Runner Profile: Jo Harper

Firstly, thanks Ali for the nomination.

I was introduced to the running world at a young age. My dad was swept up into the running boom in the 80’s and it turned out he was good! He completed the London Marathon three times with a PB of 2 hours and 52 minutes. We spent many weekends driving around locally leaving water bottles out for him on his long training runs, cheering him on in races or taking part in fun runs attached to the main event.

My first real memory of running was the Sunday Times fun run in Hyde Park. I think I was about 5 years old. Boys and girls were all set off in age categories and my mum was concerned that I was too young to go out on my own, but I was adamant, if my brothers were doing it so was I! I perhaps didn’t realise at the time what an issue it was, but unfortunately, my dad tore a quad muscle during an indoor football match which put an end to his running career.

I have always enjoyed sports and outdoor activities. Having two older brothers influencing me I would imagine. I was a tomboy and Karate was my main activity during primary school until I was about 10. I then started to notice my friends were doing things like dancing and not so much fighting boys!

Having dropped sports, a surge of hormones and a love of food (!) meant I became quite chubby and with high school looming I wanted to lose some weight. As ever dad came to the rescue and took me out for a one mile run every day in the school holidays. How he got me to agree I don’t know, but by September it  had really helped. Through high school I enjoyed sports (even cross country!) but my social life interested me more. As a young adult with a poor diet and lack of exercise I again piled on the weight and getting pregnant gave me an excuse to eat even more.

How the running started:

In 2006, having taken part in a sponsored walk, with mum and dad (and Courtney, aged 4) finishing in Woodbridge, we came across the Woodbridge 10K taking place. We stopped and cheered the runners. It brought back so many happy memories of my dad competing in the race 20 years earlier. I said to my mum “how great would it be to be fit enough to run this race!”
That’s how it all started!

The next day she returned from the gym with a programme similar to the modern “couch to 5K” and together we started running slowly over the year building up to 10K. We duly collected the entry form from Woodbridge library and posted it off with a cheque to enter the race. My eldest brother (Andy) and future husband (Robin) decided they wanted to race too, Robin (a non-runner then) declaring he would do three months training and beat us all (he did!!). Our training went well but the night before my nerves kicked in and I hardly slept and the day turned out to be a scorcher (as it so often is!) Despite this, mum and I completed the course together in 1 hour and 5 minutes which I think we could be justifiably proud of. The year before, we’d watched the thing unfold with enjoyment, now, here we were crossing the finish line. We’d done it! My brother Andy, was five minutes up the road, just missing out on the sub hour. Robin was a further five minutes up the road with a 55. At the end I remember feeling really proud that we’d completed the course without walking (it’s so hilly!)

What happened next:

I didn’t run for the next few months. I was still overweight. I decided to try to keep it up, though mum was happy returning to the gym. I started to think if I had not been so nervous I might’ve have gone quicker and the only way to reduce the nerves was to race again. I started looking for another event that might welcome me, and came across the Martlesham 10K. I started to pick up the training ready for October but again nerves and unusually hot weather got to me. Being a largely flat route my time did improve but I knew I could do better so another search began and I found the 1st ever Saxmundham 5 mile race a few weeks later which Robin and I competed in and loved the mixed terrain course. A real tin pot classic!. We have returned every year since and Robin has run every single one!

Favourite races:

2017 was a special year for me, my daughter Courtney was 15 and old enough now to compete in UKA road races. It was also the 10 year anniversary of my first race at Woodbridge and Robin finally persuaded me to do it again(!) Courtney was going to compete this time and was giving it the big ‘un about beating me. Like most years it was a really hot day, with Courtney there I needed to control my nerves before the start and meeting all the FRR runners and supporters before the race gave me a great boost and around the course so many familiar supporters cheering and urging me on was amazing. That course does not get any easier but this time I enjoyed it and finished in 53:01, some TWELVE minutes faster than that crazy day in 2007 that launched us all onto this running madness! This was, of course, a massive PB though my last 10K was 10 years earlier! (A PB is a PB!)

Also in 2017 Courtney was really keen to run a half marathon and at 15 the only one available to her was the Heritage Coast Half. Although I was running regularly, I had not done many longer distance races but it was just about completing the distance and we finished the race in 2:17 and although she flagged a little in the last mile a chocolate biscuit at the last water station helped (I don’t believe a chocolate biscuit has ever not helped, anytime, anywhere, personally). We really enjoyed the scenic route and I was so proud and impressed with her.

Another great race was the Stowmarket Golden Mile. Courtney and Robin had run this race several times and loved it but it usually fell when I was working. In 2016 I was off work and as usual reluctant to race. Robin offered me a carrot that if I entered and got in under 7 minutes he would give me £100. Rob is not one to splash the cash so to me it was a challenge that he thought his money was safe. The course was up hill and through a narrow alleyway where I got a bit caught up, I thought I had blown it but finished in 6:59! and a nice little goody bag at the end too. Courtney was party to the same deal and, sadly, delivered a 7:08, but Robin gave her the money anyway, for a great effort.

Joining FRR:

Rob and David had been racing unattached and decided they would like to affiliate to a club and after looking around were invited to come along to a training session and see what they thought. They enjoyed the running but were far, far more enthusiastic about the showers to be honest. What on earth goes on in there?

After a little while Sally and I were persuaded to give it a go. My first session I followed Sam Linassi (who doesn’t?) and the lovely Linda Woodard around the assigned loops, they were having a casual chat while I was puffing away behind them. The atmosphere was so friendly, I knew it was something I’d enjoy long-term.

I do not compete in masses of races as race nerves are still a big deal to me, but Tuesday training and regular parkruns have helped a lot. I really enjoy the cross country series too, I think because it can be difficult terrain, I am happy just to get round and there is usually a funny story at the end of a silly incident on the route; often Robin sliding over. I decide to push myself every now and again by entering a race but most of the time I am happy with my regular training, cheering and holding keys at races.

I’d also like to say how honoured I am to have been elected into the office of Vice Captain of the club. I mean, this is quite a big deal for me, but I would love to give something back to the sport that has been so constant, in one way or another, in my life.

The last few months have been very difficult with the Covid19 restrictions but I think myself lucky we can still get out and run. The Virtual FRR non-parkruns  and Virtual FRR training sessions have been brilliant keeping it interesting, it would be so easy just to keep running an easy pace on an easy route but would have got pretty boring and what delight it has brought to my run mad husband to enforce upon me the requirement to “effort”.

What’s next?:

With Courtney going away in September I am hoping to build up my miles gradually and maybe eventually complete a marathon but for now I cannot wait to get back to Tuesday training and Saturday parkruns. Like many of us I am missing the social side.

Felixstowe Road Runners is an awesome club I am proud to be a part of.

Next month’s nominee:

My nomination is for a runner who always has a smile to give and has such determination. She’ll take on a challenge and make it look easy. There’ll surely be great stories to tell. Over to you Sam Linassi!

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