Former Norwich South MP Simon Wright recently revealed to Runnorfolk how running had helped him overcome the trauma of losing his seat in the 2015 General Election. In the second part of our exclusive interview with him, Simon talks about some of his favourite run routes.
Read the first interview here
He may no longer be a politician, but Simon Wright is ever the diplomat. Agreeing to meet up for a run ahead of our interview he decides to take me on a ‘shortish’ route around Thorpe Hamlet with a bit of Mousehold Heath thrown in before finishing off with a coffee at the Britannia Café. It’s one of his favourite run routes but I sensed he may have been running a bit slower than usual…
Runnorfolk (RN): The run we have just been on could you just explain that to me – is that what you call the three hills run?
Simon Wright (SW): It was a good chunk of it. We took in Harvey Lane, that was a good first one, came up Gurney to finish that was a good one too.
I really enjoy running around the Thorpe Hamlet area, I think it’s fantastic for testing yourself, pushing yourself.
Norfolk’s often thought of as a very flat county, but in Norwich, in the city, at least, we’ve got some very challenging routes and runners I think of all abilities can find testing courses through Norwich.
For me Thorpe is one of the most interesting and enjoyable areas to be tested. You’ve also got the dreaded Gas Hill, if you really want to push the ascent.
And here we are finishing off at the top of the hill looking down over the cathedral, over City Hall. You can see much of the city of Norwich from where are now sat and it’s a really picturesque way of finishing a hard, challenging run.
RN: You’re right about the perception of Norwich and Norfolk as flat. That certainly wasn’t a flat run. It took in the bottom of Mousehold Heath, down Kett’s Hill. Were you taking it easy for my benefit? I sensed you weren’t running perhaps as quickly as you normally would…
SW: I think it’s really important as a runner to run at all paces <laughs> and levels!
RN: Very diplomatic answer!
SW: I actually don’t think you can run flat out every run, or you will do what I have just done which is get yourself injured. Unfortunately, over the last three weeks or so, I have been struggling with a bit of a hamstring issue, which has knocked my training badly. I’ve scaled back quite a lot.
No, I think when you are taking in a challenging course, taking in the hills, you are always going to feel the benefit of having done that. I feel at the end of this, I’ve had a good workout. It’s also very good for your confidence as a runner just to complete a route that you have got in mind to get around, to feel that you have achieved the objective that you have set yourself. Indeed, we actually stretched our objective today, we took in a bit more than we planned to.
Featured runs mentioned by Simon Wright
<Got a favourite run? Why not add it to the list in the comments section below>
RN: Talking about the running and where you like to run. I just wondered how much of Norfolk you have seen when running? You were talking about Holkham Park run and you were doing some beach running the other day. Also, your favourite routes if you have any?
SW: One of the fantastic things about running is you do see so much that you may otherwise not know is there or perhaps take the environment for granted in some ways.
For me it’s one of the most interesting ways of exploring an environment, because you are going slowly enough to be able to take everything in as you see it, but you’re moving fast enough to be able to see enough of it too.
I love as well the diversity of environments that you can take in. So, the chance to be able to go out and do a run along the beach, to see the coast, to see the sea and maybe jump into the sea at the end of the run.
RN: Have you done that?
SW: Oh, yeah. Totally. But then on another occasion I might want to run around Whitlingham. Here in the city we’ve got that diversity of environment. You can run through the city centre, you can run around Whitlingham, you can run up Mousehold Heath, or run around the park. Even within the city you have got a range of environments.
You know you don’t have to drive out very far either. And that’s the wonderful thing about Norfolk that you can go out to the coast – do a bit of dune running. Or do some cross-country running, run across some fields. It’s that fantastic variety, and you wouldn’t perhaps, unless you were running, think that you are going to drive out to a little village that you have never been to before and just run across a few fields.
But when you do that, you realise what an invigorating environment it is and you are probably seeing things that not many other people are seeing and taking it in.
RN: On the amount of racing you have been doing – could you take us back on what you have been doing over the last year?
SW: At the moment, it seems every Sunday there is a race on. This is thought of as being the close season period, but there’s a whole load of road races in Norfolk.
In the next few weeks we’ve got Holt, Trowse, we had Yarmouth 10k there’s a new 10-mile race out at Banningham, and more to come at the end of the year too and a few cross country races. The cross-country season is coming and I’m going to dip my foot into that a bit. I’m entering seemingly everything at the moment. I’ve had more experienced runners tell me I should be entering fewer and try and target ones in particular. But at the moment it just feels right for me to enter as many as possible, because I know I am going to push myself and almost seeing the race as the intense part of the week’s training seems right to me and the best way of being able to challenge myself to improve.
