Runner Profile: Ian Duggan

Thanks to Carla for the nomination. I hope I can follow her world tour of marathons and write something vaguely interesting!

How I got into running:

I have always enjoyed sport and throughout school was involved in just about any opportunity to participate……. Particularly if it got me out of proper lessons!

I played football, rugby, hockey and basketball for the school and also represented the school in athletics, finding that my forte appeared to be in 800m and 1500m.

However, football was my main focus – I was deludedly convinced I was going to be a professional footballer; and thought it was only a matter of time before I was recognised by Ipswich Town scouts and whisked off to join Bobby Robson’s Super Blues.

That never happened of course and my football “career” probably peaked around the age of 12 scoring a hat-trick in an Essex schools cup final.

I continued with football after school, playing to a reasonable standard for a number of years. I always enjoyed the training and what I lacked in skill and technique I made up for by running around a lot!

As my footballing life began to diminish, I was going out on the odd run to keep fit but nothing really regular. In 1990 Helen and I embarked on a year travelling in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and USA. While in Australia I saw a triathlon event for the first time and this sparked my interest. When we eventually returned to the UK and settled into jobs etc. I began running again and eventually joined Harwich Runners. That really brought things on in terms of a proper run training regime and racing opportunities.

Harwich Runners was a small club but very friendly; and as I began training regularly and picking up tips from more experienced runners, I began entering races. This would have been around 1994/5 – I never really kept records of results then but remember taking part in various local races and became aware of the Flora London Marathon as “The Race” to do.

I think it was much easier to get a place then as I got a place via the ballot in 1996. I really had no idea then of what was required in terms of training or nutrition etc. I very naively had a target of 3 hours – thinking around 7 min mile pace, that should be fairly straight forward!

As you have probably guessed by now I got nowhere hear 3 hours….. I was in a pen a long way back (in the days before chip timing) and took something like 8 mins to get to the start line. It was a very hot day and I had totally under estimated the preparation need for a marathon. Even the nasal strip that was very fashionable in running circles at the time; and supposed to increase your oxygen intake, didn’t help.  I recall running across the cobble section under Tower Bridge being a particularly painful experience and finishing with 3.50.55 on the clock (take away approx. 8 mins for the start as you only got the official gun time back then – nowhere near 3 hours.

I think that race was a bit of a reality check for me. I have been able to track down race results from 1997/8 onwards and things did improve in terms of times over varying distances –  most of my PBs were achieved between 1998 – 2000

I had 2 more attempts at the London Marathon in 1998 and in 1999 when I got closest to that 3-hour target with 3.13. I had achieved PBs @ Stowmarket 10k (36.24), Lowestoft Half Marathon (1.24) and Bury 20 miles (2.15) in the lead up to London, and remember thinking at 20 miles I’d cracked it……..only to hit a massive wall in the last 5 miles.

I’ve done a couple of other marathons including Manchester but never really felt happy with the result. I was looking forward to Manchester this year having had a really good training base and was targeting a PB ……. But like all of us found that cancelled due to COVID.

We moved to Ipswich in 1997 and I joined Ipswich Triathlon Club having already dipped my toe into multi-sport with a couple novice tri events.

Bury 20 1998

I love the challenge of triathlon and the variety of training. Being a member of Ipswich Tri Club opened lots of opportunities with training sessions at Broom Hill open air pool and Culford School near Bury St Edmunds.

Initially I stuck to pool-based events thinking the longer distance stuff wasn’t for me (more on this later!), but used to race most weekends either in triathlon or running. I also got involved in ITC race organisation and was joint Race Director for the Ipswich Duathlon based at Alton Water and the Junior Triathlon at Framlingham College for a couple of years.

From about 2002 life got busy with work and family commitments – Ella was born in 2001 – and I found myself with less time and motivation to train and race. I’d only train intermittently which meant my fitness diminished and I didn’t feel I was doing myself justice at the occasional race I did enter. So, for a few years I didn’t really do much at all and didn’t renew my tri club membership.

Then my second “running boom” started in 2012 thanks to the wonderful concept of parkrun! I was on the start line for the first Ipswich parkrun and became a regular before being invited to join the core team setting up Kesgrave parkrun. As part of my work role I was also involved in setting up Colchester Castle parkrun, (recruiting John Wheatley as the Event Director who I knew from attending Ipswich parkrun), Mersea Island parkrun and Colchester junior parkrun.

Joining FRR:

I think many of us agree that parkrun is awesome. It’s not just the smug feeling of running 5k when most other people are still in bed that gets us up early on a Saturday morning. It’s the social aspect, the joy of meeting up with friends, chatting and enjoying a tea/coffee in some amazing settings “touristing” around the country.

I believe parkrun is responsible for creating a running boom and encouraging lots of people who thought running was only for super athletes.

