Neil Featherby: A tale why we should all think carefully about when we run

Ronnie White runner

Ronnie White finishing another race strongly on the back of another 70-mile week. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Whilst I had a number of potential things to write about this week, each time I thought about it there was one thing which kept coming back to me over and above anything else.  

My ex brother-in-law Ronnie White, who in truth has always been more like a brother, has just this last week had major heart surgery. 

Ronnie really was a super athlete in his day and without a doubt one of Norfolk’s stand out road runners. 

However, and going right back to 1985, I talked him into taking part in his first ever competitive road race which was a mid-week 10k down at Bungay. The quality of the field was decent too for which I won it in 30:47 with the next three runners all under 32 minutes. Ronnie, who despite his thoughts of wondering what he was doing at a real road race prior to the start, finished in a very creditable 45 minutes which of course became the start of what was to become an addiction to training and racing for him.   

Like so many others at the time, he portrayed just what you can achieve with hard work whilst consistently running 70 plus miles week in and week out in all conditions and whatever the circumstances for another 15 years.  

In fact and as it happened his competitive running career lasted longer than mine did with PBs of 33:20 for 10k, 54:10 for 10 miles, 72:15 Half Marathon and a 2:38 Marathon. He also won the Gt Yarmouth Half Marathon, finished second in the Harrow Marathon after losing out by just seven seconds when having been 13 minutes down on the leader at half way and was the Norfolk AAAs Marathon Champion in 1988 to name just a few of his many successes. 

So where am I going with this? Well like lots of us runners, we tend to run at times when perhaps we shouldn’t ie through injury and illness. “It’s just a niggle which I can run off,” or “just a sniffle and a bit of a cold.” 

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It was 21 years ago when despite not feeling too good at work and having just had a heavy cold himself as it happens, Ronnie still went out for his lunch time run.  

“I will be just 30 minutes,” he said to his work colleagues. However, and before he had even completed half a mile he collapsed and the next thing he knew he woke up in an ambulance being rushed to hospital for tests which led to surgery two weeks later at Addenbrookes Hospital. Needless to say as soon as he had recovered he was back into his running and racing again I hasten to add. 

As time went by though, he had more issues which led to more tests and further heart operations whereby it did eventually become impossible to run without causing additional problems. Never being one to give up of course, if he couldn’t run then he would cycle or power walk as part of his daily agenda such was his dogged determination. 

Now as I said at the start of this column, I don’t have enough space to go into all the medical and technical details, but over the years his heart has been fitted with one device after another albeit at times requiring readjustment and repair work.  

Unfortunately during lockdown last year, things became progressively worse which of course was not helped with the Covid outbreak. A heart transplant had even been mentioned at one point and whilst he really did become poorly, he never moaned even though it was quite clear for others to see how this was getting him down. 

Then just when it seemed a never-ending situation, Wednesday of last week he was finally admitted to Addenbrookes for surgery once. He still had time to joke when saying that his surgeon had told him when explaining all the details of the operation to think of him as a plumber who will require the help of an electrician.   

Thankfully all seems to have gone well for which I know so many local runners and friends of Ronnie will be wishing him all the very best during his recovery.  

In fact he is now talking about going back to work in two months’ time and whilst he hasn’t quite given up the idea of hanging up his running shoes just yet, time will most certainly tell. I for one am not betting against him banging out a mile here and there before too long. 

Incidentally, it has been suggested that all these issues are down to running with a virus when all of this first happened and having had half a dozen other very good running mates go down with similar conditions during the last few years, it certainly does make you think that perhaps we aren’t quite as invincible as perhaps we once thought we were.  

With that in mind, I’m off for a run.