Running is becoming my life.

A simple face book post led to the biggest life change i could ever imagine.

“I’m doing a 17 mile training run. Does anyone fancy joining me?”

Well how difficult could it be? I have always had a level of fitness and thought “Why not give it a go”. My knees ached a bit after the run but i generally felt pretty good for someone who had never run that distance before. And i was hooked.

& years on and i am in a good place and so close to being able to support myself financially in the running world. I own my own events company http://www.andovertrailevents.com. As a freelance worker i work as part of a safety team on many extreme ultra marathons around the UK national parks, I am operations manager for a large London based events company and have recently taken on the role of race director for another events company. Still holding down my full time job as a HGV driver is becoming very difficult. Although my boss could not be more supportive.

Andover Trail Events LTD has and is a very exciting journey opening many doors for me along the way.

September 2015, i ran just a normal training run and on returning home checking my watch stats realized i the run i had just done was exactly a marathon. My head exploded with ideas. I phone my good friend Phil ( he is a computer guy). I knew how to put on an event i thought but needed help with a website and marketing etc. Over a few beers in the garden “Andover Trail Marathon” was born and so my life changed forever.

The following brain storming session proved that although i had entered and raced in a lot of events i really didn’t know how to host one but we got started all the same. Putting the feelers out on social media was very nerve racking but relieved to say there was great interest from local runners.

The inaugural Andover Trail Marathon was scheduled for September 2nd 2016, A whole year to teach myself how to put on a successful running event. If i didn’t admit i was winging it i would be lying. We found a great local charity to benefit from our event and were very fortunate t be able to use thier grounds for our race village. http://www.enhamtrust.org.uk/ . We still work with them today and have a great relationship.

So what is involved in hosting an event for the first time?

I’m not really one for writing lists for things so you can imagine the horror when i started writing the to do list for our first event, it just went on and on and on. Insurance, marketing, website, social media coverage, charity, venue, toilets,medics, gazebos, generators, gantry, signage, ticket prices, prizes. Just on and on and on. With no money and no clue, what could possibly go wrong.

And so this thing just started emerging from nothing. Although i had competed in a lot of races i had not met any race directors so didn’t really have anyone to cross reference with. The best thing i thought would work is to create a race that I would enjoy running. When i look for a race it has to be quite low key, no pomp and glamour. It has to be on trails and be tough enough that when you reach the finish line you first thoughts are “Thank fuck that’s finished. I was running a lot in my local area and knew the trails really well so set about planning a route to meet the above requirements. Now the thing is, if you make a race too hard you only attract a small number of hard core runners out to smash thier next hardcore challenge so it has to be a happy medium. Plenty of hills but not such big hills that it feels you are climbing the whole damn race, mix that with long downhill sections to get a good pace on and you have a race that runners feel they have worked hard on. As luck had it, with a little bit of tweaking the training run i talked about was a marathon distance with the start and finish at Enham Trust, so not too much work required there. I also put a half marathon together and marketed it as “Andover Trail Marathon/Half Marathon.” Catchy right?

Next can the tedious job of finding out who owns the land that our event passes through. Although You DO NOT need permission to use public rights of way, i thought it only right to seek out the land owners and just ask if they had any objections. The positivity form them all was amazing, receiving invites from some of the to walk sections of the route to ask me nicely to not run on certain areas. I met a really nice guy called Jonathon Sykes, he is the manager of a huge estate we run through. He taught me a lot over the following years. I have learnt about licenced grass areas, pheasant feeding and breeding areas and the most important lesson of them all was to clean up after yourself as soon as you are finished. Leave no trace of your event from the very first moment. By all means place signage up but clear it up straight away. Something i failed to do on the first event and boy did i hear about it. A great lesson learnt.

Now one problem stood in my way and still does to this day. I get very anxious when i need to speck to people such as land owners and people in authority. If the conversation has to start with “I was wondering if i could” or ” Could i please”. These types of conversations can take months to happen. Not because the person i need to speck to is in anyway being difficult but because it terrifies me. Even now, if i need to speck to someone even if they are being paid by me to do thing s for us i find it so difficult to approach them. Asking for something or for help or telling someone that something is not right and needs changing causes massive hurdles for me. I am slowly learning how to deal with these situations. I come across to most as this confident little bloke who just gets on with it but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have left things right up to the very last week before an event before having the courage to ask a question. Very odd i know.