For me, parkrun also led to joining FRR, where I have made a huge circle of friends, training buddies and enjoyed the camaraderie during numerous races. As direct result of being an FRR member, I have also found myself as part of various “Red” groups……drunk in a bar(s) after the Valencia marathon, biking to the top of Italian mountains, witnessing Eliud Kipchoge’s sub 2-hour marathon in Vienna, sheltering behind Dan Gould while cycling in biblical rainfall towards Cambridge and standing on beach near Barcelona prior to embarking on an Ironman triathlon.

FRR on Tour – Valencia Marathon
FRR on Tour – Eliud cheered on by FRR
FRR on Tour – Stelvio Pass, Italy

In September 2012 I saw details that parkrun was starting in Chantry Park in Ipswich. I was vaguely aware of the concept and decided I’d go along to the first event. I’d begun running again on and off and thought the 5k distance sounded manageable.

Looking back at the results from that day there were 95 finishers including a few people I didn’t know then but now through FRR, count as friends including Simon Wiggins, Robin Harper and Paul Schwer.

I loved it and it became my regular Saturday morning routine. Over the weeks and months, I got to know Robin, Adrian Goode, Dave Solomon and a few others. I began to think about getting back into running more seriously as I needed a focus to train regularly and felt joining a club would give me that.

I spoke to Robin and asked about joining FRR and he encouraged me to come along the following Tuesday. The rest is history!

Favourite / memorable races:

I love lots of our local races – Woodbridge 10k for the atmosphere and post run beers, Scenic 7 because there’s no other 7-mile race in the world, and Coastal 10 because you run alongside the sea for almost the entire race (not just because it’s FRR organised!)

My favourite race tends to be the last one I did and that is definitely the case at the moment. Who knows when we’ll get to race again?

Here are some races that have fond memories for me ….

Colchester Half Marathon:

Colchester Half Marathon 2018 – trying to stick with Readie

I have a soft spot for the Colchester Half Marathon – I worked in Colchester for a number of years and like the course with North Hill being a highlight.

I’ve run it 4 times but I particularly enjoyed the race in 2018 when Alastair Read and I ran the whole race shoulder to shoulder and finishing in 1.28 – the first time I had broken the 90-minute barrier for a half marathon since 1999.

Stowmarket Half Marathon 2020:

I have another reason for my most recent race being my favourite. Stowmarket Half Marathon took place in March this year and the event was in doubt due to the impending lockdown. It did thankfully go ahead. I knew, one way or another it was going to be my last race for while as I was due to have an operation two weeks later.

The operation was to release pressure on my spinal cord involving the “shaving” of 4 vertebrae in my neck and installing some small pins and rods as “scaffolding”. The surgeon told me it could be several months before I could run again and it might take up to a year to recover fully.

Although the symptoms I was experiencing were fairly mild (pins & needles and numbness down my left side) I was advised that if I didn’t have the op it could eventually lead to paralysis – so it was a “no brainer” to go ahead…. although the timing was complicated due to COVID I was considered an urgent case so the op went ahead on April 1st!

So, I was pretty motivated on the day of the Stowmarket Half with the thought that I may not experience the nervous tension, trepidation and excitement of a race for several months at least…. Little did I (or anyone else know) we’d were all in the same boat!

Training for Manchester Marathon (which would have been around 4 weeks away but had already been cancelled. This meant the date of my op was brought forward) had been going well and I felt in good form having run 1.26 at Gt Bentley Half a few weeks earlier. I set out with the target of getting close that time and the early miles I was on target but slowed in the middle section due to a strong wind. I caught up with Readie and we ran together for a few miles keeping a steady pace. At various points I could see Steve Brooke way up ahead and had a passing thought that perhaps I could get a bit closer to him before the finish – The race was part of the Suffolk Grand Prix so points were up for grabs! Steve and I are in the same age group and Steve or Dave Solomon have won the MV 50 category in most races over the last year.

As we reached mile 10, I felt strong and the wind was now behind us for the final 3 miles into the finish. I began to push on and found myself overtaking runners – which is always a boost towards the end of a race. By mile 11 I was getting closer to Steve and although I wasn’t sure, it was a good bet that Steve was the 1st MV50….. so there was an age group win within touching distance!

Telling myself this is my last chance for “glory” I tried to maintain my pace and eventually came alongside Steve with 1 mile to go. We exchanged a few words of encouragement and I couldn’t quite believe I was passing him. I then had visions of Steve coming back alongside me so the last mile was powered partly by panic and partly adrenaline…. Which seemed worked quite well as it was my fastest mile and the first time I’ve ever run a sub 6 minute mile in a longer race; finishing in 1.25.38 and 1st MV50 which I was over the moon to get…… Sorry Steve you probably didn’t realise you were my “carrot” that day…. I’m sure you’ll take plenty more age group wins when racing returns again.

Great East Run:

Half Marathon is probably my favourite distance to race and I’ve enjoyed the Great East Run each time I’ve run it.

The course is challenging but there are usually big crowds cheering along the route which creates a fantastic atmosphere. The main reason this race ranks high for me is because the last few hundred metres take you along Portman Road and the finish is next to the stadium. I’ve spent many, many hours in and around that area supporting Ipswich through thick and (mainly) thin!

