Neil Featherby: ‘New’ Sportlink is up and running – here’s to another 24 years!

The expanded Sportlink opens this weekend Picture: Neil Featherby

The expanded Sportlink opens this weekend Picture: Neil Featherby - Credit: Archant

Well, here we are at the end of another month, which of course means another edition of Run Anglia and further confirmation that this year is rapidly disappearing.

The next challenge - the Hadrian's Wall run Picture: Neil Featherby

The next challenge - the Hadrian's Wall run Picture: Neil Featherby - Credit: Archant

As we get older, time does seem to go much more quickly, but at the same time life also seems to be getting busier than ever – which lends itself to gobbling up the days, weeks and months.

Earlier this year it was decided that we at Sportlink had to look for new, bigger premises. I didn't want to move, but our unit had become far too small. However, out of the blue, the unit next door became free and as the building block we are in was originally all one unit, it was a case of, hey ho, let's make it into one again.

Needless to say the best laid plans always end up with a hitch here and there and deadlines fail to get met, but we do now have a super new look and this bank holiday weekend we are planning to have the official opening – everyone is welcome. We originally discussed having an invitation evening to kick it off, but I then said, 'who do we not invite as we have so many good friends, who have all been part of making Sportlink what it is to this day?'

The new-look Sportlink is not just about the extra space – we have some new equipment, with additional treadmills, TV screens providing all sorts of running information, a section about the history of the running shoe and an area dedicated to every single men's and women's marathon gold medallist, going back to 1896 for the men. Brands such as New Balance, On Running, Saucony, Hoka, Ronhill and Polar will also be adding to these features with their own branded history and dedicated areas within store during the next month or so.

The next challenge - the Hadrian's Wall run Picture: Neil Featherby

The next challenge - the Hadrian's Wall run Picture: Neil Featherby - Credit: Archant

For me, it is a runner's dream, but whilst life is all about constantly going forward, it is also important to remember how we have got to where we are. Sportlink has 24 years of history, having started in a little 7x5-metre unit back in 1994. I will never forget the first day and I am still in contact with the very first customer. In fact we only had one customer on that first unforgettable day.

It most certainly has been one heck of a marathon. An ultra marathon to be honest, but just like any good endurance runner, it is about trying to keep your head together when going through a bad patch which invariably happens during the course of a long race or indeed two and a half decades of business.

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Whilst I know I will always be looking at ways of improving and changing, I do now feel that things are getting much closer to the finish line. I know it all sounds a little cheesy, but I really do mean it when I say that it is due to my amazing staff and so many loyal friends and customers who have helped make Sportlink so very unique.

We are certainly much more than just a retail outlet. My youngest son Craig is also now very much a big part of it all and whilst I am not sure if he will want to carry it on for another 24 years, I am confident that he along with Steve Gibbs, Kathryn Hammond, Pete Johnson, Dan Skinner, Emma Patel, Karen Hamilton and even our summer holiday lads will continue to do the company proud for many years to come.

I must not forget all our other business associates, business partners (past and present), former staff and close friends too as it never has been a one-man band. I like to think of it as the Sportlink family which is what I proudly feel sets us apart from others. Incidentally and whilst we now have a great new look, most importantly, it is what goes on inside which really counts.

Changing the subject somewhat, earlier this year I said I would take on one or two challenges on the back of turning 60 in January.

Well, next month, I along with fitness expert Chas Allen and good friend Jason Wright will be having a go at running the full length of Hadrian's Wall inside 24 hours.

Four Norfolk runs you should tryI ran it 10 years ago to mark my 50th, but we did it over three days. This time, 10 years older, I want to try and complete the distance within the 24-hour time limit. That is the aim anyway. It is not just the distance of 84 miles, but the terrain, which entails lots of really steep climbing – and if it is like last time I expect to get lost at least half a dozen times.

Our good friends Baz Hipwell and Mark Hewlett, who have military backgrounds, are coming with us to lend support; both guys know the script when it comes to where we will be at in our heads when the going gets tough and of course when to say the right things, which usually means having us in stitches of laughter.

What I do know is that for the first time in many years, my training has taken on a new meaning again. I am out running twice every day and whilst my morning run is just an easy few miles with my partner Steph and our beloved dogs, my second session of the day is very structured.

Whilst I have never been anywhere near overweight, my current weight is bang on where it was when I used to race 30 years ago and many of those old zoned in and totally focused feelings of the past are very much back with me. I know it will be tough, but that is the whole idea of a challenge and what makes it all worthwhile.

Whilst I have no intentions of wanting to add further pressure by way of raising money for charity, if anyone would like to make a donation to the run – or should I say adventure? – it will all go towards what most people know is my favoured charity The Hallswood Animal Sanctuary and also Nelson's Journey, having had a discussion with Simon Wright who is a super runner himself and is the CEO of the charity.

I would also like to use this opportunity to thank Kelly Beales, another excellent runner, at Capricorn Campers for helping us out with vehicle hire as this really is invaluable, and to Polar UK for the use of their heart rate and GPS watches. Needless to say I will keep my weekly column updated with regards to our progress during the next few weeks as we get closer to the big day.

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