Brighton Half’s First Winner

FEBRUARY 2020: Dave Knight (Brighton & Hove AC) was the first ever winner of the Brighton Half Marathon, completing the original course, in 1990, in a time of 1hr07.

After many years away from competitive running, he’s returning at the age of 55 to take part in the 30th anniversary of the event, 23rd February 2020. Fittingly, he has been allocated race number 1990.

Dave’s race performances, back in his 20s, included a 28:52 10k and 2hr20 marathon. Only a handful of Sussex runners have since achieved better results.

Dave was still improving, with his best performances to come, when his racing came to an abrupt halt. In 1992, his wife, Mandy, was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease, when their daughter was just a few months old. Dave’s priority instantly switched from running to looking after his family.

Happily, Mandy went on to make a full recovery.

Dave, what are your thoughts, with the Half just over a week away now? What are you looking forward to most and what are your race objectives?

I’m planning to run with the aim of just enjoying it. I thought I could perhaps do about 1hr30. But my daughter, Leah, has signed up now too, so I’ll probably run with her, in about two-and-a-half hours.

Apart from a brief comeback to running about 8 years ago, this is the first time I’ve really run in 27 years, so I’m giving myself a year to try and get my times down.

I think I’ll stick to shorter distances though, after the Brighton Half. I’d like to get my 5k down to sub-16:30 and my 10k to sub-33. Not sure about another half marathon.

Where did your running begin?

I started quite late actually; I was about 22 or 23. I think I’d been inspired watching athletics on TV.

I can’t remember the exact details, but someone had suggested I meet Ron Grover of Arena 80 at the track; then when I got there, I met someone else, who persuaded me to join Brighton & Hove AC.

When I started training with them, I was at the back. And I remember I had no proper running shoes – I ran in Hi Tec Silver Shadows!

But I realised I had some natural talent, as I ran the Winchester 10-mile race in 56 minutes off no training.

Who did you train with when you were at your peak?

I used to train really quickly, so no one wanted to train with me. A typical session would be 5 miles in about 24:30, once or twice a week.

And you would have raced against some household names?

When I was sponsored by Adidas, I raced against lots of top runners – Eamonn Martin, Rob Denmark… and I beat Steve Cram in the Midlands Inter-Counties 10k. (I out-sprinted him at the finish.)

Did your training always have to fit around a full-time job?

Yes, always! I was a builder and landscaper.

Every morning, I would get up at 6:10, Monday to Saturday, and run 5 miles; then start work at 8:00.

Do you think having a physical job helped your running?

I never got injured running, so yes, I think my job kept me strong.

But I could probably have run better if I was a full-time athlete and didn’t have to work.

What did a typical training week look like?

The most I ever ran in one week was 170 miles but, over the years, my average weekly mileage was around 100-120.

The main sessions were the long Sunday run, always very easy, and two or three speed sessions a week – usually a mad track session every Tuesday and Thursday – and the 5 miles that I ran every morning.

What would you say is your most memorable running experience?

I did so many races – lots abroad.

I remember Barcelona Half Marathon. Adidas had organised a big street party the day before, which included a hog roast and lots of beer, although I don’t really drink. It was a great party, but I ran really badly – about 1hr15.

One of my better races was when I came 3rd in the Uk Championships over 10k, at Moreton-in-the-Marsh.

And I got the gold medal in the Southern Counties Champs for 10k, half marathon and marathon – all in the same year.

I did London Marathon, about 1991, I think. I was with the lead group, which included the Kenyans and Gelindo Bordin, the Olympic marathon winner. We went through half way together in 64 minutes, but I blew up and ran 2hrs20.

I got so many great prizes for winning races, especially overseas, that I didn’t get around to using them all. I won a weekend in Paris, but we never got to use that. And I once won a washing machine, although I didn’t need one. I won a bike though – that was good! And lots of vouchers for running kit, but my sponsor, Adidas, would give me so much kit, like sending me 12 pairs of shoes, I just didn’t need the vouchers.

When Mandy became ill, that would have turned your life upside down. What do you recall of that time?

It was manic. Leah was only 6 months old.

Mandy had 6 months of chemo, which didn’t work. Then after 6 months rest, another 6 months of chemo. That didn’t work either. She then had a much stronger dose. It completely destroyed her ovary. She also caught the MRI bug in hospital.

We had planned to have a second child but, of course, we couldn’t after her ovary was damaged.

We were told a couple of times that she wasn’t going to make it.

We had both always lived life to the full, so her illness was life-changing.

All the time, I still had to work. We had a child, and a mortgage. Mandy was permanently at University College Hospital in London. Her parents moved down to Brighton to look after Leah, and every night after I finished work, I would drive up to London to visit Mandy in hospital.

What has prompted you to make a comeback now?

I’ve eased back a lot on work recently – sort of semi-retirement – so I have time to train properly. I know I can do it. I got back into running about 7 years ago, for about 6 months, but then I had too much work on so didn’t keep it up. I had got my parkrun time down to 16:58 then, and ran my first race in 20 years – 5 miles in 27 minutes.

I have always put lots of weight on really easily. Until recently, I was 16 stone and I was getting puffed out just going upstairs. But I have time to train now, I’ve lost 3 stone and I know I can get back.

What would be your number-one tip for our RunBrighton runners who are about to take on their first half marathon?

Don’t go off too fast at the start! If you do, you’ll pay for it later in the race.

Dave, congratulations on everything you achieved back in the 80s and 90s. I’m delighted you’re getting back into your running and look forward to watching your times come down. And I hope you and Leah have a great day at the Brighton Half.

By Mike Bannister