Each time I run the GER, as I approach the finish along Portman Road, I divert slightly to the right of the road and onto the pavement to touch the feet of Sir Bobby’s statue; connecting my passion for running and a mark of respect to the man who gave me some of the happiest days of my life ……… marriage and the birth of Ella aside (as I expect the family might be reading this!)

For younger readers…. Ipswich were once considered one of the best teams in Europe… hence the happy days….TWTD!

Another reason I like the GER is because I made the frontpage of the East Anglian Daily Times as part of their coverage of the race in 2017…..and it looks like I’m winning!

Barcelona Ironman 2018:

I may have mentioned once or twice that I did an Ironman!!!

As time passes and the pain fades, my memory of this race becomes more and more favourable. It was an epic day. The months of training with Adrian Hine and Dan Gould, who also completed the same race were truly memorable, as well as the fantastic support we all had from families and friends.

I wrote a report previously so I won’t repeat all the gory details…. But here is the link if you really can’t sleep!

Marathon de Viriat 1998:

We have some good friends in France and while visiting them in 1998 François suggested I join him and some of his mates in a Marathon distance relay race in a nearby village. What I didn’t realise until the day was that some of these guys were pretty handy.

The way the event worked was similar to the Ekiden relay in that each person in a team of 7 ran a 5k leg; but then the whole team complete the last leg of 7k together.

The event was set up like a huge fete with bands, loads of stalls selling food and drink and a big screen showing the world cup football taking place that day. The route was all closed roads and this was in a small village in the middle of nowhere!

I was very conscious that my reputation as “the English Runner” might have been exaggerated by Francois to his mates and that they were expecting more from me than I might be capable of.

I’d been given the 2nd leg – which was a relief to know I’d have a bit of recovery time before the last leg. There were loads of teams taking part – some in fancy dress and some taking it a lot more seriously. The first runners set of with the Mayor firing a starting gun there were lots of spectators enjoying the warm sunshine and general festivities alongside the running.

The first leg runners began returning to the hand over area and I was horrified to find myself taking over in 3rd or 4th place…..WTF… I felt real pressure to at least maintain the position and not to trash the reputation of British runners!

I set off hard and actually managed to overtake 1 runner who had started the leg just before me. I was running as hard as I could thinking that gaining a place would at least retain the respect of the locals.

I managed to hold off a fight back from the chap I’d passed as I came towards the end. I threw myself at the guy taking over for the next leg and was helped to my feet by my teammates who seemed quite pleased with the way things were going. They obviously hadn’t been overly confident of my ability and had put me in early so they still had time to make amends as long as I didn’t mess up too badly.

The remaining legs passed and our team moved to the front of the field and even built up a small lead. As the final solo runner came steaming in, we were all ready to head out for the team leg. Again I felt the pressure not to let the team (or my country) down. 

This final leg had to be run with team sticking together at the pace of the slowest runner. The clock would only stop when the last team member crossed the line, so there was no point in the faster runners going ahead…. It was tremendous motivation to run as a group and the pace wasn’t outrageous as the guy who had just run the final solo leg was suffering a bit.

There was lots of chattering among the group and what I guess were words of encouragement…. I stuck to basic French as my French is very basic   “Allez, Allez”

We made it to the finish as a group and won the event outright….. the only time this has ever happened to me. The celebrations were fantastic with a free post run food and drink as well as the presentation of impressive medals….. the French really know how to do a running race!

What next:

Who knows? There are signs of races coming back in a slightly different format, but most have been cancelled, so there’s no real target events, big marathons or triathlons to aim for.

I’m still working my way back to fitness and to “where I was” prior to my operation in April. As it happens, I haven’t missed anything as no-one else has been able to race either. I am very happy with the progress I’ve made, given the surgeon’s words prior to the op.

Today -October 1st is 6 months since the operation and I’m regularly open-water swimming, just had a week cycling in the mountains and tonight (as I write this) I’ve just run the infamous 10 mile TTT circuit with a group of training buddies and didn’t get blown out the back!  

If things were “normal” I’d like to continue to be competitive in age group terms. I’ll be moving up to a new age group shortly after this article is published. Hopefully I’ll have 2-3 years to claim an occasional prize before Solly and Steve Brooke join me and take over again!

The only race I currently have booked is the Harwich Half Marathon in April next year – a bit of a sentimental one in the town Helen and I grew up.

I’d like to consider another Ironman at some point and will certainly continue with triathlons in the future.

I’d like to thank everyone at FRR for their support over the last few months. It really is special club with a tremendous social side (at least it was prior to lockdown!) as well as the friendly competitive element; and, as I said earlier, it has given both Helen and I a huge circle of friends. I love the way as clubmates, we all support, motivate and encourage other – long may it continue.

 Let’s hope we can get back to racing soon and make more marvellous memories.

Next month’s nominee

My nomination for next month’s runner profile is :  Daniela Elstone

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