Runner Profile: Louise Cracknell

Firstly, thank you Holly Taylor for the nomination – an incredible runner and someone that I’ve had the pleasure to chat with at a number of races. I appreciated your openness and I hope to carry that forward in mine.

The running profiles are a great read, although I was quite happy avoiding nomination, up until now. I was nervous how I would find the time and detail to write it. Despite this, I’ve found doing this very nostalgic and dipping into the archives has evoked lots of happy memories – I have huge thanks to my mum for dusting spider webs off the albums at the family home!

I promise this isn’t as long a read as it looks, and as those who I might not know as well as others yet will come to realise with me that although it may not always be in a cohesive, straight line (stick with me!) I promise we will all get to the same point at the end of it (eventually…)

Even though I have done a bit of sport/interest hopping, I am super passionate about whatever I put my energies into, but I’m a bit of a yo-yo and I think that pattern was set early in childhood.

My early years were almost always spent outdoors, being active. I absolutely loved my childhood and have many happy memories playing with my ponies (the big, real kind). I was incredibly competitive growing up and I would always be eyeing up the next gymkhana to enhance the season’s frillies.

In the most, my ponies would cooperate, but looking back on photos reminds me of the memories of triumphs, disasters and all the laughter in between! And wow, I even sported the same hair now when I am out competing at races I did all those years ago!

At primary school, I relished a challenge and absolutely loved anything that enabled me to test myself. Sports Days became something that I eagerly anticipated despite pretty full-on anxiety about it even then. Always wanting to win.

I became ever more competitive as the early years progressed and despite breaking my arm playing hockey at primary school – it didn’t put me off. I was clearly out to prove that I could actually play the game. I soon started playing for my local club at Braintree. At Brentwood School I was banished (harsh) to goal. Apparently too competitive and a little aggressive (preferential term is over enthusiastic) to remain out on pitch but that said, I subsequently made the Essex County Team and over my teenage years I progressed to play National League hockey, Essex, East of England and hit the pinnacle, managing to play for England in goal, both indoor and outdoor. Possibly I should have continued that journey, but it just wasn’t right for me then and I took enormous pride and even greater pleasure watching some of my former team mates play in the 2012 London Olympics.

I still possess my GK kit and over the past year, I was roped (guilt-tripped / ego-massaged) into playing Ladies 1XI at Felixstowe who were in need of a GK. I didn’t want it to be a full distraction and bartered a 50% playing time with another former GK. We narrowly missed out on promotion and the league title this season.

I still enjoy playing hockey. It is a fantastic team sport, played with some cracking girls, but the past year has definitely made me realise how much I love running and want to prioritise this. Believe it or not, it is still very possible to get injured – even in all that kit and that frightens me when I am prepping for runs!

Since I’m speaking of getting injured in sport… I also attempted to make a name for myself in Rugby, playing for the local Honey Badgers (Felixstowe Ladies Team). My first training session was an absolute hoot – lots of mud and muck, not too dissimilar from some of the cross countries!

From a social perspective, the girls are an absolute craic and I think I loved the socials, or messing around making the perfect pyramid, more than the actual sport itself!

Despite a short rugby career, I somehow seem to have more photos of me playing rugby than I do anything else!

I did play a few games as 13, but I soon realised I was the quickest to break. They tried me in Full Back and on the Wing, moving me around with each added injury but the straw that broke the camel’s back being nearly knocked out at training, on my first tackle! The combination of all my breaks and bumps resulted in receiving the club “Made of Glass” award!

Going back in time again (the yo-yo that I am) I don’t really remember playing much sport in my late teens, twenties and prioritised life in heels! I also battled with an eating disorder that pretty much engulfed my life for at least a decade and as a result I spent any free time I had, excessively in the gym and living off cereal and celery! I am grateful for the recovery and it no longer controls my life and the decisions I make. That being said, I still have a pretty shocking diet and it could be far more nutritious. I know it should be integral to how I train but for me, eating right is such a chore I generally just have to tag it on at the back of a training plan, usually a day or two before any particular race. Having said that, my first Tarpley 20 was run on a couple of bottles of red and an Indian the night before – so, you know, don’t fix what isn’t broken, right?

So let me hit the running in more detail. Whilst at Brentwood School (circa 1996), Saturdays were either spent playing Hockey or Cross Country… That was really my first taste of “serious running” and races. I turned out to be alright at running coming in the top 10 at the cross country championships of a pool of a few hundred runners in the Essex Counties.

