Runner Profile: Danny Rock
Thank you Tony Gavin for the nomination, hopefully I can give you an insight of my story so far and what lies ahead.
The Story before Running:
I was always brought up during my school years both at Trimley Primary and Orwell High School to be involved with sports (mainly Football & Cricket) and this was pushed upon me particularly from my dad from a young age. After realising at 12 years old maybe being a goalkeeper was not going to be right for someone of my size (basically I stopped growing) so my efforts became more focussed with Cricket as a wicketkeeper.
Having represented Felixstowe Cricket Club at U12 level I was recommended for Suffolk Trials at Culford School, it was soon apparent that most trialists were all from private schools which made it even more satisfying when I received the news upon my County selection with my first trials. Cricket for me was only just beginning at this point, I went onto represent Suffolk at all levels right up to the 1st Senior Team, South of England U12, U13, U14, U15 & U18 where I played alongside the likes of James Treadwell, Matt Prior (who I had the gloves ahead as he was playing as the no.3 batsmen only). Sadly, despite trialling with Leicestershire 2’s, Derbyshire 2’s, Surrey U19’s I never managed to secure a contract in the professional game, this lead me at the age of 22 joining the RAF.
Joining the RAF was a complete culture shock for me, I never went to cadets or anything like that so the thought of marching around in training being inspected daily by drill instructors was daunting. After 9 weeks recruitment training at RAF Halton where I passed a series of both theory and physical tests and learnt many life skills in such a short time, one of the moments that stood out to me even back then was winning the training intake cross country race when I had no previous experience of running like this before other than school sports days (800m).
My cricket days seemed to given a new lease of life in the RAF, with the level of cricket being very high having represented both the RAF and Combined Services including tours such as India, South Africa, Namibia, New Zealand, Spain which was just incredible to think I was getting paid to compete in my sport around the world against some amazing teams (notably we played against Namibia which was a warm up game for them prior to the world cup).
Being a Combined Services level sportsmen in the early noughties went hand in hand with the drinking culture too with many of us living by the motto “work hard, play hard” which would certainly not fit into today’s world of top sportsmen. Our 1-hour warmups prior to a game would involve a “beasting” sweating out the booze from the night before, it did not always work but 9/10 it certainly did haha.
Whilst I had great times representing both the RAF & Combined Services at Cricket, I also spent many years on my weekends playing East Anglian Premier League level for Clacton which was again a top level with most players paid. At age 30 I was married and found the commitments with Cricket both as a Level 2 Coach and 1st Team Player too much whilst falling out of love with the game I decided to retire from the sport and couple of years later.
How I got into Running:
Aged 32 my life took a twist, with my marriage on the rocks and not working out my wife and myself come to the agreement of separation. This hit me hard, having only spent 2.5 years married it soon become apparent we were no longer suitable for one another. Life felt like it was caving in all at once, no direction, no hope, losing my pet Labrador in the process who ended up living with the ex-wife was an additional bitter blow to take. It would have been easy to turn to booze becoming more and more depressed if I was in my twenties that would have been my choice no doubt. However, I was older and decided to take another route…….. parkrun.
My mate from Wattisham Airfield persuaded me to take part in this Park Run at Chantry Park on a misty November Saturday morning at a ridiculous time of 9am! Not really knowing what the hell to expect I turned up in my Asics and shorts/tea shirts to see what looked like some crazy people warming up prior to this Park Run. After positioning myself 3 rows back and thinking I’m too far up the front here, this might become embarrassing… then before I knew it the run had started…… it felt like a race, everyone taking it serious at the front with the first 3 or 4 guys steaming ahead like elite athletes! I ended up in 7th place with a time of 19:22 and was chuffed to bits but my god I was hanging out of my backside having never pushed myself running wise like that before. Post parkrun I got chatting to a chap called Adam Howlett who I was blown away with just how quick and fit this guy is, he was so down to earth and seemed to take everything in his stride and was not remotely tired or out of breath unlike me! The competitive side of me was alive, I wanted to beat my PB….. that was it, I was hooked on parkrun….. this was where it all began for me.
I did not have it all my own way to start off with parkrun though, with my times getting worse each week for the first 4 weeks. One of my biggest faults was going off way too fast then blowing after 1 mile, this became this first lesson to learn as a runner which took many months/years to master. My 2nd parkrun having finished 3rd place I was so pleased and got chatting to Dave Solomon about joining a club which was such great advice particularly for my current state of mind at the time after divorce proceedings were well underway, I needed something positive to focus on.
After my first race (Hadleigh 10) in Nov 2014 I could have easily been put off the sport with what I describe as one of the most horrendous conditions to run in to date (howling wind and rain) watching many people start to suffer with effects of the cold post-race, even people were reduced to tears in some cases, so this was an eye opener for me. With a finishing time of 62:25 in 14th place I was thrilled to be going close to the hour mark in my first ever race. As I was working up in Norfolk at the time at RAF Marham, I decided to join Ryston Runners who developed me to levels I never thought I could reach starting with a 1:29 HM at Great North Run within a year getting this down to 1:19 HM at Southend. All the hard work on the track at Kings Lynn on Monday evenings was starting to pay off.
In 2015 I moved back working to Wattisham Airfield, with this move I transferred to FRR after approaching Robin Harper who I had spoken to many of times at Ipswich parkrun. On my first FRR session I soon realised how down to earth everybody was and so approachable. My first race I got involved with was the Friday 5 Mile Series starting with Bury 5 finishing 4th place in 28:31, this was my first glimpse of Andrew Rooke who seemed to cruise home winning in 25:55 and quite frankly looked like a professional athlete compared to the rest of us. This made me want to be better, looking at someone like that gave me loads of incentive to push harder in training.
