Running Beverley AC’s own 10K is usually reserved for the fast club members in respective age categories or those with long serving membership or in their first year. So in only my sixth year at the club and not known for my winning prowess in any category, I wasn’t due to be running. In fact a check of the official results and I don’t appear, but I did run, the whole route, without a number! Three of us did this – but in support of our good friend, Olly Johnston.
Olly was involved in a near fatal road accident on his way back from the Leon 10K, in Spain, on 9 October 2011. After 11 days in intensive care (once he’d been airlifted to hospital from the scene of the accident) he then spent nearly six months in hospital in Spain and a further 4 months continuing rehab before returning to the UK in July 2012. One of the first conversations I had with Olly shortly after the accident I committed to run his first 10K with him, which he had targeted by the end of 2012. Fellow club runners, Rob Singh and Claire Burcham also made similar commitments. Since his return to the UK Olly has been in the gym 6 days most weeks for two sessions of up to two hours most of those days as well as out on his bike and having physio and continued hospital appointments. But Olly had been told he wouldn’t run again. I recall telling him he had the determination and desire in him that he would. (Why I felt I was in any position to contradict more than one professionals opinion, I don’t know. But I guess a sense of support and giving Olly a message he’d want to hear was my thinking).
As Spring approached Olly called me and said he had asked to take part in the Beverley 10K. What better place to do his come back 10K than on home soil, and the club were 100% behind him. Olly had last run the Beverley 10K in the Mascot costume as Bertie the Beaver – remarkably so even in that he was well within the hour. Would I run with him, as we’d discussed? Having been granted permission from the club to forgo my marshal duties during the race, I was to be there. Olly’s plan was just to get round, be it walk and run much of it. Before the day he hadn’t done anything more than 5 minutes none stop running, having had many sessions on the treadmill doing a mix of running and walking. But to run 10K (or even walk/run 10K) on the open road was another ball game. Olly had effectively had to learn to walk again after so long bed ridden. The accident pictures of the car and his legs show you that he was lucky not to have ended up with an amputation. As well as myself, Claire and Rob joined Olly and we set off under the shadow of Beverley Minster.
Olly was given cheers round the course from many locals who had especially come to cheer him on, including one of his physios and his parents. For me, it was just an honour and privilege to share the moment with Olly. Rob and I had cameras with us to capture the moments as we went up over Beverley Westwood pastures, through Walkington and back into the historic market town. Claire was finding Olly’s pace more than what she was used to and dropped back just before half way round. Nevertheless, the fact she was there was what mattered. Despite Olly feeling pains in his back and discomfort in his feet he didn’t just maintain his pace but gradually increased it. We chatted about allsorts as we headed round and with less than a kilometre to go we alerted the finish we were on the approach.
As we entered the town centre’s Saturday Market, I sprinted off to ensure I got Olly a picture of his finish – getting cheers as I did so as spectators weren’t aware I wasn’t really taking part and I couldn’t get off the course! I had not long made the finish and told the commentary team when Olly appeared – putting in a true Olly gutsy finish to break the hour in a time of 57:59 and had run the entire route! Quite frankly a phenomenal achievement. You only have to watch Olly walking to see how much his gait has been affected and how much more impressive it is he ran it. Anyone who watched the Paralympics in London in 2012 will know about inspiring stories. Olly is such an example. He is not finished yet and was already talking of a Half Marathon target as we weren’t even half way round the 10K. He’d done that well his Dad was still at the finish area looking out for him over 5 minutes after Olly had finished!
Olly and I past the half way stage
Beverley 10K 2013 - Olly’s Comeback
With Olly and Paul after the finish
I should mention my brother-in-law, Paul, who I’d entered into the race for his birthday. We had passed Paul within the first Kilometre and his one opportunity to beat me didn’t materialise. That is not to take away from the fact Paul is no runner, by his own admission, but still took part and got round in just over 65 minutes. I admire Paul for not giving up and taking on the challenge. Whilst I give him a lot of stick, he takes on the challenge and seeing what Olly put himself through was inspiration enough for Paul to know he could do more in the future.
Olly’s story was given a great right up in the Hull & East Riding Daily Mail the following day. Having spoken to Olly less than two weeks after his accident (I was on Kilimanjaro when it happened) and been in regular contact since I was still very touched by this article. Olly has shown just what determination and ambition can achieve. The club as a whole were immensely proud and it is by no means the end for Olly. In June (2013) he and I have entered the club duathlon – he’ll power round on the bike and I’ll do the running either side. (Olly was out cycling me less than a year after the accident!)
My thanks to Olly for allowing me to share in his return. It really was an honour and humbling experience and his tenacity has given me motivation. Olly is proof enough that there is no such thing as can’t run*, but it’s about guts and determination.
*Before I get drawn into an argument, I do accept certain conditions mean it is genuinely impossible for some to not run (or even “run” in the David Weir/Shelly Woods sense) but hope the phrase is taken in the spirit it is meant towards those who imply they can’t run when “can’t” is merely an excuse for don’t have even will to try.
Crossing Beverley Westwood, with Rob and Claire
Before the start with Olly (Number 910), from left, Rob, Claire, Olly and Lucas
Olly crossing the finish line - official time of 57:59 (gun time displayed)