JULY 2020: Nigel Meager began running relatively late in life. He’s since been a regular with RunBrighton and, during lockdown, has kept himself fit by running for over 100 consecutive days.
Nigel, I understand you only took up running in the last few years. When did you start and what prompted it?
Yes, I started as I was approaching my 60th birthday in 2015. There was no single prompt. Rather it was part of an overall reappraisal of how I was spending my time, trying to think about building up a portfolio of activities to keep me fit and busy, so that when I retired from work I’d have a structure of worthwhile stuff to fill my days.
Apart from some half-hearted jogging in my 30s, I’d never really been a runner. I always hated cross-country at school; I was part of a group that used to bunk off during cross-country training for a smoke in the woods. As an adult, I had done some stuff to keep fit and active – cycling, swimming, gym, yoga, sailing – but none of it in a structured or competitive way.
More recently, I got to quite like the idea of running, because you can do it on your own from home, with no real equipment other than shoes, and because I kept reading articles about people for whom it had transformed their life, improved their wellbeing and so on. I was also aware that, as someone who’d smoked fairly regularly during my 30s and 40s, I could probably benefit from something that might improve lung health.
So, I started running short distances on my own, and on the gym treadmill, and then I signed up with a beginner’s group organised by Marianne Clark (a trainer and triathlete who runs informal running groups in the Preston Park area). I really enjoyed it, and I liked the great camaraderie there seemed to be in the Brighton running community, and during 2015 I started doing parkruns, and signed up for a few 10k races. I surprised myself by getting what were quite reasonable race times (at least, when adjusted for age!).
The turning point, when I knew I’d really got the running bug, was signing up for the 2016 Brighton Half Marathon – something I would never have previously imagined doing. I hadn’t a clue about how to train properly. I was doing the longer runs on my own, and overdid it, ramping up the distances too quickly and doing the long training runs much too fast. So, I really messed up, got a stress fracture in my fibula, three weeks before the race, and had to pull out and stop running for several months. And that was the prompt to join the RunBrighton winter season later in 2016, to make sure that I learned how to train properly, so I could have another crack at the Half in 2017.
And what about having just trained every day for over three months? How did that come about and how do you feel now?
My run streak hit 100 days in late June, and is still going.
I started it at the beginning of lockdown, because at that point I was worried that we might be banned from running outside (as had happened in some other countries), and wanted to make sure I got as much running in as possible before that happened. In the end, there was no ban, but by that point I’d started the daily running and it seemed to be going well, so I just thought I’d keep going, and get to 100 at least.
It’s been a great escape from lockdown, especially during the early days, when the streets were empty and I could run in the middle of the road, but even now it feels liberating just being out running on the Downs or seafront. I think lockdown has felt much less of a prison because of the running.
Having got to 100 days, the next milestone is my 65th birthday later in July, and at that point I’ll decide whether to keep the streak going or revert to a more normal training pattern.
Surprisingly, although I’ve been averaging 9-10 km a day, every day, I haven’t had any negative effects so far. Although some days it’s definitely a bit harder to get out of the door, I certainly feel a lot stronger and fitter overall and, if anything, I’ve had fewer niggles and aches than I’d normally have when going through a period of hard training.
You mentioned the importance of having lots of activities to fill your time, on retiring. What was your work, and how do you tend to spend your time now, when you’re not running?
I retired about 18 months ago. I was in economic research, and for the last 15 years I had been Director of a social and economic research institute called the Institute for Employment Studies. I still continue with small amounts of freelance research after retiring from full-time work, but I’ve got a range of other activities that fill my time – I volunteer one day a week as an Information and Support worker at the Macmillan Horizon Centre in Brighton, providing help and advice to people affected by cancer, and I’m on the Boards of a couple of other charities as a trustee (Brighton and Hove Citizens Advice; and the Social Research Association).
Apart from that, I do a fair bit of yoga and various evening classes, as well as weekends and longer trips away with my partner, Claire, in the campervan we bought last year. We’ve also been on cycling holidays in India and Vietnam in the last couple of years, and a longer trip to New Zealand, where I did the Auckland Half Marathon. We’re Brighton and Hove Albion season ticket holders, and I also travel to a fair number of away matches.
