The lad from Lancashire with the love of outdoors shares his story of how orienteering was his introduction to running and how in turn running was a great way of avoiding football at school. Stewart Gregory has kindly shared his life and running memories with us.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself? i.e. where you grew up, family etc.
I am a northern lad. I grew up in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire (think Accrington, Blackburn, Burnley and you are in the right area). I remember a lot of my childhood being spent outdoors with my younger brother and sister (a lot of it in the rain of course). We were surrounded by the West Pennine Moors in an area big into its fell running, although I wasn’t a runner until my early teens. I left home to go to University in Dundee, where I studied architecture. I worked in Edinburgh for a while between degrees and moved to Nottingham when I graduated. Val and I met in the bar at Holme Pierrepont Running Club in 1990, and the rest is history. We moved to Brighton when we bought a flat at Preston Park in 2013, although it wasn’t until 2018 that I finally left my job in Nottingham to move here “properly”.
When did you first start running?
In 1979 aged 14. I know this as it was the age I suddenly grew out of the terrible asthma I had suffered with as a child. Until then I had never been able to participate in any sport at all. My Dad has always said that he credits my recovery from asthma to a teacher who started taking a group from our school to orienteering events. I started walking around the easiest courses at these events and soon found myself running them and progressed from there. So orienteering was my introduction to running and I remember loving everything about it. We were taken to events all over the north west and it was this that instilled my love of the outdoors and the Lake District (more of which later).
What made you start running?
Once I started running to orienteer, it became a great way of avoiding football at school, which I hated. Our games teacher would let us go running (yes, out on the streets on our own!) rather than having to play football very badly. Schools cross country and athletics followed and I have many fond memories of cross country courses in the mud and rain of a Lancashire winter. All my running was off-road or summer track racing (particularly 800m and 1500m for me – I have never been able to sprint), and I was still doing a lot of orienteering when I went to university in 1983, and joined the orienteering club there.
How many years have you been running for?
Whilst I have been running since 1979 I always put the start of my “serious” running as 1990 when I moved to Nottingham and joined Holme Pierrepont. Like many, I got inspired watching the London Marathon and thought “I can do that”! Why do so many runners start with a marathon? I don’t remember any problem getting an entry back then so found myself with an entry for that year’s race. Whilst I was running a lot I really didn’t have a clue what running a marathon might involve and my preparation included spending the week before the race drinking too much Guinness whilst on a fishing holiday with a mate in Ireland. So it was that I did my first marathon in 3:38. Somehow that was deemed good enough to put me with “the fast guy” on several legs of a weekend relay that the club was organising, and that Val was the team leader for!
When did you join the Hedgehoppers and why/what made you become a regular?
I joined in August 2016, just before the Hove Hornets Stinger WSFRL race. Val had joined Hoppers a bit before me and persuaded me to join so I could run this race for the club. I still remember Ann cheering me in to the finish at the rugby club and asking others in surprise “who was that Hopper who has just won?!”
Best thing about being a Hopper?
Running for the club in the WSFRL races where we have such great team spirit. The WSFRL is a great series of races that I have always enjoyed since that first Stinger. It is great that we get such good numbers out, support each other, and compete at the pointy end of the table (not bad for a little club). That and the multitude of cake.
Favourite running memory i.e. that WOW moment?
This one is difficult. There are a number of things I am very proud of, including my 2:32 London Marathon, racing for GB in world duathlon championships and a mid-table position on the Elite course at the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon (now the OMM). However, fell racing has always been my first love, particularly in the Lake District. There can therefore only be one favourite running memory, and that is my completion of the Bob Graham Round at the first time of trying in a time of 22 hours 27 mins. For those not in the know, the Bob Graham Round is a round of 42 Lake District peaks covering a distance of about 66 miles (106kms) and 26,900 feet (8,200m) of climb, which has to be completed within 24 hours. I could write a whole piece about that, the whole thing was just a perfect weekend of Lake District running. I had a great bunch of mates supporting me on the fells, but it was Val as team leader and roadie/chef who was the lynchpin of the whole thing.
What’s the longest distance you’ve ever run?
The Bob Graham Round.
Favourite running event and why?
This has changed recently. Before I had to have major knee surgery in January 2017 I would have said any fell race in the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales or Lake District. However, the knee surgery has meant that fell racing is not something I will be able to do again. Instead therefore I would say any of the Downs-based WSFRL races (my knee can just about cope with the gentle slopes of the Downs), although I am still partial to testing myself on 10k road races or any cross country races.
Do you have a nickname and how did you come by it?
I seemed to attract a number at my previous club but the ones that stuck were Whippet and Skipping Pixie (and I will leave it with you to guess why).
Please tell us one thing about yourself that people may not know?
I have webbed toes on my right foot but I am a terrible swimmer (hence why I have done duathlon and not triathlon).