Runner Profile: Ben Carpendale

Having never been someone who particularly enjoys being in the limelight, this is a day I’ve been dreading for years now – many thanks to Danny for this “honour”. Bear with me as I try and find a way to not make this a frightening bore.

The Early Years

As with any bog-standard young boy I grew up with a love of sport and naturally football was the default option. I joined up with Trimley Red Devil’s, ready to start my inevitable rise to superstardom. Except there was one problem with that, I didn’t have any standout skills or ability. I was your typical B-team player, spending spells in practically every position on the pitch. Starting out as a striker (scoring my first goal during an away tie at the home of our very own Kirton 5), before eventually settling in my favoured position as goalkeeper. Unfortunately for me our other keeper was on a whole other level, which meant my playing days were numbered once we made the move to 11-a-side. I called it a day and made the move to cricket, joining Martlesham Juniors. I was always a far better cricketer than I ever was a footballer, and it was here I won my only childhood sporting accolade – Junior Bowler of the Year 2004. However a combination of injury and the club folding led to a premature end to my cricket career.

One area my love of sport did not extend to was running, with my only exposure to it by force at school. My first taste of competitive action came in primary school at a local “cross-country” event that consisted of running laps at Eastwood Ho. I don’t remember much of it other than getting a sudden urge to sprint for the line, passing every single one of my classmates in the process. A few years later, during an Orwell High sports day, I was forced to take on the 400m. Not really wanting to do it, I just jogged the first three-quarters of a lap in protest. When I caught sight of the finish line something clicked inside and I proceeded to bomb it down the home stretch, passing everyone to take the win.

Maybe there was something in this running lark?

Discovering Running

After leaving school my running was limited to a handful of ultimately fruitless attempts at couch-to-5K in my early 20s. These all generally followed the same pattern; enthusiastically smashing the early weeks before getting bored by week 5 or 6. Fast forward to late 2014 and I was tragically unfit. Something needed to change and so I decided to up the ante; I was going to run 10K non-stop before the end of the year. It was a struggle and I was far from a natural, yet it became a point of pride not to quit this time. Finally after weeks of trials and tribulations, the fateful day came and I hit the 10K mark in fractionally under an hour. There was no fanfare to greet my accomplishment, just an overwhelming sense of personal achievement. Which, at the end of the day, is what this sport is all about. 

This time I was not going to squander the effort I’d put in. I gradually kept increasing my runs by a mile per week, and before I knew it I’d hit the 13.1 mile mark. Knowing that I could at bare minimum complete the distance, I signed up for the 2015 Ipswich Half Marathon. Having that as a goal lit a fire under me, bringing out a level focus and determination I’d never had before. Training went smoothly and I smashed my tune-up race, comfortably beating my sub-45 target at the inaugural Twilight 10K. Come race day I was nervous but quietly confident. 

On the morning of the race disaster almost struck, when having arrived at Christchurch Park I realised I’d managed to bring two left socks (and these were those dumb toe socks so I couldn’t mix-and-match). After a mad dash home I was back in the nick of time. All the excitement had put my adrenaline through the roof and I flew out of the gates far too fast. I reached Constitution Hill the first time around, cockily smirking to myself about all the fuss being made over a mere bump – famous last words. By the time I reached it on the second lap I was dying. Some sadistic spectator yelled at me to run faster, if looks could kill I’d be doing life. I ground out the final few miles, adamant that I wasn’t going to stop and walk no matter what. That last mile seemed to go on forever, with the slight incline past the tennis courts feeling like climbing Everest. Somehow I mustered enough energy for a sprint finish, before promptly collapsing in a heap on the grass. The clock stopped at just under 1:34, narrowly beating my A-goal. It was the worst I’d ever felt in my life, and I’d loved every minute of it.

An obsession was born.

Most Memorable Race

Upon arriving at the Suffolk New College campus on a balmy August evening, I found myself in the unexpected situation of having not toed the line once in the past 10 months. Following a breakthrough race the previous autumn, at which I had knocked over 10 minutes off my half-marathon PB, I’d been plagued with injuries.

Over the past few months I had steadily been building up my mileage again, but a lack of speed-work left me completely blind as to my fitness level. At best I was hoping that I could improve upon the low 37 minute I’d set the previous year, a time that had been good enough for a surprise 7th place finish. For 2017 the race was playing host to the Suffolk County Championships and the field was much stronger, and the only thing I was certain of going was that I would be nowhere near to 7th place. So it turned out of be, just not in the way I expected.

The gun goes off and all I see of the frontrunners is a streak of orange flying like bat out of hell – one guess as to who that was. Through that first mile I was sitting comfortably somewhere in the lower reaches of the top-20, I felt surprisingly good so I decided to turn the crank and started picking people off one-by-one. Come the 5K mark I found myself tantalising close to the podium places. At this point I was running significantly quicker than I’ve ever gone before so I didn’t even let the thought cross my mind, assuming that a blow-up was inevitable. It never came though and with a mile to go I had passed two more, sitting in what I thought was 2nd place with a decent gap behind. With no sight of the leader ahead, I just focused on holding my pace for the final stretch.

