08 Jun In the Spotlight – Simon Williamson

Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to all the previous “In the Spotlighters”….your stories have been interesting and inspirational. My sporting journey goes back to the 1970s like Abyd, but I’ve been nominated by Paul, who only started running in 2015! One of the many reasons why I love this Club….

When did running begin for you?
As a boy I liked soccer, and living in South London had quite a choice of teams I could support. For my sins I became (at the age of ten!) a member of the infamous ‘Chelsea Shed‘, complete with Doc Martens, Army Greens and quarter-inch crew cut…I was well-hard! Thankfully grew out of my skinhead phase by fifteen(!) but attended Wimbledon College with only team games like Rugby and Cricket on the agenda. At 5 foot 4 and 8 stone, I was the obvious choice for full-back!

(this pic taken a few years earlier….)

I used to pray for rain to flood the pitches and the alternative….a 20-minute run around the perimeter. In the 6th Form other sporting options became available, and Cross-Country seemed attractive; at about the same time my older brother had joined Belgrave Harriers (running 400/800m on the track), so I signed up as well.

(Surrey Junior XC on Wimbledon Common)

Belgrave were founded in 1887, and had their own Club House, but probably had their most successful years before and after the time I ran for them! But there were lots of pack runs (30 or so runners on a Sunday morning 10-miler across Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park), so I picked up lots of tips and advice, and gradually got a bit faster. I was well-chuffed to finish 5th in the Surrey Schools 5000m in a time of 17:29, just after my 18th birthday.

I chose to do an Electronics degree at the University of Birmingham mainly because of the calibre of runners studying there….I think we won the British Universities Cross Country Championships seven years on the trot! The top team was filled with internationals, and one of my housemates in the second year was Roger Hackney, a guy who represented Wales and the UK in 3000m Steeplechase. I also discovered the sport of Orienteering, and quite often used to race XC on a Saturday and orienteer on the Sunday. Not surprisingly this, combined with a rubbish diet and excessive beer-drinking, led to my results being pretty average.

(Orienteering up in Scotland)

It wasn’t until I secured a job as a Studio Engineer for the BBC in London that my results began to improve. Got my 5000m track time down to 15:39, but then became “distracted” by the emerging popularity of the marathon. Decided to run the 2nd London Marathon in 1982, which I believe was Lisa’s debut as well! I had no idea what I was capable of, but my 10-mile time (53 mins) was similar to Joyce Smith, who was the British Women’s record holder at the time and had won London the previous year…so I decided I would stick with Joyce! The coverage in those days was supplied by large (electric) camera vehicles, and “Joyce’s Milk-float” had the added bonus of a large clock giving her split times….not surprisingly she was surrounded by a large group of blokes with the same idea as me!

Joyce broke the British record again, and I finished about 3 minutes in arrears at 2:32 (226th in a field of 15000)…..which as a debut wasn’t too shabby. But typically for me at the time I wrote “SHOULD HAVE BROKEN 2:30” in my training diary! I’d gone through the Half in 73:38, so I can see why I felt that….the following year I finished 282nd, but ran my career-best time of 2:29:29.

Moving towards my thirties, career advancement/marriage/babies/running injuries (in no particular order!) came along, and my years of regularly putting in 60-70 miles in the winter were no more. Never stopped running completely during my forties and fifties, and was a member of Highgate Harriers, White Horse Harriers and Veterans A.C. I dabbled with mountain biking and road cycling, as I kept picking up calf injuries as soon as I started trying to run a bit faster.

How did you come to join P&D?

Fast forward to 2016 and I was facing another redundancy (I’ve had a few!) but this time I was fortunate enough to be able to support myself without returning to paid employment, so decided to move away from South East England. My first wife was from Cwmbran so I knew South Wales quite well, and it ticked a lot of boxes….city nearby, beautiful countryside and good transport links back to the South East (my two grown-up children are settled in Hampshire/Surrey). With lots of free time to fill, I was determined to get running-fit again, and of course by this time I’d discovered parkrun, too. I did the usual trawl of the internet looking at the local running clubs, and got a real friendly vibe from the P&D website….turned up at my first Monday night session (lamp posts tug of war!) and was paired up with the unique force of nature that is Chris Nellins…I was hooked!

