27 Oct In the Spotlight – Colin Caesar

Big thanks to Kit Lambert, it’s a privilege to have been nominated by our Club Captain who, has been a great spur to me in many a race. I have enjoyed reading the accounts of plenty far-more accomplished footsteps than mine.

When did running begin for you?

Since childhood, I have always loved sporting and athletic activities, despite my actual abilities trailing my enthusiasm like a naïve newcomer would desperately trail seasoned, and faster, club runners in a 5k after blowing up early, having stupidly tried to keep pace with them for all of about 400m (but enough about my 2nd event in a P&D vest in the Welsh 5k Championships in 2016).

My childhood sporting obsession was American Football, which had started showing on the brand new terrestrial TV station, Channel 4 and I would throw a ball about with a few of my like-minded friends. There was even a junior football team that I joined, the Barry Cougars, that trained in Pencoedtre Fields in Barry, around the corner from where I lived. This obsession carried through to university. I chose to go to Southampton University largely on the strength of them having an American football team, the Southampton Stags. They were a new outfit who struggled in my first year but, in my final year, were unbeaten BCAFL (British Collegiate American Football League) champions, beating Glasgow Tigers 53-0 in the final in Leicester, I played as starting defensive back and as holder on special teams. We weren’t a team of supreme athletes, although a young Mark Taylor, former Wales rugby international, played linebacker when he wasn’t popping home to play for Pontypool (that’s my one and only name-drop) but were a very well-organised team. That high was short lived, as my first game post university was playing for another Tigers team, the Cardiff Tigers in a game that we lost 52-0. I played for them, and a couple of other incarnations though the 90s.

All this is a rather long-winded way to say that I don’t recall running as being a big part of my life growing up, although I did enjoy it and even entered the occasional 10k in the 90s. I remember running the Penarth 10k one year and doing the Swansea 10k in the late 90s, where I got my personal best of 42:07, which still stands (although I got very close to it in Cardiff last year), on a flat, fast, and very wet course. I never did any proper training back then and I do wonder how fast I could have been had I dedicated myself back then. No regrets though.

To (finally) answer the question, I would say that running, as a big part of my life, truly began for me around my mid 30s around 2005. As I said, I always loved to be active and in the 90s this would include 5-a-side and circuit training in Barry Leisure Centre, which was conveniently placed right next to the Civic Offices, where I worked at the time. This changed in 2000 when I started a new job in Bristol, and the opportunity to go the Leisure Centre had gone and, at the time, there were no local gyms or similar near the office. My weight went up and my fitness dropped but a few years after I started my company moved office, it was literally a few doors down from the old one but with one big difference, it had a shower room. It was then that I decided that I was going to take advantage of this and go out on lunchtime runs. Fortunately, my employers were very flexible, also I worked relatively close to some great running spots, so what started off as short plods around the city quickly turned into 6-10 mile out and backs on the Bristol Portway.

As much as I enjoyed this, it was all a bit ad-hoc and I needed something to aim for. That something was the 2005 Cardiff Marathon, a two-lap race culminating in a glorious lap of the Millennium Stadium, possibly witnessed by some local Welsh legend, in similar fashion to Queen Alexandra watching the 1908 Olympic marathon. Maybe, I thought, Max Boyce would be singing loud “I was there, in 2005, when the Millennium Stadium witnessed some of the most heroic displays of speed, fortitude and grit given by Wales’ finest citizens” (ok, maybe I didn’t think that, but what’s a story without a little artistic license?). The reality, however, was somewhat different.

