Neil Featherby: Why we should always expect the unexpected

Neil Featherby John Philpott

Neil Featherby with his old PE teacher Mr John Philpott. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Always expected the unexpected is a motto which I try to live by. 

Upon waking up each day I will always wonder what the day ahead may surprise me with.   

We all have daily set routines and plans, but you can usually guarantee something else will happen to turn your day around where you have to react to what might be the urgency of a situation. 

However, there are also those moments when a surprise makes your day so very special. 

I had one of those last week when sitting with my head down at Sportlink and hearing someone say to one of the staff: “Is Neil about?” 

Before I knew it there was this very familiar face staring at me saying: “Do you remember me?” 

Needless to say my first thoughts turned to a runner who I had trained with or raced against in past years, but even though I very much knew this person, initially it wasn’t registering. 

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He then said something which triggered the light bulb to turn on whilst also causing a reaction in me to promptly jump up from my seat. 

It was my old Hellesdon School PE Teacher Mr John Philpott. 

I really was excited and happy to see a man who I have mentioned so many times before over the years and who I always looked up to back in my school days. 

It was like going back in time particularly as he is still so obviously very fit and alert in mind and body. 

Apart from what you could say was a little aging of time (more for me than him) it felt like nothing had changed. 

Whilst there are so many people who have influenced me to be a runner combined with various reasons why I wanted to try and achieve as much as I could in life, it was during those early years in the 1970s, when he was the person who motivated me more than anyone else. 

He would give up his lunch break and even stay behind after school holding the stopwatch whilst shouting out lap splits as I circled the track letting me know if I needed to pick the pace up or ease off a touch. 

During those few memorable years, I was lucky enough to win several area and county titles on the track and cross country which I really do put down to all the encouragement he gave me. 

Funnily enough it was after leaving school when I gave running up until of course resurrecting my desire to have a go again when in my early 20s. 

We all need mentors in life and I have been very lucky to have had a few, but outside of family, he was my very first. 

Oh, and he was also the only teacher to give me an ‘A’ for any subject although he did once give me an ‘A-’ which I took him to task for last week. He said it must have been a slip of the hand... 

I have said it before, and I will say again – thank you Mr Philpott. 

Talking of school days, and what with the Norfolk County Cross Country Championships being held at Earlham Park in January, I must say how great it is to see that there will now be an Under 11 race added to the day’s schedule for the first time. 

For many it will be a first taste of racing against the best runners in the county, which really will be an experience for them.   

The atmosphere when arriving and seeing so many other runners in all the various club vests, whilst also watching the older athletes bombing up and down as they prepare for their own race will all add to that first experience of high-level competition. 

However, once the starters gun has fired and they are off, any fearful thoughts will be put behind them as they will all invariably run their hearts out and whilst there can only be one winner, those who finish still wanting more will I am sure go on to have their own moments of glory during the following years. 

My first ever Norfolk County X/C experience albeit in the Norfolk Schools Champs, really was an eye opener, wearing plimsoles and football socks which felt like heavy weights around my ankles after running through ditches and dykes. I finished 22nd. However, the following year I won it. 

Last week, I mentioned my run group’s old friend George Wilkinson who recently passed away and how we were going to run a lap of honour for him at what we call the FOP (Field of Pain). 

Neil Featherby Field of Pain George Wilkinson

Runners from the Field of Pain group doing a lap of honour in memory of George Wilkinson - Credit: Neil Featherby

George always did a lap in the opposite direction to all the runners whereby we were going to do the same in his memory. 

Well that we did, and whilst I have to say it felt rather emotional it was also nice at the same time. Especially as his friend and surgeon Bhaskar Kumar led the way round. 

Have a great running weekend everyone and remember – always expect the unexpected! 

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