DECEMBER 2015: Just before Christmas, RunBrighton Ambassador Darren (Daz) Avery completed his 12th marathon this year.
What makes this so impressive is that last year he was off running for several months, owing to a stress fracture in his heel.
Furthermore, Daz hasn’t always been into running; in fact, up until a few years ago he was a heavy smoker!
I wanted to understand what brought about the transformation. And what motivates him to keep going?!
How are your legs now, Daz?
For a few days after the final race they were very tired! I had a sports massage the day after and apparently my hip flexors and glutes need a bit of a rest. With the mindset of a runner, though, I was quite chuffed as it meant that I do actually engage my glutes when running – a worthy achievement! The last race of the year was the Portsmouth Coastal Harbour marathon. It’s a great challenge with loads of mud and beaches to contend with, and this year the added delight of a hailstorm and the final two miles into a headwind, but you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
What prompted you to run a marathon a month? That’s quite a feat!
It sort of evolved over the year and didn’t even enter my head at first, given last year’s injury. I always do Brighton marathon, as it’s the race that changed my life in 2009. But I also managed to get a ballot place for London and, persuaded by my fellow runners, I entered Three Forts and Arun as well. In addition, there was the lure of adding Bewl to give me a run of four marathons in four weeks. (There had been one weekend off between Brighton and London.) As it was something I’d never done before, I thought I would give it a go and surprisingly came through relatively unscathed. The rest then seemed to flow throughout the year. I am not sure, if I had actually planned it properly, that I would have included my first 38-mile ultra along the way, but it certainly added to the challenge.
And what’s the total number you’ve completed now?
I’ve managed to clock up 25 marathon / ultra events, but this does include two ‘unofficial’ runs. Due to my stress fracture, my Brighton Marathon 2014 was run 6 months after the actual race day (which I wanted to do in order to keep up my ever-present record); I also completed a marathon run as part of a university study.
I don’t tend to enter races shorter than marathon distance, but I’ve thrown in a few halves, and this year I had the pleasure of supporting a 2-hour pace group for some RunBrighton members in the Barns Green Half Marathon.
Which would you say has been your favourite event, and why?
This is always a difficult question as all the races tend to differ and each has positive factors that stand out. I have had the fortune of running some events with friends, and they inevitably turn out to be 26.2 miles of talking and laughing. Throw in the fact that some of the events are low key (with only about 100 runners), whilst others have stunning scenery (eg South and North Downs Marathons), it becomes even more difficult to pinpoint just one.
Despite the choice, though, I think that Beachy Head Marathon is my favourite run. It is very unforgiving with the final six miles over the Seven Sisters hills, yet the camaraderie amongst the runners and the feeling of completing it just keeps you driving to the end. I have done the race three times now and it always has something different. This year I ran in a Wonder Woman outfit as part of a drunken wager that I am pleased to say I won, but have not yet claimed my prize!
And what motivates you? Do you aim to finish in a specific time, or is it more a case of running to enjoy the experience?
When I first started running it was all about the time and being as fast as I can, but as I run more I am less interested in running fast and more interested in enjoying the event itself.
On most of the runs I do, I end up chatting and laughing most of the way. (I am proud to say that I won the Thames Meander Swan-Spotting competition 2015… 64 vs 22.) Also, as a lot of my runs are off-road, the feeling of being out in nature and amongst the elements is really liberating.
I love the feeling of testing myself mentally on the longer distances and always have the view that you can turn your hand to anything if determined, although if you had asked me that at mile 20 on my last marathon this year I might have disagreed!
How did you get into running in the first place? And how old were you?
I started running in 2009 as part of a drunken wager (you can see a theme here) to do the Great South, Brighton Half and first Brighton Marathon.
The aim was really to lead a healthier lifestyle and kick the bad smoking habit that had been with me since a teenager. As it turned out, I found the training a great way to switch off from work and it gave me some needed structure in my life. I can still remember the euphoria of getting to the Palace Pier and back for the first time (10k). I committed a lot of time and focus to achieve that marathon, so was a bit thrown when three days before the race I was stranded in Madrid due to the volcanic cloud that had grounded all flights. I ended up taking overnight trains, taxis and ferries, and got back to Blighty some five hours before the race start. Not the ideal prep, but I ended up loving the whole thing and achieved my first marathon at 39!
What do you enjoy most about your Ambassador role with RunBrighton?
I absolutely love sharing the passion of running and helping people achieve their first ever marathon. Last year I had the pleasure of training with the ‘5hr+’ group and was so choked at the race end when I was able to present them all with their well-earned medals – I was a very proud ambassador!
I used to be a member of RunBrighton before being asked to take on the Ambassador honour, and being part of a team driving for the same goal is second to none.
I understand you recently took part in an experiment, subjecting your body to freezing temperatures immediately after a marathon. What was that all about?
Oh yes, that was the university study I took part in where they wanted to measure the impact of cryotherapy on marathon runners. I had to go to Saracens rugby ground and be subjected to various tests before running nine times around the parks to complete the marathon distance. Afterwards, I was placed in what can only be described as a huge freezer in just a pair of shorts, where the temperatures then plummeted to -87C for five minutes. It was as cold as it sounds, so I had to jump around to keep sane. This procedure took place a couple of times and was then followed by more tests over the next 48 hours. It was an experience and a half, and although I am not privy to the university report I can now freeze a glass of water with my bare hands!
What’s your next challenge?
My next challenge is actually not to book up any other races, and let my body have a well-earned rest! I always run Brighton Marathon and that is the only one in the calendar to date, but who knows what will actually happen!
Daz, congratulations on your dozen marathons this year – what an awesome achievement! And I hope you’ve thawed out now since the university experiment! I can’t imagine you running only one marathon in 2016, but good luck with whatever goals you set yourself!
By Mike Bannister