MAY 2020: It’s always a pleasure to have Randall Joy-Camacho join our RunBrighton group runs… whenever he doesn’t have to work on a Sunday morning. He first joined us in 2014 and has been a regular ever since.

Randall openly describes himself as fragile and vulnerable, a consequence of childhood traumas, and finds running can be of great help, if not essential, to get through challenging times.

When and where did your running begin, Randall?

I think I developed a good, strong fitness base from a very young age, back in the 70s, when I was brought up in a farming community. Right at the top of North Wales, somewhere between Chester and Wrexham. Long relentless hours, with very physically and mentally demanding work.

When I got to about 35 years old, I managed to ease away from the long hours and that type of work. I became worried that my health and fitness levels may suffer… so, I became a closet runner. I would only run after dark.

I understand you’re a bus driver. I guess the unsociable hours can make it difficult to get in a regular pattern of training? And how have you found it, during the coronavirus pandemic?

Yup, I’m a bus driver. Brighton and Hove. Mostly 2s, 5s, 6s and 7s since Covid. The job’s great, apart from the traffic (big stress) and the general public (big stress)!

So, since 31st March, it’s been quite nice. Less traffic and fewer people.

I work shifts, which are all up in the air at the moment, but mostly it works fine. I’m often on earlies or lates, so I can run before or after. Sometimes, it gets difficult to fit runs in, but that’s the way it has to be.

As you know, my wife, Debra (known as Zebra), is a runner too, and is super helpful, as she understands and helps.

How did you come to join RunBrighton and what was the extent of your running prior to that?

I moved down to Brighton in 2011/12 and came out as a runner. (It was suddenly normal.)  I just did my own very low key and sporadic thing, for a year or two. Then I went to cheer on the Brighton Marathon. I thought “That looks good, I’m sure I could give that a good go.” I entered with a charity place for 2015. Eek!

I started training on my own in a very uninformed way. I found it quite demoralising, and struggled, trying to fit in a long run each week. It was usually after work and therefore often in the dark, being blinded by car headlights, battling the elements in late winter, on my own. At this point, Zebra was not a runner. She has always been incredibly supportive, and she suggested I join a group. Shock… horror… me, a group!?

So, after a brief internet search, and probably a few beers, I signed up for RunBrighton.

I really don’t know how I managed to attend the first run. It must have been a lucky, good phase, and careful nudges and support from Zebra – but I turned up. I probably expended more energy with my nerves, stressing about it, than from the actually running!

Anyway, I arrived and was made to feel welcome, but not put in any form of spotlight. Phew! Off we ran. I had not even the foggiest idea of which pace group I should be with. I just ran and chatted. What was refreshing was that I could now shed the shackles of having to know where I was going. I could run and chat all the more. It took me a whole winter season, and most of a summer season, to build my confidence to work out where I might be in pace and group. Along the way, I got to know lots of lovely people, all paces, all distances, all sorts.

I do love the community of runners. Everyone appreciates each other. Fast ones applaud the slow ones with genuine awe, thinking “Well bloody done! You’ve been slogging away an awful lot longer than me and you’ve done it! Hooray for you!” And slow ones applaud the fast ones thinking “How the hell do you even begin to go like that?! Wow, Well done, Hooray!”

Running is hard, regardless of your capabilities. We all know that. Therefore, the whole spectrum of us is encouraging to our kindred spirits. So decent and humble.

What would you say you get most out of your running? Are you quite competitive, for example, or is it more of a social thing for you?

How long have we got?

I run because I can. It makes me feel properly alive, being under blue skies and close to the real, raw world of nature. Fresh air, grass, soil, leaves and roots. Trees, smells, insects, birds, flowers, and animals. Cows are my favourite; they’ve been a big part of me being alive today. They are so underrated and misunderstood.

As you can tell, I like off-road stuff best, especially when it’s sunny.

Running takes me to places I would never otherwise see.

I’m very competitive, but only with myself. I know I have a big problem with being way too hard on myself. It’s a really difficult problem to manage. It does help me push hard with my running, but all unravels into a mess when the inevitable happens and I get injured.