Everything was coming together nicely and September 2nd was approaching fast. Advertising was going OK i guess but as a runner myself i know nobody is really interested in an inaugural event. There are no reviews, nobody really knows anything about you and as far as they are concerned you are just another nobody trying to put on a new event. Recognition comes much later. Even now i still have so much to learn about marketing and reaching target audiences and it will come in time. I have managed to muster up enough volunteers to help out on the day. Friends and family mostly. We had a back marker and a first aider and a caterer, a start finish line made up of scaffold poles that i bought from a local builder, medals i had bought on Amazon and 70 people who wanted to give Andover Trail Marathon/Half Marathon a go.

The day before the race a few of us spent 10 hours marking the course. My poor long suffering wife Carol was a home sorting out paperwork and organizing all the finer details for race day. On my return home there were the water containers to fill, aid station food to buy (you can imagine the funny looks i got buying a full trolley of bananas) and a final check to see what was going to go wrong first. Bed around midnight then no sleep until 0400 hrs just laying in bed thinking about every worse case scenario.

Race day

Up at 0400 hrs just to pace around the house some more really. I’m not suhre why i needed to be up so early but it seems to have embedded itself in to my normal event day routine. Car and van loaded with what seemed to be the entire contents of my house and time to go and set up the race village. A few gazebos is all there was really. We didn’t need the gantry after all as we had an archway as part of the buildings at Enham Trust. Piers form Willow Catering https://www.facebook.com/WillowsCatering/ arrived and had the coffee on before i even had chance to say good morning, my kind of guy. There was just one thing bothering me and for the life of me i couldn’t think what it could be. Then it dawned on me. “COWS”. I had talked to a farmer months before race day who had promised he would move his herd of cows so we could run through his field without runners being trampled to death by a stampede of curious bullocks. One hour before the start of the race i ran to the field to discover it was indeed full of the afore mentioned bullocks. With no time to contact the farmer we had to reroute the start of the race, turn the start finish banner round and hope for the best. My mates Phil and Dan were out on thier bikes checking the route and signage and the 70 runners where standing around looking a lot more anxious than me. People were commenting on how calm i looked about everything. The Enham Trust manager was loving the vibe and things were good to go.

Now the moment i had been dreading the most. “Race brief” I heard the words come out in a kind of shouty authoritative voice. “Good morning, could everyone gather round and i will run through a few things with you”, now completely out of my comfort zone i began explaining a few points about the race and event managed a few jokes that some (only some) laughed at. As i’m finishing of i reassure everyone that all the hard work yesterday marking the route would make for a trouble free race, explaining that the lads were on thier bikes checking the signs and very confidently announced “Nobody can get lost” just as Sam who was stood behind me taking photos answered her phone to Phil who was out checking the route who was in fact LOST. As she whispered the good news over my shoulder i could have cried, instead i turned the runners round to face the start line, checked stop watches and shouted “On the count of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GOOOOOO”.

Then a very strange thing happened. I just completely relaxed. i calmly walked to Sam to chat to LOST Phil instructed him on where he had gone only very slightly wrong then went and hugged my wife.

That was that. Everything went amazingly well. No one got lost or injured, all aid stations were set up and ready to receive the tired runners and everybody was happy and had an amazing day.

One guy missed the turning to come to the finish line but other than that the day went very smoothly. We got great reviews and loads of really positive feedback. The charity received nearly £1000 in donations and have invited us back ever since. The event has grown bigger and better year on year and as a company we have also grown and matured. We now host 4 race days through out the year ranging from 10km runs to a 50 mile ultra marathon. I have around 8 contract staff who work with me very closely on all my events and who i love dearly. And Andover Trail Events goes from strength to strength.

5 thoughts on “Running is becoming my life.

  1. Really nice Mark, you should be so so proud of yourself, you and Carol and your gorgeous girls. You have achieved so much in such a short space of time and I believe you have great things ahead of you.

  2. Really nice blog entry, Mark.

    I’m new to running and new to Andover too! The quality and number of trails to run around here is amazing; we’re quite spoilt!

    Andover Train Marathon last year was my first of your events and – apart from some knee issues at around 19miles – I loved it!

    Had signed up and was training for the Testway 40 (as my next step-up in distance), which was sadly cancelled for obvious reasons, but I’m already looking forward to having a crack at it when it returns.

    Thanks for all you and your team do – fantastic job.

    Best wishes,

    Chris

  3. Love hearing about the other side. You always appear very confident. Having volunteered once and run your events twice, I’ve always had a fantastic day. Can’t wait to get back to it!

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