Runner Profile: Kerry Buckley
Firstly, thanks (?) to Len for the nomination! I’m surprised I’ve got away with it this long, to be honest.
How I got into running
It seems that runners are divided into two camps when it comes to sports when they were at school: those who loved every minute, represented their school and generally excelled … and the rest of us. Actually I did enjoy sports days for a while, up until the age when my speciality events like bunny hops, egg-and-spoon and obstacle races stopped featuring.
I was pretty useless at most sports, but running – and especially cross-country running – was possibly my least favourite (apart from football, maybe). I remember one sports day entering the 1500m, solely because it took place the day before the actual event, so no-one was watching. Along with one of my equally unsporty mates, I ran the straights and walked the bends (or it might have been the other way round). When we got back to the changing room the PE teacher congratulated us for doing it, until he saw our times (somewhere around 15 minutes, I think) and could no longer hide his disgust.
I did cycle a fair bit as a child and teenager (just for leisure and to get about), and I carried on as best I could at university, although being in Birmingham I often only managed a few weeks at a time before having another bike stolen. Probably the high point was talking myself into riding the 134 miles home to Southampton for the weekend. On a mountain bike. And because this was a time before satnav or Google Maps, I naturally just went straight down the A34 (although I did at least follow the non-motorway traffic signs for the last bit instead of using the M27). It took me all day, but made for a good story when I turned up at the pub.
Once I moved to Ipswich and started work, I kept up the cycling for a while, then I bought a car and got too lazy to ride to the office. Unfortunately after a decade or so of this I suddenly realised that I was somewhat heavier than I’d have liked, so bought another bike and worked back up to cycling the ten mile round trip to work every day. I slowly got a bit fitter, and edged down out of the “overweight” BMI bracket, but still looked askance at the idiots I saw running (supposedly for fun, but how could that be possible?)
Fast-forward to 2015. I was going through the break-up of a long relationship, along with some other related stuff that meant I wasn’t in the best of places, mental health wise. I realised that I’d got pretty bad at keeping in touch with friends, and posted something on Facebook to that effect, to see who wanted to catch up over a coffee or a beer. A friend from work replied, suggesting that I join him and a few colleagues at parkrun. I was naturally sceptical (my exact reply was “That sounds like an awesome idea, apart from the running bit”), but got talked into it, and somehow found myself in Sweatshop spending what seemed like a small fortune on a pair of proper running shoes, then turning up at Chantry Park on a Saturday morning.
Much to my surprise, I managed to complete the course (5k had sounded like an awfully long way!) without stopping, recording a time of 30:10. If I’d known, I’d have put in a bit more effort to shave off those ten seconds.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I was instantly hooked, but obviously I couldn’t let those expensive trainers go to waste. I have also on occasions been accused of being a bit competitive (although I’d say mostly with myself), so trying to get that elusive “New PB!” next to my time each week was a bit of extra motivation.
After a month or so, I reached the point where I sometimes recovered quickly enough to fit in another run between Saturdays, although my training strategy to begin with was “go out and run 5k as quickly as you can”. Fortunately I did eventually learn to vary things a bit, although I’ve still never knowingly followed an actual training plan.
The next stage of running taking over my life was when I was encouraged to join the Run For Your Life Facebook group, which provided an opportunity to meet more people and join in social runs. Then before I knew what was happening I was introduced to the Christchurch Park Summer Series, which was a nice gentle (apart from the hills) introduction to the world of racing.
Shortly after that I stepped the distance up to 10k, with the inaugural Twilight. I remember thinking it was very unfair that the “elite” runners only had to do 5k, while the rest of us had to suffer twice the distance. At the time my 5k PB was over 25 minutes, but the seed of aiming for that sub-20 qualifying time was now planted in my mind. I mean how hard can it be, right?
Following that came a couple of 10 milers, then the last remaining sensible distance – half marathon – at Cambridge in 2016. I nearly killed myself sprinting for the line, watching the gantry clock tick down and desperately trying to get under two hours, only to remember later that I’d started in the second wave, so had five minutes to spare.
By that time the racing bug had well and truly bitten, with most Sundays involving a trip somewhere to smear myself round some rural back roads in search of yet another medal or T-shirt, but more importantly a faster time than the previous one.
Becoming an FRR
For a long time I resisted the idea of joining a “proper” club, and was quite happy racing as unaffiliated in a RFYL vest. I started going to Kesgrave Kruisers sessions to give myself a bit more motivation than running my own solo intervals, but never really identified as a member (although I do still have a green vest tucked away in the back of a drawer). It didn’t escape my notice though that while a pound in the pot on a Wednesday night seems really cheap, if you turn up every week it actually ends up being double FRR subs. Not only that, but with the number of races I was entering (somewhere around 30 in the 12 months before I joined), I was making a loss by not being a member, from all those extra £2s I was paying for non-affiliated entries. Oh, and despite my hatred of it at school, I was starting to quite like the idea of cross-country, and that was only open to club members.