Much of my retirement activity is on hold during the Covid pandemic, of course, but some of it continues online.
You’ve done several seasons training with RunBrighton. What is it that makes you keep coming back?
Well, the first winter season was a great success for me, and got me through my first Half in a decent time with no injuries, and I’ve signed up for every summer and winter season since then, completing seven half marathons and two marathons. When I first started with RunBrighton, the intention was just to do one Half, and I wouldn’t have considered a marathon at all, but these things just creep up on you!
I’ve kept coming back because the community around RunBrighton is so wholeheartedly positive and supportive, and I’ve made a lot of new friends through it. It’s so much more satisfying and motivating to be able to do the long training runs with a pace group of similar ability, rather than going out on your own on the dark winter days. I’ve discovered a lot of new routes, and I really like the pace group model, with out-and-back runs based on time on your feet, and everyone starting and finishing together.
What’s your favourite race distance?
Half marathon, definitely. Racing at 5k or 10k (or even 10 miles), I just find painful because you’re flat out all the way round, while a marathon is a real killer (for me) in the last few kilometres. A Half, however, feels long enough to be a real test of endurance, but short enough to settle into a comfortable pace and enjoy it.
And what would you say is your best running moment, to date?
I suppose it was the first marathon I did (Brighton 2018). I really enjoyed the race itself, running the course with Rachel from my RunBrighton 3:45 pace group; and I was delighted to finish in a halfway decent time for my age (3:51). I also enjoyed London the following year, but it didn’t quite have the feeling of exhilaration of crossing the line in my first marathon.
It was great that you were able to persuade Claire to join RunBrighton over the winter. Was it a challenge getting her to come along?
Claire was never at all keen on running – she’s quite sporty but loves team sports and thought running was boring, and for the first few years I was running, she was adamant that it wasn’t for her. Eventually I persuaded her to give it a go, and she joined a beginners’ run-walk group (again led by Marianne Clark in Preston Park) and surprised herself by really enjoying not just the social aspects but the running itself. It also meant that we could start running together occasionally – especially if we were away on holiday somewhere for example.
Once she realised she could run, and liked it, and had done some parkruns and 10ks, and loved the atmosphere of a race, joining RunBrighton was a natural progression. She also took the view that as our weekends were already ruined by me doing RunBrighton (no boozy late nights on Saturday, no Sunday lie-ins) she might as well join me! And, of course, she loves running with groups, so has really enjoyed it, and she completed her first Half in Brighton earlier this year.
What races did you have in the diary for yourself, this autumn, and are you still training towards them, even though they might not go ahead?
My main planned race this year was going to be Berlin Marathon in late September. Because I’m 65 later this month and move into a new age group, and Berlin is a fast course, I had really been hoping to be able to use this as an opportunity to set a good-for-age time. However, Berlin’s just been cancelled, which is very disappointing, if not surprising.
I also have a place in the postponed Brighton Marathon, so, if that goes ahead, I will do it. I reckon that my running streak, which has included long weekly runs of 1:30-2hrs, has given me a good base, even if I’ve not been following a structured marathon plan, so the only real question is how much to lengthen those long runs in the coming weeks to make sure I’m ready if Brighton goes ahead.
And what’s your main objective with the races you do? Do you try and go for a fast time, or is it more a case of enjoying the experience?
When I started, it was more about seeing if I could do the distance on longer races, and for my first Half I also wanted to raise some money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
I’m quite competitive, however, and have become more interested in improving my time. My times improved steadily at most distances until the last year or so, when they seem to have plateaued, and I think the benefits of training are now beginning to be offset by the effects of age – so I may have to start focusing on improving my age grading rather than my actual race times!
Nigel, thanks very much for taking the time to chat. Well done for completing over 100 consecutive days of running. And good luck with the rest of your training this summer. Let’s hope the marathon is still on in September!
By Mike Bannister