I would like to think my technique has improved over time, but I am looking at that horizontal right angle arm and thinking I must have been alright (at least hopefully Paul is impressed..)

After two years at Brentwood, I took my 13+ and moved to Colchester County High School for Girls where the enthusiasm for running dwindled in the school and myself – I blame the school (and finding boys).

The next time I really ran was in my late 30s when I joined Running Colchester, a group that organised social races. This felt like a great choice, as it was so informal and there was no pressure. Although no real structure to the runs, I really enjoyed it and met some amazing people. It also became a way that I could fit in exercise, after Mak and I welcomed our first child (Darcie) together in 2016.

I felt confident running on my own and could fit it all in, whilst juggling work, life and family. I became very close with a group that we went on to name “Dream Team” – we just all loved running and each other’s company and would typically look to run similar races – some of our favourites being the informal/do in your own time GBRC self-navigation trails.

We had so much fun and laughter and it was never short of adventure or making pretty animals on maps!

My love for running grew, and I became increasingly eager to try out more official races and soon went pretty bold, committing to a marathon. There were a few races that helped dot into the training, Great Bentley, Colchester Half, all in company of some of my Colchester faves!

All through my life, my dad has been one of my biggest supporters. He was diagnosed with MND more than a decade ago but is still fighting and still supporting me, and through running I really wanted to give back to the type of charities that have supported him, us and those like him and us. As some may have spotted, I don’t always run in my FRR top and there are a number of charities that will forever remain close to my heart. Prior to my first marathon and having recently given birth to Darcie, I wanted to find a charity that focused predominantly on children in their care and was elated to find Havens Hospices were seeking out fundraisers for their 2018 London Marathon Team – they ticked all my boxes for the type of charity I wanted to support – a perfect match. Though the fundraising target looked unattainable at the start and I was nervous to fail to hit the financials, Mak pushed me on, and I ended up raising almost double of the required target! Everyone was just wonderfully kind with sponsorship.

I feel super grateful to have run London and I fully empathise with anyone that wants to run it, but has been unsuccessful at ballot and nervous to commit to charity fundraising. I can honestly say go for it, people are super generous! It makes it feel so much more of an accomplishment. My first 2018 marathon, will remain my forever favourite.

Training wasn’t always plain sailing (when is it ever!). I chose a week where I was struggling to reset my mind and retune to actually visit where and whom I was aiming to help and had the privilege of spending an afternoon at Little Havens Children’s Hospice. I couldn’t help but feel overcome with emotion the moment I stepped through the door. I can’t even begin to explain how wonderful this place is and the staff that have all the little people in their care.

As a marathon novice, I was super grateful to have received guidance and a training buddy in Arthur, from Running Colchester and Colchester Harriers. He was incredible, offering so much advice and planning our weekly long runs with beautiful (and interesting!) countryside routes, similarly to how FRR’s current route master – Debbie Catling

Arthur also became my parkrun pacer, and we would use parkrun as my speed session (similarly to how I train now for a marathon). We both talked about the possibility of me achieving Good for Age. It seemed ambitious, but I kept it at the back of my mind.

The 2018 marathon soon came along. Friends of ours lived in Greenwich and we took the opportunity to stay with them. Continuing my theme of great preparation, the day before saw myself and my friend Emma, assisting with a little redesign of a garden over a glass of wine or two!

In my defence the wine was a necessity whilst watching Mak pull and catch bloody trees to avoid the thoughts of having to spend the evening before my first London Marathan in A&E with the idiot.

Fortunately, despite having a terrible night sleep on a pull out couch, my support crew ensured I woke feeling determined.

I started strong (that’s what I remember anyway). At around Cutty Sark, a male runner brutally cut me up. He didn’t stop, but another runner from Havens Hospices came to aid. I was attempting to stick with her as I knew she was aiming for a GFA. I soon told her to carry on. After a few/five minutes on the ground, I stood up and tried to run again. My knees throbbed and it had knocked my confidence. At that point, I just wanted to get around. And was thrilled to have run in sub 4 for first marathon (3:54:46), in what was also the hottest London marathon on record… at least that meant my cuts dried quickly!

After London, there was one race over Summer than stays in mind. Southend Half Marathon, with my Dream Team mates. Our (mis)adventures continued and we barely made the start. Late to arrive and we found ourselves still in the loo on the ten second countdown to start!!! That being said, I ran a PB race in a time of 01:41:06 – 20th out of 766 women in the race. It was so hot, my friend collapsed and received medical aid in the tent. We were the last to leave the event and failed to make it home without frequent stops to be sick ….. Yes that was me causing the journey hold ups!

