Neil Featherby: How my running career really started

Neil Featherby on his way to winning the last Norfolk Marathon in 1990 with the magnificent setting

Neil Featherby on his way to winning the last Norfolk Marathon in 1990 - but how did he get back into running in the first place? - Credit: Archant

As I sat in the vets in Taverham on Wednesday of this week (one of my precious dogs has been unwell), the inevitable happened. 

Isn’t it always the case that you bump into someone you know? In this case, two old friends, Peter Sargent and his other half Rosie, who I have known for years. 

This is a strange way to start a running column you may be thinking, but what with being regularly asked as to how I got into running, Pete is very much part of what was the start of my running journey 44 years ago. 

I did of course have a previous background in running from my school days when I always knew I could run long distances and what I mean by that was running non-stop during a football match and anything over a quarter of a mile when the speed merchants would burn out and I could keep going. This did also lead to several area and county titles on the track and cross country too. 

However, like many other young people when aged 16 and after leaving school in 1974, that was basically it for me when it came to running. For the next four years I did what lots of teenagers enjoy doing... socialising. I do have to admit though that my socialising went beyond that of most others. 

Anyway, one Saturday night in what was my local pub and now aged 20, with a friend who had been in the parachute regiment, the landlord, Martin, and one of his friends/regulars, Richard, had recently taken up a get-fit campaign through what in the late 1970s was known as the jogging craze.

They were telling us all about it and how they had become addicted to it whilst me and my friend (Joe) were sinking what probably was our 6th pint before going on to the vodkas. 

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I blurted out: “I used to be a good runner.” You could see the look on their faces as they looked at each other disbelievingly as if to say he’s had too many.  

Put it this way, too many drinks or not, my reactions were still quick enough to notice this look and said: “How about me and Joe meet you tomorrow for a run then and who knows maybe we might be able to keep up with you?”   

The next morning at 8.30am we all met up on Mousehold Heath whilst they explained the route in case we got left behind. To make this story even more amusing was that I turned up in baggy jeans (popular back then), a t-shirt and old Adidas Kick training shoes whereas they were very much dressed for the occasion and period - head and wrist bands brightly coloured vest and shorts and state of the art Le Coq Sportif running shoes. 

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Away we went and you could see after the first mile that they were surprised that we were still keeping up. Joe was fit from his military days, and I just knew I could still run. Then halfway up the first hill, one of them put in a burst for which we not only went with it but even went ahead. It was now quite clear that they both knew it wasn’t just the drink talking the previous evening whereby Richard said: “You both really can run then.” 

With a mile to go and knowing the way back, we took off and left them behind. However, and once finished, it wasn’t a case of feeling smug due to proving a point but more to do with when looking at each other and knowing that we really had dug in and pushed on during the last mile whilst also seeing steam coming off our bodies which contributed to what really was the endorphin release known, of course, as the runners’ high. 

Whilst that run was not the start of what has in truth been mostly a lifetime of running for me, it was however the catalyst of what was to come. 

Where does Pete, who I mentioned at the start of the column, fit into all of this? 

Well that Sunday morning run triggered what was to become a three times a week journey up to Mousehold Heath to run with Pete, Joe and another mate called Marty for the next couple of years prior to what of course is now my run everyday streak dating back to July 25th, 1981. 

Needless to say, I do have to say a big thank you to all of them, particularly Martin and Richard as who knows, without that evening and conversation in the pub, my running journey may never have happened?