The Bonds we Make when Running

It’s been a while eh folks? I’ve had a pretty mad few months at work, and after a 10 hour working day the last thing I felt like doing was sitting back in front of a screen to type some more. Essentially, my creative mojo went MIA. But here we are, back on the blogging train and ready to keep this journey going.

Last night I had a brilliant time at the Night Trails Thetford Forest 10k. I’ve done so few events over the last two years but this is an event I’ve done in the past and LOVED, so it was a no-brainer to sign up again. It’s not a big event – 215 runners took part this time, alongside 26 canicross runners – so it felt like a good one to ease myself into. Plus it helped that I went with Justin and Jon, two Ely runners and brilliant friends.

The event started at 8pm when there was still some light, but the organisers requested that all torches were turned on from the start as it would be dark by the time we all finished. It was a tough course underfoot, with large sections of thick gravel, badly pot holed grass, forest trails with a lot of tree roots to hop over, and sandy paths. And I’ll be the first to admit that I got a bit swept up at the start and went out fast, on legs that had already taken a bit of a battering at a parkrun earlier that morning.

And it was at about the halfway mark that I fell in step with Chrissi Head from Team Dunerunner and Craig Skipper from Wymondham AC. And honestly, thank goodness for them. I was seriously flagging by about mile 4, but we kept chatting and kept encouraging each other, taking it in turns to drive the other two forward. Although I admit, the two of them were doing most of the driving until the final 800 metres or so, when it became abundantly clear that the course was going to be a decent chunk more than 6.2 miles, and we all had to dig desperately deep for the finish that seemed to take forever to arrive.

After 6.5 miles we all crossed the line within seconds of each other, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to the pair of them, going on to tell Chrissi that I would like her by my side at every race please. As we all posed for a photo together, I wondered if I would see either of them again. I hope we’ll run into each other at future races, but this shared experience will stay with me. For those 30 minutes or so, we bonded over the pain and love of running. And at least for now, we can follow each other’s running adventures on Strava.

Craig, sweaty red me, and Chrissi. Legends, the pair of them

This morning, as I basked in the glow of last night’s achievements (read: had a lie in and then moved around my house VERY slowly), I started thinking about the other bonds that I’ve made as a result of running. And when I look at my friendship groups, and especially those who have really held my hand (emotionally of course) over the last two years, so many of those people are in my lives as a result of running. Take Jon and Justin. If it wasn’t for Ely Runners, I wouldn’t know them the way that I do, and I wouldn’t have been crying with laughter 30 minutes before we all ran last night (rather than getting myself in an anxiety-addled tizz which is my usual pre-race MO). All of the group chats I’m in that have supported me through the pandemic – the Red Face Gang, the Hash Brown Appreciation Society, the Garden Appreciation Society, the Weds Bonkers Cycling Fun group (Justin is in all of them!) – these are all made up of people that I’ve met through running. I think that my life would be a lot quieter and arguably more lonely if running hadn’t become a part of it.

Me, Justin and Jon, ready to hit those night trails

Another example I have of a bond made through running is the friendship we’ve all made with Ryan, someone who only joined Ely Runners at the end of last year and who we met through Soham Village College parkrun. He quickly become a key part of our friendship group and we’ve enjoyed so many parkruns together since. It helps that we’re a similar pace so we can keep each other going in training and at races, and now we all have the privilege of being invited to Ryan’s wedding later this year (Ryan, we will do our very best not to disgrace ourselves). In such a short space of time we have all bonded with this ace runner (and he’ll be the first to admit – mega parkrun nerd) and our lives are better for it.

Ryan and I take parkrun VERY seriously

Finally, there is one other bond I made when running which will stay with me forever. A few years back, at a 5k league race in Newmarket, I had a shocker of a race. My pre-race anxiety was the worst it had ever been, and on a particularly hot summer evening I blew up spectacularly and was almost in tears as I desperately tried to hang on for the last 1.5km. At this point, a runner from Haverhill Running Club came up behind me and made sure I didn’t give up. He kept me going until the very end and made sure I crossed that finish line, and I’ll never forget his kindness, putting my race before his, as I have no doubt he would have finished well ahead of me otherwise. His name was Neil Mustoe, and I found out that at the start of this month Neil sadly passed away after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease back in 2020. I didn’t know Neil well, but when I read the tributes to him, I recognised the runner they all described immediately:

“One thing I always think of (about Neil), it was the willingness to assist others and sometimes to sacrifice his own running times for other people and generally just to help.”

This fleeting moment with Neil – we very occasionally bumped into each other at other races afterwards – has always stayed with me, as we shared a real bond for those 1500m. I felt such sadness at his passing and my thoughts are very much with his family, friends and running club. Needless to say, he’s not someone who will be forgotten, even by those he shared the briefest of moments with.

Those bonds we make when running really are something special, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

If you would like to donate to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, you can do so here.

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