Thinking of taking up running in the New Year? Milton Lindsay did just that in 2016 and has seen the weight drop off and has completed 20 park runs at Eaton Park. Here he looks back at those first steps and how he is looking forward to further progress in 2017.

Inspiration came like a bolt out of the clear blue sky that spring afternoon.

 I had just turned 55 and was sitting on the sofa taking stock when the drudgery of daytime TV was pierced by a Machiavellian inner voice nagging me to revisit the cross country exploits of my youth.

This random craving defied all logical explanation. After all, my last long-distance running effort, some 40 years previously, had ended in abject failure and humiliation.

At the annual fifth form cross country championship in a Luton park a teacher, in a rare act of mercy decided to put the race stragglers out of their misery.

Rather than allowing them to sully the event, he ordered the no-hopers back to their classrooms. As I traipsed through the school gates one of the younger pupils asked why I had returned early. I lied that I had won the event with plenty in hand – a guilty secret I have harboured for years.

Perhaps my lowest point came at the school sports one year, when after a worthy effort in the 100 and 200 metres events I was coerced into taking part in the 1500 metres to make up the numbers.

Protests of incompetence fell on deaf ears and inevitably, I trailed in last by some considerable distance after running the last of the four laps in splendid isolation. Watched by an audience of hundreds, I collapsed gasping like a fish out of water after the finishing line. One of my classmates, no doubt delighted to see his house captain get his comeuppance, later said how amusing he found it to see me taking it easy during the race on such a hot day. I would have hit him had I been able to summon the energy.

For years, I had kidded myself that I was suited only to sprint distances, rather like a racehorse bred for the purpose. Put me in the Nunthorpe and I’ll take my chance but the Derby – no thanks, I’ll leave that to the stayers. My pedigree simply was not suited to the extended tests, I reasoned. 

But despite a distance running CV that was beyond embellishment I found myself donning kit and trainers and heading out to nearby Earlham Park in Norwich.

With no specific route in mind, I allowed my footwear, rather like Billy’s Boots in a favourite football comic of my youth, to take me wherever they wanted to go, ploughing across parkland, shuffling through woodland and plodding past lake and river.

At first it was ungainly and awkward. Only three or 400 metres could safely be achieved before a break was needed to recover my respiratory powers. On more than one occasion concerned passersby, seeing me propping myself up at the edge of the bridge over the river, asked if I was OK. It felt more like punishment than pleasure. 

On the trail – Piecing together the first 5km

But, through sheer perseverance and bloody mindedness in the ensuing weeks, I was able to piece together a 5k-plus route that I have grown to love. It’s not a secret trail by any means, as many students, dog walkers, anglers and fellow runners have been seduced by the same surroundings but it is nevertheless my own little piece of running heaven, stimulating to body and mind in ways I would never have thought possible.

It has been fascinating to savour the sights, sounds and scents of nature over the year. From knowing every hazard underfoot during the summer, I have had to watch my step as the protruding tree roots and stumps previously so easily avoided have been obscured by thick carpets of leaves and mud.

Areas I could once have tackled confidently have become slippery underfoot, requiring a more cautious approach and freshening up the challenge.

But, other than experiencing sore calves in the early weeks, as my legs adjusted to the enhanced workload, I have remained injury free. Calf strengthening exercises and compression socks have helped.

Feeling the benefits

I have lost a stone as my physique has taken on a leaner look, prompting many well-intentioned inquiries as to my wellbeing. I have always been sporty and never knowingly needed to lose weight but the truth is I have never felt fitter or more energetic and my aerobic powers have improved markedly. At 55 that is quite something to say. 

My times have steadily improved from that first laboured run/ rest/ walk effort in March when I completed 5.85k in 50.44 minutes. I was soon able to run 5k without stopping, overcoming another important psychological barrier. By May I was clocking 5.66k in 34 minutes and in October I completed 7k in 38.33min. Not swift by any means but there is still improvement in the old dog yet.

The first Parkrun

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In June, I  decided to take part in my first Parkrun, at Eaton Park in Norwich, joining a field which regularly pushes the 500 mark. I broke the 30-minute barrier first time posting 29.29 and recorded my 27.42 pb in October. It is a great volunteer-run event welcoming to runners of all ages and abilities.

There are talented club athletes, pensioners, children, people accompanied by dogs and people running quickly while pushing babies in buggies. I have been overtaken by them all! 

One athlete I have dubbed Mo Farah, who wins the event most weeks, laps me at the same place on my second lap with monotonous regularity. He clocks a sub 17 minute time but I remind myself that I set my own goals and am not competing with him. 

To my amazement I now have 20 Parkruns under my belt and am looking forward to making further progress in 2017. 

This unforeseen journey has taken me from the couch to 100k in just eight months. Who would have believed it?

Why not share with us in the comments below how your running year has been – or if you are thinking of taking up running let us know what you plan to do and how you hope to get started.

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