Charlie goes to the All England

This is my story of the day my nephew Charlie Wakefield ran for the first time in the English Schools Athletic Association (ESAA) All England Cross Country Championships.

Having been an athlete all my life, I had dreamed as a boy on many occasions about being good enough to represent my county at the All England Schools Cross Country, despite determination and dedication my lack of ability ensured I was never quite fast enough to be in the top eight runners in my county and thus never ran in the All England.

To find now, that all these years later my nephew has both the determination, dedication and talent to be the best runner not only in his county but in the Eastern Counties fills me with enormous pride, and in some ways fulfills my own boyhood dream.

The night before the race I was at my brothers house and was invited to see Charlie to bed. His bedroom was like a treasure trove of gleaming silver and gold, every space, shelf and wall being filled with trophies, shields and ribbons.  I asked him which he was most proud of?  He picked up a big shield with nameplates going back to the 1970s.  The shield was the Norfolk “County” Shield for the Colts Cross Country winner (Under 13).  I looked closely at the shield to see many names I recognised from the past, the first being Carl Smith who I’d first met and challenged to a race in 1978 at a football match in North Lynn (I lost).  Carl Smith was already representing England when I met him,  a few years later I met him at college and remembered the blond haired boy who literally won all the cross country races by miles.  Now he smoked and seemed to be fairly inactive.  The last time I saw him was at the National Colleges Cross Country Final at Wollaton Park, Nottingham in 1986.  Despite not training and smoking he still beat me by a considerable margin.

The other name which stood out was Darren Mead, who won the trophy twice. At 17 he had the fastest time for his age group in the UK for 1o miles with 48.45. Unsurprisingly he represented England on several occasions peaking in 1986 with 39th place at the World Junior Cross Country in Switzerland.

Charlie was indeed in good company,  my head was full of thoughts of what the future for him might be. I wished him good night and went off to bed myself.


Wollaton Hall, Nottingham was a stunning venue for the event.

After a long drive to Nottingham with his mum Caroline and his coach, Charlie (13) was ready to race.

To qualify for the race every boy had come in the top eight at their own county championships, the prize on the day was the honour of representing England, which was bestowed only on the first eight finishers.

Watching 400 boys in a line waiting for the starting gun to fire is a sight guaranteed to raise the hairs on your neck. BANG! and they’re off.  The determination on the boys faces was obvious for all to see, the pain too.  In the 4.2km race, two of the young athletes pushed themselves beyond their limits and needed the paramedics.  Whilst this was sad to see, it also demonstrated how hard they were pushing.

Here is a short video covering the race:

I saw Charlie run past on both laps, and filled with pride shouted “Go Charlie!”, no noise came out of my mouth, perhaps because I was overcome with emotion.

It wasn’t until after the race I found out that Charlie had lost his shoe after about 150m in thick mud.  I was impressed that he had continued without it and run the whole race with one shoe.  Charlie came 81st from a field of 328, as a 13-year-old he still had plenty of time left in the Junior Boys which was for under 15s. His time of 16:40 over 4.2k was less than 90 seconds behind the winner Harris Mier.


“Shoeless Charlie Wakefield” Number 446

Am I proud of Charlie? Yes of course, but also inspired by all those who took part and pleased for my brother Jeremy and his wife Caroline who tirelessly support both children to compete in the sports they enjoy.

What the future holds for “Shoeless Charlie Wakefield” who knows? but one thing is for sure, he runs like the wind……

For Nephew Harry – your time will come, and I will be there too.

Update: on 13th March 2016 Charlie was positioned 20 in the Inter Counties Cross Country in Birmingham (Under 13), he was the highest place finisher from the Eastern Counties.


Back to Norfolk


In years to come I’d like to look back at this blog and remember the times in my life which have been inspiring, emotional or significant.

Coming back to Norfolk is one of those significant moments.  In 1988 when I was 21 years old I left Norfolk and my hometown of King’s Lynn to work in Reading, Berkshire.  I remember clearly how difficult this was and how homesick I was early on.  Since then I have worked all over the country and lived in some beautiful places.

Over all that time, I came to appreciate what a special place Norfolk really was.  I kept thinking that if I’d never left, then I would have taken it for granted and probably would never really have appreciated it.

Twenty six years on and my life changed forever with the death of my father. With an uncertain future through self-employment, and a stream of trips from the Midlands to Norfolk sorting out my dad’s affairs, I started to feel that maybe the time had come to move back to be closer to my family.

