Shrewsbury School

Why am I running the Shrewsbury half marathon? by Seb Cooley

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Seb Cooley teaches Physics and Maths at Shrewsbury and is Master-in-Charge of Fives. He is also the current National Fives Champion. He is tipped to be one of the fastest runners in the School's Shrewsbury Marathon Team (which now numbers more than 50 people) but, as he himself confesses, he is also possibly one of the most reluctant...

Seb CooleyI ran a marathon in 2004 by mistake. Some former housemates with whom I played 5-a-side football at Warwick told me they were going for the Shakespeare marathon, around a pretty 13-mile route into the countryside outside Stratford-upon-Avon. I was reasonably light back then and they were not built for running, so not to sign up would have been a cop-out. I justified the decision to myself partly on the basis that running a marathon was one of those things one should do at some point; that point was as good a point as any.

A couple of weeks later I gently enquired how their preparation was going. “It turns out it’s the day before one of our finals!” Well, rats! I was signed up by then; I would run it anyway.

I don’t like running. Aside from the above aberration, I will up the tempo for the requisite distance to arrive at a train just after the doors have closed, or if there’s one last helping of tiramisu left and the fourth form are on the approach, but otherwise would much rather cycle. Those who enjoy running speak of finding their stride and rhythm, then feeling life’s worries drawn out and left hanging in a hedgerow like shredded ribbons of a discarded bag. Lightness takes over; time loses relevance… That feeling has never overtaken me. While I don’t quite feel like a lumbering mountain troll, I don’t think I’m a much more graceful runner. I can never get past the relentless, pounding monotony.

Anyhow, having signed up in early 2004, I decided I should do a couple of runs, not so much to train as to see how far I could comfortably go. I picked a 9-mile route to start off with and found that fine – I was not gasping for water, oxygen or a life-support system. I took a bus back and by the time I got off it, I couldn’t walk. My feet were unfit for purpose for two days. I visited the nearest specialist running shop, where I was asked what shoes I was running in. I presented my well-moulded fives trainers. The shopkeeper first looked at the shoes as if I had announced I used them for stamping on baby hedgehogs and then told me – in as many words – that I would be better off running barefoot. After checking whether my feet comprised high, low, roman or gothic arches and establishing how far I was planning to run in them, the shop’s most suitable pair of shoes for the purpose was produced: only the ladies’ model was available in a size 6. I braced myself for a neon pink monstrosity (of the sort that IPH might cheerfully be able to pull off) so was actually fairly relieved to find them an innocuous pastel blue. Even that colour had the edge taken off it when my next outing took me along a poorly posted footpath of freshly poured concrete. One shoe blue, one shoe grey. All hill training was done in one of the University’s multi-storey car parks. Romantic stuff. But anyway, I was preparing for something I was going to do just the once, to tick it off a relatively fluid checklist of whimsical goals.

I was fairly ready, had the requisite, large, bland chicken and pasta dinner the day before and picked a suitably light pair of shorts. The following morning, it was summer. Dreadful luck! One day of the year and it had come just at the wrong time. We set off with the mercury in the mid-20s and rising. Many marathon veterans dropped out after the first 13-mile loop – it was not the day for the big one. I trudged on, taking on too much fluid but having very little choice if I was to keep the equation anywhere near balanced, and found myself cramping after 17 miles. I had enough energy and could happily walk but as soon I tried to break into a jog the calves cramped. I walked the last nine.

26 miles is really rather a long way. It’s a fair distance on a bike. It’s the sort of range for which the motorcar was developed, or at least for which it is an appropriate choice. It’s a silly distance to attempt cover on foot, quickly. I would sooner run up and down Ben Nevis (and I have; it’s good fun; try it). And I recommend a decent length of sock – trainer liners have a way of not quite lining the trainer and resulting in reasonably bloody heels – I had to soak the feet in water before taking the socks off. After the whole kerfuffle, I had at least ticked the marathon off. Though there was a lingering sense that I hadn’t really done myself justice.

But no! I stayed strong until now. I have chased the occasional train – or pudding – and can still hunt down most fives balls, though I’m slowing down. But again that little competitive niggle has pushed me to sign up. Will I be anywhere near the 1h45 with which I passed 13 miles in 2004? I doubt it. But if anyone wants to help me come in quickly, seriously, just put a well-soaked Italian dessert at the finish line for me and I’ll be there faster than anyone without wings.

The School’s Shrewsbury Marathon Team would be hugely grateful for as many donations as possible to support the work of Medic Malawi. Donations can be made via  or email

For a short summary of the work of Medic Malawi, please follow the link to: Medic Malawi

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