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Member Spotlight – May 2022

John Wright Profile

Why did you start running?

I’ve read many stories about people who have entered the running world to overcome obesity, mental trauma, health scares, or maybe a combination of all of these things. To turn your life around in such a huge way takes great courage. These runners are amazing and I have the utmost admiration for what they have achieved. I do find it difficult to relate to those kinds of stories though as my entry into the running world was completely different. I have been sporty all my life and at 22 yrs old I was already reasonably fit from doing other things, mainly weight training, and I played football every day when I was younger.

I started running because my friends suggested going for a run. It was just something to do. It was May 1986 and I had just come out of a long term relationship. A 5 mile route was mapped out, but it took me four attempts to complete it without stopping. I set off too fast on these runs and I can remember one time nearly throwing up as I’d eaten a meal too soon before going out. Although I was quite fit, I lacked some cardiovascular endurance, but managed to improve quickly. I also started doing Karate at the same time, which was a different kind of fitness, and commando keep fit classes at the local leisure centre. Commando sounds a bit old fashioned now, and many call it HIIT or circuit training today. The girls had Jane Fonda, I had commando keep fit. I was a fitness fanatic.

The previous year in 1985 the pop group Tears For Fears released the song ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, and in 1986 the words were changed slightly to ‘Everybody Wants To Run The World’. This was released as a charity single for Sport Aid to help raise money to overcome the famine in Africa. It was organised by Bob Geldof, fresh from the Live Aid concert, and millions of people around the world were encouraged to run, jog, or walk 10K on Sunday afternoon at 3pm on 25th May. I can’t remember whether I did my run at this time or not, but I was certainly running. I didn’t keep a running diary at that point, but I was probably only running a couple of times a week as part of an overall fitness plan. I was constantly reading books about nutrition as I was fascinated by food science. I knew all about protein and what all the vitamins and minerals did. A bodybuilding book I had by Arnold Schwarzenegger was my ‘go to bible’ for weight training. The first running book I read was called ‘The Complete Book of Running’ by a guy named James F. Fixx. James Fixx was a reporter for the New York Times, and just like many others he had turned his life around from obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle to that of a dedicated runner. Although I couldn’t quite connect to his story, I devoured his book from cover to cover gathering information about running and picking up running tips along the way. I currently own hundreds of running books. Then somehow, I heard about this local race called the Burton 10K and I ran this the following month and completed it in 44:21. It was just a fun run really at a village fete and the race numbers were handwritten on cards. So, I didn’t have a major reason to start running like others. I suppose it was just a jump to the left.

What/who motivates you to run?
The single thing that motivates me to run is running races. I know runners who never race, but ever since my first race I’ve loved being a part of it all. The races were the thing that I really missed when I couldn’t run, especially when I was out of action for a long time. I have run just under 470 races both on and off road.

What is a typical training week?

Over the years, and especially during the 1980s and 90s, my training week was dictated by the upcoming races I had. I didn’t have a long run day back then at all. I simply did training runs that were sufficient to achieve a good time. For example, if I were training for half marathons, I would run a 9.5 mile route that I had planned out and I’d run that distance for most of my runs. I would normally run 3-4 days a week and as well as the 9.5 mile runs, I’d do a 3 mile run as fast as I could manage. I suppose it is what people now call tempo runs. For 10K races, I would usually run around 5-6 mile runs. If I needed to improve my pace, I would sometimes run to the local athletic track to warm up, change into track spikes, and run 200m intervals around 6-8 times, or until I’d had enough. Post knee replacement I am just thrilled to be able to run. I can only usually manage two runs a week when I’m not at work, and three while on holiday. I am working my way up gradually in distance.

Favourite session?

All my runs, pre knee replacement, usually incorporated hills so I was getting a hill session into the run anyway. However, my favourite format was fartlek. There is no better way to bring your race times down than to do fartlek sessions. I used to do fartlek in some races to make it harder and more fun. Even during steady runs I would consciously increase the pace in the last mile. This was good practice for finishing strong in races.

Least favourite session?

By the time I’d run my first marathon, I had been running for 10 years and had completed fifty-three 10Ks and thirty-two half marathons. I had never run more than the half marathon distance and up until that point it had never appealed to me. I joined a club and one of the members suggested that we enter the Potteries Marathon in Stoke-on-Trent. He had run thirty marathons, but it was something new to me. I hated those long 20 mile runs to be honest which is why I only ever ran another three marathons.

