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Neil Featherby: Three local runners we should all look up to for inspiration

Norfolk Gazelles' Ian Thomas - one of our county's most inspiring runners. Picture: Supplied

Norfolk Gazelles' Ian Thomas - one of our county's most inspiring runners. Picture: Supplied

Archant

My column this week has to go to three local runners who have all performed with distinction during the last few weeks with two of them receiving England call ups.

Scott Walford has achieved another England Masters V45 vest at the Bournemouth Half Marathon. Picture: ArchantScott Walford has achieved another England Masters V45 vest at the Bournemouth Half Marathon. Picture: Archant

Bure Valley Harriers, Scott Walford, who most local runners will know gained selection after his recent success in the Salford 10k, has now equalled this with another England V45 call up for the Fleet Half Marathon next March, after his superb performance in the Bournemouth Half Marathon, last weekend, where he finished sixth overall from a field of 5,000 runners and first in his age category.

Whilst his finishing time of 74 mins and 21 secs, was a minute or two slower than he expected, the weather conditions really were not conducive for fast race times. Whereas, Scott, will be representing England at V45 level, City of Norwich AC's, Gary Crush, has been selected to run for England at V40 level in the British and Irish Masters Cross Country Championships at Aintree next month on November 16.

Gary burst on to the scene less than three years ago when taking part in his first parkrun over at Brundall, on Christmas Eve, 2016, when recording a time of 18:29.

Needless to say, this immediately made people look up and ask the question as to who is this guy and where did he come from and even more so as he went on to not only turn up each week and run fast times against the stopwatch, but to also cross the finish line in first place time after time.

Gary Crush at race one of the Wroxham 5K Series earlier this year. Picture: Total Race TimingGary Crush at race one of the Wroxham 5K Series earlier this year. Picture: Total Race Timing

He most certainly had the running bug and after what was his umpteenth win at Brundall, a friend suggested that he should enter a proper race.

Whilst this suggestion was met with a little trepidation, he did indeed enter a "proper race" and lined up albeit very nervously in a field of very competitive runners in one of the 5k road races which was part of Norwich Road Runners, Wroxham 5k series.

Any nerves which he may have initially showed were soon forgotten as he rose to the occasion when breaking the 17 minute barrier for the first time.

If people were wondering who he was after his parkrun successes, they most certainly were now and this led to a meeting with Jane Clarke, who herself is not only a formidable athlete, but superb coach too.

The timing was perfect, for which she took Gary under her wing and very carefully structured and planned his training towards targeting specific goals before deciding on what she thought would be the best distances to suit his strengths.

Jane said: "Gary is an obvious natural talent, but in my opinion, it is his ability to be able to focus and apply himself to consistent and sensible training which is geared to his needs which sets him apart from many other capable runners.

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"Most importantly though, he listens to exactly what he has been told and is always willing and prepared to travel to what we think are the right races for him to achieve the results and targets which we have planned for."

Whilst Gary is obviously one of those people who finds running so very natural for which I am sure he would have continued to improve on the back of his first sub 17 min performance with coach or no coach, this would have sooner or later plateaued out if he had not had Jane behind him to expertly guide and instruct his training progressions, particularly to the level she has got him to in such a short time.

With regards to his many first class race performances this year which has ultimately led to his England selection, he has produced his fastest times ever at 5k (Ipswich Twilight 5k 15:29) and 10k (Eastleigh 10k 33:15), as well as taking gold at 1,500 metres at the BMAF Track Championships.

The new boy really has come a long way in short time.

Whilst my next mention is not an international call up, it is on the back of once again another super run by Norfolk Gazelles, Ian Thomas, in this year's Athens to Sparta, Spartathlon, in what is not only an international race, but without a doubt a real classic when it comes to one of the world's leading ultra-marathons.

It was this time last year when I wrote about Ian and all his ultra-running performances particularly in the Spartathlon race.

However, on the back of his latest feat, I most certainly have to give him mention once again after he completed the 250km/153 mile course which comprises of not only varied terrain and the 1,200 feet of ascent and descent of Mount Parthenio during the night, but weather conditions which really can be varied and temperamental with temperatures this year reaching 36C.

Ian's finishing time of 33 hours and 18 minutes has now made him the fastest all time British V60 athlete for this amazing race and whilst that really is a performance to be proud of, he is already targeting next year's event where he is not only aiming to retain his status as the UK V60 number one, but also become the world's fastest (currently 12th) V60 Spartathlete of all time.

To do this he will need to run under 28 hours, 11 mins, but with a personal best of 29:13:31 set in 2016, I would not bet against him achieving this ambition.

Whilst all three of them are so very modest about their achievements, one thing which does stand out very much and that is their dedication and focus towards their running.

They really are an inspiration and demonstrate what I have said so many times before and that being, if you want it bad enough and are prepared to discipline yourself towards the challenge, then it really is all very possible.

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