Runner Profile: Debbie Catling

Thanks for the nomination Sam. I always enjoy reading all the FRR runner profiles, what an inspirational lot you are – giving us a snapshot of your running journeys. I hoped to avoid doing mine for a little longer!  I joined FRR in 2021 thanks to my son Henry, who had already joined, he bought it as present for me. I had been reluctant to join, no idea why! I had met many of you lovely reds at various events and of course on a Saturday morning parkrun. Thank goodness Henry did, I have met the most amazing people. The support at races from runners and non runners is immense. The team spirit is second to none, I have never experienced anything like it before.

This stands out for me most on two memorable occasions that I have been privileged to be a part of – Firstly at an Ekiden relay, it was a hot and sweltering day, the heat grew more oppressive as the day went on, our last runner was out and on their last lap a mass of reds vests ran with them to the finish. Secondly, it would be remiss of me not to mention how the team lost such a valuable and well-loved member Ben Jacobs. The team pulled together like never before, running together in the subsequent race and then the unprecedented procession at his funeral. What a send off for a great guy, such a great loss.

The coaching and support from fellow members of FRR has been so amazing and so important. I wouldn’t be the runner I am today without their guidance, top tips and training sessions. For that I thank you all.

So how did it all begin

I always enjoyed PE at high school, especially cross country, 800m and 1500m, I usually came in 2nd as 1st was always won by a super speedy girl who ran for a club (probably why I was reluctant to join a running club!!). I was regularly selected to represent my school at the regional XC championships, running around frozen ground at the university of Essex on a December morning, I would also be selected for Inter Schools Athletics Championships competing in high jump, javelin and either the 800 or 1500m.  

In 1983, my brother and I decided to enter the Colchester fun run – which was a half marathon through the town and Barracks. We trained adhoc as there was no easy access to plans and no idea of distance as we didn’t have these fancy technical watches or mobile phones back then!

Raceday arrived and my brother zoomed off at the start (there’s a family theme coming here!!). I caught up with him after he’d stopped to visit a shop for a mars bar, some crisps and a drink!! Once refreshed he was off again!

He went on to join Felixstowe Triathlon Club and competed in many races. I have no recollection of my finishing time – we definitely had no chips then!

I soon moved to Ipswich to start my nurse training and discovered partying – my only fitness was dancing the night away at The First Floor nightclub!!

The inbetween years.

Met my windsurfing man and naturally moved to be near the water at Felixstowe. Life hurtled on as it does – 3 children came along and a dog. As a family we always enjoyed the outdoors, camping, trekking up UK mountains and spending time on the water.

Later Years

At aged 49 two friends asked if I fancied joining them to do a charity run around Alton. So we laced up our brand new trainers, did some training runs. Gathered at the start line and stuck together around the route to the finish. My first 10k ! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The seed was sown and I continued to go out for at least 2 runs a week

The following year we were told our daughter needed major surgery for her idiopathic scoliosis of the spine.  I signed up for Colchester half with my other son Jack (who thought two six mile runs was enough training!!) to raise money for scoliosis, I realised how running helped to manage the stress of those days. On hard runs when I would start to struggle, I would think this is nothing compared to what my daughter would endure and I would push on.

Race day and Jack sped off (family trait me thinks!!) but I ran a steady race, enjoying the atmosphere and chatting with people along the way. Finished in 2 hours 15 and raised over £1,000.

I signed up for few more races after that, including the dreaded Ipswich half, which I found a real struggle, have completed that 3 times – No more!!!

The following year Felixstowe parkrun was born. What a fantastic event for all. Due to shift work I am not always able to run or volunteer. Over the years I have whittled my time down and it now stands at 23:01, Love to knock 2 seconds off that this year!

2019 saw another charity sign up – for GUTs UK, brought about after the sudden and unexpected death of my mum. Both sons, Henry and Jack wanted to run too. Neither of them were running at this point so it was a real challenge. Jack again decided two 6 mile runs was enough training!! Henry embraced the training and as you all know continues to do well.  It turned out to be a very hot one and everyone had to dig deep. We all made it to the finish and raised over £1000. Super proud of them and their Nannie would be too.

At this point I realised I liked having something to aim for. Unfortunately covid came along and spoilt that, so all mass races stopped!  I continued running through the pandemic but greatly missed the organised events. During this time Jack and I started open water swimming – with the sea on our doorstep it was perfect. Nothing like the cold water to energise and invigorate the mind, body and soul!! Just as I began to enjoy this activity he decided to jet off to work in warmer climates!! I soon roped a not so willing friend to join me and we have continued to swim twice a week all through the year. 


My first run in an FRR vest was Stowmarket cross country in January 2021, that was a tough one to start with!! But I thoroughly enjoyed it!! I attended training sessions as regularly as I could and through the coaching and tips started to improve, which has reflected in my finishing times.

I had never in my wildest dreams imagined ever being able to complete the holy grail of a marathon, but after a close friend was diagnosed with MS I felt the pull of another charity event, I couldn’t go for a half as I was regularly doing those now and it didn’t feel a big enough challenge-so it had to be the next level!!  So after much pondering I applied through the MS society for London marathon and to my amazement was offered a place in 2022!! I downloaded my first training plan and stuck to it – all went well leading up to the event but after picking up race bags and numbers from excel a few days before, started coming down with a cough/cold. Was not feeling well at all, so much so that I was deliberating whether to compete. After raising over £2,000 I decided to go for it dosed up on paracetamol and ibuprofen. Timings went out the window and the aim of the game was just to get round. So glad I did – its one of the best experiences of my life!! The emotional highs and lows make it an amazing experience- burst into tears on seeing the family shouting and cheering. The FRR support crew was immense on tower bridge. To my utter amazement I managed to compete it without any hiccups but my time was well down on what I had been aiming for, but I could not be disappointed just so elated at finishing my first marathon.

I felt compelled to sign up for another to prove to myself I could go under the magic 4 hours – so headed off to Manchester in 2023 and managed a staggering 3 hours and 51 minutes. So chuffed, it qualified me for a ‘good for old age’(😂) place for London this year.

Highs and Lows

Running has brought me so many amazing experiences and friendships.

Being awarded FRR female newcomer of the year 2022 was a proud and unexpected moment.

Loved participating in the Round Norfolk Relay last year. Travelling and spending time with the lovely Kaye Branton. Meeting up with Jo Whelan and Daniela Elstone after they had finished their legs. The FRR support crew were fantastic. It’s a superb event and another example of the team spirit.

I do particularly like the half marathon distance, enjoying Colchester, Great Bentley, Stowmarket, London Landmarks, running the Silverstone race track was awesome. I shall not mention Ipswich!!  I have managed to be awarded first in my age group V50 a few times – but now have headed into the next old duffer category !!

Last summer saw me struggle with a foot injury – probably from walking, whilst helping a friend during her training for the south downs trek. I had to stop running for 2 weeks (longest 2 weeks ever!!) Made me realise how much I enjoy running and how I missed it. The fitness levels dropped considerably in that time and it took a while for me to build it back up.

I miraculously recently shaved a minute off my time at Great Bentley, it now stands at 1:44:14. Never did I ever think I could run that fast for 13.1 miles!

What next

London Marathon in a red vest will be awesome this year and I am hoping to keep under 4 hours again. Plans after that –  just keep on going, as long as the body and mind are willing, enjoy the races and meeting new people. Here’s to embracing new challenges. 

Next month’s nominee

I nominate Kayleigh Turpin, who I have run with several times, we dragged each other round a tough Hadleigh 10 last year.

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