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Neil Featherby: From 800m to 100 miles - it doesn’t matter to this Norfolk runner in search of joy

Ash Gilbert on his way to a new personal best at the Nottingham Robin Hood 100 mile race. Picture: Ash Gilbert

Ash Gilbert on his way to a new personal best at the Nottingham Robin Hood 100 mile race. Picture: Ash Gilbert

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For all those people who may regularly read my weekly columns, then you will also know that I do every now and again like to write about local runners who stand out for one reason or another.

Ash Gilbert running along the Norfolk Coastal Footpath. Picture: Ash GilbertAsh Gilbert running along the Norfolk Coastal Footpath. Picture: Ash Gilbert

Ash Gilbert really does epitomise so much of what running is all about nowadays i.e. happy to run anywhere over a variety of differing surfaces and distances. Apart from being such a modest guy who just absolutely loves running, what really compelled me to write about him this week was when watching him run in a recent 800 metres track race at the Sportspark in a really good time (2mins 19secs) only to then see him take part in a 100 mile race just two weeks later. Needless to say also in a very good time of 19hrs and 26mins.

However, when did this love of running all begin for him?

Well and as it happens, it goes back to the Tesco’s National Children’s Fun Run in 1991 when just six years of age.

Whilst he says he don’t remember too much about the run itself, he does remember running much of it on his own and having a huge feeling of self-achievement when crossing the finish line.

Since that day, 29 years ago, Ash has run thousands of miles be it through training and racing whilst having had in his words the “pleasure and honour” of representing his school, club (Dereham Runners), University and county from Sports Hall Athletics to track & field, cross country and marathons.

Talking of marathons, he has completed over 60 of them including ultra marathons during the last decade.

What stands out for me though is how he really does just take everything in his stride be it a half mile race or indeed one of the six 100 mile races which he has taken part in to date.

“I don’t chase recognition,” he said. “I chase what brings me joy and am excited for the future goals and challenges which await me.”

Whilst Ash has frequently purchased products from us at Sportlink, I also love the fact that he is totally aware that when it comes to running and particularly distance running, at the end of the day it is common sense which will always prevail over and above that of any high-tech gadget.

“The North Downs Way 100 miler in 2013 was my first ever race over this distance and this is where I very quickly learnt that it was all going to come down to my own physical and mental self-control,” he said. “Whilst maintaining a sensible pace and focusing on my own race was of high importance, so was never ever doubting my ability irrespective of how tough it got.”

There are no two ways about it, his attitude and mindset is spot on, but I was still nevertheless fascinated by how he could go from running in a race just short of a half mile, followed by a 100 miler a fortnight later.

“That’s the singular, most overwhelming thought that consumes my mind when looking back,” he said. “It had been a full two decades since I had last raced over 800 metres, but knew that the speed demanded for such an event also required courage and a leap of faith for an ultra-runner such as myself. However, once the race started and with the sound of fast track tapping feet on the surface, my love for this distance was instantly reignited and even if my finishing time was 18 seconds slower than what I ran in my youth, a sub 2min 20secs performance still left me delighted particularly knowing that I could still turn my legs over at such a pace going into the Robin Hood 100 miler which of course was going to be something completely different.”

Whereas a fast middle distance race lasting just over 2 minutes is absolutely ideal for someone preparing for a 5 or 10k, I am not sure that it will have made much difference for a runner who was just a few days away from an ultra-marathon which was going to take nearly a full day to complete. However, and what it did show is that Ash, really is a quality runner over a full range of distances and still has a good turn of speed which is essential when all is said and done.

He did of course set a new personal best for his 100 mile challenge, so who knows, maybe the 800m really did tee him up nicely.

Ash Gilbert, really is a guy who will inspire just about everyone who meets him. Just the way he so passionately talks about running with pure honesty and humility for one and while he still has lots of ambitions with I am sure many more personal bests to come, what is also very noticeable is how he keeps everything in perspective particularly when it comes to fitting his running in and around his business Nakd Fitness and his family of wife and three children.

Leaving Ash with the final words for my column this week, will I am sure leave you with something to think about. Words signifying very meaningful thoughts and a real passion for running which comes from deep within especially during times when having to dig deep and look for that inner strength.

“Running requires emotional investment. People who occasionally run might not need to care, but people who become lifelong runners must if just by definition. Caring about something means you are vulnerable enough for it to hurt you and it will. Running and the love for running is a long term process. You will experience both ups and downs, but today’s calamity will be nothing, but a story tomorrow. Trust the process and I can promise you this – invest emotion into your running and running will reward you with emotions like no other!”

Ash Gilbert PBs

800 metres 2:01

5km 18:10

10km 38:26

Half Marathon 1:24:04

Marathon 3:18:25

50 Miles 8:46:15

100km 11hrs 24mins

100 miles 19hrs 26mins.


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