In the winter of 1996 a new teacher at my Primary School – Miss Turley – set up a lunch time cross country club. I started joining other pupils at lunchtime to jog a couple of laps around the fields of Manor Park Primary School in Coventry. I didn’t make the cut for the team to compete at the Coventry Primary Schools Cross Country Relays but by the time the next competition came round I’d improved and was selected whilst also beating some of the ‘better’ runners at school.
On starting secondary school I took part in the Coventry Schools Cross Country League. In my first year I would finish in the middle of the pack – around 70th or 80th – against all the other school cross country runners across the city. At the beginning of my second year at secondary school I joined my local running club Coventry Godiva Harriers and over a period of about 9 months gradually improved to finishing within the top 10 of other runners within Coventry.
Over the years I spent training and competing with the club some highlights included winning an individual medal in the Coventry Schools Cross Country League, finishing 16th team at the National Road Relays Championships at Sutton Park, Coming 11th in the Warwickshire County Cross Country Championships. As well I represented West Midlands County at a schools inter-counties match. Another good memory was taking on the Coventry Funrun each year (see picture of me with my older brother) – a 4 mile annual event which around 6000 people from Coventry took part in each May. From finishing no where the first time I did in what must have been about 1995 by 2002 I had finished as high as 11th.
As I approached the age of 16 my belief in myself as a runner was increasing. I began training with my cousin Simon Type – a very proficient runner 8 years my senior – during school holidays in and around his home town of Merthyr in Wales. My coach at the time arranged for me to have a V02 max test undertaken. The test determines a person’s maximal oxygen uptake – or VO2max – which is standard measure of aerobic capacity. A high VO2max is a prerequisite for successful athletic performance in endurance events. A V02 max assessment allow athletes to accurately gauge their aerobic (fitness) levels. My numbers came back very good for the test and this only enhanced my self belief and determination to train and get the best out of myself. Indeed by this time I was already running 6 days a week which in hindsight was too much at that age.
On the track I ran 4:33 for 1500m and 9:43 for 3000m aged 16. As well I came very close to achieving a big goal which was to secure a Warwickshire county vest and represent my county at the prestigious UK Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships. Each year I took part in the county championships qualifying race and finished no where near a qualifying place. But in my last year as under-17 I was finally improving and after coming 11th I was picked as a reserve for the event. Whilst not knowing it at the time an impending injury meant that was the closest I was ever going to get.
Another difficult moment was accepting how close I’d got to being selected to represent West Midlands Schools at the English Schools Cross Country Championships. Each year I prepared for the trials race and was no where near the top-6 which would have guaranteed selection. The level of competition was high. However by the beginning of 2003 I was in the form of my life and was beating most of the chaps who would go on and be selected for the West Midlands team that year. The day after the Warwickshire County Cross Country Championships I was running and felt something really wrong with my knee. For 3 weeks I did no training. Absolutely desperate to make the West Midlands team for the English Schools Championships I turned up at the trial and unsurprisingly – due to the training I hadn’t done during those weeks – missed out on selection by a couple of places. What compounded my disappointment was that all the guys I’d been beating comfortably for the last 12 months finished in the automatic qualifying positions but my injury meant that I’d lost my form just at the last moment.
The knee injury was bad and meant that for the following 12 months I was unable to run at all. I spent a lot of time seeing physios, experts etc. I invested a lot of time into rehabilitation but after not seeing much progress I grew despondent. During this time of inactivity I found out I’d been put forward to receive an award at the club for best under-17 middle distance athlete of the season. Receiving some recognition for my improvement in hindsight probably only furthered my already big sense of loss.
After a year I was able to start doing some light running again. I attempted to re-join Coventry Godiva Harriers and compete again but the writing was already on the wall. My fitness was shocking, I’d put weight on, started drinking and going out on weekend evenings with friends making training all put impossible the following day. I lost the belief in myself and couldn’t see how I was going to be as fit as I was before the injury. Suffice to say my motivation and belief waned. It was to be another 8 years from the time of the injury before I would start running again.