Neil Featherby: The amazing story of how Kevin Lemmon returned to running

Kevin Lemmon Duke Street

Kevin Lemmon wearing the old Duke Street Runners vest. - Credit: Kevin Lemmon

A few weeks ago I wrote about Ronnie White who went from being a super runner to then developing heart issues which has led to numerous surgical operations over the years.  

I did also mention that he wasn’t alone as I also had a few other friends too who had suffered similar. One of them being a friend since school days. 

Kevin Lemmon was a year below me at school, but despite his very diminutive small size at the time, he was always up there in cross country and track races. I remember winning the school cross country at Hellesdon two years running with Kevin never too far behind helping what was our house Paston to the team title as well as travelling to the Norfolk Schools Cross Country Championships together when representing Norwich District Schools. 

He, like I, gave running up (apart from training for football) soon after leaving school, but also rediscovered his love for it again in the 1980s. 

It was after chatting with Granville Courtnell in 1985 who encouraged him to really get back into it for which he then trained for the 1986 Bungay Black Dog Half Marathon finishing in a time of 1hr 26mins and 2 secs. I recollect the day well as I won the race whilst also seeing Kevin before the start thinking: “I went to school with him and he was pretty good.” 

Having joined the Duke Street Running Club, his training and running now took on more structure. 

“After Bungay I joined Duke Street and learnt how to train properly from the more experienced runners doing intervals, hill efforts and tempo runs,” he said. However, these club runs were usually down to just once or occasionally twice a week whereby all his other training was completed on his own, covering up to 70 miles each week. 

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Having done a few training runs myself with Kev back in the day, I think it is fair to say he only knew one way to run and that was always fast. I will never forget one Friday evening when he said ‘can I come over to yours for a run?’. No problem I said, but it will have to be easy as I have a hard session to get through tomorrow followed by a 25 miler on Sunday. Famous last words as we went through the first mile well under 5 mins with no sign of him letting up. 

There are no two ways about it, Kevin, like Ronnie, was a very talented and hardworking athlete with PBs of 15:48 for 5k (track) 25:40 for 5 miles, 31:50 for 10k and a 71:48 half marathon.  

He also represented Norfolk in Germany where apart from running really well, he could not help, but also mention with a big smile on his face how he and all the other lads had a fantastic time where they also drank lots of beer and had a great laugh. 

Other career highlights was representing the Eastern Counties on the track which is where he produced his 5k personal best and being a part of the 1993 winning Duke Street Team in the Round Norfolk Relay where on stage 15, he smashed what was the then record for the 14.80 miles of that leg recording a time of 1hr 20mins and 25 secs. A record which still stands to this day. 

As said earlier, Kevin always ran hard be it in training or racing. I used to see him most Sunday afternoons bombing through Felthorpe where I live as I drove home from work always wondering how he kept it going. 

Then one day, I remember it vividly when seeing him with his very distinctive running style moving at what was a much slower pace. I thought to myself that perhaps he was doing some reps and was just jogging between them, but then saw him a couple of more times where he really did appear to be running along so much more laboured than what was normal for him. 

Perhaps age was now catching up with him I thought, but of course and needless to say it has all now come to light. “Around 2016, I started to notice my times were getting slower which I put down to age and as time went on my heart would continue to race after stopping,” he said. 

Initially he ignored it, but also being a keen five-a-side footballer at the time, he really did become breathless and it was after being rescued from a bike ride which he could not complete, when he did decide to go and see his doctor. 

However, and despite the fact that his doctor could not find anything wrong with him at the time, his symptoms just got worse and to a point where his wife said enough was enough and she called an ambulance where the paramedics wasted no time getting him to hospital as he was having a heart attack. 

Medication was given and an operation was performed last June called an ablation to correct heart rhythm. Needless to say and being the very determined person he is, he wanted to get straight back to exercising soon after, but very frustratingly not only did he find exercising nigh on impossible, even just standing up became an issue. 

More tests were done, but there was no definitive answer until May of this year when speaking to “an amazing physiotherapist” in Kevin’s words who spotted during a video call that he wasn’t breathing from his diaphragm which was potentially put down to the possibility that nerves may have got slightly damaged during his operation. 

Special exercises were prescribed to retrain his breathing pattern and low and behold things really did start to improve very quickly. Walking with his dogs soon progressed into faster walks and then of course jogging with them for which he is now running again four times a week and for an hour at a time. 

“It’s just great to be out running again as there was a time when I couldn’t even walk across the living room. The effect on my mental health and wellbeing was horrendous,” he so very emotionally said. 

Kevin through all of this really has shown why he was such a good runner and once again the similarities with Ronnie White shine through what with their dogged determination to never give up. Whilst they are an inspiration, they both also very much demonstrate why there really are some things in life which we cannot put a price on.