Friday, 12 July 2013

Interview with Jon Cobb - runner, blogger, general good egg....

I have been looking forward to publishing this little interview with my friend Jon, a man who we have known for sometime.  We rate him highly for many things - which includes him being a fellow runner.  Here's our conversation:

"Jon, what led you into becoming a runner?  What kind of distances and times do you run?"

When I was at school I ran the 800metres, but I remember coming last in the Luton all schools final for over 16’s and the lad who won the under 13’s got a faster time than me so I was no Coe or Ovett! I also was a smoker from the age of 13 which obviously didn’t help. Yes I played rugby and Soccer but when I left school I completely gave up all sports, becoming an armchair critic and taking the easy option of buying bigger sized jeans each year. I look at photos of me in my thirties and they really are quite scary, I wasn’t looking after myself. 

What triggered a change was an odd thing: The decommissioning of Concorde! I had always wanted to fly in it and had this down as one of my goals. I realised it was too late and so I revisited my list of goals to see if there were any other ones in which I might be on a countdown. I had always wanted to try my hand at boxing when I was younger but my father was quite anti, so it had never happened. So, as a 45 year old I walked into a boxing gym in London and trained. Fear is a wonderful motivator and I very soon realised that the fitter I was the less chance I had of being hurt! After 6 months I appeared on a show, which my wife attended, and watched me have seven bells knocked out of me, and she told me I wasn’t doing that again! (I’d go back and do it all again tomorrow, I loved it!)

At that time I was quite outspoken against running, as I couldn’t see the point. I did a bit as part of the boxing training, but reluctantly. It didn’t help that I ran in a pair of fashionable Lacoste trainers and my hip always ended up very sore!

In 2008 I was talking to an old school friend who sadly had a hereditary condition that made him blind, and he asked if I would run with him in the London Marathon. Now that was a challenge that inspired me, and so the next night I went out and managed to run a mile. The next day I did it again, and bit by bit it increased. The rest is history, 10k’s, halfs, then full marathons. I absolutely love running now and can’t imagine not running. In fact, being unable to run is a fear of mine if I’m honest.

Wow, that’s interesting Jon.  It must have been an honour to be asked.  What was running alongside a blind person like? What’s involved?

Mark’s partially sighted, so I didn’t need to be attached to him or anything like that, he just ran alongside me and I basically had to commentate the whole time, if someone slowed down in front of him they were in danger of getting their heels stamped on and losing their shoe! It was in training that he really showed how brave he was as I would forget to concentrate and he would trip on a pavement or a pot-hole. His knees were covered in cuts. I have the fullest admiration for him.

I agree, I like the half marathon best of all and I think we run similar times.  I think many new runners like the idea of going straight for a half.  Do you think this is a good first race or perhaps a 10k?

My favourite distance is the half marathon, and my PB is 1;41;57 and I’ve definitely got a sub 1;40 in me, but my favourite race is the Oakley 20 which is a delightful 20 miler organised by the excellent Bedford Harriers. It’s undulating, in beautiful countryside, and just short of hitting the wall!

One of the problems is cost nowadays. I do feel that races are quite expensive, and therefore one has to be selective. The first year I trained for the London Marathon, I entered two 10ks and four halfs (Stevenage, Bedford, Watford, Silverstone) but today that may well cost you about £150 in entry fees alone. 

For that reason, I think it’s easy enough to incorporate 10ks into a training regime, and actually go straight for a half. I think the other thing is not to underestimate what a 10k can take out of you if you run off too fast! I remember doing the Luton 10k and for the first 3 miles I ran with the club runners up at the front and I thought ‘this is easy’ but by the fourth mile I was overtaken by a steady procession of runners as I had nothing left in the tank. That can be quite soul destroying, so there’s an argument to run those distances only as a training run.   

"What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you as a runner?" 

I ran the London Marathon in 2011 and I made a mistake and played football 10 weeks before and I went over and twisted my ankle. To be honest I should have pulled out, but I already had started to get sponsored for my charity, but I really wasn’t prepared on the day, I just hadn’t put the miles in, and it turned out to be a hot day. 

