Runner Profile: Tom Aykroyd

Firstly, thank you Andy Metcalfe for the nomination. I always enjoy reading everyone else’s interesting profiles, so the pressure’s on to make sure I don’t drop the baton!

The Beginning

I fell into the un-sporty camp at school – I enjoyed playing football and always did the cross country, but I was never any good at anything. In fact I recall my Games Teacher calling me ‘China Legs’ on account of my somewhat fragile physique, which hasn’t changed much over the years! Off I went to university, discovered beer and nightclubs and pretty much gave up on physical activity.

I tried to get a bit healthier in my 30s after our first son was born – bought a pair of cheap trainers and went off running around the village in Norfolk where we lived at the time. I can’t say I ever really enjoyed it – it just felt like drudgery to me, so I gave up.

Renaissance and FRR

To give her all the credit, I’m only running now thanks to my wife, Katherine. In May 2018 she signed up for the Alton Water 5k to raise money for Bowel Cancer UK  – I went along to support her, watched all the other runners (a surprisingly diverse bunch, it seemed to me), soaked up the atmosphere from the sidelines and thought to myself: “I reckon I could do this!”. In fact, my first ever Strava run was the very next day, so I obviously wasted no time!

Cue lots of mid-week 5k solo runs, where I just about killed myself trying to get sub-25 min (and failing) – I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere (again!). Then, I got wind of a couple of colleagues who had signed up for Colchester Half Marathon the following Spring. I thought about it for the rest of the day and then signed up, not knowing if I could even run that far. I was committed now, and it did the trick – I launched into a training schedule, pushed myself too much, injured my thigh, ran the race in pain and finished a few seconds outside my 2hr target. The atmosphere was great, the sense of achievement was huge – the bug had finally bitten me.

I felt like I needed to take things to the next level now, and although I was aware of FRR (I had seen these crazy people running around on a freezing cold night in the past) I was nervous about making the jump – Would I feel welcome? Did I have the right gear? Would I be good enough? Clearly I don’t need to sell the club to my audience here, but of course the answer to all those questions was an emphatic ‘yes’.  I arrived apprehensive, and extremely early to my first session, but I remember Alex ‘AJ’ Jacobs making me feel at ease and explaining how it all worked before everyone else turned up. Peter Woods led a great session on the park near Gosford Way, and I knew I’d made the right choice. Although I do love running on my own, the motivation and camaraderie I get from the club and the Tuesday night sessions is also hugely valuable to me. I’m always proud to put the red vest on, knowing what it represents: a friendly, supportive and inclusive club.

That affection I have for the club spurred me to want to give something back, so I’ve now finished my Run Leader and Coaching Assistant courses, and am on my way towards achieving a licensed Athletics Coach qualification so I can lead junior sessions on a Wednesday night. For a time I was also leading Tuesday sessions, but along with my responsibilities as Event Director for junior parkrun as well, it was all getting a bit too much!  The balance I’ve struck now feels about right, and with the wife and kids all fully signed-up members now as well, I’m looking forward to being part of the club for many years to come.

Notable Races

Dedham 10k – A lovely race that seems to slip under the radar a bit – my first race in a red vest, and where, alongside the small FRR contingent of  Mark Ford and Stephen Shaw, I first felt that sense of being part of a team.

Stowmarket Scenic 7 – Still one of my favourite races – I like the course, I like the distance, I like the atmosphere, and it’s one where I always seem to do fairly well. My 10k PB was set here in 2021, and still stands.

Edinburgh Marathon – My first and only marathon to date – it hurt, a lot, after 23 miles, but the experience was just terrific. A wonderful city, with a great atmosphere and a distance I never thought I could manage when I started running. I missed out on my target time by a few minutes, so I’m going back for more in Brighton this year. I must be mad.

The Future

I’m not really one for master plans – I prefer to go with the flow, and do what feels right (and enjoyable) at the time. I love being part of FRR, and that will continue. I dipped my toe into the Triathlon world in 2022, which I hugely enjoyed and has added an extra level of challenge and interest for me. I’ve also managed to combine two of my great loves – hiking and running – with some exhilarating mountain runs in Scotland over the last couple of summers. It’s amazing how much more ground you can cover when you run everywhere!

Next month’s profile

Enough about me now though, I’d like to nominate Gemma Gilbert to tell her story next. Happy Running Everyone!

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