As we move towards Croft’s Birthday in June, Huw continues with his series of chats with the members that have been instrumental in our clubs formation and growth over the past 40 years. This week it’s the turn of Mike.
How did you first get into running?
I’ve always been sport mad. I went to Barnard Castle School in Co. Durham, though I was born and raised across the mighty river Tees in Yorkshire. I played cricket and rugby with Dominic Cummings’ dad while I was there. What a claim to fame ! Rugby was massive at the school, later producing many England internationals including Rory Underwood and Rob Andrew, and I played as a flying winger. Rugby was probably my best sport and I played to a high standard, but I was too much of a wimp and was regularly injured.
I ran for the school and district but it was all sprint distances. I didn’t pick distance running up until I was in my 30’s. I’d injured my back and that had stopped me playing cricket. My elder brother was a runner. One day he asked me to run with him. I was just wearing a pair of jeans and a regular shirt but ran 4 miles and loved it!
In 1982 I entered my first Half Marathon. It was in Mansfield and I ran it, with a friend, in 1:43. I was pleased with my time but felt that I could definitely go faster.
Never contemplating that I was good enough to be a club runner, I was persuaded to give it a go to see if I could get better. The club was mostly focussed on track and field. Us distance runners were outsiders in many ways. It worked though and the next year I ran a Half Marathon in 1:19 and later lowered that to 1.12.37 plus a Marathon best of 2.37.54.
Moving to Shobdon
In 1986 I was approached about the assistant manager’s job at the newly built Leominster Leisure Centre and moved from Nottinghamshire to live in Shobdon. Mike Faulkner, one of the founders of Croft, collared me at the Leisure Centre official opening weekend and sold the idea of CARC to me.
I’ll always remember that first session with the club. We met at Croft Castle then ran down to the bottom of the drive, then straight away we were running up to the top of Bircher Common. Tom and Bryan would have been there, but I think that I have tried to blank out the painful memory of that, at the time, gruelling climb. All of my running had been on the road and I wasn’t used to hills! I had also managed to do very little training as I was so busy at work. I got left behind a bit but they were so welcoming and encouraging that I went back and became a member. Some Croft members will now appreciate the joy I gained from beasting them on Bircher Common – I was seeking revenge !
I was obsessed with running at that time and would run around 70 miles a week, including speed and hill work. I would often run along the lanes to work in Leominster and back, sometimes up to 15 miles on the return journey depending on the type of day I had experienced at work.
What’s your most memorable run?
It has to be the Barnard Castle 10 mile road race in 1991. It’s a really high quality and tough race as it starts down by the river and finishes at a much higher point in the town market place.
Unfortunately my brother died from cancer in 1990. He was a very popular member of the local club, Teesdale A.C. and the race organisers created the Stan Blenkinsop Trophy in his memory. I had run the race many times previously, once accompanying my brother to his PB, but I had never been anywhere near winning an award. I was obviously inspired by the race being dedicated to my brother as I won the 2nd Vet’s award, beaten only by an international runner, in a course PB of 56.17.
Stepping up onto the stage to receive my trophy was very emotional. I’ll never forget that moment.
Unfortunately that race turned out to be one of the last that I ran. A combination of my dodgy back and the onset of osteo-arthritis in my left ankle forced me to pack it in. Just a few weeks later I hobbled home from the top of Hergest Ridge in the Offa’s Dyke race, then ran my last ever race in August of that year. It was a fell race held in the tiny Pennine village where I was born and raised. I had won it the previous year and, on this occasion, caught the leader just at the highest point on the course, but my ankle was so painful on the downhill return that I had to concede. That persuaded me that I should heed the medics’ advice and pack in running before I did myself a serious mischief. So goodbye running and hello race organising.
Race Organisation – Keeping The Running Bug
Not being able to run was very frustrating but I couldn’t leave the sport alone. In 1990 I was asked by Shobdon Village Youth Club if would like to help out. I was far too busy at the time and working shifts, so I offered to organise a fund raising event. That race became the Shobdon 6 mile road race and 4 mile fun run and it continued for the next 10 years, raising lots of money for the locally based Riding for the Disabled group and the village youth club.
In 1999 I took over the organisation of the Herefordshire XC League – that would last for 20 years. Then in 2005 I devised the Summer Off Road League. I tried to make it as different to the winter league as possible and made it a combined male/female team event. I changed the format over the years but, originally, the teams were composed of 3 x male + 1 x female runners. I even showed favouritism towards Croft Ambrey by including the rule that if a club failed to complete a team they could have the last place + 1 to keep them competitive. That was included mostly because Croft, at that time, had no regular female runners ! The number of female runners performing now is probably the biggest, and most pleasing, change that I have observed in this engaging sport of ours.
What makes Croft Special? When I went along to that first session 36 years ago I felt that I fitted in immediately. Everyone was friendly and encouraged me to run up that hill. I don’t think that has changed after all these years. For me it’s meant that I’ve always wanted to be a part of the club in whatever capacity.
Aside from running, what else do you love doing?
I love sport. Unfortunately nowadays I can only watch. I’m a member of Worcestershire County Cricket Club and get along there whenever I can to lounge about with my equally sad mates. I also love Football and Speedway. I enjoy photography but that is a bit restricted now as I’m often not able to walk that far, but I have explored some beautiful parts of the UK in search of spectacular scenery.
Why has Croft survived and thrived for 40 years?
The fact that the club has remained so friendly and welcoming is really important. Also, being in a rural area has meant that the club has been a focal point for so many people who wouldn’t ordinarily meet each other. It’s a little community in a community.