I remember coming up to Tower bridge at about mile 13 and I knew I wasn’t right. I couldn’t keep my gels down, and they found me at Canary Walk and a little delirious! I got taken into the St Johns ambulance tent and I can remember hearing the doctor say ‘this man is seriously dehydrated, we need to get fluid into him quickly!’ 

They told me my race was over, and they got my son & his girlfriend to come and fetch me, but I wasn’t missing out on my medal, so once round the corner I re-joined the race and finished. I came in in 5:15 but felt a bit of a fraud as I’d had a 45 minute lie down!

"How does running benefit you?"

Oh in so many ways other than health and weight control. Three times a week I do a five mile jog at lunchtime. I’ll vary it between 7;30 minute miles and 8:30 minute miles, but breaking up my work day definitely increases my productivity in the afternoon. I feel cerebrally fitter as well.

I have a pretty stressful job and I need time to process things. A run is ideal for this. 

"You're also a Christian.  Does running connect with your faith in any way?"

Massively. Jacob wrestled with God, and the Psalms are full of ‘why God??’ appeals. That’s me when I’m out running, but its also about perspective, because I believe he created the universe, including the world and including little old England, and I think he did a fine job of it. Stumbling across a herd of deer, a hare, the smell of cut grass, there’s so much to enjoy, and it’s a reminder that he’s both powerful and loving. If he wasn’t loving why would he create something so beautiful?

I was on holiday in Turkey and I was out running and I disturbed this bush which was just full of these yellow butterflies which I assumed were blossom. The whole bush exploded as they all flew up in the air. Incredible!

I can identify with that Jon!  It’s also been said we can worship God in all we do, would you go along with this with running in mind?

At differing levels Doug: One is that we are told that our bodies are temples, places where God dwells through his spirit, so we want to keep it clean & healthy. But additionally, the longer I’m alive and healthy, the longer I can serve Him. 

"With staying in good shape for running, do you do anything else?  

I enjoy going to the gym. I have to be careful because gyms can be pretty vain places and I don’t want to get into that whole ‘body beautiful’ stuff.   Keeping fit is about sustaining my life and not about ripped muscles and sixpacks, but I know that I could easily get into that when I’m surrounded by a bunch of body builders who make me look quite small. 

Muscular blokes don’t make particularly good runners anyway! But I do enjoy a good work out and typically a session will involve an 8 minute warm up on a bike, some cardio on both the rower and the stepper, and then a session on the mats with either kettle bells or medicine balls. 

I’m always conscious that after 45 minutes, nobody looks as sweaty and exhausted as me! 

Does this gym training help with running?

Not necessarily, but I guess any kind of cross training is better than nothing. I would suggest anything which works on your core is good for running, but as I’ve said before, you just have to be careful about getting carried away and bulking up when you go to certain types of gym. Arnold Schwarzenegger never ran a marathon as far as I can tell! 

"What would be your "Top Tip" for a new runner?"

A couple of things Doug: Firstly, running is great because it allows for easily defined goals based on either distance or speed (or both!) so there’s plenty of targets that will keep you focused during those early weeks. Keep it small to start, involving running and walking and build it up. Perhaps the first goal is to run a mile non stop, or to run non stop for ten minutes. The only person you are competing against is yourself. 

Secondly, get a proper pair of running shoes having sought advice at a dedicated running shop where they can asses whether your running style. I stupidly ran for quite a long time before I did this, and did a lot of damage to my hip. It isn’t comfortable, it’s demotivating if it hurts and you could be doing a lot of damage. There’s not a great deal of expense in running, and I buy all my tops in the sales, but you need to look after your feet with a decent pair of running socks and a decent pair of Asics, saucony or NewBalance running shoes. 

And Jon is also a blogger, so why not go over for a read on his site:

Finally, thank you Jon for such a great run this evening!

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