Adventure from a young age!
Being a young lad growing up in a Northern town in the heart of Lancashire I was always looking to be away from the house. Always getting into mischief somewhere with my group of friends, which was no different from a lot of kids at that time. But always looking for an adventure from a young age!
Has I grew, and my adventures had started to take me further, I started to look at more active ways to occupy my time. I was already doing long bike rides on my second-hand Chopper bicycle, and this became a part of me.
At the time I was making newspaper rounds 7 days a week. Monday to Saturday where evening rounds, and Sunday morning. To get to the newsagent shop I worked at was approximately 2 miles bike ride, so I had already put in a good amount of exercise before I had started my round.
Sundays where always the best for me because I would always get to the shop, probably around 4:30am. When I arrived, I would get into the shopkeepers (Frank Davies) old Rover 90 until he got up.
It was always left open, and because it had very comfortable leather seats, I would fall asleep until he woke me when he got in.
On Sundays mostly we would go and collect the bundles of newspapers from the wholesaler, so it was a chance for the heater to get me warmed up, especially on the cold winter mornings.
Back at the shop the rounds would be written out by Mr. Davies (Frank) and bagged up ready for the other paperboys/girls to collect when they finally got out of bed. Being the first in at such an early time would become very beneficial for me, because I could have 2 or 3 rounds done before any of the others turned up in the morning.
Plus, there was always a phone call to say one of the kids was not going to show that morning.
I did this for many years working the same way, and over time I was making quite a considerable amount of money for a young kid. Plus, I noticed I was developing muscular as a young teenager. Which brings me onto the reason for this anecdote of my life.
Growing out of adolescence!
Being always fit I was chosen many times to represent myself in the school running competitions. This I was enjoying very much, considering I would either be out walking the countryside or riding my bike to my part time job.
I had a chance to showcase my athleticism to my classmates. Not many of my friends at the time where aware of just how fit I had become. I was never a footballer or a rugby player, I enjoyed the individuality of what I did for recreation.
One sports event at school I was chosen by my schoolteacher (Mr. Kearney) to represent our class in the 1500 Metres race. There were no knockout stages, it was just the chosen number of kids to do the race.
Before the race started, I decided to take my plimsols off (cheap Adidas trainers I seem to recall at the time). I kind of got some crazy & snide comments from a few of the classmates. I knew I was going to make them eat their words once the starting gun went off!
When the gun started, we all set off at what I thought was a leisurely pace, keeping grouped together for the first 1 and half laps, I thought this is going too slow for me. So, I started to quicken the pace from about 800 Metres and broke away.
I was now distancing myself from the rest of the kids at quite a pace, and I was not feeling tired. In fact, I was relishing the feeling, as most of the school was now cheering me on, seeing just how fast I was going.
Of course, I won the race, by more than 200 Metres from the second spot, and I was cheered & congratulated again when I had finished the race. I felt euphoric at the achievement, because I had proven to myself, I am not just a scrawny little kid, but had potential to achieve better.
Winning new friends!
It was at the end of the sports day when Mr. Kearney approached me as I was walking up the little hill from the playing fields. I was alone at the time, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and these words he spoke to me stuck with me for the rest of my life.
He said “Tom, that’s the best race I have ever seen any kid run in all the time I have been teaching, keep that up and you can go far”. With that he carried on walking and left me with my thoughts. I was touched by his words, because he was not a person to be has forthcoming as that in the classroom (at least what I thought at the time).
From that day I was going to pursue my running ability in athletics, which later became cross-country running & half marathons.
By now I had enlisted in the British Army with some help from my dad, and playing truant from school one day (yes, still a little rebellious I have to say).
The next few months I counted down by doing part time jobs for a few pounds to help me buy the things I loved. Mainly the trendiest Doc Martin boots, Fred Perry t-shirts (I always had to have at least 5 different colours, yellow, navy blue, black, maroon, and a sky blue from what I recall.
