Tuesday, 1 August 2017

On running and Whitwick's wonderful Hermitage Harriers - my August Community Voice column

It was a Sunday evening in the spring of 2006 when I was busy trying to get our two year old toddler to settle down for the night that my wonderful wife, Clare, mentioned to me that she thought she might be pregnant. Clare’s announcement was, to put it mildly, something of a surprise; one that on that evening I wasn’t expecting but in hindsight one of the better bombshells of my life.

Funnily enough this month’s column isn’t about anything to do with babies or pregnancy, in fact it’s about running, but that revelation is indeed extremely relevant to my ‘illustrious’ running career.

Following the death of my father two years earlier I had decided that I needed to lose some weight; to try and get fit so that I could be there to see my own children grow up. So I took up running.

When you are seventeen stone in weight running doesn’t come that easily but I persevered through the aching knees and twisted ankles and after a year or so unbelievably l was starting to look and feel healthier. I started to enter races; local 10k’s to start with and then I got in to the iconic Great North Run.

I was becoming an albeit very slow runner.

Which takes us to one week after the surprise pregnancy announcement.

It was a Friday night and after watching the late news we were getting ready for bed when the telephone rang. After a few rings and a very short conversation; “shall we pretend we’re asleep?” I answered and a very distant voice spoke to me.

“Is that Mr Spence?” I confirmed it was. “I’m delighted to tell you that you have won an all-expenses paid trip to take part in the Chicago Marathon this autumn…”

After a moment of incredulity and a realisation that indeed the promise of a trip was bona fide, it dawned on me that this once in a lifetime prize would take place on the exact same date that our third child was due.

You might imagine the conversation that followed; “Well, I’ve been to two births but I’ve never been to Chicago…” To her immense credit Clare insisted that I couldn’t miss the trip “and the baby will probably be late anyway.”

I am starting to hear you ask what has all of this got to do with Whitwick, Thringstone or Swannington? The answer is simple.

One of the best possible ways to train for a race like a marathon is to join a running club and just a couple of years before my tale Hermitage Harriers had been formed.

Harriers, eponymously named after the Leisure Centre where it is based, is now one of the most successful running clubs in Leicestershire having won league titles aplenty but back then strength in depth may not have been one of our strongest points.

In those days Harriers had plenty of great runners but there was always the chance, because the club was so new, that anyone would score in league races; anyone could be a club record holder.

Astonishingly club record holder at marathon distance was exactly what I turned out to be; far more by virtue of the fact that I was one of the first to run a marathon rather than having claim to any degree of speed, my record didn’t stand for long.

In 2006 Hermitage Harriers was the perfect, sociable, friendly group of people to help you train for a marathon: it still is.

As we reach the dog days of summer and we start thinking about nights drawing in and lights going on a little earlier each day you will often see groups of runners pounding the streets of our villages wearing a vast array of hi visibility clothing. That will more than likely be the members of Hermitage Harriers preparing for winter races, maybe a spring marathon or just trying to keep healthy as they socialise.

But before we get into those darker evenings at 10:30 on Sunday 13th August the Harriers will hold their annual Carl Rutt Memorial 10K race which takes hundreds of runners around the streets of the village and surrounding countryside. The race has gained something of a reputation as being a well organised but gruelling test of stamina.

I have a suggestion: why not take to the streets for a few minutes that day to support not only the runners but also one of our areas most successful sporting clubs. I guarantee you it will be appreciated.


As for me I did run my marathon in Chicago, I had an amazing time, but even better my son was thoughtful enough to hang on for a couple of weeks so that I could be present at his big event too.

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