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Saturday, 21 August 2010

TAKE YOUR MARK ~ 19th August 2010

The young apprentice joins the Royal Navy

So it seems that I am coming to blogging in much the same way I came to running...a little later than many.  I have felt a desire to be part of the Run Net Community for some time though and, whilst I’m not sure that I have the time to create a podcast of good enough quality, I do feel that I could recall my running life by way of this autobiographical blog.
The first key date would be the 4th of September 1970, the day I joined the Royal Navy.  I was 16 years old.  I had enjoyed ‘kick and run’ sport as a kid but never played to any standard and following the onset of rather asthmatic hay-fever from the age of 12, I tended to avoid the sports pitch. I abhorred cross-country running, which invariably took us across the grounds of Newmarket heath.  I struggled to finish and was always in the last half dozen.
The Royal Navy expected some physical effort but not too much.  There were various assault course activities and sports afternoons to take part in as well as the physical training element of my initial training but nothing that was too taxing.
And so I trundled through the first few years of my Service career, qualified as an aircraft artificer and was drafted to the Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset.  It was here that I married Olwen in 1975 and we set up our first home at the caravan park just off the air station.  On the horizon was the POLC (Petty Officers’ Leadership Course), which was a six week course held at Corsham near Bath.  I knew that the course had a 1, 3 and 5 mile run in it as well as other physical challenges, including the assault course, the Cliff & Chasm Run and a 36 hour hike over The Brecons in Wales. Chill reality struck me.  I hadn’t done any serious exercise...ever; I smoked and I was inclined to carry too much weight.  I had to make some sort of effort to prepare myself for the course.
The course on the POLC.  I am 5th from
the left in the centre row
From the caravan park I knew there was a short road loop of about two miles that  I felt I could tackle.  I had a pair of old soccer trainers and some rudimentary sports kit so I set out...wheezing and blowing.  I don’t remember much about those early few runs although I can recall thinking about marathon runners; I would imagine the feeling of running into the stadium for that last lap of the track after 26 miles.  I couldn’t really countenance the thought of running for 26 miles, it seemed like an impossibility for mere mortals, and yet I could fantasize about that roaring crowd...the cool of the tunnel between the road and the track.  It was a vivid image but utterly dream-like in my belief that I would ever run that ridiculous distance.
I have no idea of my time or pace and I simply recall doing that run a few times in preparation for the leadership course, which I attended during the summer of 1976 - a particularly memorable year as it was a very hot, long summer.
Looking back at the report from that course I’m pleased to see that it noted  “He was already quite fit when he arrived and he has played a full part in all physical activities and achieved a good standard”. I certainly remember my immense pride in completing all of the measured runs (well ahead of the last half dozen), as well as being part of a team that set a top ten time for the Cliff & Chasm Run.  
The course, and my albeit meagre preparations, were a springboard.  I had enjoyed the physical challenges, participated in all the team sports that formed part of the course and exceeded my expectations.
My next challenge was to sit the Admiralty Interview Board as I sought to gain a commission.   

There is an addendum to this first part of the story, which tells a little more about my journey through life.  It was whilst I was on the leadership course that I became convinced that religion held no thrall for me; I could not sustain a belief in a supernatural power.  My rather watery Church of England upbringing had never convinced me and I was suddenly struck by the stark realization that, for me, this was it, this was the one life I was going to have.  It was a lonely moment, I have since characterized it as being like the cartoon image of Tom running over the edge of a cliff, he looks down and sees nothing below him and scrambles to recover his grip on the cliff.  Once I had calmed down, however, I decided that there was no need to try to regain my place on the cliff, it was ok, this is a wonderful life and it’s much better to live it well in all possible senses. My belief has remained consistent since that day.

Today’s run was 8.12 miles on the roads of Somerset.  Very pleasant if a bit overcast.  I was listening to a podcast by Steve Chopper. 

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