I suffered traumas as a child. I hide, quite well, the fact that I’m a bit of a basket case. Only those close to me see the mess.

At times, I am extremely fragile and vulnerable. It comes and goes, but is never, and will never be, gone from me. It’s a major part of me. Those who get through life without being touched by these issues are purely and simply lucky. If I am not careful, my self-worth, self-confidence, self-esteem, etc, show their true core as being smashed, obliterated and poisoned. My foundation.

I think running helps me with this, although I’m not sure how. I have felt myself beginning to argue with my shrinks as they hint that running may just be an avoidance tactic. As I mentioned earlier, somehow, moving my legs quickly seems to make me feel properly real, and alive; more so than if I didn’t. Sometimes, it may be the only good feeling in a desperately desolate, struggling head. Perhaps it is avoidance. But I really need it sometimes.

Not only have you conquered the marathon, you’ve also since run a few ultras. What prompted the decision to take on your first one, and how have you found them compared with the shorter races?

For those with sense, who wisely don’t know what an ultra is, it is anything over a marathon. So, a 27-mile run is technically an ultra. They are for nutcases.

Anyway, other idiots, whom I met through RunBrighton, said “Fancy doing the Downs Link?” I went home, that night, with the feel-good factor of having done my long Sunday run.  After a couple of beers, I clicked with abandon. I entered the Downs Link!

I suppose, with hindsight, it was a natural progression and wanting to avoid monotony.

I am really bad at remembering what I’ve done, let alone my finish times. I really don’t know my PBs. As mentioned earlier, I’m a troubled soul, and I refuse any medals unless it’s downright rude. I do keep my race numbers though and I write my times on there, and stick them in a drawer.

One thing that I discovered from having a bash at ultras is that if you’ve trained to do a marathon, then you’re sort of there. You can’t really train much more than that without risking injury.

The real beauty of ultras is that very few people have any expectation of times or pace, as all the events vary so much. It’s all about just getting over the line. Gone is time pressure. Well… almost gone!

As in life, I tend to be a jack of all trades, but master of none. I’ve done lots of races, from parkrun up to the South Downs Way 100-miler, and that’s such a privilege. They are all different disciplines and I can, at best, describe myself as being able to vaguely understand what is involved. I certainly don’t think I am in any way special or good at it. My head tells me I’m more of a ruiner than a runner. In fact, the longer I do this running lark, the more I find myself thinking “Oh strewth. It’s 4pm and I haven’t done anything idiotic yet today. It must be coming soon!” and “That was a rookie mistake, I should know better!”

Running is fickle.

Obviously, we’re unable to train as a group currently, because of the pandemic. But when we’re back training again, what advice might you give to those preparing for their first half or full marathon, based on what you’ve learned yourself?

Advice is a tricky one. It is after all a form of nostalgia and often nothing more than an indulgence to those who dole it out.

I did read a book called Healing Back Pain, by John Sarno, prior to my first marathon. It basically promotes cardio exercise, as blood is the food and medicine for our body, and the more we exercise the better the blood does its job. He references a crackpot American university study. It involved offering boot camp style marathon training to a group of octogenarians. None of them came from any form of sporting background. Every one of them who did the training (of course some will have dropped out along the way) completed their first marathon at over 80 years old! Not only that, but on completion of their marathon, they were all assessed by doctors, who concluded that every single aspect of their health had improved, both physically and mentally.

That helped me realise that I would be able to get over the line!

The race is with yourself. Once you start trying to compare yourself with others, where will it end? Either alongside Mo Farah or, more likely, in frustration.

It’s hard. That’s why most people don’t run. They don’t manage to push past that hard stage to get to feel the benefits.

You really have to earn being a runner. Well done to all runners, wear your badge of courage with pride.

Randall, thanks very much for your time, and especially for sharing some of the more personal stuff. It’s great to see that the running seems to have a very positive impact, as regards your mental wellbeing… and physical wellbeing too, when you don’t over-do it! Hopefully we can meet up for a run again before long.

By Mike Bannister