Away from the street clothes, I bought expensive running shoes, because I figured if the top athletes are using them, then I must have them too. At the time I remember buying a pair of sky-blue Adidas marathon shoe.
They for me looked top drawer, and I made sure they were always cleaned of scuffs & marks.
Making it as a man!
May 1980 was my enlistment day, I left my family at Piccadilly train station, Manchester and travelled down to Bath, Wiltshire to start my army training. I was to join the Junior Leader Regiment Royal Corp of Transport, which would be 138 days of my basic training.
Junior Leaders at the time was considered the Training Regiment for potential NCO´s, so we all knew we had a “cut above the rest” from other enlisting soldiers. Not that it was ever something to brag about, that notion was soon knocked out of you when we arrived into camp.
I remember stepping off the train with all the other guys, and was lined up on the platform, when the Corporal walked along the line started to make comment to each of us has, he inspected the groups.
The first thing he said to me was “you had better make sure you grow your hair, it´s TOO short”. I was thinking at the time there is probably not many times he has to say that to new recruits.
I did however have a Skinhead #1, and with my Burgundy Doc Martins, Blue Levi’s & Burgundy Fred Perry, I was probably looking a little intimidating, although at a mere 5´5″ tall, I found it hard to comprehend.
Welcome to the real world!
Well a new environment, new friends, and hard work with the training kept my thought away from North West England, and my friends back home. There was good times and bad during my first few months basic training, but looking back on it now, it really did provide great personal discipline and self-pride.
Although from an early age I had always prided myself on being well turned out, with clothes ironed, and all the creases in the right place!
It was during my basic training that I was recognised again for my athleticism, and I was proving to be an adequately good runner in the Regimental Cross Country tournaments, and was invited on many occasion to represent the JLRTC in many army, navy, and air force cross country tournaments.
Plus winning a few trophies along the way. It was during one exercise in Germany (Snow Queen), that I was introduced to “langlauf” skiing. Mainly due to my cross-country running attributes, and that I was achieving very respectable running times.
I really enjoyed this form of skiing over downhill or slalom. Plus, I could also show off my shooting ability too, which was also observed during my training back in Colerne, Wiltshire.
I was asked to stay on 6 weeks more in Germany to train for an Army Competition coming up. Another first, I was now away from my own Junior Leader Troop, and billeted in Bunde, Germany, with all the other regular guys.
Most days where just spent road running 10 to 15 KMS per day, lunch break, and then another training session in the afternoon. My memory is very vague on the outcome of the race itself, but I do remember being placed 3rd if I recall, which was a massive achievement considering I was running against some of the best in the British Army.
“the only competition you have now is with yourself! Conquer it wisely”!
I spent 4 years altogether in the British Army, doing many Half Marathons in my new base town of Aldershot, now running against some very good runners at the time. I wasn´t Olympic standard and did not have the dedication to go all out to be that way, but I was able to achieve sub 5-minute miles constantly during training & race days.
My best achievement for a Half Marathon is 1:07:45, which I am still very proud of.
I remained competitive right up until the day I left the army, and this was always shown during our Battle Fitness Tests (BFT) runs, which ended with a 1-mile fast sprint to the finish line back at the barracks.
This phase of the test I always like to show off a little, because as soon as the whistle sounded, I was off like a whippet. We are running in lightweight trousers, a red or white cotton t-shirt, and DM Boots with Puttees.
For the full mile I would be sprinting as fast as I could, and never once was I ever caught by any of my colleagues. My personal best was 6 minutes 45 seconds, and I left the British Army with the legacy that my record had never been broken within our squadron.
Making it in Civvy Street
By now I am working in civvy street and my army days are behind me! I am keeping up with the road running because it was something I really enjoyed. The freedom of being out on your own pacing out mile after mile, and not really concentrating on time, but finishing the course I had set out for myself.
I was probably covering over 100 miles per week on different routes around my local & neighbouring towns.