Road or trail?
Over the years I have run both on and off road, but about 90% of my running has been on road because it was what I preferred. Post knee replacement I have been considering more off road running, but I can’t go up and down the big hills.

Top 5 songs on your running playlist?
Portable music is relatively new, isn’t it? For many years I ran without it simply because it didn’t exist. I used to tune into the rhythm of my foot strike back then, and still do, but it’s nice to listen to music on my AfterShokz bone conduction headphones. I normally wear hearing aids but remove them when I run.

My Top 5 list would include:
Strange Town – The Jam
Pump It Up – Elvis Costello.
Shout To The Top – The Style Council.
Next time Around – Stone Foundation.
Changing Man – Paul Weller.

What other training do you do?

I try to lift weights three times a week and I do a weekly yoga class. In the past I did a lot of Pilates which is good for the core and helps prevent slumping towards the end of races. I would like to return to that at some point. I also did kettle bell classes and body conditioning classes until my knee replacement surgery, and Tai Chi for five years until the first Covid lockdown. I have learned that it’s not wise to just run. Additional body conditioning is essential as is lifting weights, especially as one gets older.

What is your greatest running achievement so far?

Thirty-six years of running is going to be too difficult to pinpoint one thing as there have been several. In the past and considering that I was always trying to achieve the fastest times possible in races, I would say collectively it would be my race PBs:

5K – 20:00

5miles – 35:12

10K – 42:08

15K – 1:07.43

10 miles – 1:08.03

Half marathon – 1:33.39

Marathon – 3:34.13

I can remember being particularly ecstatic to run the London Marathon. Although it wasn’t my fastest, it was the only one of the four I’ve done that I ran every step of the way. At the moment, coming back from knee replacement surgery to be able to run just a small distance is my greatest present day achievement.

What was your last race?
It was the Liverpool Spring 5K on 1st May. I enjoyed it immensely and thought that I did well.

What are your future running goals?
Well, if I were asked this question over 30 years ago it would be a simple response like getting under 40 minutes for a 10K for sure. However, following five knee operations, two on the left and three on the right, the ceiling on my running has been lowered considerably. However, I do have a goal now that I can run again. I’m going to attempt the Wigan 10K in September if the summer training goes well. It may not happen but that is what’s in my head right now.

What’s on your running bucket list?

I would like to race abroad, especially a 10K. I’ve only ran abroad once in Amsterdam and loved it. The hardest part would be sitting on a plane though!

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to run?
A good pair of well fitted shoes is necessary. I know some runners have more than one pair and rotate them, but shoes are expensive and not everyone has the money to do that. I have only ever run in one pair at a time on the road. I would also recommend getting a running diary and be as detailed as you can. Record the miles, not only overall mileage, but also in each pair of shoes. It’s also beneficial to record the weather and how you felt during the run. Although I started running in 1986, I didn’t start a diary until 1988, and wish I’d written more during the early years. I have had the opportunity to talk casually to many runners at races. I look around and a lot of runners look incredibly nervous. So, I would say try not to be nervous and just relax and enjoy the moment. Those who are starting out have an abundance of infectious enthusiasm, which is a wonderful thing, but I would advise not to let it get the better of them. Running is a high impact sport, and it takes time to get used to it. The cardiovascular system is quicker to adapt but muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones take longer, so it’s good to bear that in mind. Also, beware of the ‘too’s…too much, too soon, too fast, especially on hard surfaces. Don’t increase your distance too quickly. C25k is a great way to start running, and obviously the next distance target would be 10K. Do many 10Ks before moving up to half marathon distance. Get used to racing and run as many as you can. Learn self-control with your training and try not to get sucked into the concept that more means better. Too many runners run too many miles. A balanced week of running and rest is best. Learn to love the sport if you want it to be a lifelong friend. I know some runners say that they love running, but it’s more than just the act of running itself.

What do you like to do when not running?
Listen to music, read, and see what you’re all up to on the RB Facebook page.

What would you name the autobiography of your running life?

I have written about fifty-two of my many races so far for Medal ‘Memory’ Monday which were done mainly during the 2 years that I was off sick from work. I have received very nice responses, and some suggested I should write a book. Well, maybe one day I will and it will be called ‘A Lifetime of Racing’.