There were a couple of steps on the way to the red shirt though. Firstly I heard a rumour of a plan being hatched at a Harper’s Thousand Mile Wallchart curry for an unofficial running of the cancelled 2017 Ipswich Friday Five. This seemed like an excellent idea, and as good a reason as any to join the group. I barely knew Robin at this point, but he obviously recognised me enough to let me in! Then I think it was in the pub after the HTMW Christmas curry that someone recommended the local GoodGym group, which was being run at the time by Ian Duggan. It turned out that quite a few GoodGym regulars were also FRR members, and I increasingly found myself hovering around groups of reds before and after races, because by this point I knew so many of them. They all seemed like a friendly bunch, and I particularly remember Mark Goodwin spurring me on towards the end of a couple of events (before inevitably easing past to finish ahead of me!)
In February 2019 I finally bowed to the inevitable, paid my subs, bought a club vest and T-shirt, and turned up at Brackenbury for my first training session (which as I recall involved a lot of running up and down hills and steps).
I’ve picked a few (some from before I joined the club) …
2017 unofficial Ipswich Friday Five
Because I loved the idea that if a race was cancelled, why not just turn up and run it anyway? Also because it was the first time I had a beer with a bunch of club members who I now count as friends, and that’s what it’s all about really.
2017 Turkey Trot
Stretching the definition of “favourite” a little here, but this was such a classic in its own way that people still talk about the snow, ice and general carnage. I did at least wimp out and wear a T-shirt rather than a vest, but I think if it had been a half instead of 10 miles then my arms, legs and who knows what else would have dropped off from the cold.
2018 Snowdonia Trail Half
A bit of a departure from road running, this race starts in Llanberis, then winds its way up to within a few hundred feet of the summit of Snowdon, before heading back down into the valley, then a little loop up into the slate quarries to finish your legs off.
There was a lot of walking on the way up (or at least there was back down the field where I was), but then a chance to make some time up on the long descent down the Llanberis Path. As we started to head down I passed someone who’d clearly tripped, having his head bandaged. Then a bit further down I managed to clip a protruding rock with my toe, and went flat on my face. The general consensus from the runners and walkers who stopped to help, looking at the blood streaming down my face, was that I needed to get to the summit and take the train back down, because I clearly couldn’t continue. Fortunately at that point the other casualty from further up came past. He said he was walking down, so we could go together and keep an eye on each other. We did actually walk for a bit, then after a couple of minutes decided that a gentle jog would be fine, and pretty soon after that were back to a fairly normal running pace. The two of us made for quite a sight, spattered with blood and with bandaged heads (well he had a proper bandage; I just had a folded up tissue held on with some elastoplast tape). One runner said he thought for a second we were in zombie fancy dress!
2019 Great Bentley Half
I couldn’t leave out my first race in club colours! It certainly proved the adage about red making you faster – my half marathon PB at the time was 1:37:29, and my target for the day was what I thought was an optimistic 1:35. It was one of those days when everything goes right though, and with some encouragement from Neil Catley not to slow down in the last few miles I managed to cross the line in a shade under 1:33. As I staggered away from the finish with my medal and Mars bar, I was swept up by Solly and dragged into a group photo with the speedy boys, who all look far more composed than me, having had a few minutes to catch their breath!
2019 Ipswich Twilight 5k
If I had to narrow it down to one, this would probably be it. As I mentioned earlier, the original Twilight had planted the seed of a sub-20 5k, and Twilight 5k qualification, in my mind. By this time of course the 5k was a separate event from the 10k, and open to all, so it was more a case of qualifying for the fast wave (and a nailed-on last place). It was still my main target though (not having any interest in any nonsense like marathons!)
I’d been edging closer, with some reasonable times at Kesgrave and Martlesham, and only missing out by 14s the previous year. In 2019 everything came together, and spurred on by the power of the red vest (and more importantly by the crowd of lovely club supporters along the waterfront) I somehow managed to knock out a 19:19. Of course, I fully assumed they’d change the format in some way so the time would be meaningless for the 2020 race, but as it turned out other events were destined to interfere to a much greater extent.
Like everyone else, I’m obviously looking forward to the day when races, parkruns and random social runs finally start happening normally again. I’ve definitely lost a lot of fitness over the past year, but I’m not sure yet whether that’s through lack of training (although apart from a massive drop of in the first lockdown, I’ve still been putting the miles in), or just because the “getting old” downward trend has overtaken the “new runner” upward one!
And I still have no desire to run a marathon.
Next month’s nominee
I’m going to pass the baton on to someone who also found his way to FRR via RFYL and Kruisers – speedy new boy James Nial!