How long have you been a Horsforth Harrier?

I’m coming up to my one year anniversary in April – can I expect a fanfare or cake… surely cake?! That was actually one of the first things I came to realise when joining the Club – that HH don’t seem to need much of an excuse to bake a cake!

And what a year it’s been! I joined the Club shortly after moving to Horsforth from Chapel Allerton where I’d lived with my wife Steph and two children (Teddie 5, and Ayda 2) for over 10 years. Whilst I’d dabbled in running before joining the Club, it was never with any regularity or even enjoyment if I’m completely honest. However, having the canal right on my doorstep it seemed like an opportune time to kick-start my get-fit resolution.

It was with great apprehension I walked into the Club House on that first Tuesday! I’d never been into sport growing up and never part of any sort of team, so kind of felt like I didn’t have a right to be turning up to a running club when all I’d racked up were a few (flat) miles on the canal. But I’m always one to throw myself into the deep end… and I am so pleased I did!

My first few runs were with Bev H’s Group and it was great – everyone was so friendly and welcoming; and within the first few weeks I was running routes and parts of Horsforth (and beyond) that I didn’t even know existed – the canal would have only kept my interest for so long! However, after three or four runs Bev and Co “kicked” me out of their Group and told me I had to go with the faster guys! I was surprised… and also brickin’ it!

Which training group/s do you normally run with?

So after being asked (told) to move up I once again jumped straight into the deep end and joined Nathan’s group! Thoughts of being out of place started to creep in again – “the top group… the fast guys… I’m not one of those”! But once again the HH feeling of friendliness and inclusion soon put me at rest and Nathan and his crew welcomed me as one of their own – I’d like to say they went easy on me as well… but they didn’t!

One of the best part’s (there are many) of running with these guys is how much we push each other. You don’t really get too much chance to sit back and go with the flow – you’re forced to go faster and harder! And that’s where the gains are made. The improvements I started to see came really quick and got me excited to push faster and harder even more!

Alongside pushing each other, the other main thing I’ve taken from the Group, and the Club in general, is the wealth of (running) knowledge that everyone’s willing to impart! I’m literally learning something new every run and every session; and all from folks that are so talented and have achieved so much – an unbelievable amount of thanks and respect to all that have advised and helped me to date!

What are your running goals for the year ahead?

As I’ve already mentioned the gains and improvements I’ve made in a relatively short period of time have blown my mind – the body is really capable of achieving so much more than I ever realised (or at least took time to appreciate). So the goals for this year are really to just keep pushing to see these improvements continue. I’m just really enjoying running at the moment and want that fun to continue for as long as possible.

In terms of specific goals – well, given I’ve got Baby 3 due imminently (31 March 2019); I’m expecting training to take a slight dip. So with that in mind I’ve not really committed to any races in the first half of the year. Let’s see how much sleep deprivation and being outnumbered by Little People I’m able to take, and then consider what I go after in the second half of the year!

That being said, I’ve got my sights on breaking some PBs – a sub-17 5k (current 18:21) and sub-38 10K (39:45) would be nice! But the big thing will be whether or not I face back up to the marathon… Yorkshire Marathon – we have unfinished business!

I also want to run and volunteer at more parkruns this year. Every time I run one I remember how good they are! And I was also fortunate to join the HH takeover at Middleton in December last year where I got my first parkrun volunteering badge (as well as my first 1st Finisher – I couldn’t resist running as well as volunteering)! Again, this will depend on how my Saturday’s start to shape up with three kids in tow!

What is the PB you are most proud of?

Am I allowed to say “all of them”?! It’s the best feeling every time you smash a new time, regardless of the distance or race! It means the hard work and effort is paying off!

But if I had to single one out it would have to be the Yorkshire Marathon in October 2018. It was the first race I signed up to when I decided to start to run – it was my motivation to stick with it and keep going. When I signed up my only aspiration was to get over the finish line… fully expecting that to be through a combination of running, walking, limping and crawling! But as I clocked up the hours with the Club and out on the road by myself, those aspirations started to become a little grander! My goal time when the day arrived was 3:12:00, and I was on for it right up to mile 18 or so when things started to go a bit skew-whiff – body, mind and soul all started to take a tumble… as well as two toilet stops (too much information???!)! But despite the issues I still managed to drag my legs over the line in 3:22:20! At that immediate moment I was absolutely gutted – it felt like I failed! However, that was maybe just the emotions (and feeling of hyperthermia setting in – do you remember how much it rained on that day?), because in the days after, once the realisation of what I’d accomplished took hold, I began to feel a bit more pleased with myself. I’d gone from zero (or at the very best, a very difficult 10k on a good day) to Marathon Hero (that’s what the kids called me anyway) in less than a year… and never in a million years would I have imagined that would be sub-3:30!

