The Mr and Mrs of Norfolk Athletics just keep finding talent
Husband and wife team, Tim and Pauline Ash, talk to Run Anglia editor, Mark Armstrong, about how they continue to find talent on the Norfolk running circuit
A good football scout can spot a young player with talent within minutes of watching a game.
Well they’ve got nothing on Tim and Pauline Ash, who can see potential in a runner within them taking a few strides.
Tim and Pauline are Mr and Mrs Norfolk Athletics – any endurance runner in this region that has achieved anything in the last 20 years will have come into contact with the pair at some point.
Their latest protégé is Iona Lake, who is currently preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Australia where she will be running in the 3000m steeplechase.
But she is just the latest in a long line of talent to have been nurtured by the pair.
It could have been so different though when Tim, working for BP in 1977, was looking for a move north of their Manchester home. Instead he was offered a post in Norfolk and the athletics scene in East Anglia has never been quite the same.
Upon moving to East Anglia they offered their services to Norfolk Olympiads, which would later become the City of Norwich Athletic Club (CONAC).
Both could point to decent athletics careers of their own - Tim as an 800m runner and Pauline as a long jumper – whilst they had demonstrated an aptitude for coaching at Trafford AC.
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They have overseen outstanding success and alongside Lake they also count Dani Nimmock, who finished 10th at the Big Half, which doubled as the British Championships. She was the highest placed runner, who isn’t a full-time athlete – a compliment to her dedication and the training programme set by the Ashes.
“We have had quite a bit of success in the last 10 to 15 years,” said Tim modestly.
“We’ve had a lot of athletes gain international honours, which is always nice.”
Nearly four years ago Tim and Pauline tried to take a step back from their coaching roles with CONAC as they moved out to Sheringham.
However, as soon word got round that they were moving to the area North Norfolk District Council shrewdly stepped in, asking for their help.
The North Norfolk Harriers were set up as the Ashes agreed to cultivate the latest crop of endurance talent in the area. Recent success stories include Abi Durand, who has recently been selected by England for the Schools International, and Hattie Reynolds, who finished fifth in the Under 13s National Cross Country Championships last month.
“We had a big group at CONAC but then we moved out to Sheringham and we were travelling to and from Norwich three or four times a week,” said Pauline. “We said we would still look after Iona when she came back from the US and we’re like mentors for Dani Nimmock and Ash Harrell.
“But we wanted to take a step back and take life a little bit easier. Then we got a call from North Norfolk District Council and they wanted us to form a junior club up there.
“We thought well we’ve got to do something when we’re retired haven’t we? The first night we ran it and there were 76 kids there!”
Tim added: “That was three and a half years ago…and we’re still doing it.
“We had five cross country champions at the county cross country championship from this little club.
“You can’t walk away from it – it’s just in your blood.”
Interestingly it’s not necessarily the girl or boy at the front of a race that catches their eye.
Lake, for example, was nowhere near the athlete she has become since working with the Ashes.
So what’s the secret to spotting a youngster’s potential?
“They may not be at the front at all but every now and again you see a girl or boy who is just running really nicely and comfortably.
“You can sometimes tell that there is a lot more there.
“That’s how we picked up young Abi (Durand) and Hattie (Reynolds). We saw them at Blickling parkrun and asked if they wanted to come along to North Norfolk Harriers.”
Whilst the Ashes are always keen for youngsters to fulfil any athletic potential they insist it is essential that they aren’t pushed into the sport.
“The most important thing is that they enjoy it,” said Tim. “We do have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.
“When you’re young – keep playing football, keep dancing or whatever. Parents mustn’t push their children into anything they haven’t got a real passion for.”
Pauline added: “If anyone wants to run then I would say get along to your local parkrun or athletics club and enjoy it.
“The most important part of it is enjoyment – if you can crack that then the success will follow.”