The first lap was amazing, the energy of thousands of runners and cheering support spurred me on for 13 dopamine-charged miles. All that dopamine and energy headed straight into the Millennium Stadium along with the vast majority of the runners who were doing the half marathon event. I was stripped bare, left with a smattering of hardy marathon runners far away in the distance, streets devoid of the cheering support that greeted us on the first lap (even the tumbleweed had deserted St Mary’s Street) and the thought of having to run all that distance I had just run once again; this was unchartered distance for me. The second lap was both a physical and mental challenge (something all runners are undoubtedly familiar with), which had it’s peaks and troughs but finally the stadium beckoned, along with the reward of some post-race fuel and goodies, I was looking forward to sporting my first marathon t-shirt. I picked up the pace for the lap of honour (I swear one of my feet even left the ground at one point) and crossed the line in about 4 hours 25 minutes. I picked up my goodie bag, minus my coveted t-shirt, I was told by the marshal that many of those lightweight* half marathoners had taken more than one shirt and so they had run out by the time the hardcore marathon runners had finished. Not that that it still upsets me, or that I am unable to let go of the past!

*of course, I am just kidding, there is absolutely no such thing as a lightweight Half Marathoner runner (or any other distance), this is just my mock-bitterness speaking.

After running the Cardiff Marathon, I was lucky enough to get a ballot place in the 2007 Flora London Marathon (little did I know then that getting a place wasn’t always so easy, I’ve never managed it since). Again, I followed a training plan, but I suffered a sprained ankle late on. It had recovered well enough for me to resume training and run on the day, but it wasn’t 100%. On the day it lasted about 9 miles, before it went again and swelled up. I managed to hobble around in about 5 hours. The day itself was quite an experience; the size of the event was a shock, and the first mile was ridiculously crowded, making running impossible. It was also the hottest day of the year so far. I was pleased to finish though, as I recall seeing a runner collapsed getting treatment just short of Buckingham Palace and remember thinking how sickening it must be to fall so close to the finish. More importantly, I hoped that he was ok.

Since then I would regularly aim to do one or two half marathons a year, just to give me something to focus on when running lunchtimes, the Bristol Half Marathon was a regular event for me and was on familiar training ground.

(Colin crossing the Barrage at last year’s Cardiff Half Marathon)

Why do you run?

What I really enjoyed about running marathons and half marathons was the preparation and training. I did not know how to approach Cardiff, but I was able to find a marathon weekly training plan that I could follow and stick to. There is something about following and dogmatically sticking to a training plan and simply trusting the process that appeals. This is not my only reason for running though, it can be enjoyed on so many different levels.

If you want to run competitively then you can do so at whatever level of ability you are at. If you want to push yourself then you can set yourself any goals, whether it be chasing a PB, running a new distance or setting mileage goals to reach in a given period of time. Personally, because I wasn’t a serious runner in my younger years I am still able to aim for PBs and I don’t know if I have reached my ceiling yet, despite me fast approaching 50. I like the uncertainty of not knowing how much I can still improve as I get older.

Running is great for my mental health, I’ve had my own struggles in the past especially with anxiety, overthinking and being too attached to negative thoughts, and regular running has always been a great reliever for me.

I also enjoy the social aspect, the running community is fantastic. When I joined P&D I did not consider myself a proper runner (a common theme amongst many members as it happens) but the people were so welcoming and made me feel like I belonged. The Session Leaders were encouraging and there was no snobbery, I am blessed to a member of a very inclusive club. This extends to beyond the club as well, club events regionally may well be competitive but there is a place for everyone. This is even more the case with the advent of parkrun, which will hopefully return sooner, not later.

What race or moment in your running career holds the most significance and why?

I’ve had many memorable moments, including doing Tough Guy in 1999, the forerunner of the recent swathe of obstacle courses that have become so popular in recent years. It had fun obstacles like crawling under barbed wire, rope walking 24 feet in the air between hay bales, swimming underwater through dark icy water and crawling through narrow tunnels that I could barely fit my shoulders in. There was a special prize put up by a sponsor, of a holiday in the Caribbean for the 7th person to report with a broken leg, it was that kind of event! I also remember sitting for an age in the car after the race, with heaters blowing full blast and me and my friend shivering uncontrollably, before having to drive home knackered.