Going back to my running shoes, I was still investing hundreds of pounds in good footwear, and for me Reebok was the shoe! Originally a typical UK brand born not too far for my hometown in Bolton, Lancashire.
Whenever there was a new style launched, I would jump in my car down to the Reebok Wholesale office in Bolton to see if I could pick up a new shoe from them. They were at the time THE running shoe company to have if you where an athlete or competitive runner like me!
I then started to have that competitive streak come back to me, not really for races, but to see how far I could push myself each run. Some days it would only be a 10 Miles run, and the longest would be 20 Miles.
The longest on Sunday when there was less traffic, running from my house at Pilsworth, Heywood through Rochdale & Littleborough towards Todmorden, Lancashire. The route was mapped out to exactly 10 miles, and the return journey the exact same.
I achieved every run where I could average 5 Minute Miles for the complete run, and still be able to but in a sprint finish through my local town back home.
No races to be won, no trophies to be collected, just another personal goal achieved, and a sense of fulfilment after every run. Oh, and the shoes on my feet where the flash every person saw when I raced past them.
The body takes its toll!
Eventually after years of road running and finding the time to fit the runs in each day, it was time to hang up the running shoes and look for a new activity to keep my body active.
At the time also I was looking a little too thin for my liking, but the I was always muscle ripped, especially in my legs. It was then I got introduced to a local gym by a friend of mine (Don Heap).
I started training hard, just like I always do, and started to produce more upper muscle mass! I started to lose the “runners’ body” and started to become bigger over time. I was not looking to compete in Body Building competitions, but I did enjoy the dedication these guys put into the sport.
I helped spotting for Don on many training days, until he got to the point, he needed somebody stronger than I was to help. I was not in his league and I was never looking to get that way.
For many years I kept the training going, and kept myself fit, which even to this day at 59 Years Old, I can still hold my own against any other guy my age.
Stay grounded and be humble!
All this self-belief & dedication has kept me grounded, but at the same time given me confidence, far away from my early childhood days, being somewhat shy & retiring around people.
I am still the same humble person brought up on a housing estate in North West England, but I had experienced many achievements before I had even reached 20 years old. None of them I am ashamed of, and very happy to have lived them all.
Now I am still walking around 10 KMS every other day, just keeping active, but no gym workouts or running. My knees have taken their toll over the years, and afraid to say they couldn´t last more than a mile without giving in. The one thing I enjoy the most is just being out in nature; it does not matter where I am too.
I can lose myself for hours on a trail, or deep in the jungle, or just climbing the nearest mountain to take in the view. I am at home no matter the environment.
I always prepare myself for the trip of the day, small backpack, drinks, snacks, my camera, and a comfortable pair of walking boots or shoes.
The one thing that has never left me from my early childhood, invest in good sound pair of footwear! I have recently had to retire a very faithful pair of walking boots after owning them for 20 years.
My Brasher® Hillmasters finally succumb to old age & fatigue! They had served me through thousands of miles of adventures, over many different terrains & environments, but never once did they let me down. They were durable right to the end and remained waterproof right up until the seams could not hold off any longer. They had travelled with me through the UK, Mexico, USA, Panama & Peru, and eventually had to be retired back in Mexico for the last time.
For me there was no other walking boot that fitted my needs better than the Brasher Hillmaster because they were so durable, but so light too. I could wear them for 8 to 10 hours walking each day and they would never be uncomfortable whatsoever,
When I returned to England, I found that the Burgaus company had taken over the making of Brasher Hillmaster boots, so it was decided to invest in a new pair. They were still the same design from the old original Brasher, so this was what sold them to me again.
Just the name Brasher makes me know I am investing in sound footwear but originated from an English gentleman (Chris Brasher) who I shared his passion for running & walking. Everything about this man I could relate to.
Moving years ahead, I invest now in many of the Brasher clothing ranges available for walking, hiking, mountaineering, because the styling is designed for the dedicated outdoors person.
Very durable, well designed for whichever activity you are encountering, and most of all “typically British”.