

Earlier I mentioned how lonely it must feel for them both at times, but whilst I say this, the resilience of the pair of them throughout their lives is also holding them in good stead just right now. 

“This has been a very tough 15-plus months what with being largely confined to the house and in Pete’s case to a chair.  

“We have both been quite depressed at times particularly during the longer quieter winter days albeit managing to get out for a bit of a walk in the sun most days with Pete using his trusty elbow crutch ‘Charles Stickens.’  

“However, and out of the blue, just last week he handed me Charles and set off down the road without him. He managed about 200 metres before he sat down on a bench to recover before setting off again along the length of the boardwalk albeit with Charles.  

“He then sat down again before setting off for home after once again handing me Charles and made it all the way unaided. I wept for joy which makes a change from all the other sort of weeping I have been doing lately,” she said. 

Cath turns 70 in October, and I know she still harbours ideas of a comeback which she said to me might just be a pipedream, but I really don’t think so. I am sure she will indeed make a comeback, just as I am sure Pete, with all his fighting spirit, will be there cheering her on. 

Inspirational – the pair of them! 

I also must further mention the loss of one of Norfolk’s most likeable young athletes back in the late 1980s and 1990s after hearing that Jonny Ashford sadly passed away last weekend after a four-year battle against pancreatic cancer. 

I will always remember Jonny best for when he and Jimmy Johnson took it in turns to try and burn me and Nigel Arnold off when running into Diss during our 220-mile charity run round Norfolk in 1989 and then just a few months later racing against him in the Bawburgh 15k road race where we led from the front early on chatting away. 

He really was a likeable lad. 

However, I think it is only right to let his old coach Tim Ash pay tribute. 

“To lose Jonny Ashford to cancer whilst still in his early 50s is very sad and a bitter blow. In 1986 at a snow-covered Town Moor in Newcastle, Jonny was a member of the Norfolk Olympiads team which included Jason Rix, Scott Walford and Philip Marsh, who won silver medals in the National Cross Country Youth Championships.  

“The following year as a junior he finished in a high 18th place and was selected to run for England. Whilst business commitments took him away from the sport, he made a comeback as a master on the road. Jonny was a very popular member of our endurance squad supplying us with many memorable moments. In fact, far too many to mention!”