Why do you run?

This is a complicated, somewhat mystical question, as I’m sure it is for a lot of you. I like the ‘thinking time’ on a long run, and my lunch time runs during my working career were quite cathartic stress-busters! I love that feeling of floating along on a still, sunny morning, when you sense you could run all day (only recently rediscovered this!) I have always had a competitive streak in me, and I love planning a ‘campaign’ to target certain races, either for a time or an Age Category position; I’d say this latter goal has become even more important now I’m over 60! And I love being part of a Club community, sharing stories and adventures with like-minded individuals.

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

My London Marathon debut in 1982 was pretty significant, but one of my races in that winter’s buildup gave me a great deal of satisfaction. It was a small race, the annual Belgrave 10 mile XC Championships, four laps of sticky mud on Wimbledon Common…and I won it! First senior race I ever won, and don’t think I’ve won any others since then…even got a mention in the Daily Express and a write up in the Club Newsletter!

Funnily enough, I never got a great deal of satisfaction out of achieving personal bests when I was younger, I was perpetually looking for more, so that’s why I was particularly pleased about a very recent performance.

I entered a team of V60s in this year’s Welsh Cross Country Championships, and guessed that being teamed up with Brian Law and Frank Atherton I’d be the third man closing in the team. It was run on my favourite style of cross country course, through woods, not too hilly and reasonably dry. I eked out the very best performance I could on the day, desperate not to let the team down, hanging on to a small group of three athletes with a tenacity and focus I’ve not felt for years. Finished 9th in category and we nabbed Silver Team medals, the first time I’ve ever achieved anything at National level….I was over the moon and very grateful to call these two my team mates!

Who is your running inspiration?

I’m pretty inspired by anyone who sets out to complete a marathon, at what ever level. You don’t train for and then experience 26 miles on your feet without learning good and bad stuff about yourself!

But I’d say in the last ten years much of my inspiration has come from watching my son James develop into a top-level athlete. Firstly as a Mountain bike racer, but more recently as a triathlete and highly-ranked Age Group competitor in the Ironman discipline. Last September was particularly emotional…James finished 4th in the 30-34 AG at Ironman Wales, and qualified for this year’s World Championships, which were scheduled to be held in Hawaii in October. Not now of course….but James has a guaranteed place for October 2021 so will re-focus for that. He also provided a very effective wind break when we cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2013!

What event, past or present, would you like to take part in and why?
This might come back to haunt me, so I need to be careful! Whenever I run for more than 90 minutes I always start reminiscing about marathons, and start entertaining thoughts of giving it another go. I like the idea of “Good-for-Age” and feel that I’m the fittest and strongest I’ve been for years, so why not? It would need to be a class one though….Boston has a certain appeal….

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

Feel I’ve learnt a great deal about maintaining a healthy body in the last two years….which is a shame when you consider I’d been running for 43 before that! Four basic tenets which I wish I had focussed on when I was younger….

Nutrition: Colourful diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, cut out processed foods and sugars, plenty of protein to build muscle (really important as you get older), try to minimise alcohol intake (surprisingly difficult, but helps if you structure it like training, with 4 rest days!), minimise eating in the evening and morning (experiment with fasted steady runs), the list goes on…..

Strength Training: You don’t need a gym for this (pertinent in present circumstances) Lots of body weight exercises, engaging core. Use kettlebells. Stand on one leg for 30 seconds in front of a mirror, checking posture.

Recovery & Sleep: Have proper days off with no aerobic exercise (but you can stretch). Regular sleep of more than 7 hours.

Stretching: Develop a routine for before and after training. Combination of static and dynamic.

What’s next?

I’m really keen to get my short race times down…loving the Cardiff Summer Series of virtual ‘racing’, in particular the Mile trials; would love to get close to 6 minutes this year. And it’s not a secret that I’d like to close in on 20 minutes for 5k and 41 or better for 10km. When racing does resume, I’d like to aim at some of the National Age Group Championship races.

Who would you like to nominate?

I hope this chap is happy to comply, as I feel he has a lot of interesting stories to tell about his own exploits and those of Penarth and Dinas Runners…I’d like to nominate Clem Clement!

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