11 May In the Spotlight – Chris Nellins

When did running begin for you?

I am an accidental runner.  Aged 17 at Fresher’s Week, turned up for the footballer’s trial and was told it had been the day before.  Students there said they were runners and since I had some kit did I want to come along?  I did, and have run ever since…..now into 49th year of pounding the ground.

I ran solo for 26 years, too scared to join a club, thinking they would be too fast and serious compared to me.  Then joined an Oxford club [Headington Roadrunners] and realised firstly how foolish I was to have felt intimidated and, more importantly, what a joy it was to run with others socially.  On moving to Penarth in 2007 I realised it was an omen that P&D had exactly the same club colours as HRR so promptly joined.  And what a great club it has proved to be.

Why do I run?

So hard to answer this.  I value good health – physical and mental – and really enjoy just being out and exploring running routes near or far.  At a deeper level I suppose I am both sociable and happy in my own company and running is a curious mix of being part of a great crowd yet also competing solely against yourself.  In essence I think every run is that little test against the demons inside your head…..and I suppose the challenge of facing up to and defeating those demons is really why I run.

Significant or memorable races?

Quite a few.

44 Marathons thus far, including 14 at London.  It never gets any easier, the high point getting under 3 hours at age 48 in 2002. Never to beat 3 hours again!

Winning “First Local” prize at a 5k in West Cumbria only 3 weeks after moving there but as a Southern “Offcomer” feeling an imposter for stealing the “real” local’s prize.

Running 17 miles of the 23 mile Man v Horse race with a detached flapping shoe sole…I really did run like Coco The Clown that day.

Narrowly avoiding being run over by my club support mini-bus at 2am when running a 22 mile night stage of the Round-Norfolk-Relay…….I stooped to pick up my dropped water bottle and the driver was nearly asleep and failed to notice.  Death or injury only just avoided.

Driving the WCR mini-bus, getting lost and having to drive like a racing driver along single track lanes to get Sarah Patnett to her very first WCR start. Adrenalin pumping for me, no doubt terrifying for the passengers – you will know who you are – nerve-wracking for Sarah, but we made it with literally seconds to spare.

Being hypothermic at the never-to-be-forgotten Brecon Cross-Country.  Winter wind, rain and freezing cold, tent blown away within minutes.  Race absolutely bitter, delerium after, with uncontrollable shakes only subsiding an hour after “thawing out” indoors.

Witnessing what must have been the most bitter runner making a podium.  On the 25th Anniversary of Man v Horse there was a £25,000 prize up for grabs if the horse could be beaten.  The runner who attended every year [and won] was there.  At a few days notice someone suggested to an an English International runner that he should give it a crack.  He did…..and beat the horse.  And so to the podium presentation.  £25,000 to the winner, £200 to the second placed runner….said regular previous winner……who had ALSO beaten the horse!  Ne’er did a runner look so sick.

Marvelling at the prowess of Simon Grant and Jon Lewis at the Snowdon Marathon.  I had a pint the night before and was wide-eyed at the full session they enjoyed before they rolled into the hostel at well past midnight. As I suffered and suffered through what is a hard race all I could motivate myself with was the thought that however hard it felt for me they must surely be in hangover hell.

I remain astounded at their finishing times.  Hats off gentlemen.

And finally……beating Mo Farah at the 2013 London Marathon.  Ok, so he dropped out, but you have to be in it to win it.

Most boring race?

1982 marathon inside a top-security prison. 53 laps of a stark walled and razor- girdled exercise field with security handlers and dogs as marshals.  So relieved to get it over with, and felt it unwise to outsprint the runner within touch near the finish.   Some little voice told me not to risk upsetting a triple-murderer.

Weird postscript…….I did it again in 1983.  And on neither occasion did I train on porridge!

Who is your running inspiration?

As a bit of a running fraud, never having trained, and a bit cavalier about racing, I admire the quiet grit and commitment I think I see in others.  The likes of Emma Schumack, Judy Maragna, Andrea Goodfellow and Darren Morgan, to name but a few.  Thanks for keeping me inspired.

Events you want to take part in, and why?

Welsh Castles Relay.  The essence of club involvement.  Fantastic scenery, manic running and race following, great socialising.  And exhausting…..as proven below.

Medoc Marathon.  What’s not to marvel at?  23 wine and food stops including oysters, steak and ice-cream…….and the little matter of a 26 mile stagger around vineyards to wash it all down.  And as part of a P & D crew……..fun, fun, fun.

What golden piece of advice would you give to others?

The simplicity and purity of running is what appeals to me so I have never had any interest in the technical side of things.

So….one piece of advice you may consider and one you will probably reject.

1) Have a jelly-baby after each mile of a half or full marathon. A little sugar hit and useful psychological boost as you mark off those harder miles.

2) Race without a Garmin.I think you run best when tension free.  Better to just run with how your body feels on the day than have the insistent distraction of constant time and pace feedback.  Grit the teeth when suffering, push on when strong, ALWAYS give it everything at the finish.

What next?

At 66 years old, to reconcile myself to slower times and being outpaced by so many younger bucks.

And to get back to Wednesday Social Runs….a real joy to share club togetherness and appreciate all the little byways of our backyard.  And who claims I am fibbing when I predict dry, balmy conditions for the next Wednesday evening run?

Who would you like to nominate?

Emma Schumack……just one of my running heroes.

True and False.

True: In 1972 I sang on a song that reached No.1 on the Pop Charts.   Any guesses as to which song?

False: In case you are nervous.   I was an Assistant Governor and NOT an inmate at Long Lartin Prison. Newspaper clippings lie.

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