Blog from the Chair: "Run for fun!"

Gary Shaughnessy – Chair of the Board for England Athletics – reflects on a thrilling 2022 and looks ahead to the next twelve months.

speech-markI’m sure that every runner has had moments where they question why they are running at all. I started this year with exactly that feeling and I finished last year in the same way!

I stood in the rain a couple of nights ago at a Runtogether session organised by the brilliant Steve McAvoy and looked up at another minute of running uphill in Steve’s pyramid session and gritted my teeth. In December, I felt the same as I ran sharply uphill (a fast walk really) as part of a Tadley Runners team competing on a new Marlow course in the Thames Valley Cross Country League. Half an hour later, in both cases, I was delighted to have pushed through – to beat my own expectation of myself just as the others around me had.

"The variety of experiences I’ve been able to be part of over the last six months and that I see looking forward reinforces just how varied our sport is and how much joy it brings to participants, volunteers, and spectators."

Amongst other things, I was fortunate to witness a brilliant England Athletics team succeed again and again in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the Games themselves creating energy and belief across the country. Each day, the England Athletics team hosted a run, jump, and throw stand based on funetics, with hundreds of youngsters taking part. Energising understates it!

In September, I was fortunate to be one of 30,000 runners in the Berlin marathon. Eliud Kipchoge broke the world record and once again threatened the two-hour mark. I was more than two hours behind him and had plenty of time to focus on the sights but, against my expectations, I too broke my personal best at the age of 56.

The last quarter of 2022 brought our superb Hall of Fame in October and the England Athletics Regional Volunteer Awards where I was fortunate to meet some wonderful people who make the sport happen for so many others. Meeting 90-year-old Joe Cleverley who has volunteered for the last 70 years was a special highlight. Across the country, clubs and running groups say thank you in their own way and I wanted to say thanks too.

"And then there was the launch of the Personal Best Foundation – the sport working together to make it easier for everyone to access the opportunities and the joy that the sport brings. The commitment of so many talented athletes at the launch was wonderful to see."

Two more marathons helped finish off the year – running with the brilliant friends and family of the team AEFAT. In each event, roughly 20 runners took turns pushing five youngsters with Ataxia Telegentsia in special wheelchairs. The combined groups’ delight at completing the runs in San Sebastián and Valencia was matched by the incredible support of the crowds and other runners. It was a privilege to be there.

Finally, I finished the year surprised and delighted with two parkruns – my best time of 23:50 at Newbury parkrun and then a leisurely jog round with 200 others on Christmas Day.

This year has started at pace, training for swimming, cycling, and running events including the Paris, Newport, and Madrid marathons. At the end of January, I’m looking forward to attending a Sportshall event in Norfolk and there’s a wealth of indoor and outdoor events, cross country, road running, and track and field, as well as the simple enjoyment of being involved that comes for the many millions who regularly take part in our sport in the UK.

"Volunteers, officials, coaches, athletes, and spectators all play a vital role in making this sport work both for the elite competitor and the fun runner, across all ages and all capabilities. Recognising and thanking those who dedicate their time and energy to the sport and those around them is so important. It has been great to see those recognised in the New Year’s Honours List."

2023 promises to be an exciting year, full of hope and optimism for athletics and running across England. The year will bring the World Athletics Championships to Paris (July) and Budapest (mid-August) as well as the Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago.

This next 12 months is vitally important as we work to make competition more exciting across the board, respond to the challenges of sustainability, technology, and the economic backdrop as well as build greater capacity in the breadth and depth of our volunteer, officials, and coaching base.

One wonderful way of being able to positively affect change is through involvement in our democratic Regional Council structure and with elections happening in January, we actively encourage nominations from candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Bringing it back to how I started this blog, I know that I’ll have more moments in 2023 when I question why I’m stood in the rain training, but I also know that my physical and mental health benefits enormously from being involved in this sport and at the end of the year it’ll be the friendships, achievements, and moments of joy that I’ll remember more than anything.

Good luck to you all for 2023!

Gary Shaughnessy (Chair – England Athletics)