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.

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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.

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“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.

Keeping the Legacy alive


Is there any evidence to suggest that attitudes to sport and physical activity has changed since the Olympics/Paralympics or has all the enthusiasm disappeared with the extinguishing of the flame?

Being a Chartered Marketer and having worked my whole life in sport, this topic is close to my heart, so over the next few hundred words I will attempt to put the case forward for why Marketers should continue to associate their products and services with sport and sports events in the UK and how ultimately this will benefit everyone and not just the bottom line.

The feel-good factor generated by the Olympics can persist if we want it to. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be” Just watching the Olympics, and being caught up in the national enthusiasm, changed how many people felt. This proves that we may have the capacity to change how we feel without going to doctors, dealers, publicans or supermarkets.

In my view sport, art, music and culture all have the ability to help people make up their minds to be happy. As Marketers we know that people who feel happy are much more likely, to buy things, try new things, and commit to healthier lifestyles this presents many opportunities for companies who have positioned themselves appropriately.

The London 2012 Olympics/Paralympics were not isolated events they were part of a planned ‘Decade of Sport’ for the UK, which began with the Ryder Cup in Wales (2010), then moved on to the Olympics/Paralympics 2012. In 2014 we have the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, 3 Tour de France stages, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, in 2015 we have the Rugby World Cup. 2017 sees the World Athletics Championships coming to London and in 2019 the ICC Cricket Work Cup comes to England.  This is not an exhaustive list but does give a flavour of what is to come and the many opportunities for ‘Happy People’ that Marketers will be able to engage with over the next few years.

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Part of the Legacy will be more kids enjoying and playing sport.

Yes that’s all very well I hear you say but is there any evidence?  The most comprehensive measurement of the level of physical activity for the general population in England is the ‘Active People Survey’ this has been running since October 2005. Sport England announced in December that during 2012 there had been an increase of 750,000 people playing sports at least once a week since the same time a year ago and 1.57 m more people than in 2005 when UK won the Olympic bid (See Announcement).

To conclude, participation is certainly on the increase which indicates a significant behavioural change. But that’s not the only thing on the increase, major investment from the government and sponsors such as Sainsbury’s (10 million School Games) and Sky (British Cycling circa £20 million to date) is likely to generate more interest, enthusiasm, events and participation.

With the cost of physical inactivity to the UK’s government currently estimated at £900m (Source BHF), investment is only likely to increase.  I urge Marketers to ‘Play the long game’ and to engage with the sporting community, not only to improve their bottom line (and surely it will) but also to help inspire a generation and to keep the ‘Legacy alive’.

Ian Wakefield

Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity

Extracts from this article were published in ‘The Marketer’ in May 2013

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!

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