Neil Featherby: You can learn so much from legends of the past

Neil Featherby with running group

Neil Featherby's running group putting in the hard work during one of his sessions. - Credit: Neil Featherby

“That was really hard” - a comment I have heard from several runners who I advise during the last couple of weeks. 

Whilst this year has most certainly not followed the usual pattern for any of us, in running terms this is a time of year when winter work starts and that of course means after a couple of end of season very easy weeks to recuperate, it then means a long build up in mileage with those much longer type sessions coupled with cross country racing and running to further build strength and endurance. 

Mark Armstrong, himself being one of those people for which my immediate answer to him was, “what do you expect?  If you really want to do this, then be prepared to get your head down during the next few months, focus on the training and remember that there really are no short cuts or magic wands and at the end of the day you will only get out what you are prepared to put in.” 

Whilst we are all lucky enough nowadays to be able to find expert advice from lots of amazing people online and on YouTube, the simple truth is that the basics will never ever change. 

If you aren’t prepared to work on the basics which in running terms means getting the structure right and foundations laid, then anything over and above is likely to breakdown and even fail. 

Each week, I post a new picture of a former super running star on my Facebook running group asking firstly who is it and then any significance to go with the race which the picture may have been taken from. 

If I am lucky, I might get four people attempt to answer for which I more often than not ask some of them privately if they knew the answer. 

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In most cases they don’t which amazes me. 

When I was competing, I was totally in awe of so many top class runners, be it those who had gone before and of course those from what was then current day. 

There was no YouTube or social media back then and if you really wanted to know about these people along with all the great races, you read books, magazines and autobiographies which contained so much detailed information especially the biographies of some of those amazing runners which I looked up too. 

I strongly advise anyone who wants to be the best they can be, to actually take time out, and spend a bit of time reading up on how some of the greats of the past got to the top. 

Or indeed check out some of the dated, but still brilliant running documentaries on YouTube such as the one on Sebastian Coe, titled Born to Run. 

Ron Hill’s two autobiographies from the 1980s and even Jim Peters from the 1950s are still books I pick up time and time again to read and whilst the covers are now tatty, the content inside is awesome. 

Whilst it is quite clear that both Ron and Jim, and indeed anyone else who were around at the time, were prepared to train so hard which of course meant covering all the basics, they also knew exactly what this meant when it came to putting the miles in. 

You could of course ask if they would have been even better if they had been lucky enough to have had all of today’s scientific knowledge and technology for which I am just about 100 percent sure they would have been, particularly when it comes to footwear. 

However, and at the same time would some of today’s minefield of products and science detracted from that single mindedness approach of “this is down to me and only I can do this” attitude? 

I like to think not! 

With just a month to go before that special time of year which is all about giving and of course receiving is here, it was recently brought to my attention about a young athlete by the name of Godwin Adongo in Uganda who is destined to be a future star of the sport. 

At eight years of age she has already won national school honours at 1500 and 3000 metres. 

In fact she is so good, she has been assigned three coaches and a personal doctor to monitor her progress. Incidentally, this talent of hers is no fluke as her grandfather was the great John Akii Bua, who won the 400 metres hurdles at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. 

Whilst Godwin has professional back up in her own country, she still struggles for kit for which Eva Barton who herself is a young up and coming talent from Norfolk, saw a post on Facebook for which she contacted the Adongo family offering items of her own kit. 

When it became apparent that her shoe size was much bigger than Godwin’s though, Eva not only saved her own pocket money up to buy her new friend shoes and kit, she also composed her own Facebook post which consisted of a picture of herself and Godwin side by side with the heading of “What is the difference?” 

To say the response was huge is an understatement with not only her own sponsor Enertor coming forward to help, but British Athletics, along with schools, companies and other people from all over the world offering further support. 

This has also now given Eva and her family the impetus to help other athletes who come from difficult backgrounds with Eva so very maturely saying: “I think there are young girls all over the world who have the potential to become great and having access to the basics like running shoes should not hold any of us back. With this in mind I would like to help as many of them as I can.”   

For all those who know Eva, they will also know that her father Scott, is a driving force behind her, providing tremendous support himself. 

“This could be a springboard and platform to reach out to other young girls who need some help and backing,” he said. “With all the support Eva has had on social media, she now has an idea about creating a foundation to help raise funds for young female athletes all over the world. 

The Bartons and Adongos now have regular contact and of course have all become very good friends. However and how ironic would it be if one day Eva and Godwin both share the same track at a major championships?