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Saturday, 28 August 2010


Early Struggles

Much of the early part of my running life is linked to my time in the Royal Navy, I guess that that would be inevitable when the greater part of your professional career has been given over to military service.
So to my first attempt to gain a commission.  The Admiralty Interview Board felt that I didn’t have the academic wherewithal to study to degree level and so I signed up for a 1 year course for a HNC in mechanical engineering at Yeovil College.
My physical preparation for the leadership course that I spoke about previously had triggered a desire in me to improve and maintain my fitness.  Having struggled to run at all before this time I now found that getting out on the road was something I looked forward to, albeit my running was on an ad hoc basis.   
I presented myself to  Admiralty Interview Board again in 1977 and this time they took a chance on me but I was advised that I would have to join the Upper Yardman unit at HMS Caledonia in Fife, Scotland.  The posting would be for 18 months during which time I would be required to study A-levels to better prepare me for my degree studies.
Always Active in the Upper Yardman Unit
This was a hugely significant time for me.  The Upper Yardman Unit was a very small set up with 4 Instructor Officers charged with teaching between 12 and 20 or so young men like myself seeking to improve their academic ability ahead of officer training.  The reason for the significance of the unit was that I found myself immersed in a culture of making things happen.  Everyone there was highly motivated and full of enthusiasm.  This energy inevitably expressed itself in sport and alongside my newly found keenness for running I became involved in squash, volleyball, badminton, soccer and even rugby and skateboarding.  I learned to sail in both dinghies and beautiful 55‘ Nicholson yachts.  And I discovered my passion for skiing...particularly racing Giant Slalom.
My running was the  slender backbone from which the other sports grew.  My training was still quite haphazard, with no structure or plan.  I simply ran as far as time allowed, usually around 3 miles.  There was no great variation, no intervals, no stretching just out, run, stop, shower. There was, however, a weekly run at HMS Caledonia known as the “YOT race”.  It took place a lunchtime on Mondays, as I recall, and covered 3 miles with a handicapped start time based on previous runs that aimed to get all participants to the finnish at much the same time.  
I gained the A-level qualifications I need and then, in 1979, undertook my initial officer training at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.  More physical training, which included running around the very hilly locality.  
Just before moving on to the Royal Naval Engineering College (RNEC) at Manadon in Plymouth I served in HMS Bulwark, an aging aircraft carrier.  The significance of this three month trip was that it saw me enter my first recorded race...the Rock Race in Gibraltar.  This is a recognized challenge for the ship’s company of any visiting naval vessel.  It’s a gruelling climb from the dockyard to the summit of the Rock, although it’s only about 3 miles the ascent is around 1300 feet and the certificate I have shows a time of  32 minutes and 33 seconds.
During a weekend with my parents in Newmarket I went to Millets, a venerable sports shop in Cambridge and purchased my first pair of running shoes...they were made by Karhu, a Finnish brand (I was delighted to see on the web that the company still sells running shoes with the trademark M logo).  I knew nothing about running gear in those early days but I was drawn to a company from that part of the world which has always had a somewhat mystical sense about it (yes, I think a skeptic can have a sense of the the very least the ‘not known’).  Putting on those running shoes was a delight and I quickly found myself running up to 6 miles and then beyond.
It was in September 1980 that I joined RNEC and began reading my first degree. It was also at this time that my running became a a more structured component of my life.

I don’t have an accurate record of my running until 1981 when my running diaries commenced but I did record that I ran 765 miles in my Karhu shoes.  I then bought a pair of Nike and a pair of Reebok running shoes but I wasn’t recording the models at that time.  My next shoes were, however, legends in my running history...the magnificent New Balance (420s I think).  I still didn’t know anything about running kit but I was attracted by the name ‘New Balance’ and, even then, I liked that I could buy a pair of shoes that were made in, or close to, the country I was running in. Why were those shoes so special...because they sustained my running  through 2500 miles.  They were extraordinary and I’ve never found anything that has got close to matching them.
My daily running diaries commenced on Friday the 1st of May 1981 although I had recorded some weekly totals before then.  My mileages were climbing; my road races and cross country events were about to start in ernest.
So what is my take on skeptic (I like this spelling) thinking?  I try not just to take a contrary view point.  I like to have evidence that I can understand and where that evidence is beyond my intellectual grasp I like to listen to counter arguments and determine my thinking as well as I am able.  I find cynicism rather too easy to slip into but it makes me uncomfortable because it doesn’t feel like a laudable or helpful trait; I try to take a balanced view. I am familiar with many of the techniques that seek to persuade me to certain action and I have an absolute distrust of any hint of a ‘free lunch’.  My experiences in life lead me to have much greater faith in the ‘cock-up’ than the ‘conspiracy’ theory. 
I tend towards an atheist view but rather prefer the militant agnostic stance of I don’t know and neither do you.  My approach to this life is that it is the one life that we know we have and I seek to live it as well as I can.  Those who know me will testify, I’m sure, that I have failed in that stated aim on numerous occasions but I continue to try.  
Running this week has gone pretty well, these were the highlights: a run of almost 10 miles on Tuesday and a very enjoyable run with Ed (my son) and Ade (almost my son-in-law) over 5 miles on Wednesday.  
I record my full training log as ‘Blackbike’ on which is a great site and highly commended.  I’m closing in on my challenge of 1000 miles in 2010. 

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