Biography of a runner – AndyCoatsworth
I was born with a congenital structural defect, and for four years was in and out of hospital. I
contracted Typhoid at the age of 8, which nearly killed me. As it was I lost a third of my body
weight, missed a year’s schooling, which is why I am very concerned about the current crisis
in our schools, and missed a year’s growth – never to be recovered. Thus I was a weakling
at school, and suffered the humiliation of always being the last one chosen by the captains
for any team sport.
I then committed a minor misdemeanor at school, and the punishment was to run for five
successive days across the fields to the top of a nearby hill, visible from the headmaster’s
office. I had to continue trying until I could do it in the allotted time, and it was four weeks of
running every day before I began to cross off the five required runs. By this time I was
enjoying it, and I have enjoyed running off-road over hilly ground ever since.
In my first year at University I lived near Hyde Park, and in the third near Hampstead Heath.
I have tried to live near an open space suitable for running ever since – initially Windsor
Great Park, then the fringe of the Lake District, and now just outside Tatton Park. On the
Cumbrian coast I looked out of my bedroom window over a sandy beach which stretched for
about 6 miles. You do not have to been entranced by the beach scene in the 1981 film
‘Chariots of Fire’, about two athletes in the 1924 Olympics, to know the joy of running
perhaps barefoot along the moist sand adjacent, or sometimes, amongst the rippling waves.
For twenty years my work took me to many parts of the world, and I have run in some
incredible places. In a fairly lawless part of Pakistan close to the Afghan border I naively
committed an indiscretion by running in shorts, insensitive to the local Muslim community. I
arrived near Johannesburg in South Africa on the plateau at about 6000 feet, where the
client had kindly entered me for a 10k the following day – the altitude hit me bad. I
subsequently went on training runs with the local running club; the first was a near disaster,
as I struggled to keep up on unfamiliar ground amongst the huge waste tips from the gold
mines, unaware both as to how to get home if I lost the pack and that the other runners were
all training for the Comrades – the colossal 90km race between Pietermaritzburg and
Durban. In Hong Kong I ran mainly with the Hash House Harriers, one of the oldest of about
two thousand such clubs around the world, which follow a mid-20 th century version of Hare
and Hounds cross-country running, which flourished in the 19 th century. In 1979 I had
founded the Berkshire Hash House Harriers, one of the earliest chapters in the UK. I still
occasionally run with a local hare and hounds club, which started in Wilmslow in 1872, and
is probably the third oldest running club in the world.
For the subsequent twenty years of my work I averaged two nights a week in a hotel. Adding
basic running kit to one’s travel luggage is so easy, and you do not have to find sport
facilities or fellow sports people in a town distant from home.
When work took me to the Lake District for three years I started fell running, mainly with
Cumberland Fell Runners under its then President, the great Joss Naylor. I was set up as a
race marshall before the Ennerdale Horseshoe Fell Race to instruct Joss, who as a sheep
farmer knew the fells like the back of his hand, that he had to carry a map and compass. I
avoided a repetition the following year by entering the race myself. The Ennerdale
Horseshoe Fell Race, 36.8km with 2290 metres of ascent, remains one of my better
achievements. I much enjoyed two day mountain orienteering events, such as the Saunders
Lakeland Marathon, The Capricorn, and the Karrimor. I would have been doing the
Saunders again this year but for COVID-19.
Injuries from fell running can be more varied than those from road running, and after I took a
tumble over the rocks the nurses at A&E took delight in writing the cause of my bloody knees
and face as “Fell fell running”.
Though an off-road runner at heart, I do enjoy road Half-Marathons, and Wilmslow is my
favourite - so well organized and good crowd support. However, a running training induced
injury, swiftly followed in 2016 by broken limbs cycling in first Germany and in quick
succession France left me thinking my running days were over, until I met Vicky McKinnon
and Clare Dooley on a RunKnutsford stall in the market.
My best running times are behind me, so what does RunKnutsford mean to me? I love
belonging to a community where we applaud the performance of each other, whether a
novice or a county class athlete. Sometimes when the weather is poor or I am feeling a bit
idle, the joy of running together, even virtually as at present, gives me the motivation to go
out. Though conditions may be grim, I still feel good when I get home after a good run.
Technically I have improved through a greater awareness of the role Strength and Core
exercises have both in performance and in reducing susceptibility to running injuries. During
social distancing times of the current COVID-19 pandemic I miss the comradeship and
banter, but Vicky is doing a superb job of keeping me motivated and finding fun in the simple
sport of running. I will emerge lockdown both mentally and physically better because of