When it comes to the most significant though, it is difficult to say as I’ve never been an upper echelon runner, but my best run may have been the Bristol to Bath Marathon in 2015. I was apprehensive about it because it was a very hilly run and I had set 3 targets, a “Gold” target of 3:30, “Silver” of 3:45 and “Bronze” of sub 4 hours. I ran with the 3:30 pacemakers for the first half and then left them behind – kept expecting them to catch me but it never happened and I was strong running up the hills (and down them) and finished with a 3:23 pb. It was the strongest I’ve felt over the marathon distance.

Who is your running inspiration?

I cannot honestly say that anyone has inspired me to run personally per se, but I have particularly liked to see club runners who I have seen improve immensely as a result of committed, continuous training. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but Paul Morton, who I was well-matched with when he first joined (not any longer though!), Bethan Apglyn and Kit Lambert come to mind readily.

Why did you join P&D?

After a few years of running on my own during work lunchtimes and having had a couple of half marathons under my belt, I toyed with the idea of joining a running club so that I could connect with other people who enjoyed running; however, this didn’t look like a realistic option because of my commute to and from Bristol so it was never something that I pursued seriously.

What brought me to P & D was the Porthkerry Plod (as it was known then). This was one of two events that I had wanted to enter in the past (the other being the Merthyr Mawr Christmas Pudding Race) but had always missed for some reason or another. I had kind of forgotten about it then, in 2016, I saw a poster for it in Barry Leisure Centre (if memory serves me right) so I decided to enter. I noticed that it was organised by a running club in Penarth, and I thought that this may fit in with my commute, as I could drive to Penarth straight from work. I got in touch over Facebook and spoke with Yvonne Williams who was very welcoming, which will come to no surprise to those who know her. I came along to a Monday session, which was a Cliff Hills tug of war session, and I loved it, I wasn’t really sure what to expect before I went but everyone was brilliant, I was made to feel welcome and I didn’t feel out of place, everyone belonged there. Going to that training session was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made. As for the Porthkerry Plod, I marshalled instead of running, despite Yvonne assuring me I was welcome to run having entered before joining. I wanted to marshal, so the Porthkerry Plod (or the Porthkerry 5 MT as we now know it as) remains on my bucket list.

What event, past or present, would you like to take part in and why?

The Berlin Marathon is a race that I want to enter, it is my birthplace and I would like to go back there, the last time I went was before the Berlin Wall came down. Berlin is also a fast course so maybe I could try for a PB there, as long as I don’t leave it too long!

Other than that, I look forward to doing a January Gwent League cross country event. Partly because XC is one the best things about P & D, but mainly because a league cross country run in winter will be a good sign of a return to normality.

What golden piece of advice would you give to other runners?

Enjoy your running! Whether you are striving for PBs, going the extra mile (literally) or simply taking in the scenery, being able to run is a gift that should not be taken for granted. For those aiming for PBs or podiums, embrace the training process and know that success is not in the outcome but in the commitment and joy that comes from the work and effort put in. If you do the best that you are capable of on the day then there is no need for disappointment.

What’s next?

As I write, what’s next is simply getting out running again. I have an unfortunate tendency to go weeks without running if I allow home life and work to overwhelm, which isn’t good as running helps to keep me on an even keel and more balanced in general. Running is always the first to go when I am time-poor, because I view this a “me” thing. I know this is the wrong mindset, but there you go.

That aside, my long term goal is to do a 100 Mile Ultra. I’m not sure why, but this is an itch that I’ve needed to scratch since shortly before joining the club. It’s something that I have been threatening for years but this year I had actually started to take it more seriously. Prior to my current training hiatus I had been training for a 34 mile Ultra in the Gower that would have taken place in November but has now been postponed 12 months because of Covid, so I will be looking to see what is (currently) on in the New Year. Brecon to Cardiff in February looks like an option, if it goes ahead.

Who would you like to nominate?

There are many people that I would like to nominate, but I’ll leave it to Simon to approach my favoured choice.

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