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Forever friends

Bexley long distance runner Michael Hobson dreams of competing in the London 2012 Games. Read his latest diary.

Michael Hobson
Michael Hobson

March 2009

The month of March proved to be a sad one. My good friend, Joe Allen, finally lost his five-year battle with a brain tumour. Joe and I had met nine years ago through Bexley Athletic Club, where both of us had been members of Paul Hatfield's training group.

Over the next couple of years we became good friends and at times fierce rivals (although Joe always won). My earliest memory of racing against Joe was in 2000 at the Adidas London Mini Marathon where Joe finished about 50 places ahead of me. This was also often the case in cross country races.

Joe's talent was obvious and it wasn't long before he represented Kent (being the first member of our young training group to do so). It was while running for Kent that he was approached by one of the county managers who tried their hardest to get Joe to switch coaches, promising him future success.

However, Joe was quick to rebuff the approach in favour of remaining at Bexley AC where he had made strong friendships with the boys in our training group.

It wasn't long before me, Joe, and the older boys in the group moved on to be coached by John Gates. It was with John that we all started to make big improvements. My 800m time dropped 12 seconds in the space of a year. It was also around this time that we got our first taste of running the 4 x 400m relay. This went on to become our favourite event, strengthening the bond between us all. Strangely we would often win, even though our team was rarely the strongest on paper.

It has made me realise just how lucky I am to be running and doing something which I am passionate about.

Unfortunately, it was around this time that Joe was diagnosed with a brain tumour but I wasn't to find this out for another two years. During this period Joe and I had no contact and I was unaware of his situation.

It was only when we were re-united at a friend's party that he informed me that he had been ill and fought off the tumour, telling me out of the blue "...I had a brain tumour, but I'm all right now".

From then our friendship was back on and the pair of us went on to see each other on a regular basis, taking our National Pool Lifeguard course together and meeting up with old friends. Unfortunately, Joe never got back into running, confiding in me that he would very much like to but didn't believe he could ever be as good as he was before.

He would still come and watch me race or in training occasionally. Sadly, the tumour that had tormented him as a 15-year-old returned two years ago and after many bouts of treatment, Joe sadly passed away on 17 March.

During this time we had seen each other whenever I returned home from St Mary's. My most special memory of Joe is spending New Year's with him and his family.

It has made me realise just how lucky I am to be running and doing something which I am passionate about. I will think about Joe when I'm feeling tired, when I'm struggling to get out of bed for my morning run, when it starts to hurt during races.

It's made me reflect that although running is an individual sport, it's also a social sport and I'm privileged to have met the people I have met through athletics, in particular Joe.

Next stop for me is a warm weather training trip to Portugal with my training group in preparation for the coming summer track season.

February 2009

February turned out to be an uncharacteristically eventful month with the heavy snowfall having a profound impact on both training and competition. Although training sessions carried on as normal, the heavy snow fall made the ground underfoot very slow, but this did not deter the group from getting out and training.

Unfortunately, the heavy snowfall resulted in the cancellation of the official BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) Cross Country Championships in Aberdeen.

Unfortunately, my own performance of 16 mins 19 secs was a little disappointing due to strained ligaments in my left foot.

Nevertheless, the diehard attitude of university cross country runners overcame the weather and an unofficial race was staged instead. The outcome was favourable to St Mary's with Andy Vernon leading the team home, the first of five St Mary's athletes in the top 10.

Aside from BUCS I experienced my first taste of international racing, competing in the 19th Armagh international 5k road race.

The race was a high profile affair with participants such as the legendary Irish distance runner Mark Carroll, former European Under23 5000m champion Chris Thompson and teams from the USA, South Africa and Finland.

The race was a highly competitive affair and was won by the USA's David Nightingale in an impressive 13 mins 54 seconds.

Unfortunately, my own performance of 16 mins 19 secs was a little disappointing due to strained ligaments in my left foot.

Nonetheless, the exceptional hospitality and impressive course outweighed my own disappointing performance making the trip a truly enjoyable experience.



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