I continued going to the Tuesday Night sessions which started off with a summary of races on the weekend and how everyone performed, it was such a nice atmosphere with that feeling of everyone is supported no matter what standard you are which stood out to me in such a positive light.
In March 2016 I was selected to represent Suffolk in the inter-county XC which was huge for me at the time, finding myself finishing in the final third of the pack was a real eye opener but at the same time such a privilege to even be asked to compete at this level. This race unveiled one of the more bizarre moments I have ever witnessed when a chap a few metres ahead of me was clearly in desperate need of relieving himself from terrible stomach issues only to proceed dropping his pants on the side lines unleashing a flurry of number 2…. He then had it in him to pick up where he left off and fly past everyone in my running zone with ease! Never have I seen anything like that again during a race.
In May 2016 I finally registered my first race win at Dereham 10 Miler in 58:23 which was an incredibly hot day with a couple of the favourites struggling in that heat which worked in my favour in the end. This was early signs that podium finishes at local level was a regular thing to come in the years ahead.
As I seemed to progress nicely with results starting to show in every race my head was turned for one year joining a rival club…… JAFFA. The intention was to improve my running to compete with top 3 at local races with the training on the track at Northgate being the main selling point. In all honestly although my results were improving I missed FRR and did not see many benefits other than the track (which fell on a Monday so was counterproductive after either a race or a long steady Sunday run). A year later I was back at FRR and improving using both Tues sessions and my own.
In 2019 I met former FRR runner Nigel Powley after he noticed some of my results in local races, he took a fond interest in myself wishing to develop my running to levels I could only dream of.
The progress under Nigel Powley has been unbelievable and fast, going from a 16:30 5K runner to hitting a 14:56 TT. He also dropped me from 34:04 to 31:30 in 10k races in just 6-8 months. Under the guidance of Nigel who got me down from a 2:44 Marathon (Manchester 2016) to 2:28 at both Amsterdam (2019) and London (2021) with some very old school methods which are both simple but full on especially at my age now of 40. He believes in 3 hard sessions a week (Tues – Reps, Thurs – Speed, Sat – TT) with the rest acting as junk mileage.
As a result of this off the wall training in 2019 when my times started to really improve, one race that stood out for me was the Felixstowe Coastal 53:46 (course record and PB) which Andrew Rooke was the previous record holder so to finally overcome something he had achieved meant so much to me as he is a local athlete I have always admired and looked up to.
I have been lucky enough recently to represent the UK Armed Forces (UKAF) in an elite start at races such as Abbey 2 Mile Road Relays Elite Field and Telford 10k Elite Start (31:33) where it’s such an honour to be chucked in with guys who range from sub 33 to sub 29 mins!
Recently at London Marathon I decided to really give a sub 2:25 a shot, having gone 2:28:13 at Amsterdam in 2019 I was confident off the back of some intensive training this was achievable. I felt in good form, this was evident when cruising through the halfway point in 71:07 feeling good keeping everything well under 5:30 Min/Mile pace. Then after 16 miles disaster struck, quads started to feel a little fatigued and my stomach began to cramp up. The cramping become progressively worse with the pace dropping down 5:50’s and early 6:00’s, this became a survival game knowing if I stopped it was over. In the last 2 miles the pain was unbearable, but I told myself I am not throwing in the towel, not now…. I must finish this no matter what. The relief of crossing the line in 2:28:27 was incredible, I did not care about narrowly missing my PB by 14 secs although hours later I did haha.
2 weeks after London Marathon it was time to take on a race, I was at it again but HM distance at Cambridge and was delighted to hit a PB with a 5th placed finish of 69:25. Only a week later it was Leeds Abbey Dash 10k, a race full of elite athletes so I knew position was not the goal here only time. Having set off way too quick in the first mile (4:45 min/mile) I knew this was going to be unattainable for the rest of the race, I found myself in a good group who passed through the 5-mile mark bang on 25 mins…. at this point I thought the PB (31:30) was surely in the bag. However never underestimate the final mile when it has a sting in the tale with a cheeky little incline and headwind plus the course being 80M too long meant I equalled my PB after a poor last mile (5:14 min/mile).
- Twilight 10k: The atmosphere was electric and finishing at Portman Road had a special meaning for me especially winning in 2019.
- Great North Run: Amazing atmosphere and the opportunity to test yourself against some of the best in the country.
- London Marathon: Probably the most iconic one out there, again the atmosphere is something special.
The good thing is I will have a chance in December to put right my 10k PB with Telford 10k (another top field elite race). Locally I have Hadleigh 10 coming up soon which will be an opportunity to break my PB of 53:46. Great Bentley HM will be next Feb where I will train to go sub 69 for the first-time fingers crossed.
I will be looking to attempt my next big goal, a sub 2:25 Marathon….. this will hopefully be in Frankfurt next October. I am to become a dad for the first time next May which is the best news I could have asked for this year. I am thinking of a Spring Marathon, but it will have to be local (Bungay) with the expectant due date so close to spring marathons. If I do race Bungay the time is not as likely to be a PB with the undulations, but sometimes when you run with no pressure that’s when PB’s can be delivered unexpectedly.
Having turned 40 years old and realistically running at my current level and improving is likely to hit a plateau at some point so I intend to make the most of every race! There are several goals that I want to achieve when it comes to PBs but that won’t be advertised on here haha. The one thing I want to achieve is to earn an England vest at my age group, additionally I want to help others achieve their goals by getting some coaching badges under my belt and help develop others.
One thing I want to be at the age of 40 plus is hopefully an inspiration especially for the older generation in particular proving age is just a number, it’s never too late to start something new or improve.
Now you have heard my story, I think we would all love to hear from the very talented Ben Carpendale next.