Neil Featherby: The modest superstar of yesteryear that’s been bitten by the running bug again
“Now I am as nutty as before and once again need a daily injection of running to keep me sane.”
I have spent my life being in awe of sportspeople which goes right back to my early childhood when it was speedway riders who I wanted to emulate, then footballers and of course athletes and top runners.
Whilst I have also had a fair bit of involvement in boxing, as one well known local boxing coach said to me a number of times, when it came to that sport I would only be good for about 30 seconds, although I think he was probably being a little generous too. However, long distance running was the opposite for which I spent hours and hours out on the road in training so as to be the quickest I could possibly be over all distances up to the marathon with a number of ultra-marathons thrown in for good measure too.
During the 1980s though, when I was still an up-and-coming half decent local runner, one man who really did stand out for me was Thetford AC's Dave Goodwin. A runner who was fast over anything from 10k through to 100 miles.
He never ever seemed to make a fuss or big deal of it either and was always so very cool about the prospect of racing for what might have been 30 minutes right up to what was a six-day race where he completed 515 miles going round and round a 400 metre running track.
However, and just as I hit my peak, this man who I had always looked up to, seemed to disappear off the scene and despite his name being brought up several times in conversation during the following years, I really was never too sure what had happened to him.
Then last year, I walked into Sportlink only for the staff to tell me about a guy called Dave Goodwin who had been in for shoes. My immediate reaction was one of being really disappointed that I had missed him and went on to tell the staff about what an awesome athlete he was and how good it was to know that he is still running.
"He just came in, tried on one pair of shoes and literally said they will do and was gone again," said my son Craig who had served him. That did make me laugh as it really was so typical of the Dave Goodwin I had known from the past.
Anyway and a few months on, I have now met up with Dave and chatted to him several times for which I cannot think of anyone better to write about this week.
It was as an 11-year-old boy when on holiday in the country when he saw a sign which said "London 26 miles" which kindled his thoughts and imagination of one day running a marathon. Nevertheless, it was football which was the sport of his choice and which he played right into his late twenties until when realising that his footballing days were coming to an end for which his mind went back to that day as an 11-year-old where the thoughts of first running a marathon had entered his head.
Living in Garboldisham on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, he joined Thetford AC and was further encouraged when club coach and former middle distance runner Bill McKim who had competed in a Commonwealth Games told Dave that he was a talented and natural runner. Despite what was considered back then as being past your peak once you had reached 30 years of age, these words really did encourage him to train hard to see just what he could achieve.
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"My running career was quite short really spanning from 1978 to 1987," he said. "But I did pack a lot into what was nearly a decade of running."
That he certainly did, with 29 marathons in total (best of 2hrs 31mins), 18 ultra-distance races which included a 100 miler (14 hrs 07mins and 42secs), a 24-hour race (155 miles) and a six-day track race (515 miles), but his special and most fondest memories are when having finished in 10th position in what really was the old classic London to Brighton 52.5 mile road race in 5hrs 58mins. "That was slow by comparison to the former Commonwealth Marathon Gold Medallist Ian Thompson's winning time of 5hrs 15mins," he so modestly said.
Anyone who remembers this famous old road race will know that finishing in the top 10 in under six hours on what really was a tough course is one heck of an achievement, but those comments are so typically Dave, a man who never has been one to blow his own trumpet whilst always preferring to turn the attention and praise on to others.
Another favourite race and memory of his and once again for those who remember what was another one of the ultra-classics, is when racing in the Isle of Man 40 mile road race which basically followed what is the motor cycling TT circuit around the island.
Starting out really carefully knowing that there was a climb of 2,000 feet from sea level up to Snaefell after passing the 25 mile point, he not only picked off several runners on the way up, but also on the descent into Douglas and the finish and despite making a valiant effort to catch the second-placed runner who he was rapidly closing in on, he finished in what was still a superb third place.
Unfortunately though, it was eventually time constraints which started to affect his carefully planned out running schedule and as I have always said, trying to fit your life into your running as opposed to the other way around will eventually take its toll if you can't get the balance right or as Dave puts it: "The problem with trying to train in excess of 70 miles a week on a regular basis is that you need an understanding family and a job which enables a regular training routine to be undertaken. I was quite lucky over those years as my working hours were flexible and I could train at lunchtimes and after work at the company's sports centre, but when family life started to involve the commitment of bringing up young children, that was the point when I decided to plough all my energies into family life albeit at the expense of my running. Nevertheless, I did always have in the back of my mind that one day I would start again."
Start again he did, but what he didn't realise at the time was that it would not be for another 26 years. After retiring from work and still having the desire to lace up a pair of running shoes again, despite being much heavier than he was back in his old racing days, he once again very carefully adopted another regular training routine into his life again.
"Being two stone heavier than I was back in my racing days, I knew it was going to be a struggle to compete as seriously as I did before," he said, but as the weight came off, he found his fitness levels returning allowing him to become faster and competitive within his age group.
"Now I am as nutty as before and once again need a daily injection of running to keep me sane," he added. "I will never be as fast as before and I realise as the years go by I will in fact become slower, but this drug called running is certainly as addictive as it used to be."
Dave still has his training diaries of all the training and races which he would religiously record during let's call it his first running career, for which he has details of 223 races competed in.
Apart from the awesome PBs already mentioned in this column, he really does have a huge range of super personal best times, boasting (although he never does), a 32:46 -10k, a half marathon in 73:02, 20 miles in 1:54:31 and 100k in 7:23:53. However and ironically, despite competing in so many races, he only took part in one 5k race which was held on the old cinder track in Great Yarmouth where he finished in a very creditable time of 16:41.
As far as I am concerned he really is another Norfolk running legend and whilst I am sure that there are plenty of people who are part of today's local running scene who are aware of him if just by his enthusiasm and friendly chatter whilst of course not forgetting his successes in his current age category, I will hazard a guess that most of them don't know anything about this very modest man's running past.
They don't make too many like Dave Goodwin anymore, but they didn't back then either.