The City Runners Story: Origins

The following is the first in a series of blogs written by LCR’s founder, Tim Navin-Jones about the history of the club. Below is the story of how Tim found his love for running.

With everyone spending more time at home than normal, Kerry and I thought we’d take the opportunity to tell you the story of how our running community has grown organically into something special. 

This blog will be a four part story – the first one will be a bit about me and how I got into running, the second one about how the club was set up and how it grew over a decade, the third on how we came together as a community to set up the first running-themed pub in the UK, and the last about where we plan on going from here, after the virus that stopped the world in its tracks. 

WHY I RUN

My Dad started running marathons when I was three years old in Yorkshire, way before running was a more accepted way of spending your leisure time. Back in the 80s, wherever you ran, people would jeer at you and shout things like ‘get your knees up’ and generally find it laughable that you’d chosen to get fit through a sport that seemed to have geeky connotations because it wasn’t football or a team sport. I think it’s fair to say that running was definitely not considered cool! Watching Steve Ovett, Seb Coe and Steve Cram in the Olympics in that decade started to change things though. 

1983 Me on the left, Dad training for the NY marathon, and my brothers beside us, we’re all in the air!

The brilliant thing now is that people from all walks of life brave the marathon distance but back then, the only people who attempted it (from what I could see) were very skinny competitive males! I remember hearing that back then if you ran a marathon in over three and a half hours in the more regional races, the marshals just headed off home. 

As a little lad with a proper Leeds accent, I watched Dad in an unbelievably hilly marathon on a freezing cold day in Horsforth. Every bloke there looked like something from a 118 advert (personally I think Dad’s moustache was the best though). I remember thinking that the pain they all endured and the camaraderie and buzz they got off it summed up what it meant to me at that point to be a man. 

Dad in the blue vest

This was compounded by the film and amazing music in ‘Chariots of Fire’. Then Dad brought us all back hats and t shirts from the New York City marathon in 1986 and I realised running was going to be a big part of who I was. Truth is, I was always competitive – you can see how determined the look was on my little face here at the sack race on sports day in Pudsey, aged 8!

My siblings and I were swimmers (at the City of Leeds swimming club) before I started running and the lung capacity from swimming put us in great stead to become competitive runners. Being from Leeds, Adrian Moorhouse was always one of my idols and you can imagine how delighted we were when he returned from the Olympics with a gold medal. It was exciting to think he used to train in the same pool. Here we were waiting for him at Leeds/Bradford airport (me on the left) long before social media became part of our lives… 

I remember Dad at a really young age saying that I had an ‘incredible running style’. I was completely flattered that Dad had noticed my talent and it gave me a real pick me up knowing that there was something (there weren’t many others!) that I did better than my siblings. I kind of made it my mission to impress him and like a lot of kids I basically wanted to be like my Dad! That brilliant age when as far as you’re concerned your parents are fitter, stronger, faster, brighter and pretty much more impressive than anyone else! Whenever I won a race I was chuffed knowing that Dad counted me as a worthy runner. Even now pride of place on our mantel piece are the race numbers from Dad’s first marathon, sponsored by metro cars, snazzy sponsor I know!

Dad would tell me stories when I was little, like how when he ran with a club it was an entirely different league of runners. These runners would have two pairs of trainers, one to turn up to the club and a separate pair to race or train in! I remember thinking this was mind boggling to have two pairs of trainers (show offs!) and I wanted to be part of it. 

One of the big events in our family home was always watching the London Marathon. Since I was really young it was always commentated by the brilliant Brendan Foster CBE who Dad always said had the most incredible character and a North East lilt that is to running what David Attenborough’s voice is to nature programmes. In years to come, I was incredibly proud when he opened our arch. Back in the 80s our family used to gather round the tiny TV to watch the whole event and I just remember thinking that running brought out the best in humanity.  It’s no wonder we got into running, and while my brother Marcus and I might have been a lot smaller than a lot of other kids, they’d rarely beat us… 

My elder brother Marcus

When I was just 11 I left the local comprehensive in Leeds and we got assisted places in a Jesuit school in Lancashire called Stonyhurst. It was a school that had the religious focus that my parents wanted to feature in our education, particularly as my Dad had trained to be a priest in Spain in his early years. From a young age, running was what flicked my switch. It was something I was good at and for me was the most glorious escapism. It gave me fantastic self-esteem and kudos from my fellow students when I won races.  All my frustrations and energy were channeled into the buzz I got from running around the amazing countryside near my school. You were close to nature, you were grafting and you just felt good. 

I went to the national championships and came 4th at Crystal Palace in London in the 1500 meters and was made the captain of cross country, swimming and athletics. Here’s some embarrassing pics showing the early days!

Captain of Swimming 1990
Captain of Athletics 1990

At my school, we even had to do runs as a punishment when we misbehaved so I was running AT LEAST five times a week! I also started get into triathlons before they were even a thing (probably when the Brownlee brothers would be about age 2!). I left school and went to university in Southampton where I continued my love of triathlons – but in a very primitive way, as I was using a mountain bike with slicks rather than a racer and we used to wear swimming shorts rather than trunks…

Being a student and Yorkshire, I didn’t seem to want to splash out on a racer.  At duathlons with running and swimming I was more competitive and below is one I won in 1999. 

It was then after I left university and was living and working in Leeds when Dad challenged me to do the New York City marathon exactly 20 years after he’d done it. When I started training I’d never run so much as a half marathon and it was only after doing the Humber Half Marathon in Hull that I realised how much of a task I’d taken on! I was a heavy smoker at the time… 

Most places I went I had a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, this one randomly was heading down Mount Sinai on a camel!

I  ‘hit the wall’ pretty hard on the day at about 22 miles. Despite this it was one of the most incredible experiences I’d had in an extraordinary city, so I was keen to do more and marathons soon became my thing. 

I then moved to London and knew that if was going to get faster I’d have to stop smoking and join a club. I joined the biggest club in London – the Serpentines – which was excellent but it was a long way from where I was living and I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a club in central London. My brother Marcus had shown me an amazing route along the river over Tower Bridge that I loved and it was this point where the idea of setting up my own club using this same route was born…

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