Neil Featherby: A healthy debate is well worth having to improve running in Norfolk

Neil Featherby believes the future is bright for Norfolk runners. Picture: Mark Hewlett

Neil Featherby believes the future is bright for Norfolk runners. Picture: Mark Hewlett - Credit: Archant

Neil Featherby believes the future is bright for Norfolk runners

Although I had already planned my column for this week, after the reaction on Run Anglia's Facebook page to Mark Armstrong's column in last week's EDP I wanted to offer my thoughts.

I was fascinated by the response and many comments being made by athletes, coaches and co-ordinators. Whilst there were so many differing opinions being aired it might just be that a rocking of the boat could perhaps also end up being constructive.

Put it this way, after speaking to no end of people since Mark's article from just about every club in our county, the passion and commitment which exists amongst all is so very apparent and hence the so many differing reactions.

Needless to say no one goes out of their way to deliberately upset anyone, but when it comes to such thought provoking suggestions, there will always be some whose feathers get more than a little ruffled. If I had of posted my thoughts at the time, apart from being far too long, it would have just got lost amongst what was already so many very constructive points of view.

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Having also now read Mark's article several times over as well as having chatted to him about it, if I am honest and without wanting to upset anyone any further, especially those who I consider to be really good friends amongst the various clubs, I thought he did make some valid points.

It also demonstrated that he does himself have an opinion as to how he has seen the many changes from what was once very much a sport to something which nowadays goes well beyond just being a competitive activity.

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Despite one or two comments suggesting that Mark perhaps needed to do a bit more research, he has been a very notable sports writer for several years as well as being a more than keen runner and it was a personal view as he saw it without deliberately promoting any one club in particular.

When saying they (the CONAC group) were in a class of their own at the Trowse 10k, I think it is fair to say that most would agree with that and for all competitive athletes it will have given them a measure of where they are currently at themselves.

He also asked the question if CONAC is the only place for those who want to compete to their best of their ability? However, he didn't say it was and later in his column he even mentioned that the likes of Nick Earl have improved greatly since leaving the county.

No one can argue that this isn't true, but at the same time Nick was always going to improve so it is also rather hypothetical when it comes to whether he would have still achieved the same high standards if he had stayed here in Norfolk.

It is also true that for many runners that they are more than happy with just getting a few miles under their belt and then enjoying the social aspect which comes with being part of a club whilst also using words like belonging and being with likeminded people. What is wrong with that?

Even elite athletes enjoy those social aspects and for those who use running as a form of escapism, well count me in on that one. In fact I think there are times when we all do. However when it comes to being competitive, whilst we all know that the world's elite are still setting records, there are less club runners nowadays achieving the same race times of 30 odd years ago. That is a fact! I am sure there are many reasons for this with lots of varied opinions why.

For several years now, people have commented on the number of older athletes filling the top spots in races whilst even winning in race times which would not have won races back in the day.

In some cases virtually all in the top ten have been aged 35 plus. Many of these athletes have taken running up after giving up other sports for which you could ask the question would they have been even quicker in their 20s?

I would say definitely so for which my next thoughts would be as to why the older athletes have dominated at the front of many road races.

Let's also not forget there are some who have suggested that courses are more accurately measured nowadays, but that really is not so especially when it is also applicable to track standards.

I have written about this before. Road race course measurement is exactly the same now as it was back in the 80s.

In fact it was the 1970s when the Jones counter was first used for accurately measuring road courses.

Certainly any race of note and high standing will have used this method. Roger Gibbons, who was a member of the Duke Street Running Club, during the 1980s and was an officially qualified course measurer in East Anglia would not give you an inch. Richard Thornhill tends to oversee course measurement in Norfolk now.

However and one other very valid point that Mark also mentioned was that as races are filling up so quickly, would it be a good idea to always hold a number of places back for the quicker runners just as CONAC did for the Trowse 10k to ensure a highly competitive field. Well, this isn't the first time this has been suggested and I am sure that we may see this happening much more. It does of course also come down to those better runners taking the places up if offered to them as opposed to moaning that they can't get into the races.

In a nutshell, we have some fantastic clubs in Norfolk all run by lots of hard working and very motivated people.

CONAC without a doubt has a very structured system which is dedicated to developing their younger athletes for which I now think that there is going to be a resurgence in fast race times again. Lots of athletes are moving into the senior ranks all fired up to be competitive on the road. However, and whilst some other clubs may differ slightly with regards to how they go about things, it is still quite clear that there is a heck of a lot of passion, dedication and competitiveness amongst the Norfolk running fraternity.

Norwich Road Runners have also told me that they are working hard with their junior sections and are keen to point out that they took teams to the South of England X/C Champs and Ekiden relays this year. They are also organising a 2k junior race next March with chip timing for which it has already sold out.

Anyway, as we come to the end of another excellent running year, here's now looking forward to the cross country season, particularly on the back of Chris Merrylees and Dom Blake's first term as senior managers.

I know they intend to build upon that first season and most certainly are looking forward to the county champs for which it really does look like it is going to be the most competitive champs for many years.

The talent is out there and as already said I honestly do believe that we are about to see a very big resurgence at senior level due to want, belief and probably being sick to death of hearing how good it was back in the day.

Success usually lends itself to breeding further success so whether it be at CONAC or any of the other hard working clubs, then fantastic.

As for Mark's column, if that has whipped people up to get out there and show just how good they are, then well done him and here's to looking forward to watching running continue to grow in 2019, be it for those who compete or indeed those who just run for health and all-round wellbeing.

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