Don Hale OBE Investigative Journalist and Author

Athletics & Running


I first became involved in athletics at school in the late 1950s and early 1960s, winning many races as an area or Lancashire county sprinter. Later, my speed and stamina won recognition to become a professional footballer with my local league club Bury FC. I also played on loan at Shrewsbury, York and Blackburn before a back injury and a succession of other injuries forced my retirement as a full time pro in my early twenties. Fortunately, some early training as a journalist and radio commentator and pundit helped create an alternative career path and the BBC and press soon began to offer some special feature opportunities.


BACK TO SQUARE ONE


When sportsmen, and in particular footballers retire, it’s surprising just how many seem to lose interest in playing sport. I was no exception and after giving up football, I started to put on a bit of weight, and although busy with work and family commitments, had little time to do much else.


In my case however, something snapped, this time a belt buckle due to an expanding waistline, and so I decided that after a few years of relative inactivity, I needed to make a positive commitment to get back into shape.


That day, whilst driving home, I passed a couple of joggers, and convinced myself that this could be the best way to get fit. I had always loved running and thought a few years would make little difference. How wrong could I be? I had not trained regularly for some time and my initial round-the-block efforts were pathetic.


Within half a mile I was shattered and soaked in sweat. I had to run in the dark so that my neighbours or friends wouldn’t notice me. I had no particular target in mind apart from returning to an acceptable level of fitness. This training also coincided with reports of a proposed new London Marathon – and I followed the build up in the news with a keen interest.


Whilst watching several top athletes from around the world preparing for this new challenge, I was still gripping onto park railings and hobbling around dark street corners trying to catch my breath. I also carried some change in my pocket for an emergency bus fare, or a rescue phone call home.


Eventually, I found that I could run about 3 miles without stopping, stitches, or injury, and in September 1982 watched my neighbours run in the Bolton marathon. From a safe position near the 22-mile marker I saw them struggle past. I suddenly thought, if they could do it, then so could I. The running bug was beginning to bite.


I developed a more serious running plan and my competitive sporting spirit soon began to kick-in. I trained hard through a long hard cold winter and understood the saying – ‘the loneliness of the long distance runner.’ Heaton Park became a familiar training area and I even returned to Bury Athletic Club for advice and training sessions with like-minded individuals.


Their midweek pack runs helped and within a relatively short space of time my fitness improved. During this period, I never actually entered a local race, whether it be a 10k race, fun run or other. My neighbour, Charlie Horford, (who had run the Bolton) then told me about the forthcoming Piccadilly Marathon in Manchester but that was only six weeks away, and surely it was a case of too little too late?


I love a challenge however, and after building up at least a basic level of fitness, decided to have a go with him. I increased my training from about 15 miles a week to about 30 – not to be recommended – and eventually joined about 8,000 other novices at Platt Fields for the ultimate challenge.


It was one of those rare red-hot days in Manchester and I suddenly thought of a dozen reasons for pulling out and blaming something or someone else for my woes. Not to be, and after a cautious start soon began to enjoy the atmosphere and locations only previously seen from a moving car. The crowds were great and lifted everyone all the way round.


I took advice from my running partner about taking on board drinks and resting when necessary to stretch or walk. Walking was no disgrace, especially in this heat. How could you train for heat in Manchester? By 21-miles I was simply on autopilot and counting down the miles. By 24-miles someone shouted out the time (four hours). I was disappointed and couldn’t believe how slow I was. I grabbed a welcome ice-pop from a spectator and made a determined effort to finish…25 miles, 26 miles and I could hear and see the crowds waiting back in the park. I tried to run faster but I suddenly felt like I had someone else’s legs that were wobbly and shaky. My feet were a mass of blisters and one in particular was rubbing against the inside of my trainer, but so what!


The end was nigh, and for what seemed an age after first entering the gates of Platt Fields, I struggled along yard by yard, then inch by inch to the finish, 4 hours, 32 minutes and 37 seconds, it was finally over!


As I sat huddled with every muscle aching and my head spinning and feeling completely dehydrated, I was trying to remember why I had actually entered this torturous race. A pretty young lady then placed a medal around my neck and everyone started patting my back and saying well done. I quickly found a quiet shady corner and collapsed.


HOOKED, LINE & SINKER


Once the euphoria of completing my first ever marathon had worn off, I began to analyze the result and performance, and I wasn’t too pleased. Could do better, was the prognosis. I took a couple of weeks off to recover and began light training before joining the club packs again.


Within a few months however, I had successfully run a few other local races and fun runs before being enticed to run the Bolton ‘beast’ marathon. The course had a fierce reputation including ‘Plodder Lane’ that claimed to be like climbing Everest towards the end of the run.


Despite being another unusually hot day, I took my time, pacing the early stages, and found some other unknown roads to be more hilly that the ‘beast.’ I was totally spent however, over the last 5 miles and had a job staggering along towards the finish and a final rally over soft ground to the finish. Dehydration was the problem again but this time I felt slightly more comfortable overall and within 10-15 minutes of completion met up with colleagues who began planning the next. In this first competitive season I tackled six half-marathons, two ten-milers, three full marathons and dozens of fun runs.


Not only was I getting fitter each time, with my results improving, but I was using the runs to promote charity events and raising thousands of pounds for a variety of good causes. It became a win-win situation that gave me a renewing momentum for life.

© Don Hale 2014 All rights reserved

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