After this positivity boost the marathon year, Arthur and I were determined to find a another marathon distance (UKA qualified) that I could run before the GFA cut off. We found Gloucester Marathon – a flat, fast course. We continued to train through Summer, and it all looked promising. With a few weeks to go, the race had been cancelled as the organisers had not got the road closures approved!!! Refunds were refused and it was moved at last minute to The Forest of Dean, with wild boars and all! Organisers managed to get it UKA qualified in time, but it meant it was then a four lap trail run, in excruciatingly hot conditions! Even the most seasoned runners walked it. Being seasoned pro’s by then, we knew it was going to be tough, so took the pressure off by prepping…

2018 was a running year of wonderful memories for me – but after this point, I rested for longer than I should have done, only running very occasionally. According to Power of 10 I ran an almost 40 minute Parkrun in South Africa in 2019 – If that was my one and only Parkrun for 2019, what a corker it was and so great, I have forgotten all about it though I’m pretty sure even prepping in my usual fashion wouldn’t have also led me to forget an entire trip to RSA…

Running became a thing again in November 2022 when I joined the FRR. Best move I have ever made (though Mak would say impossible without the move to Felixstowe itself…). I vaguely remember it being Will’s session – a hill one. I don’t remember what made me do it – It could have been a combination of chats with running pals – Lucy Sheehan and Kate Long, Mak pleading with me just to get out (can’t imagine why that would’ve been) all bundled with being shell shocked to receive the “YOU’RE IN” email through the London Ballot!

I knew no one currently running at the club but threw myself into it. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, but a particular reference to Stuart Mason, who soon roped me into the cross country series. I thoroughly enjoyed that first winter representing the club and I think I did most of them! I recall being mostly the only girl in our car shares, but learnt a lot from the likes of Andy Metcalfe, Rob Barker and Tom Stephens. A top tip being to smother cream over your feet before wet cross countries – thanks Tom! That said, I’ve also realised there’s no need to cream feet, if you simply avoid the puddles…

The cross country races are some of my favourites and I look forward to returning to them this year!

2023 saw me take on my triple marathon challenge. It seemed poignant to do something big to celebrate my dad living ten years with MND. I ran Brighton first, London and then finishing with the epic Leeds Marathon, raising money for Motor Neurone Disease. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to be able to physically complete such a challenge – but I had my BFF Lauren with me in Brighton (fortunate due to the heat and a much needed costume change).

Mak joined me on the FRR coach at London (pic is post not pre I promise) and the support from everyone was immense; then the idiot made Leeds even more enjoyable by signing himself up for it! That led to some potentially tricky training timetables with the kids but, he made it kind of easy. I ran what I needed to run, and he would fit a few runs here and there around me. I had a certain goal and he was doing this to support my goal of 3 marathons one after the other. Continuing a family trend I think the longest run he did was about 14miles, that said he is pretty belligerent… He “isn’t built for distance” he liked to remind me.

His goal was to be there for me, and finish. It must’ve been the hottest May in living memory in Leeds – more than 30% of entrants DNF’d. Mak wasn’t one of those. He’s a one-and-done but that support was exactly what I needed last year.

The support didn’t end just because 2023’s challenge ended. Mak’s made sure whenever I want (or “need”) to run, I can and it’s really helped me run lots, and run strong this year. Last year’s London enabled me to have a GFA at the 2024 event and I wasn’t prepared to just make up the numbers with it. I’ve loved running this year, amazing special thanks here must go to my local, new running dream team – Debbie Catling, Sam Fulcher, Sam Baxter, Kaye Branton – as well as special mentions to Sam Linassi, Tom Stephens and Paul Schwer… The list here can go on, and on and on. Through FRR I’ve managed to find that the variation in sport that I need, mentally, to keep it fresh and keep my focus, is actually all there with running. There’s the Winter Series, Summer 5mile series, parkruns, Marathons and more middle distance runs than you can shake a stick at. “Running is 90% mental” is often a phrase banded around but it’s so true. Not just whilst you’re in a run, but getting the motivation to do a run. The club opens so many things in that regards and personally, I couldn’t have achieved the times I have this year without it. I’ve managed PBs at Marathon, 20miles, 10k, 5miles and parkruns this year and all I can say thank you FRR, bring on the next set of challenges….oh, one more thing on that as I feel it best suits my training regime, anyone fancy the wine marathon???

…I’d like to nominate Will White for next month’s profile – I am pretty confident it was his happy face that led my first FRR session and I came back for more!

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