From this point on I didn’t look back once, I honestly didn’t want to know. With 400m to go I knew that nobody was passing me now, a podium was mine. The cheers as I approached the finish were incredible, and I could see my Dad practically sprinting along the pavement willing me on. I remember thinking to myself that it all seemed a bit excessive for a mere runner-up, it still hadn’t clicked. As I turned right into the finishing chute it finally dawned on me what was happening, as I catch sight of bright orange tape stretched across the finish line. No matter how many races I have won since, or may do again in the future, nothing will ever compare to how that moment of realisation felt. I broke the tape with arms only partially aloft in celebration, somewhat convinced that it must be a mistake. I’d just won the Twilight 10K and become Suffolk County Champion, not half bad for a former couch-to-5k dropout

To use a phrase I think we’re all familiar – back yourself.

Joining the Mighty Reds

In the early days I never really saw the appeal of joining a club, I was making good progress training on my own and didn’t want to rock the boat.

Even without being a member however, FRR still had an influence on my early running. In my first few races I always used one particular club runner as a basis to measure my improvement. I had no idea as to who this chap was at the time, just that he wore a red vest and had a penchant for tiny shorts. Most races I spent the early stages on their heels, only to see them pull away as the miles ticked off – the closer I finished the better I knew I was getting. Upon finishing the 2015 Coastal 10 just a couple places behind him, I was taken aback when he took the time to congratulate some nobody like me on a good run. At a time when I still felt like a bit of a pretender, having someone reach out like that meant a great deal – but that is just what FRR are all about. I am of course talking about the one and only Robin Harper.

I experienced this again a couple of years later, prior to the start of the 2017 Twilight 10K, when another complete stranger in red approached me – our very own club mascot Jonni G. He commented on how he always saw me out running solo, and if I ever wanted someone to run with he would be happy to oblige. Who does that? Just goes to prove that the Reds are a special breed. That summer I had already been considering finally joining a club and Jon’s kindness made it abundantly clear that there was only one place to be. A few weeks later I signed up, and before I knew it I was ripping around Northgate in the inaugural FRR v Fram Flyers 5K. Since that moment I’ve gone from strength to strength, with PB after PB. I have no doubt that this is in no small part thanks to the extra motivation and support that comes from running for such a special club.

Favourite Races in Red

2018 Great Bentley HM: Technically not my official debut, but my first mass event in red. I wanted to make sure I did the vest proud and left nothing out there on the road (as if there’s any other way). I thought a top-10 finish would be good going in such a fast race, but a strong 2nd place showed that lot south of the border that FRR mean business.
2018 Ekiden: I confess I don’t like the Ekiden course but the event itself is fantastic. I was privileged to be part of a great team that day, with the boys bringing it home in 3rd place overall (even if I broke Gary’s sprits by mistakenly telling him he only had 1K to go when he had to do a whole other lap, sorry mate).

2018 Coastal 10: Taking my first win in red at our very own flagship event was a very special moment, and the support from all of you in such horrendous weather was incredible.

2019 Woodbridge 10K: I knew how beloved this race was both in the club and the local running community, so this one was a bucket list race to win for me. I went in not fully fit but managed to just about pull it out of the bag in the end, a proud moment.

Crossing the line first wearing the famous red vest always makes a win more than just mine, and I hope it’s something we can all share in.

The Future

When I ran my half-marathon PB at Great Bentley in 2019, I certainly did not expect to be sitting here almost three years later having not raced another 13.1 since. I came agonisingly close to sub-70 that day and figured that it would come sooner rather than later. Fate had different ideas however, with a litany of injury problems (and that pesky covid thing) hampering my progress.

I’ve taken a valuable lesson in the struggles of the past few years – to never take anything for granted in this sport. One thing I’ve tried to change about my approach is to take a more long term view of my progress going forward. Not putting too much priority on particular races but rather looking further down the road at what I ultimately want to achieve.

The pandemic pause on racing has had the unexpected benefit of helping with this, by forcing me to take a step back and start enjoying running for the sake of running again. It’s been incredibly freeing not to have to stress over all the minutiae that goes along with racing.

So for 2022 I’m not targeting any races in particular. That’s not to say I won’t compete, just that I want to prioritise incremental improvements and work towards being able to have a consistent period of injury free running again. My hope is that I can get myself to a place where I feel strong and durable enough, that come this time next year I can start looking towards tackling a marathon in 2023.

Next Month’s Victim

In spirit of festive kindness, I feel obligated to give Gary Taylor the opportunity to explain/defend himself over those shorts.

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