Well I did it, I completed the Potters Arf, my first ever half marathon, would I have managed this without Stoke FIT, I very much doubt it.
So here’s my story and my running journey and I hope this helps inspire those of you who are reading this to get up off the couch and achieve your own dreams.
My story began 18 months ago when I visited my Doctor, age 51 and weighing just under 17 stone, to be told I had Type 2 Diabetes, she then began to list all the things I was likely to die from in the near future unless I drastically changed not only my diet but my life style.
Shocked, I was determined to do something, so after carrying out loads of research on what I can and can’t eat, I totally changed my diet. I also joined my local gym with the aim of losing weight and getting fit. After 8 long months, I had lost 4 and a half stone (I have now lost a total of just over 5 stone) and was in reasonable shape, as a reward I entered the 2014 Stoke 10K to give me the incentive to get fitter.
At this time I was running on a treadmill and doing short runs on my own, which I have to acknowledge is not the best training method, but on September the 14th 2014 I lined up with other runners at Hanley Park and ran 10K, my time was 68 minutes, which I was quite proud of. Enjoying my first race I told my friends I would enter the 2015 Potters Arf as a way of staying motivated.
Through the winter of 2014/15 I struggled to do any running, just doing the odd run on the treadmill at the gym, so I thought my dream of running the Arf would not be achieved. Then at the beginning of March this year a friend at work told me about this running club called Stoke FIT, he also told me about Mustering and the support they give all runners. So I made contact via their FaceBook Group page. So on March the 23rd I nervously went along to my first meet. I was greeted at the door and shown where to go as a newbie, I was given a few forms to fill in, and then I met my first Leader Liz Seadon, who would be taking that evenings short run (I thought I would be out of my depth so opted for the short run that first evening). I along with other first timers, plus a number of Stoke FIT members who were doing a recovery run after running the Stafford Half the day before, went outside where mustering was explained to us newbies and off we went. I did 3.6 mile that first run with mustering back and loved every second of it. In fact I went home that evening on a high and said to my wife I would be making myself a member the following week (there is no pressure to join the club, just felt it was something I wanted to do).
My 3rd week I ran my first time trial and met one of the members Colin Bancroft who kindly offered to pace me around the route after asking what pace I normally run at, Colin got the best out of me that evening and I ran 2 and a half minutes quicker than my normal pace, to say I was buzzing after this was an understatement. Over the next couple of weeks I stepped up to the Medium Short, then the Medium Long and thoroughly enjoyed each run. Then one evening in mid-April I was thinking of stepping up again to the long run, I remember being extremely nervous of this prospect, but I spoke to Steve Minshull who was due to lead that evenings long run, who reassured me that everyone would muster back if I was slow. So I went out on the long run and ran 10.4 mile, my longest ever distance, again I was ecstatic, 2 days later I went out on my own before work one Friday morning and ran 13.1 mile thanks to the confidence I had gained running with Stoke FIT.
My wife at this time also decided to come along after saying for years “I don’t run” and promptly started to do the short runs. At this time I also started taking part in Park Runs at Hanley Park (my wife has also now joined me on Park Runs), which follows a 5K circuit around the park and is held every Saturday at 9am. I have now done 5, slowly getting quicker each week and I now have a PB (personal best) of 28.03 with a target to get this down to 27 minutes (Colin Bancroft will again be my pacer for this in the next week or so).
Not only do Stoke FIT organise runs, they run other training to build on the skills gained running, Friday evening is circuit training, which I will be joining soon, while Monday and Wednesdays they run speed training sessions at Hanley Forest Park, don’t tell Frank Murphy, but these sessions are amazing and addictive (even if they are tough, Frank and Emily do make you work and I curse them both when they make me work harder than I thought possible) and will now form part of my regular training.
Back to my Potters Arf story, in May the club organised several training runs taking in the Potters Route and I went out on 3 of these, with mustering I clocked 15.2, 15.4 and 15.7 miles. I never would have dreamed I was capable of running these distances after only being with Stoke FIT for approx. 8 weeks, but I was running these miles and running them with confidence. In those 8 weeks I have made a great number of new friends, you get to make more each time you run, everyone involved with the club go out of their way to make you feel welcome, offering advice and encouragement every step of the way.
So we come to the big day, Sunday the 14th June 2015. We met up early in Hanley for club photographs and warm ups, you see we do this as a club, a sea of red and white, which is quite inspiring to be part of. After the warm up, we lined up at the start and then we were off down the Potteries Way. I had my own plan for running the Arf and knew the pace I needed to do to get around the course 11 min mile pace, all the advice we were given by club founder Frank Murphy, plus other leaders was whirling around in my head, so off I went. The first 3-4 mile into Longton was a blur as I was on a high to actually be running the Arf, but checking my watch I was ahead of my pace, so after running up Anchor Road (here we had one of our members Pete Crosbie running up and down the hill offering encouragement to get you up the hill, I actually ran my fastest Anchor Road thanks to Pete) I eased off a little.
I was then onto Beverley Drive and through Abbey Hulton and on to Leek Road, at this point I think I hit the fabled wall. Now before joining Stoke FIT I would have probably given up here, but not this day, I gritted my teeth, dug in and pushed on, but it was tough, I won’t lie, it was hurting now, but the “you can do it” ethos of Stoke FIT got me through this section, so it was then onto Leek New Road, it was here my thoughts turned to Milton Road, the infamous Heartbreak Hill, you can’t help thinking about what is ahead. Eventually I hit Milton, again I will not lie, I did power walk up a small section, but I did not stop, again through gritted teeth I dug in. At the top as I turned onto Hanley Road on the final leg I felt drained, every step was agony now, my legs felt so heavy I could barely lift my feet. A friend Andrew Knowles went past and asked if I was OK, I didn’t have the energy to acknowledge him. I was now running on sheer will power alone, I wanted to finish, I wanted that medal, so I kept going. Even on these races, the Stoke FIT ethos is “everyone musters”, so those who had already completed their race, came back for those still on the route, how inspiring and motivating is that, to have your club mates come back for you and run you in. I was met on Town Road by Kayleigh Wakelin. She got me to increase my pace when I didn’t think I had anything left to give, thanks to Kayleigh I sprinted into the town centre and over the finish line in 2 hours and 27 minutes, I had achieved my dream, I had completed the Potters Arf. But it wasn’t over, after a short recovery, it was my turn to go out onto Town Road again to help and encourage other FITties. When I was at the finish line, I saw runners from other clubs collect their medals and goodie bags and leave, which I didn’t think was right. I am proud to say that not one member of Stoke FIT left Hanley until all our runners had crossed the finish line; everyone was greeted and run in by members of our club.
My journey is far from over, I now love to run with Stoke FIT and have plans for many more Half Marathons, 10K’s and aim to run at least 4 next year, including the Potters Arf where I want to beat this years’ time, will I do it, with Stoke FIT behind me, yes I will
Reading posts on our FaceBook Group since Sunday, I read comments such as “I would love to run the Arf, but”. There is no BUT, come to Stoke FIT and be inspired by our achievements this year, many others were running for the first time last Sunday having embarked on similar journeys to my own. Every run starts with one small step, even my wife who does not run (her words not mine) is signed up to run the Market Drayton 10K next year, that is her journey and as a FITtie I will support and encourage her every step of the way and who knows, the year after she may complete the Arf.
If I can do it, you can.