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Neil Featherby: Reflections on a decade to savour for running

Athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill inspired a nation at the London 2012 Olympics. Picture: PA

Athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill inspired a nation at the London 2012 Olympics. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

So not only the end of another year, but another decade and as we get older, it's not only the years which go more quickly, but the decades too.

Richard Polley has been a key administrator in the road running scene in Norfolk over the last 10 years. Picture: Epic Action ImageryRichard Polley has been a key administrator in the road running scene in Norfolk over the last 10 years. Picture: Epic Action Imagery

However, going quickly or not, when we do actually look back, it is also amazing just how much we have crammed into those 10 years and of course by the very many things which have also happened during this period.

When I sat down to write this piece with regards to what has been a super decade of sport, I had it all worked out in my head as to how it would unfold.

Nevertheless, as soon as I sat down to write it, the only thing which unfolded was how impossible it would be to cram so much into what is a fairly small piece for Run Anglia what with so many fantastic sporting moments having taken place.

If I had to name one most outstanding highlight though, then for me it has to be the London Olympic Games in 2012.

There are no two ways about it, those games really were something for the UK to be proud of, what with the immense organisation along with of course our fantastic performances not only on the track, but across so many sports where we won 65 medals (29 gold) in total.

I also think it is fair to say that there can be no doubt that it was these games which was the catalyst for so many people to take up sporting activities, particularly running.

Yes, such things as the parkrun were already up and running (sorry no pun intended there), but after 2012, the increase in numbers attending not only parkruns, but organised races too, were huge.

Whilst it now seems like people of all ages and abilities are out there running and exercising, it is definitely during this last decade where it really has become so much more than just a boom.

It's not just the traditional distances either, Tough Mudders and anything which is deemed to be extreme have also become mainstream. Ultra-marathons, which perhaps years ago would have been lucky to see 50 people entered, now sees hundreds of people taking part in races which range from 50 miles up to 100 miles and of course multi day races too.

As for being able to turn up on the day and enter as you could in many cases years ago, that has now long gone with most races filling up to maximum numbers within hours of opening for entries.

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Whilst having mentioned that all abilities now happily enter and take part in races, at the very sharp end, we have seen a sub two-hour marathon which I am pretty sure no one would have thought was going to happen at the start of the decade. We all know it is unofficial but the fact a human being, albeit a very special one in the shape of Eliud Kipchoge, has done it almost beggars belief.

Then just a day later, Brigid Kosgei smashed the woman's world record with a staggering 2:14:04 clocking in the Chicago marathon.

Needless to say that here in Norfolk, we have also seen some outstanding performances with of course so many of our athletes attaining international status and far too many to mention by name although in truth I am scared that I will miss someone out if I do.

Our clubs have also risen to another level and with the influx of so many new runners swelling the ranks of these clubs, this has also contributed to so many of these people bringing new skills and professionalism with them. Once again far too many people to mention.

However, one man who I am going to mention by name and that is Richard Polley, who has most certainly been involved with Norfolk athletics for more than just a decade going right back to when he was an excellent club runner boasting times which would indeed place him in the top three in many a good club race of today.

Why am I mentioning him though? Firstly because he has been a leading servant to our sport. Whilst there has been a huge boom in the number of runners taking part in events in Norfolk, there have been lots of new races such as the Run Norwich 10k exploding onto the road running scene for which Richard in one form or another has been so ably involved with.

To say he likes to methodically tick all boxes when it comes to organisation is an understatement. At the same time and apart from any events which he has been heavily involved with himself, he has always been on hand to help guide others into ensuring that everything runs smoothly when it comes to their own race organisation too.

During the last few months it has been suggested that he is going to start taking a back seat in 2020 and perhaps play a slightly more low key role.

If he does then I am more than sure that once again he will have ticked all boxes with regards to making sure that everything is in place before he does, but at the same time he will still most certainly be a big miss to not only Norfolk athletics and road running, but to what is a huge part of the Norfolk sporting community.

He is definitely a man who very rarely gets it wrong, but on a light hearted side I do have to mention one of his most famous quotes in the early days of parkrun, when he was heard to say "it will never catch on". Even the best can't always be right!

Anyway all the very best to him in 2020 and of course to every single person who puts on a pair of running shoes in the New Year.

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