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Neil Featherby: What continues to motivate the athlete within all of us?

Jack Cheung (centre) and his brother Dick (behind) taking part in Catton parkrun in memoryu of their brother. PIC: Wai-Hing Cheung

Jack Cheung (centre) and his brother Dick (behind) taking part in Catton parkrun in memoryu of their brother. PIC: Wai-Hing Cheung

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I have always been fascinated by the driving forces behind highly motivated people particularly athletes and sportspeople.

Craig Bowen-Jones on the Field of Pain at Felthorpe. Picture: Neil FeatherbyCraig Bowen-Jones on the Field of Pain at Felthorpe. Picture: Neil Featherby

That extra something which comes from within particularly when the task in hand requires lots of full on commitment.

One guy who I used to work with and will always stand out for me, was driven very much by the want of always testing himself whilst also adding extra pressure through then fear of failure. It was never the actual fear of having a go, but fear of not being able to conquer the challenges he set himself up for.

It didn’t matter how many times he achieved because no sooner had he attained his goal he would then look to push himself on to the next challenge.

Having goals is so very important, but for him it always seemed that he was trying to prove himself or of course prove himself to others.

You could always see the joy and the high afterwards, but I was never sure if he was actually enjoying all the hard effort and pressure which went with each of these long journeys.

The shame of it was that he never really seemed satisfied and always suggested that he was only as good as the result of his next challenge as opposed to his last one.

Needless to say this person became a very good friend of mine and knowing a fair bit about him, I do also know that there were several factors which drove him on like it did. I just wish he had taken a bit more time to feel content with his achievements.

However, having worked so closely with this person, it did also help me by way of observing any similar or indeed individual traits in others to help increase motivation levels if and when required.

When I worked with professional boxers, it was so very clear that they were highly driven.

I always said there was a similarity between boxers and marathon runners, but whilst the adrenaline is most certainly high for the athlete when standing on the start line, for the boxer when having to make that ring walk especially when it is in front of TV cameras and thousands of highly charged up fans, then that really is a time for fighting and not taking flight.

At the same time this is where it was just as important for the trainer/coach to keep everything on a level footing whilst also knowing their fighters so well that they knew exactly what to say and when to say it.

Being lucky enough to be involved on several occasions with corner work albeit just handing up which included a world title fight at none other than Madison Square Garden, I have heard many a speech given by some of the best trainers out there to bring the very best out of their fighter at moments just when it really mattered most.

This of course is all just as applicable to any coach in any sport for which I will be doing my very best to give final prep talks based upon what I know about the athletes who I advise and who have big events this coming Sunday.

Craig Bowen Jones and Mark Armstrong are taking part in the Manchester Marathon and whilst they are both aiming for different finishing times and have followed their own individual paths in respect of training preparations, they are indeed both very motivated and dare I say pretty intense about doing their very best. It is this intensity and want which really has given them the impetus to produce a super performance when it matters most.

Craig really is a hard working businessman with an amazing work ethic and whilst he gives his very all to everything he do, sometimes he really does have to dig down to the bottom of his energy reserves when it comes to training i.e. a 16-hour work day followed by a 10 mile run at pace for instance.

Not too many people could follow this lifestyle and workload, but it works for him. Running helps him clear his head, but he is also very much driven by other personal reasons too for which he regularly switches on to these when he needs the extra energy and motivation.

He also says he likes to prove me wrong whereas I prefer to turn that back on him by saying it is more a case of proving me right.

Whereas Mark’s lifestyle is somewhat different to Craig’s, he still has to fit his running into a very busy life at work as a journalist and Deputy Sports Editor for the EDP and of course with his very young family.

Nevertheless, and just like Craig, he also has the same excellent principles for wanting to be the very best he can be whilst also having similar personal reasons as to the driving forces which comes very much from within.

Needless to say a lot of talking has taken place between me, Mark and Craig this week for which it is that last minute team talk which is the one they will take to the start line.

However, there are two other very good friends who I have been helping prepare for this Sunday’s City of Norwich Half Marathon who really do have some very deep motivational reasons to not only will them round the 13.1 mile course, but it will also be the culmination of what has been a very emotional journey since starting their preparations for this race at the beginning of January.

Jack and Dick Cheung lost their brother Sze Ming who himself was a very well-known popular runner and triathlete, after a tragic accident whilst out training on his bike last June.

Such was the shock and sadness within the local running, cycling and triathlon community, Jack and Dick took up running to honour their brother whilst taking part in some parkruns and a couple of 10k road races.

Completing a half marathon was somewhat off their radar though until after a few meaningful conversations between us, they then both decided to go for it. To say they have been model pupils is an understatement for which come Sunday’s race, I am sure it really will be one of many emotions for them.

With this in mind, I wish everyone who is racing this weekend all the very best, but I think it only fitting to leave the final words of my column this week to Jack and Dick Cheung….inspirational and hopefully motivating to everyone.

“Training for the half marathon has been an incredible journey for which it has transformed our lives. Taking part in this race is so very much in the memory of our brother Sze Ming whilst also raising money for the East Anglian Air Ambulance. Apart from giving us a positive attitude and outlook on life again, taking up running has also been a source of comfort due to the encouragement, guidance and belief you Neil and so many others have given us. Dealing with a devastating loss of loved ones is very difficult to take in and always will be, but Sze and our late dad Kam-Chung have been in our thoughts and with us during every single training run for which we feel sure they will be just as proud of us as we are of them especially when we cross the finish line on Sunday.”

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