Neil Featherby: Becoming a Tractor Boy and a trip down memory lane

Mark Thorpe charity Blickling Half

Big Norwich City fan Mark Thorpe will be wearing an Ipswich Town shirt at the Blickling Half Marathon to raise money for charity - Credit: Mark Thorpe

What a busy month or two September and October seems to have been with the Great North Run along with the Brighton, London and Manchester Marathons all taking place. 

However, it’s not over yet of course as this weekend also sees The York Marathon and Cambridge Half Marathon taking place and I think it is fair to say that they are both pretty big races in their own right. 

Nearer to home for most of us Norfolk folk though, we have the Blickling Half Marathon on Sunday which I do have some connection with by way of helping to support a team of a dozen runners who are all running for The Hallswood Animal Sanctuary whilst raising funds to help build a badly new hospital wing. 

For those who know me well they will also know that I have a huge love for wildlife and all animals for which the sanctuary is very close my heart. 

Road racing since the 1980s has gone from that of the competitive club runner’s domain to what is now an event shared with a mix of fitness and fun runners with many of these also wanting to raise money for their various chosen charities. 

This of course has also helped to make so many road races not only a great occasion, but an amazing spectacle too for the many spectators standing roadside who are watching the hundreds and even thousands of runners going past whilst particularly cheering on those who have dressed up in costume to further their charity efforts. 

With this in mind, I do have to mention Norfolk Gazelles Mark Thorpe who is part of the Hallswood team and is an athlete who one week might be racing an 800 metres on the track followed by an ultra marathon the following week. 

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I have always said that he is one of those people who is not scared to put himself on the line when it comes to any challenge. 

However, with him being a huge Norwich City fan his mates have now challenged him to run this Sunday’s half marathon in an Ipswich Town shirt if he wants their sponsorship money. 

He really is not happy about this, but what with it being for a great cause, he’s doing it. Therefore if you do just happen to see him running around the Aylsham area on Sunday morning, please do give him a big cheer even if you are a die-hard Norwich fan yourself. 

Incidentally, he will be pacing one of his club mates round who at 78 years of age will be taking part in his first half marathon and looking to get round in about 2 hours 10 mins. 

Going back down memory lane…

Earlier this week, I was sent a photograph via messenger from a very old friend of mine, Dave Reed, who was one of Norfolk’s most prolific road runners in the 1990s. 

Dave really was what you would now call an old school Alf Tupper type when it came to his training and racing. 

Those who know Dave will know exactly what I mean. 

He would think nothing of having a few beers the night before a race and still go out the next day and win in a very fast time. 

His best years were also when in his 40s running 15 mins for 5k, 31 mins for 10k, 52 mins for 10 miles and 69 mins for a half marathon. I think he may still even hold the over 40s NRR Wroxham 5k record. 

After leaving the RAF, he moved out to Spain where he continued to compete into his 50s winning every single race he took part in as a 50-year-old. 

Anyway, and here he is now at 65 years of age sending me a picture in his old Sportlink sponsored vest which still fits whilst rubbing it in that he looks no older than a guy in his mid to late 40s. 

Oh, and I must just say, some of our Sunday runs back in the day with other club mates, will never be forgotten. Far tougher than some of the actual races we took part in! 

The perfect pace makes for the perfect race…. 

I always go on about the importance of pace making for the perfect race in a marathon and the most used quote after being “I was on for...” 

One athlete who really did go for it in last Monday’s classic Boston Marathon in Massachusetts, USA, was CJ Albertson, who took off from the gun. 

Not only did he run well under five-minute miles to half way in 64 mins 08 secs, but he had also built up a lead of over two minutes. 

Unfortunately for him, his pace dropped and by 20 miles his lead had now been reduced to just 23 seconds before being caught and passed by the chasing group just one mile later. 

For those who know all about what a real struggle it can be in mind and body during the latter stages of a marathon, particularly when others have gone past leaving you to feel that you are going backwards, this is when the real test of mental resilience kicks in. 

It really is during these moments when every minute can feel like an hour and each 100 metres feels like a mile and if you are not careful the wheels can come completely off. 

However, he used his strength of mind to hang in which no doubt comes from being a previous world record holder for 50km, to finish 10th in 2 hours 11 mins and 44 secs. 

I am sure if he had of not gone off at such a fast pace, he would certainly have finished higher up the field in a quicker time and potentially even won the race. Nevertheless, hats off to him for going for it and without a doubt a very brave run! 

Lastly, well done to Craig Bowen Jones after his superb effort in last week’s 156 miles, 6 stage Marathon Des Sables race. His 34th overall finish position at 50 years of age really is something for him to be so very proud of.