Neil Featherby: Norfolk’s Cath Duhig... totally oblivious to being one of the UK’s all-time best for a quarter of a century

Cath Duhig - one of the UK's finest ever race walkers. Picture: Pete Duhig

Cath Duhig - one of the UK's finest ever race walkers. Picture: Pete Duhig - Credit: Archant

Running, walking, jeffing, shuffling – all are styles of moving forward which the masses enjoy when taking part in anything from a 5k parkrun to an ultra marathon.

The elite will always run, that is for sure, but for lots of others the movement of just putting one leg in front of the other can take many forms. At the same time there are those who are indeed specialist walkers who can nip along far more quickly than what some can actually run and therefore sometimes it is best to complete the task in the most efficient way possible.

After recently completing the Hadrian's Wall Run, lots of people have since asked me if we ran all the way.

For some it really is an obsession when it comes to debating the importance of being able to say they ran every step of the way. For those who don't know what the terrain of Hadrian's Wall is like, it is basically impossible to run all the way with the severity of the climbs and believe me, my heart rate was much higher when climbing on my hands and knees than when running.

We initially started with a 20-minute jog to one-minute brisk walk ratio, but by the time we hit the climbs it had just became a case of run or jog where you can and climb and walk everywhere else.

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The last few miles were also basically a walk in to the finish what with fatigue and a very sore hip for me to complete what for us was 86 miles and 7,000 feet of climbing in under 24 hours.

Now talking of walking and being more specific, my old friend Peter Duhig's wife Cath took up competitive race walking 29 years ago after being told not to run any more after an injury which resulted in an operation.

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Needless to say she was devastated at the time, but after joking to her husband Pete, who was also her coach, that she would have to learn to walk more quickly than she could now run, he took a more serious view saying that it was actually a very good suggestion especially with the impact forces being a little less.

Throughout the next few weeks she not only trained her body as a race walker, but also had to specifically learn the techniques which go with this very strict discipline particularly when it comes to race walking rules. Then just after turning 35 years of age, Pete told her he had found her a race in Birmingham.

However, this race just happened to also be the British Masters Championships whereby she not only surprised herself, but everyone else too what with actually going on to win and become national champion. This of course immediately opened up a whole new outlook for her as she very quickly went on to not only win more national medals, but also win medals at European and World Championships along with two call ups for England.

Whilst Cath was more than happy to compete at all distances from 5k right through to 24 hour races, it was at the longer events where she found that stamina came before speed for her.

Nevertheless and with this in mind, she can actually boast very fast race walk PBs of 25:40 for 5k, 52:45 for 10k and 1:48:00 for 20k and whilst those times were achieved during her younger years, now aged 64, she is still producing times which are indeed still very comparable to what many would be happy to have as run personal bests with clockings of 30:40, 61:40 and 2:10:00 for those same distances during 2018.

Just for the record, Cath also completed 100 miles in 21 hours and 23 mins during a 24 hour race back in 2003. I am sure there are many ultra-runners out there who would be more than happy to say they can match that achievement.

Cath and Pete now live in Spain and whilst they are very much involved with the running scene out there, they are also very much involved with Masters athletics in general. They are both still members of the Ryston Runners and stay very much in touch with local athletics here in Norfolk. They also welcome friends and athletes who make the visit out to Spain to spend time with them particularly when it comes to a spot of warm weather training.

This week's final foot note…..Cath found out earlier this year that she is ranked number three on the all-time UK Best list for the 50k walk. However, she has held that ranking for the last 25 years and didn't realise it.

I was not too sure how to react to that when being told, but if nothing else, you could say she has at least kept her feet firmly on the ground or in race walking terms one foot firmly on the ground at all times.

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