Charlie Spedding, The Runner's Runner by Stuart Hale

6th Mar 2012

The Runners 'Runner' - guest blog by Stuart Hale, owner of Sheffield running store, Accelerate, about why he's so chuffed to be introducing Charlie Spedding ahead of his talk at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival at 17.30 on Saturday (10th March).

"I took the pace from 5 minutes per mile up to 4 minutes 47 seconds, and suddenly it was hurting.  After so many miles of waiting for the attack to come, it was a magnificent feeling to be the one attacking.  I didn't need to look around me to see what was happening because the sun was low in the sky and directly behind us.  I couldn't see the other runners but I could see their shadows on the road in front of me.  I pushed on and on, and as each hard-earned quarter mile went by, another shadow disappeared."  (Extract from 'From Last To First', published 2009, by Charlie Spedding).

Well that about sums up why for many runners, probably of a certain age, consider Charlie Spedding to be the "Runner's Runner".  He achieved what he did through shear hard work, guts, determination and by planning ahead.  Couple this with the fact he is a true gentleman, quiet and reserved (well most of the time!) and knowledgeable about his sport; it is not surprising that he is considered inspirational and something of a legend. Yet only quietly so.

That said, that may just be the way Charlie likes things.

As a young man I began running at the start of the '80's' jogging boom.  Shorts were short, and vest were the norm and sometimes 'stringy'!  You ran for your club, with pride, and the first long distance road running heroes were emerging, in the main from the North East and Midlands, with the exception of one Essex based chap who made his mark in the early 90's.  With the birth of the London Marathon came new levels of aspiration for the club runner and for those with quicker feet at the elite end of the pack.  They were great times, emerging and shaping the future of running and racing.  They were days were your time mattered, PBs all important and the objective of finishing a race was, well, given.

Charlie, ran for Gateshead and worked his way through the ranks of the club system and took a systematic approach to moving up to the marathon.  He was never a bad runner yet it was not until he moved up to the marathon that you realise how good a runner he truly was.

Yet, to my mind at least, he never ever received the acclaim he so richly deserves.  He has won an Olympic Bronze, he is the current English Marathon record Holder, his lowest finishing position in any Marathon is 8th and has competed in two Olympic games (his lowest position being 6th).  His best time of 2.08.33 would in 2011 have placed him 7th in the London Marathon, with his closest English rival finishing in 2.14.27.  Kinda puts things in perspective really.

The Los Angeles Olympic Marathon is considered one of the greatest ever collections of leading contenders to toe the start line.  Famous names like Carlos Lopes, Rob De Castella, Alberta Salazar plus the rising runners from the African nations which included Juma Ikangaa.  You also couldn't rule out runners like Rob Dixon, Toshihiko Seko and John Treacy.

1984 Olympic Men's Marathon

It was Spedding who took the race on, was forced to battle for 2nd spot with Treacy, in what was a very memorable race in that Lopez broke the Olympic Marathon record.  It was one competitive race and one in which Spedding was a true competitor - how often in the men's Olympic Marathon have we been able to say that about a Brit?

So if you are looking for a reason to come along to hear Charlie speak at this years ShAFF (Saturday 10th), then it probably doesn't need much thinking about, does it? really?  How often do we get an opportunity to listen to a Record Holder, Olympian and Author. I have no doubt, having read his book 'From Last to First', met the man and heard him speak that he will be inspirational, not without an opinion, yet down to earth and knowledgeable.

I have the honour of welcoming and introducing Charlie on the evening.  I will then sit back and listen to the man's 'Story of His Running', the steps he took and decisions he made to get to the very top of the sport.  There was no lottery funding, no cars provided by sponsors and if he was lucky Charlie would be given his running shoes in return for helping to sell Nike onto the growing crowds of runners.  Miles away from today's heavily supported athletes... how times have changed.  Indeed how times have changed, or in fact haven't, as UK male marathon times have gone backwards.  I am sure he will have something to say on this topic too...

Charlie Spedding: The Runners Runner.  I wouldn’t miss this talk for all the tea in China and I like tea!