Neil Featherby: Why my running looks so different now

Neil Featherby believes the future is bright for Norfolk runners. Picture: Mark Hewlett

Neil Featherby believes the future is bright for Norfolk runners. Picture: Mark Hewlett - Credit: Archant

Where do I start this week?

Last weekend I was shown a letter which had been sent earlier in to the EDP with regards to the difference in content between what had been mine and Mark Armstrong’s columns the previous week.

Mine was about having ran every single day for over 40 years whilst Mark was advocating taking days off when feeling fatigued and not feeling guilty about it.

I have had a few emails forwarded on to me by the sports editor during the last four-plus years by people who have said they have enjoyed reading my columns along with those who have not always necessarily agreed with my comments.

Me being me though, I will usually follow up any criticism, providing it is constructive, and whilst readers most certainly have every right to disagree with mine and indeed Mark’s opinions, I do like to find out more whilst also pointing out that sometimes after editing (we do only have so much space) perhaps the columns don’t always come across quite as intended. 

I had a telephone conversation with one gentleman from North Norfolk, who doesn’t actually run, but after a good conversation, we got on really well. 

Incidentally, I have also had people question me about the validity of my 40-year running streak whilst also questioning whether I should be advocating it through my columns. The truth is, I do not advocate it, it is my choice and a very good reason for me to keep going and staying fit as I get older.

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Whilst I have indeed ran at least once every single day since July 1981, I must point out that my running during the last few years, apart from the personal ultra charity challenges which I set myself each year, has been nothing more than running where I want and how far I want. This is usually with my dogs along with no pressure whatsoever other than trying to make sure I do get out for at least one run every day.

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Going back to my competitive days, my training was very regimented and structured, which I would certainly have benefitted from taking days off. 

In truth, back then, when regularly running 120 to 140 miles each week, a five-mile easy run or just two three milers in a day would be regarded as a rest day.

However, where did it all start? Well, whilst I have always been somewhat of an obsessive person going right back to schooldays, it really took off after reading the autobiography of Ron Hill, who went on to run on consecutive days for over 50 years.

I took a break from running aged 16 and did very little exercise for the next four years. However, once I got the hunger and desire to start running and playing football again, the obsessional tendencies all very gradually crept back up on me. 

Needless to say, injuries occurred through both running and football including stress fractures in 1981 which of course goes back to that solitary day in Amsterdam when I didn’t get a run in.

Thankfully, I found a coach who helped me put my running into some kind of order whilst I also purchased just about every book possible with regards to running and training principles for which things did then click. 

My coach would naturally tell me to take rest days, but he also knew the script.

My two best years were undoubtedly 1985 and 1986, when not only did I run 2:19 and 2:17 for the marathon, I also gained an England vest. It was after running 2:17 though when I really started to push the mileage up again when setting my targets on the Wolverhampton marathon in April 1987.  

I did win it and it also helped me gain a GB vest which of course meant even more mileage and training three times a day. Then just after turning 30, a bad injury occurred in February 1988 and this is where the obsession overtook what would have been the sensible route (rest) whereby I continued to run two milers twice each day, meaning it took several months and a cortisone injection to help me fully recover. 

I do personally also feel that I was never quite the same again although that was probably born out of me once again training too hard without enough recovery whilst desperately trying get back to where I was at before the injury.  

I now like to think that as a coach myself, I advise people (including Mark) very constructively. Training really is all about balance around one’s level of ability, current level of conditioning, goals and of course around one's own personal lifestyle. Not forgetting the importance of recovery too, be it physical or mental, to avoid burn out. In other words, do not try to do too much, too soon or copy what perhaps one of your running heroes did as I did with Ron Hill who in truth was always a far superior runner and athlete to what I was ever going to be.

During the four decades of my run every day streak, I feel so lucky to have not only represented England and GB, but raced all over the world and whilst I most certainly did not get it right on more than enough occasions, I am still proud of having ran 28 marathons with seven wins, several podiums, with 21 of them ranging from 2:17:35 to 2:30:53 (18 sub 2:30).

Finally, one of the people who really did inspire me to give it everything I had was my late brother Craig, who died from injuries received doing his sport (speedway) exactly 38 years ago yesterday (September 16,  1983).

Needless to say, I am dedicating this week’s column to his memory.