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Neil Featherby: Memories of 1987 Hong Kong Marathon and how I learned to never let my motivation drop

PUBLISHED: 10:30 26 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:40 26 January 2018

Neil Featherby at the end of the Hong Kong Marathon. Picture: Neil Featherby

Neil Featherby at the end of the Hong Kong Marathon. Picture: Neil Featherby

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Neil Featherby learned a valuable life lesson 31 years ago this week...

Neil Featherby comes in third at the Hong Kong Marathon. Picture: Neil FeatherbyNeil Featherby comes in third at the Hong Kong Marathon. Picture: Neil Featherby

So here we are nearly one month into the New Year already.

So many of us always start out with good intentions and high levels of motivation but once the initial excitement wears off, and reality sets in, some are already struggling to keep up with the early demands they have set themselves.

More often than not, it is due to a little over eagerness and it then becomes more difficult than they thought. Or, of course, they have hurt themselves from doing too much, too soon.

During the last week or so I have received several messages from people asking me to help them get through this blip.

The first three places were established in the first mile with Neil Featherby at the front in Hong Kong. Picture: Neil FeatherbyThe first three places were established in the first mile with Neil Featherby at the front in Hong Kong. Picture: Neil Featherby

The first few weeks are exciting with lots of motivation, especially after the Christmas and New Year festivities. But once the reality sets in of the usual day-to-day routine along with short days and the wild and windy weather which we have had this month, it can be easy to find reasons not to go out and of course putting it back until tomorrow.

However, and like everything else, it is so important to build a routine whereby it becomes second nature and if we have built in short, medium and long term goals with a few rewards thrown in, then the desire should be maintained to overcome any earlier blips.

With regards to staying motivated at this time of year, unbelievably for me it is exactly 31 years ago today as I write this column (Jan 25th 1987) when I took part in the Hong Kong International Marathon after a special invitation from the organisers which had been set up by my good friend Peter Duhig after my 2:17 performance in Berlin just a few months before.

However, the weather during January 1987 was absolutely horrendous with temperatures down to minus 10 and below and snow drifts that were 10 feet in height. The roads of my usual training routes were completely blocked in places and trying to stay on my feet was a nightmare.

I was actually doing most of my training on the snow and ice covered roads in spikes. To say I moaned and groaned is an understatement. Flying out to Hong Kong was not the best long haul flight either and despite it being January, the weather out there was very warm and sunny. My outlook was poor, that’s for sure, and I really did have very little desire to run.

Whilst an excellent field of runners had been assembled, in truth my two main rivals were the American Doug Kurtis who now holds the world record of having run 76 sub 2:20 marathons and the Canadian athlete Rick Mannen who was fresh from his 2:19 Toronto marathon win.

I spent most of the days leading up to the marathon doing tiring promotional work with my then sponsors Reebok and the American superstar and pre-race favourite Doug Kurtis whilst Rick spent most of his time with his wife Josie, who had accompanied him out there.

Whereas Doug was very confident and outgoing, Rick was so very polite and most certainly modest. During conversation with both of them I was already showing my hand by telling them about the bad weather which had affected my training for which it was obvious they were taking it all in.

Anyway, race day came and the three of us soon established the lead.

The race was being televised too for which I started showing off by pretending I was just cruising along with ease, but in the back of my mind, I wasn’t happy about what I saw as lost training during those last few weeks going into the race.

Sure enough and just after halfway Rick put in a burst and whilst Kurtis reacted, I just let them go.

I knew I had a good lead on fourth place for which I happily settled into just running within myself and taking the bronze medal position.

As it happens as I approached the sports centre, I could see Doug Kurtis coming back to me having been dropped by Rick Mannen.

However, it was too late and whilst we both finished on the track at the same time it was my fault for lacking the ambition of the other two.

After I crossed the finish line in a couple of seconds over 2:23, I went straight over to shake my opponents’ hands and especially that of Rick who had surprised everyone with his defeat of Kurtis.

During our little chat he quite calmly said it was a shame that I wasn’t in my best shape whilst also telling me about the minus 20c conditions he himself had been encountering back in his home town of Brantford, Ontario for not just a few weeks, but several months.

He not only put me right back in my place, he also made me think about how I had lacked the desire and determination as well as showing my weaknesses which really is not that of someone who professes to be motivated and professional in their approach.

As the saying goes, “where there’s a will there’s a way”.

In Rick Mannen’s case there was a real will to succeed for which he went on to win many more honours as an athlete and marathon runner whilst also representing his country with pride.

I still keep in touch with Rick and his wife Josie whereby we have many common interests i.e. running, coaching and a love for the same breed of dogs.

Thirty-one years on, I now try to instil the lessons I learnt from him into all the athletes who I now advise.

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