But next year I might need to be a bit more selective.
The first race I entered was the first Run Norwich event and I thought that was a fantastically inspiring and motivating event to be involved with and gave me a great deal of confidence in entering other races in Norfolk too.
I really hope given how successful Run Norwich has been, I really hope a lot of runners who have entered those events will now feel more at ease entering other events too.
It does seem a lot of the road races in Norfolk are expanding the number of places available or they are selling out. Quite a few you are not able to enter on the day anymore, which used to be the norm. And park run being the other phenomenon that I’ve really been caught up in and motivated by and a lot of other people have too.
I think running as an activity is in incredibly good health in terms of the numbers and growing numbers of people engaging with it, and events like Run Norwich have been and will continue to give people confidence to do it.
RN: Let’s get a sense of how quick you are. What sort of times do you do? You were saying that in the Holt 10km you are on course for a top four finish, which suggests that you are quite competitive.
SW: I’m not competitive in every aspect of life but it’s nice to have an activity in life that when you feel the need you can express a competitive instinct. For me racing is not so much about competing against other people, it’s about competing against yourself. And to challenge yourself to do better and to chase the PBs that you have set for yourself in previous races. When I go to a park run I don’t always do it to see whether I can beat other people – and I think that parkrun is predominantly a social activity.
But it’s one that you can challenge yourself at as well. Always looking to try and improve your times a little bit and to push yourself onwards can be very rewarding – it can sometimes be a bit dispiriting when you don’t hit those targets, too.
There are times where I have been chasing a target that’s taken seemingly forever to hit, but I’m reasonably happy with how my times have improved. But it has come off the back of an awful lot of effort to get there.
For me anyway it’s about understanding my body and how it will respond to different levels of activity, so I don’t have a particularly fixed plan that I follow. But I do have quite broadly in my mind how far I want to run in any given week.
RN: How close to an elite runner do you see yourself? You’re more than just a fun runner, aren’t you?
SW: I’m some way off that. I went down to Ipswich earlier in the year for the 10Km event which immediately followed a 5km. At Ipswich, they get some very good elite runners for the 5km and seeing the pace at which some of those guys were running around was phenomenal. On the one hand, it was inspiring but at the same time you are thinking, ‘my goodness me, what a gap there is’ There is a huge difference between a keen amateur club runner up to the elite standard. Because of the level of training involved.
RN: You are predominantly 5k, 10ks?
SW: Yeah, those are my comfort zones.
RN: Would you look to step up to halfs and maybe a full marathon sometime?
SW: I’ve only done one half marathon. I did the Gorleston half marathon this year. I was pleased at how it went and I surprised myself because I didn’t feel that would be a distance I’d be particularly comfortable with.
It went well, I was very pleased with my time – 1hr 22. It kind of gave me confidence in thinking that a half marathon might be a distance I can go for and I’ve booked myself in for the Norwich half and Broadland half in 2017 and I will be keeping my eyes out. I’ve just missed out on Cambridge, but there will be other good ones to come in 2017. So, that looks like it might be a good distance for me to have a go at.
Full marathons – I’m not hugely motivated by that at the moment. For me the distances I’m running at feel the right distances to be working on. But I guess over time in due course, I will start to think.
At this moment, I’m not particularly attracted to the idea of spending four months training for one particular event which I’m not sure I would enjoy anyway.
RN: Going back to where you started 18 months ago and how you felt then and how you feel now and the running and the part that’s played do you look back and sense how far you have come as a runner and as a person?
SW: Yeah I do. Mainly it’s one day at a time but I do indulge in the odd moment about thinking with some reward about how things have improved and I do take some reward from that. But there’s sense in my mind still that there is more improvement that I need to make, and I am inspired by other runners and seeing how well they are doing in a similar age bracket to my own, who are performing to a very high standard.
RN: We went for a run first before we had our chat. Assuming you would want to run with me again, and bearing in mind the speed at which we finished that might be a no, where would you go next?
Where would you recommend?
SW: I live in Eaton and one of the routes I like is going out through Cringleford and around the UEA Broad, I think that’s very picturesque part of Norwich. Also, running out Keswick way. The other route I like doing is around Whitlingham, there’s quite a nice route from Eaton along Hall Road, over towards Trowse around Whitlingham, take it out to Kirby Bedon if you like. I think that makes it about 13/14 miles.
RN: Ok, let me get some runs in and then we will come back to that. Thanks for talking about your running experiences and look forward to seeing you at the next run.
SW: Thank you!