I began applying for Jobs in Norfolk, and in July 2014 I was offered a Job at a charity in Norwich.  Finally I had the opportunity to move back to Norfolk, but this meant leaving behind my life in Loughborough and my girlfriend of five years, a heart breaking decision.

Mum helped me to find a cottage near Norwich, and when the time to move came, my brother came with a van to help me.  He later told me that as we passed through Clenchwarton where our dad had lived on our way to my new house, that he talked to dad and told him that he was bringing me home, needless to say this brought a lump to my throat.  My journey was equally emotional remembering all that I had left behind and thinking about the new life I had in front of me.

Bintry Mill, Bintree, Norfolk

Pictured: Bintry Mill, Norfolk where three generations of Wakefield’s lived, going back to the 1880’s.

Slowly I settled in to my house, work and routine.  I began to explore, and started with some of the places and people on my family tree.  I was now living two miles from where my grandfather was born, Swanton Morley.  For over twenty years I had pored over maps of the places my ancestors had lived trying to get a picture in my head of what it was like.  Now I lived there, and each cycle ride took me through the villages and past the houses where my ancestors had lived, loved and died, I felt at home.

Although I was enjoying making lots of new discoveries on my family tree, I really missed not being able to share them with my dad, who would have been interested I’m sure.

One of my favourite things to do in Norfolk, has been to ride for hours down tiny country lanes, ending with visits to friends and family.  The beautiful wildlife, endless beaches, big skies, picturesque villages and friendly locals always make for a memorable ride.

Pictured: Kessingland Beach, Suffolk, where my G G Grandfather Charles Bonney-Georges headless body was washed up in 1901.

Pictured: Kessingland Beach, Suffolk, where my G G Grandfather Charles Bonney-George’s headless body was washed up in 1901.

Many of my ancestors never left Norfolk, I’m starting to understand why …….

NB Featured picture is of the Gressenhall Workhouse gates, where another G G Grandfather Matthew Bowes lived and died.



2012 Olympic Mens MTB Race

This post is in memory of Burry Stander who was killed today (Jan 3rd 2012) in South Africa by a Taxi whilst out on a training ride. Burry is pictured leading the Olympic MTB race in this posts featured picture – in the ‘Rock Garden’.

I’ve had a life long ambition to go to the Olympics, first as a competitor when I was inspired by the great Daley Thompson in 1980,  and then later as I realised that I was not gifted or talented that I would have to find another way.

On 6 July 2005 when it was announced that London would host the Games,  I was standing in the athletes lounge at Loughborough University (Where I worked) with hundreds of other sports people.  It is a moment I will always remember which raised the hairs on my neck and bought a lump to my throat.

In the years preceding the Games I applied to become a volunteer but with no luck, then tried applying for tickets twice with no luck, then a friend Rob Butcher invited me to come with him to the Olympic Mountain Bike event for which he had spare tickets.

It was Rob who had introduced me to Mountain Biking over 20 years ago so it felt good to be going with him to this special event.

The race didn’t disappoint, the venue at Hadleigh Farm in Essex was a perfect blend of steep climbs, vicious technical descents, and fast rolling sections.  The whole course was set in a bowl so you could follow the racing almost for the whole 4.75 km lap. (7 laps)

Even when you couldn’t see the riders with the naked eye, there were a selection of big screens showing the action so you didn’t lose track.


Kulhavy (Czech Rep) takes the lead

My over-riding memory of the event was to see Nino Schurter (current World Champion ) closely pursued by Jaroslav Kulhavy a Czech rider who had his sights set on a Gold medal.

The speed they came past me on the last lap was unbelievable, the lead changed about 6 times in the last few miles and I remember trying to imagine the pain in their legs and the burning in their lungs, but as Emil Zatopek famously said “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets, only with dreams in his head and hope in his heart“.

Jaroslav Kulhavy achieved his dream on the 12th August 2012 to beat the World Champion and to become Olympic Gold Medalist.


World Champion Schurter pursued by Kulhavy Gold Medalist

One rider who deserves a special mention is Adrien Niyonshuti from Rwanda, for him, just getting to the Olympic Games as a competitor was worth more than a dozen Gold Medals.


 Niyonshuti comes into the pits

Niyonshuti was 7 years old when the ethnic majority Hutu tribe started to massacre the minority Tutsis. The rampage lasted 100 days, from April to July 1994. Niyonshuti’s six brothers were among the dead. He survived after hiding in the bush for a week with his parents. For some athletes just showing up is glory enough.