I learnt a lot that day (one of the key takeaways – try and turn up to the start line on time!), and in the weeks and months of training leading up to it; with tons of advice from the more seasoned marathoners in the Club! I’d never worked so hard for anything – it takes a lot of sacrifice physically and personally – and the support Steph and the kids gave me throughout was amazing. When I look back at the photos from the day, aside from the expressions of excruciating pain, I remember how unbelievably proud of myself I was!

What was your first race?

My first race wearing the Club vest was the Golden Acre Vets Relays. What an experience – seeing all the flags and tents, and everyone in the club colours for the first time! It got me very excited. I was part of a team! It felt great. The race was very enjoyable, the course was exciting, the weather was perfect and the support was amazing! It all came together making me want more… and I’ve raced for the Club in as many events as possible since!

What’s your favourite race, and why?

As with my previous answer, “all of them”! I genuinely love throwing on the Club vest, turning up to the start line ready to give it my all, team mates and rivals all round, family and friends supporting in the crowds… wondering how much it’s going to hurt, and looking forward to how good it’ll feel afterwards (and the post-race cake… it’s always about the cake!). It’s not really about the medals or the t-shirts or the times (well maybe it is!); but it’s more about the feeling of accomplishment – knowing that you’ve dedicated time and effort to something, and that its paid-off; whether that’s just getting over the line, placing higher than expected or getting that PB!

One race I did really enjoy was my most recent (I don’t have a very good memory which is why I’ve probably chose that one) – the ECCA National XC Championships at Harewood House. There were no expectations of finishing high up, so the event could just be enjoyed on a different level – the occasion, the unbelievable athletes that I’d be running alongside, the setting, the support. I still went out like any other race and gave it my absolute best, but at the same time, took in the amazing ability of the front runners – even more motivation to keep putting in the effort, keep training, keep getting better!

Also, hearing a start gun and running up a hill in the middle of a 2,000 strong pack of blokes all trying to get to the first corner that’s less than 20 meter wide is an experience in itself! I finished 853 with a time of 00:48:14 and was the second Harrier back – so well within the top half of an amazing field… I’ll take that! Great day… and as always, amazing support from start to finish by the HH’ers!

Running at the National XC Championships 2019

What is your most memorable experience as a Horsforth Harrier?

It would probably be one of the final Group runs of last summer. No more than the usual enjoyable 10 miler or so with Nathan’s group, the run itself was pretty standard. The memorable experience came through a number of us being used as human shields by our very own Reece Milton as we navigated our way through the cow fields! He might be fast, but he isn’t very brave when it comes to cattle… and absolutely no issue with sacrificing his fellow club mates to save himself! Safe to say, Reece and the rest of us made it out alive… and no cattle were hurt during the course of the run!

Do you have any favourite motivational running quotes or things that inspire you?

My family inspire me – running has made me a better version of me for them (albeit, they’d probably prefer I gave up a few of the Sunday long runs for an extra session at the softplay)!

I can’t really recollect any “famous” quotes, but one piece of motivational advice I quite liked…

“Just run balls to the wall from the get-go and hope you have enough to get you to the end” – Greg Brant (Horsforth Harrier); PECO XC Race 1 Middleton Woods, November 2018. It kind of worked… kind of!

Complete this sentence: “I run, therefore I am…”

… able to eat ALL the cake… and cookies, and burgers, and crisps, and…”!!!!

Hopefully, that gives you a bit of insight into me – mainly on just the running front I guess! But I also enjoy food (cake), and rather like getting my chef’ing on – whipping up a nice dish for the wife on a regular basis… gotta earn those brownie points to be used to offset the long runs somehow! Any other spare time is allocated to having the best possible fun and laughs with the kids and family! I post quite a lot of this stuff on Instagram as well – so give me a follow if you’re on there (shameless plug to get more followers/likes) @beejayjohnston. If we’ve not yet met, give me a nudge next time and we’ll have a chat!

Thanks to everyone at the Club for being such a great group of folks. And special big ups to Nathan and crew for pushing me to the max every Tuesday (Greg, Ash, Max, Barney, Fin, Reece, and anyone else that joins us); Garth and Marie for introducing me to track sessions – brutal (can’t wait for these to start again!); trusted advisors Alan S, Paul G, Neil B, Richard B and Mark S for all the guidance and pointers; and last but not least, Steve A for welcoming / introducing me to the Club and being my go-to, behind the scenes sounding board for all those “never too-stupid to ask” questions that are more often than not, too stupid (thanks for your patience!!!)!

Happy running everyone!