On the back of my column last week with George Mills where we went right back to the very beginning of his running career and the way he praised the English Schools system what with having won two 800m titles aged 15 and 16, how ironic was it that on two separate occasions last weekend that I bumped into two former Norfolk schoolboy champions of the past.  

Firstly, in Glen Nelson, who won county titles during the late 1960s, and then Nicky Lewis, who excelled at county level during the early 1970s. 

This also got me thinking about other past schools winners who you could say showed every bit as much promise as George, but instead of going all the way, they either faded away from the sport altogether after school days or perhaps did not quite hit the same heady heights as what George is currently doing. 

In fact, the list of English Schools winners going back many years confirms this. 

However, one person who I always look to for his wise words of wisdom is one of Norfolk’s most knowledgeable coaches, Tim Ash. Needless to say, in conjunction with his wife, Pauline, who have both done so much for Norfolk Athletics and young athletes during the last four or more decades whilst guiding so many of their charges towards national and international recognition. 

“Where would you like me start?” Tim said whilst also telling me not to interrupt him whilst he was talking in a way that only Tim could. “It’s not easy for many reasons. Firstly, when coming out of education the big wide world is out there with the many realities of life which now have to be taken into consideration and prioritised. Earning a living for one because making enough money from athletics is for the very few. At the same time whilst so many talented youngsters of the past may not have gone on to be full-time athletes, they have still managed to fit running into their lives whilst getting the best out of themselves. George himself even said there is no direct path into full-time athletics and considered himself very lucky to have managed to find a full-time sponsor. His dad, Danny, who knows exactly what it takes to be a full-time professional sportsperson has always been there for George too with guidance and support.” 

Tim also mentioned the countless distractions which young people have these days as well as it being difficult living in a county like Norfolk when it comes to travel. “Even with much better roads these days, it is still a long haul when leaving the county for competition which in many cases can mean leaving home very early in the morning and then of course arriving back home late in the evening. For young athletes this probably requires even more resilience.” 

One thing we both did very much agree on (when I was allowed to talk) was that for those who really do want to be the very best they can be as an athlete, the golden decade has to be when in your 20s.

Of course so many people perform to superb levels the wrong side of 30 and even 40, but as Tim further said: “More often than not by those who as they got older realised that they had perhaps missed out when younger so came back with the enthusiasm, hunger and determination to try and make up for what was lost time during their peak years.”

Needless to say there have also been many others who in later years discovered running well beyond their 20s albeit perhaps having focused on a different sport when younger.

When interviewing George last week, I really was hanging on to his every word. Everything he said not only came from his heart but very much from his head too. 

He has undoubtedly benefited from having a dad who knows the ropes when it comes to being a professional, but at the same time the realities of being a full-time athlete goes well beyond just having talent alone and is only for those who are prepared to dedicate their lives to the sport which they have huge ambitions for.  

I have always said that you have to fit your running into your life as, if not, it will at some point all go wrong. I have also always said that those who are so highly focused to achieve their end goal must have a different mindset to the average man and woman in the street. In truth, that really is what it takes and is definitely not as glamourous as some may think. In George’s words: “In all honesty, there is no balance to my life. I am throwing everything I can at it to be the best athlete I can be and hopefully medal at an Olympics one day. So outside of training every day and recovering and dedicating my existence to the sport, there is not a lot else going on in my life just right now.” 

As for the future and as far as Tim is concerned he said: “At North Norfolk Harriers, and despite the many distractions out there these days for young people, we still get a very good turn out each training night whatever the weather. For the current crop of youngsters who have witnessed what several Harriers of the past have gone on to achieve at senior level be it from gaining county representative honours through to a Team GB vest, seeing just what can be achieved with hard work and dedication will always fuel the fire for any young person who has a burning desire to reach the top.” 

Talking of young athletes from Norfolk who have made it through the schools' system, Tyler Bilyard joined a very exclusive list of sub 4-minute milers from the county which includes Mitch Goose (3:59.26) and David Heath (3:59.36), when running 3:59.33 at Lee Valley on Wednesday evening of this week.

I must also mention and say well done to Callum Bowen Jones on another excellent performance when racing to a very fast 14:39 at The Armagh 5k road race last night (Thursday, February 8). A super run after what had been a difficult end to his 2023 season which delayed his winter training by a few weeks.