That’s not to say he was there to make up the numbers, far from it, he was only 10 minutes behind the World and Olympic Champion, his story will always be a source of inspiration for me.

My Photo’s and words in the Leicester Mercury

Charlie Wakefield Wins Ryston Race !

Two weeks ago I was torn between doing the Cannock MTB race or a Duathlon in Thetford Forest, but in the end I decided to go and see my nephews Charlie (9) and Harry (6) do their last race of the season at their local club.  It was Mothers Day too so another good reason!

Neither Charlie or Harry knew that I was coming to watch them, so when I stood on the start line and bellowed their names, they looked round with a slightly embarrassed grin that their ‘Mad’ uncle Ian had come to watch. Which made me smile too.

I ran off down to the first corner to cheer them on, where my brother (their father) had already positioned himself strategically at the bottom of a big hill.

Their Mum was at the top of the hill ready to give encouragement too!  Not that we Wakefields are competitive at all!!

Bang ! the starters gun goes off and a sea of children come sprinting towards us, and believe me for under 9’s they are sprinting! 2:48 mins for 800 m is sub 6 minute miles, and I remember how painful 6 minute miles were.

Charlie came round the corner in second place and looked comfortable, the boy in front had beaten him before but not in the current season.  Not far behind was little Harry in about 5 th  place (12 secs faster than Charlie at the same age), a real talent for future years.

The next time I saw them, Charlie was coming into the finishing straight and had a clear lead.   I was so proud  and shouted to him to try for the course record (He’d only missed it by 3 secs in the last race).  He ran strongly and finished a comfortable winner, but I couldn’t help wonder if he’s got the record?

Not far behind him (about 30 secs) came little brother Harry, whose style is currently a mixture between stumbling and running which does make me smile but probably it’s probably because he’s going so fast. A great result for both boys.

I was pleased to find that Charlie had gained the Club Record for the run at 2:48 mins 2 secs quicker than the previous record which had stood for over 10 years.  He was only 1 sec outside the all comers record of 2:47 mins.  Now he is at the end of his age group so no more chances for the record, guess he will have to leave it for little brother Harry.

Can’t help thinking how well they’re doing and how I never won a race in my life but am still trying at 44!  Will they still be going at my age? Or will they have given up and discovered drugs, rock n roll and fast cars? Who knows but I hope they have the habit of exercise for life.

Later whilst at the prize giving I met two people who had and did inspire me, the first was a 75-year-old lady called Mary Holmes who was still competing at Cross Country, and looked very sprightly too, I wished her well and hoped I would be still going at 75.

The second was an athlete who will forever have his name etched into my memory. In my teenage years whilst competing for various clubs, one boy called Darren Mead from Thetford   had dominated all the local races.  He had gone on to represent Great Britain at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Switzerland (1986) and gained a No 1 ranking for 10 miles for U 17’s (1987).   I had often wondered what had become of this talented boy?  Well here he was at the prize giving with his son, who had obviously inherited some of his talent.  My sister-in-law introduced me and we reminisced about how long ago it was we used to compete, and although he said he was still fit he appeared not to have competed for some time, hope maybe we’ll see him run again next year.

Well done to my Sister in Law Caroline Wakefield who was second Senior Lady in the series and Charlie Wakefield who won the Under 9’s series, not forgetting little Charlie who will surely win many events in years to come, and even if he doesn’t his ‘Mad’ uncle Ian will be proud as long as he does his best.

Whilst there I thought it would be great to have a go in the mens race, and was pleased with my 29 mins over 6.5 km considering the lack of running I do these days.

Video of Charlie and Harry 2 years ago in the same race!

Update – on 26 March 2012 Charlie became County Champion for under 9’s at the County Showground!


Winning the U15 Ryston Grand Prix aged 12 on 11th October 2015

Tribute to Pete Whittall

In May 2010 I learned that my friend Pete Whittall had terminal cancer.  As a tribute to Pete and with his help I wrote this article. Pete had a colourful life including many years in the SAS.  Sadly 6 months after this article was written Pete passed away.  The article was published by the ISRM in its journal ‘Recreation’ in May 2010.

Read it here.

The morning following the tragic news of Peters death was the 2010 ISRM AGM. 1 minutes silence and a moving tribute were made in this short video by Sarah Juggins the editor of the ISRM Magazine Recreation: