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Neil Featherby: The rise of Dereham AC runner Callum Bowen Jones

PUBLISHED: 11:12 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:12 13 February 2020

Callum Bowen Jones competes in the Armagh 5K International Road Race on Thursday evening. Picture: Neil Featherby

Callum Bowen Jones competes in the Armagh 5K International Road Race on Thursday evening. Picture: Neil Featherby

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I have always been fascinated by pressure and how it effects people in differing ways and what is sure is that we all have to deal with it in our lives at one time or another.

However, when it comes to pressure in sport, that is something else. There are those who just shrug their shoulders and take it all in their stride whilst I have seen others crumble.

If I am honest, whilst I loved the pressure of racing when I knew I was in control (comfort zone), as time went by where I was then lucky enough to be given opportunities to race against those who I knew were far superior, I wasn't always the best when it came to dealing with nerves and I did tend to focus a little too much on what I considered to be expectations from others. This also went back to my school days which was one of the reasons why I gave up aged just 16 before returning again in my 20s.

During the last 18 months I have been working with and coaching a young Dereham runner by the name of Callum Bowen Jones. Initially he was very nervous and whilst he told me that he really wanted to be the very best he could be and was 100 percent committed to a long term running career, I just said to his dad Craig, who I also coach that we should just see how it goes and at that stage just focus on the immediate future for the time being i.e. one week, followed by one month at a time.

The first couple of months were okay and we set a goal for the 2019, Norfolk U20s Cross Country Championships where I said the top four has to be our aim. Fourth he was, but whilst then focusing on his training for the inter counties x/c champs, he turned his ankle and that was it for the next few weeks. He got very frustrated and so did I for a bit particularly as he kept saying he was okay and then breaking down again. Chas Allen was treating him and telling him some straight facts, but as with all keen youngsters they just want to get going again.

Needless to say that sense did eventually prevail and he recovered fully. Whilst his first full on session upon return went okay, I still had to put him in his place as all he kept doing was complaining whilst saying he was rubbish in front of all the others at a Ghost Hill Runners training night, despite being well ahead of everyone else during what was a set of variable paced intervals and repetitions.

I think it was after the third set when I looked at him (in front of the others) and said "yes you are quite correct Callum, you are rubbish, now do you want to get on with the session or go home?"

We have not looked back since and the improvement during the summer with his racing and training continued to be very gradual. Then he went away with his dad armed with what really was a full on training programme from me to Pete Duhig's place in Spain where all he did was train, eat and sleep.

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Since returning he has gone up another two levels with us seeing some pretty dramatic improvements as each week has gone by.

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So much so that Callum will be making his debut when it comes to going into a real Lion's Den when he lines up in the Armagh International 5k Road Race on Thursday evening.

Last year City of Norwich athlete Logan Smith competed in this race with distinction and if Cal can get anywhere near to Logan's finishing time and position, we will be made up. During the last few months, Callum has won both the Eastern and Norfolk U20s Cross Country titles and his training results really have been scary. However, this next race really is all about rubbing shoulders with the big boys where last year a total of 113 runners all finished inside 15 minutes.

I firmly believe that Callum is also in shape to go under 15 minutes, but if he does not then whilst we will be a little disappointed irrespective of whether he PBs (current PB 15:54) or not, we will still take plenty of positives from it, particularly as at this stage of his career the real winner will be the invaluable experience he will have gained to go forward with.

Going back to pressure. A couple of people have told me this week that they think it would have been best not to say anything about him taking part in this race to not put too much weight on his shoulders.

Those people may well be right, but we have been playing it down for several months now, so dealing with pressure or expectations is all part of it. At the end of the day, is it right only to tell people after an event and of course only mention it if you have done well? I call that fear of failure which usually leads to not turning up on the day when it matters most, or and just like I did as a schoolboy, giving up and walking away from the sport.

As for him only being 19 years of age, well there are lots of lads much younger than him playing Premier League football with huge expectations placed upon them.

All great sports people learn how to deal with the pressure of expectations. They have too. That has always been one of the things which I have most noticed about winners. They just never fail or should I say in their minds never lose belief that if they do fail then it is just a setback and of course will carry on to eventually succeed.

When I worked with the boxer Jon Thaxton and Danny Mills the footballer, they both had several setbacks themselves in training and competition, but they never ever faltered in their own personal belief.

Irrespective of whether Callum achieves the end result this time around or not, it will not affect other people's lives or indeed his own unless he lets it happen. The only thing he needs to do is continue to be as dedicated as he has up to now and continue to focus on his ambitions for which I am confident he will achieve.

Running and athletics really is an awesome sport and there to be enjoyed, but for those who dare to dream, then make sure in later life you don't look back and say if only I had my time again...

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