Neil Featherby: 40 not out... but how close have I been to missing a run?

Neil Featherby Steve Ovett Jimmy Doig

Neil Featherby with Steve Ovett and the late Jimmy Doig in Bermuda. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Stumbling across some old training diaries of mine this week, I decided to look back to see when was the last time I missed a day without going for run. 

I knew it went back to 1981 and I thought towards the end of August as I had not long before just recovered from a tibial stress fracture. 

However, it was slightly longer. 

The last time I did actually miss a day was on July 25, 1981 and even then, I only just failed. 

I was in Amsterdam with an old friend/speedway rider who had asked me to do a short tour of Belgium and Holland with him and despite rushing to get back to base and get out for a run, it just crept over into 1am in the Netherlands and of course midnight back home in the UK. 11pm GMT, but let’s not go there! I was 23 at the time so it doesn’t take a lot to work out how old I am now. 

Neil Featherby Emil Zatopek

Meeting and being presented with an award in Malta 1989 by Emil Zatopek. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Nevertheless, and going back all those years, I really have not missed running at least once every single day since then.   

By the time this column is published, it will total 40 years, 1 month and 2 days. Or 14,643 consecutive days. 

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I don’t know how many miles it represents, but throughout the 1980s and up to the mid-1990s during my competitive years it was always well over 100 miles each week. 

Over the following years as I got older and busier, the weekly mileage did of course start to gradually drop off, especially since 2019 what with one thing or another. 

For those who know me well they will know how devoted I am to my dogs and with two of them having been very fragile, there was no way I would ever leave them for more than 30 minutes at a time. 

Neil Featherby with Ron Hill

With former Commonwealth and European Marathon champion Ron Hill in Malta in 1989. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Yes, I have still managed to get some training in to do a couple of ultra-marathon challenges for charity during the last three years and of course the Boxing Day Run which I organise annually, but that was because there was always someone home with them.  

Sadly, we have now lost them with one just back in June and as absolutely heartbroken as that really has been, at this moment in time my other three dogs are still very active for which I can feel another long run coming on again soon.  

I just need to now try and get as fit as I can again. In my head it has to be a 40-miler for charity to represent those last 40 years. 

Neil Featherby Wolverhampton Marathon

Neil Featherby wins the Wolverhampton Marathon in 1987. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Talking of those 40 years – it has included 28 marathons which includes representing England and GB on two occasions each. There were also two further GB representations at 100k. Needless to say over 100 other races and several ultra-marathon charity challenges for which I really have been so very lucky to have been invited to run in some amazing places all around the world. 

Even better than that is all the amazing and wonderful people I have met and made friends with. Many of whom I am still very much in contact with such as my old mate Hammy Cox and his wife Jane from Scotland who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago when staying at their place on holiday. Meeting legends like Steve Ovett and Emil Zatopek to name just two of many as well. 

Then of course there is my involvement in the sports and running trade where I really have seen so many changes to footwear, products and of course the industry itself. My business Sportlink is also now coming up to 27 years of age too. Oh, and whilst footwear really has seen some huge advancements, I do still have a big soft spot for some of the shoes dating back to the 1980s. 

I can honestly say that just about everything I have done in adulthood is due to my running. I remember the careers officer back in my school days telling me that I was wasting my time if I thought I could ever make a living from running and sport. Well, apart from making a living from what has been a lifetime in sport, my involvement in professional football and boxing most certainly also came about through running. 

Have I come close to missing a day during those 40 years? Definitely! 

Once when in hospital for three days, another time when suffering with a bad bout of flu and another time when suffering with a very bad muscular injury which resulted in a cortisone injection several months later.  

I remember feeling a tear after a session of 16 times 90 second reps at high tempo back on Friday February 12, 1988. As the night went on, the pain got worse and also went up into my back, but I still went out for an 11-mile run the following morning.  

Just three miles in, I said to the two guys I was running with that I was going to be in trouble once I stopped. That was an understatement. I saw a yellow flash before my eyes as soon as I walked into my home and could not get up off the floor until the next day when, loaded with painkillers, I managed to hobble two painful miles in the dark. This went on for weeks until the injection. Whilst I still had several memorable races after that, I personally do not think I ever ran as well again. 

The hospital experience was a close call too. I was blue lighted after suffering badly with asthma and whilst I know it was a silly thing to do, I still crept out each evening to do two miles around the hospital perimeter. There has also been other asthma issues, along with a couple of really bad back incidents and a calcaneal stress fracture. Plus, I was once told that if I didn’t give up running, I could be in a wheelchair within two to five years. Needless to say, many other things which comes with the ups and downs of life over such a long period, but they are just things which I had to overcome to keep the streak going. 

Anyway, I dare not say here’s looking forward to reaching 50 years which one of my all-time heroes, the late Ron Hill, achieved. For now, I will just continue to take one day and one run at a time whilst never ever taking anything for granted.