David & the Josie Train

MARCH 2018: I first met David Kemp when we were both training for the 2011 Berlin Marathon.

We became great friends straight away.

David’s daughter, Josie, had recently been diagnosed with a particularly rare form of cancer, and what struck me immediately was the unwavering strength that ran through the family.

We’ve been room-mates for a few overseas races and, each time, needing to be around for Josie, it was touch-and-go as to whether he’d make the planned trip.

Fortunately, David did make each of those races. I think Josie much preferred it that her dad pursued what he’d spent several months training for. And David will tell you how much he felt he was carrying Josie’s strength on those runs.

Josie, very sadly, passed away in January 2018, two days before her 22nd birthday.

Drawing on his daughter’s incredible strength and positivity, David got stuck into training and, in February, was selected to represent GB in the forthcoming V-60 age-graded Duathlon World Championships at Fyn, Denmark.

David, firstly, congratulations on being selected to represent GB. How does that feel?

Thanks Mike. Apart from the general shock and surprise (myself and the rest of the world), I’m genuinely proud of this unexpected turn of events. I have the feeling it can only be because it’s a bit niche.

I understand you started running quite late in life. How did that come about?

I did, in fact, run a half marathon in my pre-running days, in 2007, for a great local Charity – Off The Fence. At the time, it was a bit like seeing if there was any possibility of surviving a 13.1-mile run. I certainly didn’t train enough, and consequently I suffered – but did make it.

Running properly started a few years later when we acquired our first, and only, dog – Mishou, a Sheltie. His previous owners had died and he came to us, aged 4, with a number of odd habits that were difficult to manage; one being that he was prone to nipping runners if he was surprised by them. So, one Saturday, I saw parkrun and, using the ‘dog whispering’ technique, I put us in the middle of them, and it worked! He was good for a mad 100 metres, but then I, more or less, had to drag him round. We did that about ten times, but I got frustrated with him being so slow and lazy… so I ended up walking him earlier and then doing the run myself. The rest is history!

The bug bit – steady improvements, feeling fitter, getting to know so many lovely people and, before I knew it, I had signed up for the Brighton Half again and the unimaginably, impossible marathon – but a bit better prepared by now. I’d started training with Sam of the Jog Shop, then joined Tom & Cathy Ulliot’s running group and a little later joined Arena 80. All were great decisions.

The marathons started around the time the main battle with Josie’s cancer started, and it was partly a way for me to draw as parallel a course as I could to her really tough treatment – to stick at it when, otherwise, you might just give in. Josie ‘got’ this and I’m sure it helped. She always stuck a secret note in my luggage whenever I flew off to do another city marathon and, being interested in healthful nutrition, she would regularly try out her new and exotic smoothie recipes on me.

How many marathons have you done to date?

14, so far – 2011 Brighton & Berlin; 2012 London & Amsterdam; 2013 Paris, Brighton, Budapest & Pisa; 2014 Warsaw; 2015 Manchester & Munich; 2016 Barcelona; 2017 Barcelona & Brighton. Half marathons are good too, and easier to recover from, but somehow lack the feeling of ultimate challenge. If you go away as a group to a marathon, it’s very bonding, almost as if you have been away to battle together. That’s a special feeling.

And what about the introduction of cycling?

I’ve always had a bike as a mode of transport, so I feel comfortable on bikes and being in traffic. I thought I ought to get a bike that I could do trail rides on, and maybe race on, so I bought a cyclo-cross bike to cover this and it was a good choice. But then I got involved with a big road race event in France, by chance, whilst on holiday, and found I could hold my own reasonably well against French club cyclists. I then thought about a duathlon, as it would combine the two best bits of the triathlon and leave out the swimming, which I’d need too much time to practise, and I just don’t have that time. I decided to try it out last year at the London Duathlon in Richmond Park. My time was promising for my potential age group, when assessed by Joan Lennon, who knows about these things, and she said I should try a qualifier for the Age Group GB team. Despite being 59 for most of this year and 60 in December, it is your age at the end of the year that counts – RESULT! So, at the end of 2017, I entered two qualifiers, in February and March. I also joined BriTri, as I needed some special bike-focussed training, and they have been really welcoming and helpful.

Then suddenly Josie died, unexpectedly, in January, after a routine operation as part of her cancer treatment. We then had all the emotion and heart-break of that, As well as the funeral weekend to sort out, so the qualifiers were not in my field of view at all. However, I pulled myself together enough to do the first one, as I felt Josie would be saying to me to “man up and make me proud!” I was not expecting to do anything of note, allowing for what had happened – not training etc… but, to my surprise, I did it, and with scope for improvement with more training and practice over the coming months.

I imagine the cycling is a great form of cross-training, to help keep injuries at bay?

The timing of this was good, as I’ve been able to take a year out from marathons as my main target, plus save some of the wear and tear on my joints, as well as taking on a new challenge.   I’ve also been doing hot yoga to help the process. Overall, the reduced mileage has left me with a bit less running endurance, but I think I can get that back. My running times still seem to be ok for my age group within Duathlon, and my cycling is improving. I have also done spin classes through the winter, when it was too dangerous to be on the bike, and I invested in a turbo trainer for use at home.

And I know you’ve also recently started doing specific strength & conditioning sessions at Riptide. To what extent do you think that’s helping your race preparation?

Yes, that too! Strength work is critical to good running – particularly a strong core and glutes.   Matt’s sessions at Riptide are excellent, as he comes from a running background, and he’s very insightful and encouraging. I have four words as the corner stones of what I do now – Flexibility, Endurance, Strength & Speed. I wish I had known all this a few years back. I might have got my elusive good-for-age time of 3:20 for the marathon, but I only ever got to 3:21:59, in Warsaw. When I’m 60, I can go for that again, as a more attainable target. As you know, Mike, you have to do it all to reach your fullest potential… including properly managed sleep, nutrition and hydration. I really hope that this opportunity will help others think ‘if he can do it, then I can’, especially if they are a bit older. It’s odd to be nearly the big 6-0, but I’m feeling stronger and fitter now than at any other time in my life. I can’t imagine not running and cycling now.

With everything you’ve been through, the last couple of months, it’s fantastic that you’ve been able to push on and channel your energy into something positive. I imagine there are times, though, when you just don’t feel like going out to train.

I think it’s a case of needing to go out to train to reach a point of being physically tired enough to sleep. I find that non-running nights are usually less good for sleep. I’ve been greatly helped by the genuine care and compassion from the running community down here, and I’m seldom short of a hug, which is easier than finding words in a situation where words are so difficult. It really helps, guys – thank you all.

We have to mention the ‘Josie Train’, which took place at parkrun in Hove Park, the day before Josie’s funeral. What an awesome turn-out! What prompted the idea? I imagine it provided some comfort, knowing there was a fantastic community of runners with you on what was a very difficult weekend?

It just came to me as being a great way to celebrate one facet of her life, with a lot of people who knew her either directly at parkrun or via myself. We had 140 in the train, and I’ve been told by many people that it was a very special moment for them. It also showed us that her short life was significant, in some way, to many and, for others, it may have simply echoed a personal loss of their own… or a combination of the two. The love and support shown to us helped us through what was a very difficult weekend. The main chapel service at Lancing College had about 400 people there, again including a number from the running community.   Both were beautiful moments in their own different ways. Whilst we will continue to miss her, these memories will always be there to help on the days of high emotion.

David, it’s amazing what you’ve achieved in a relatively short time, and in challenging circumstances. Josie would be very proud of your GB selection. Good luck in Denmark – we’ll all look forward to hearing how you get on.

By Mike Bannister