Running for his life is all part of the game for Pete Duhig
Pete Duhig is one of Norfolk’s finest ever runners and talks to Run Anglia editor Mark Armstrong about his life and where running has taken him
Running wasn’t a big part of Pete Duhig’s life as a youngster.
It was all about football, growing up in East London and moving to Downham Market in 1978, but there was a little hint of the running prowess he would go on to develop at the London Schools Cross Country Championships in 1964.
As his competitors toiled in the mud, Duhig strode on to finish in seventh place – not bad for his first proper race.
But football was the priority for Duhig until his early 30s when, being self employed in the building trade, he decided he could no longer risk injury each and every Saturday when perhaps football was a little more agricultural than it is today.
Running stepped into the breach.
His first half marathon, at King’s Lynn in 1982, was completed in 84 minutes – a very decent time for any newcomer to the sport. But he wanted more and started reading everything he could with one aim…to get faster.
“I’ve always been really competitive and how I approached the running was no different,” said Duhig, now 68.
“I kept experimenting with what I could do. If I blew up after a few miles, the way I saw it is if I kept doing it then that point would come later and later in the race.”
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Blessed with a dogged determination that he takes into all his pursuits, the times kept tumbling for Duhig and he gradually worked his way towards the front of fields at local races.
“I always thought of myself as quite an average runner until around 1985/86 when I started to get towards the front of races.
“All I wanted to do was run faster and better… over time I improved.”
Duhig would go on to become one of Norfolk’s finest distance runners, winning the Bungay Marathon in 1987 in 2:38 (when he was supposed to be tapering for the London Marathon a few weeks later, which he ran 2-26:19).
His roll of honour, road running wise, includes a sub 50-minute 10 miler at Holbeach and 1-47:35 for 20 miles and even Duhig knew what an accomplished runner he had become, one perhaps capable of representing his country.
But his main goal back in 1988 was to break 2-20 in a marathon and he was determined to do it in London.
However, in the run-up to this race it was clear that all was not well.
Blisters started appearing all over his body in the build-up and although he got round, he missed out on his target, posting a time of 2-24 (still an unthinkably quick time for most runners).
But it was in the aftermath that it became clear things weren’t quite right.
“I was looking to run a marathon in under 2:20 and I was training to get an England vest,” said Duhig, one of the founder members of Ryston Runners when the club was formed in 1986. “A few days before I came up in blisters around my hair line and I didn’t think anything of it too much.
“I was expecting to break 2-20 – I remember getting to about 15 miles and I still felt fresh but then it all becomes a bit of a blur. I was running but my mind wasn’t really there. Cath (now his wife) remembers seeing me and I didn’t even acknowledge her.
“I even did a five-mile warm down afterwards. I came back to Norfolk on the Tuesday and went to bed and I didn’t wake up again until Friday…
“It took some time getting over it and it really took the edge off my running.”
Duhig went on to be diagnosed as a coeliac and it wasn’t as easy to live with the condition 30 years ago as it perhaps is today. Gluten-free foods were difficult to come by and the fact Duhig was unable to go as quick as he wanted saw his priorities change.
Running, at least competitively, was put on the backburner (although he still won the Harlow Marathon in 1988) and most of his efforts were put into his business interests which event management and his own sports business. At the turn of the century he also set up ‘Winning Ways’, which provided trophies for events all around the country.
“As I got into my 50s I was starting to build my own business and I took the running back a notch to concentrate on that.
“The business had to come first for a while and I took my foot off the pedal – I cut down on the training.
“It was probably necessary to help get the business off the ground.”
Running was never far away though and it gradually reeled him back and at 59 he started training again with the aim of being competitive in the M60+ age group.
However, a prostate cancer diagnosis set Duhig back although, thankfully, radiotherapy saw him make a full recovery.
It was only a few years later that he realised what impact the treatment had on his running though.
“At 60 I wanted to compete again and I was at the top end of my age group,” he said.
“But then I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and I had three or four years where I had major problems.
“I came back from it but I wasn’t happy with how I was running and it was like that for several years.
“I think the reason I was struggling was that there was a build up of plaque in my arteries. This wasn’t realised until after my collapse.
“Whilst my times were still reasonable I didn’t feel quite right but I thought I was just slowing down with age.”
Things almost took a tragic turn for the worse though when, after moving out to live in Spain with his wife Cath, he competed in a 10K event in La Aparaceda (Orihuela).
Duhig was about to unleash one of his characteristic bursts for the finish line down, reeling in runners, many of which were half his age.
However, this time his race was almost run.
“I got to the end of the race and I was chasing down a group in front of me and then next thing I know I’m on the ground with flashing lights all around me.
“They had given me CRB and two lots of the defib and it had managed to bring me back after 15 minutes.
“Amazingly I’d later find out that there isn’t anything wrong with my heart.
“What was happening is that I wasn’t getting enough blood to it.
“I had to take the doctors’ advice but it never entered my head that I would never run again.
“Three months later I was lining up for a 5K race but I was told to make sure that I didn’t do long distance races.
“Doctors always err on the side of caution but I am listening! I never thought I’d have to stop running though.”
And he won’t with Duhig firmly entrenched in the Masters Athletics movement. After being pipped to a world individual medal by the thickness of his vest in the 1500m at Turku in 1992 he has some unfinished business at the World Championships in Toronto in 2020 as an M70.
With his determination you wouldn’t bet against him.