Run Anglia: How Bure Valley Harriers’ pair became part of Norfolk’s running royalty
Run Anglia editor Mark Armstrong talks to Brenda and Dave Hutcheon about how the husband and wife duo made a life in the county through running
The old saying goes that life is a marathon and not a sprint.
When it comes to Brenda Hutcheon it's a case of life is a marathon...and then a sprint.
When Brenda, then aged 35, wanted to return to running after excelling on the track at school, she decided to pick the longest mainstream distance you can aim for... the marathon, the Evening News Marathon in 1982 to be precise.
There is an irony to that choice given Brenda, along with her husband, Dave, have since gone on to become two of the most respected running coaches in Norfolk with Bure Valley Harriers.
It's safe to say that after more than 60 years of coaching between them that neither would now recommend attempting a marathon without a good few years training and race experience behind them.
However, the marathon did at least light a fire in Brenda that burns brightly to this day.
Whilst she might regret posting a time of 4-15 (a worthy effort for any first-time marathoner) it made her realise she wanted running in her life once again.
But it was to be on the athletics track that she really excelled.
"All our four children were running at the time and to a decent level and I thought I would do the same but I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone doing a marathon first," said Brenda, who was originally from Yorkshire but now lives in Worstead. "It wasn't the best experience and to make matters worse Dave got round in just over four hours which really annoyed me! I'm quite competitive. But it showed me that it was the track work that I really wanted to do again, so I started training again for the 400m, 800m and 1,500m."
It proved to be the right call as Brenda starred on the track with the high point winning national titles at various British Veterans Championships in the 90s.
"I wish I had moved back to the track sooner - I just wanted to be fast and I loved sprinting," added Brenda, who also went on to run another seven marathons in total. "I had some success - I remember at one particular British Vets Champs in Exeter that on the Saturday I was disappointed with myself because I could only get bronze in the 400m - my favourite event. Later that same day I got a silver in the 1,500m and I said to myself 'pull yourself together' and I managed to get the gold in the 800m on the Sunday, so I got the full set of medals."
An international vest appeared inevitable, but it wasn't to be.
"I really wanted to target getting an England vest but in my early 50's I came down with glandular fever and I was never quite the same after that.
"But I thought 'okay then, I'm going to help people instead' - I'd been lucky enough to have some really good coaches like Tim Ash, Dave Pring and Shirley Stallabrass.
"I learned a lot from all of them, certainly more than any course that you can ever go on. You don't learn a lot about coaching through courses - you learn from others and I've picked up a lot along the way."
Brenda and Dave initially started coaching at Norfolk Gazelles in 2002 and stayed for a number of years before moving to Coltishall with the intention of retiring from the club scene, but were persuaded to start coaching again at the newly-formed Coltishall Jaguars. They left there in 2014 and planned to set up a social running group, which gradually got bigger.
Over time these runners wanted to race and a decision had to be made whether to become an affiliated club - a big call had to be made.
"At all the other clubs we had experienced, politics came into it after a while," said Dave. "We'd had a few disagreements, but all we ever wanted to do was the running, we don't want anything to do with the politics side of it. We wanted to pull back but still be involved in running.
"The idea was to stay out of it and do the coaching.
"We had a long chat at a meeting in the Longe Arms in Spixworth and one of our friends stood up and said, 'if you've got any problems then please bring it out in the open, don't go behind people's backs'."
Bure Valley Harriers was therefore officially formed in 2015 and they have gone on to become one of the most competitive clubs in the county. Their motto is "for people who just want to run" and "we meet as a group of runners and end as a group of friends". Brenda explains why she thinks they have managed to forge such a close bond with their runners and achieve success.
"We don't want a big club - we always do out and back runs so we all finish together ending with a communal stretch - that works well.
"When it's an effort night we all do the same session but some will do less reps than others and at different paces.
"I don't believe in splitting the group - the slower ones shouldn't be separated from the elite."
Dave added: "It's not about us controlling it, it's about there being control within the club. We're not saying 'we've got to be in charge of everything'. You have to get the right people involved and getting them to think similar to what we want.
"It's about surrounding yourselves with like-minded people and I think that's why we've had the success we've had.
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"If someone comes along and wants something different, we will try to accommodate if we can, but if we can't then we will suggest somewhere else that might be better suited.
"You see some of the really big clubs and they have got clubs within clubs which can sometimes cause problems.
"We are quite selective with our members trying to keep it a nice friendly club - the committee and our runners are all like-minded. It's coming up to five years since we were formed and we've got a lovely group of runners.
"We've got some great experience at the club now with runners like Scott (Walford), Michael (Eccles), Nigel (Arnold) and Phil (Hurr).
"They are great for the youngsters like Ryan (Davidson), Faith (Viney), Autumn (Hales) and Simon (Partridge)."
It's not something Brenda, 72, and Dave, 75, are about to give up either, although they are pleased to have the backing of a committee that can at least take on some of the administrative work Brenda, in particular, does.
Brenda, who still runs herself a few times a week, admits it's given Dave and herself a structure to their lives that they wouldn't be without.
"I'm forever on the computer," added Brenda.
"Every Sunday night I'm doing training plans for everyone and I love seeing them do the sessions and make improvements along the way. That's what makes it worthwhile."
Dave added: "It's a big part of our lives and we wouldn't want to be without it."
Life at Bure Valley Harriers
It's been an excellent year on the road for Bure Valley Harriers.
Scott Walford gained not one, but two, England vests after his performances at the Salford 10K and the Bournemouth Half Marathon, Michael Eccles won the Sportlink Grand Prix Series whilst Faith Viney won several local races producing personal bests in all disciplines from 5K to half marathon.
Their successes are testament to the methods used by Brenda and Dave although the pair insist there is nothing complicated behind their approach.
All they insist on from their athletes is one thing... hard work.
"When people come along to our sessions we work them hard - it should hurt a bit," said Brenda. "I don't put up with any people chatting during our sessions - they should be working too hard for all that. We always go for coffee afterwards - we can all have a good chat then!
"I don't believe in complicated sessions either. 400m efforts, half-miles, miles - they are basic, good sessions - why would you want to make it complicated?"
Dave added: "If it's complicated then it distracts the runner from doing his session. The less complicated you make it, the more they can focus on what they are trying to do.
"It's simplistic - but I think some youngsters today want the technology to replace the effort."
Their stripped back approach extends to the use of watches... whilst Brenda despairs over runners' use of Strava.
"I don't believe in watches," she said. "I hate the things. One of the first things I say to any of our new runners is 'don't wear your watch in a race' - you don't need it. Unless it's a marathon - that's a bit different.
"But anything shorter then what's the point? If you go out too fast in the first mile then you're worried, if you go too slow, you're worried. Forget about all that and just run.
"And people get far too obsessed over Strava. Just do the session and reap the benefit of it during a race."
Dave added: "What we are trying to do a lot of the time is to try and get our runners to judge pace. If you go out too quick it's the worst thing you can ever do. You might run a minute quicker on the way out but you'll run two minutes slower on the way back."
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