Marathon man just can’t stop running

RUNNING MAN Phil Hewitt with all his medals
RUNNING MAN Phil Hewitt with all his medals
Mike and Elaine Friend pictured on their wedding day

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They’ve both had marathon careers, but when Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney were laying down their classic tracks in the 1960s they could never have imagined they would inspire a lonely, long-distance runner.

Phil Hewitt has just completed his 25th marathon and the Rolling Stones and the Beatles have provided the soundtrack to his pavement pounding to help him keep on running.

FINISHING LINE Phil completes the Portsmouth Coastline marathon in 2011

FINISHING LINE Phil completes the Portsmouth Coastline marathon in 2011

And after more than 650 miles of racing and thousands more clocked up in training, 48-year-old Phil has written a book explaining his addiction to the gruelling 26.2 miles of endless road which make a marathon.

It has been published as thousands of recreational runners fine-tune their training for the London Marathon on April 22 – an event Phil has completed six times.

He was smitten by running when he finished his first marathon – the 1997 London event. But in those days music played no part.

He says: ‘In the early days I never ran to music. It seemed so impolite to be shutting out the crowds, but now I almost always use music. For me marathons go hand in hand with my life-long obsession with The Rolling Stones.

‘In fact, each of the chapters in the book has got a Rolling Stones song for the title. Plundered My Soul, Gimme Shelter and Paint It Black are the titles for the chapters describing my marathon shockers.

‘Satisfaction, Street Fighting Man and Like A Rolling Stone are among the great days I’ve run. The first chapter is Start Me Up. The last chapter is Don’t Stop. You get the theme.’

Another highlight has been the New Forest Marathon which Phil has run twice.

‘I’ve always adored The Beatles. I put all their albums chronologically on my MP3 player and set myself the goal of finishing somewhere in 1966, ie the Revolver album. If I reached Sgt Pepper (1967), I would have failed. Mission accomplished, I crossed the line just as McCartney was singing Got To Get You Into My Life [the 13th track of 14].

‘Earlier on, though, songs such as Nowhere Man, Help, I’m A Loser and I’ll Cry Instead hadn’t actually been terribly inspirational.’

Phil, the Chichester-based group arts editor for Sussex Newspapers (sister papers of The News) lives at Bishop’s Waltham and was born in the flat above The News office in West Street, Fareham.

Last December he added the new Portsmouth Coastline Marathon to a tally including New York City, Paris (three times), Berlin, Rome, Amsterdam, Isle of Wight, Dublin, Mallorca, La Rochelle, New Forest (twice) and Steyning.

Earlier this year, Phil was among the finishers on a bitterly cold day in Tokyo – a marathon which confirmed that he’s definitely not done yet.

‘Each marathon I think will be my last,’ says Phil, who grew up in Gosport and attended Bay House School.

‘But I know that I am kidding myself. I know that if I tell myself it will be my last, I will make that extra special effort that a marathon demands. And then, as soon as I cross the finish line, I immediately start thinking “which one next?”’ At the age of 48, I know my best time (three hours 20 minutes in London) is something, five years later, I couldn’t touch. But the thought of being someone “who used to run marathons” is just intolerable.’

Which is why he called the book Keep On Running. It’s his attempt to explain why the agonies will always be outweighed by his sheer joy of running.

‘I’ve had some shockers. I’ve collapsed in a Berlin gutter and still finished.

‘Even worse was swearing very colourfully at a little old lady who stepped out in front of me half a mile from the finish in Rome. To my horror, even as the obscenities were leaving my lips, I turned and saw that she was a nun in full regalia.

‘Even worse was getting overtaken, in icy torrential rain in Amsterdam, by a man with a model boat on his head. That almost finished me. But the weird thing is that I love the low points almost as much as I love the highlights. Tokyo in February was fantastic – piercingly cold, but you were warmed by the wonderful crowds in a country determined to show that it was up and running again after last year’s awful earthquake.’

And his most memorable? ‘The New York City, just a couple of years after 9/11 on a stunning November day with Central Park looking astonishingly beautiful in all its autumn colours under brilliant blue skies.

‘The crowds were huge and very loud and incredibly generous in their support. It was also extremely moving – many people were running in memory of loved ones killed in the terror attacks.

‘They had pictures of their lost loved-ones on their running vests and T-shirts. New York City was wonderfully alive that day – a terrific tribute to all those who had perished in the atrocity.’

· Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict is published by Summersdale (£8.99; ISBN: 9781849532365) and is available from Amazon and other leading online booksellers. It is also stocked by Waterstones.

ON THE RUN

British running is booming. According to the most recent Sport England figures, participation in athletics, which includes running and jogging, has increased by more than 215,000 to 1.9 million in the last couple of years.

In a recession you can buy a decent pair of running shoes for about the equivalent of a month’s gym membership. Everything else you need is outside your front door.

Phil Hewitt says marathons are within the grasp of anyone with a decent basic fitness and little or no excess weight. But there are three things you must do before taking those first tentative strides.

He says: ‘First, you really do need to splash out on some proper, specialist running shoes. Without them you are sunk.

‘It’s probably worth noting how many miles you do in a particular pair of shoes. I change mine as soon as my knees start to hurt, which is generally after 500 miles or so in any one pair.

‘Next you need a bucketful of stubbornness. You absolutely can’t be wishy-washy about a marathon. Wanting to do a marathon isn’t enough. You have got to really, really, really want to do a marathon – and that’s the thing that makes it so satisfying when you do it.

You’ve put in the effort – and therefore you enjoy the reward all the more.’

‘The third thing is that you have got to invest the time. Marathon training schedules are all over the internet. You could probably go from not running at all to running a marathon in six months if you build it up gradually and sensibly, slowly increasing the distance of your weekly long run and maintaining the intensity of your shorter runs.’

For a first-time marathon runner, he reckons you need to have several 18-milers under your belt before you taper off in the final three weeks of training. And that means it is also crucial to focus on hydration.

‘Basically, just make sure you don’t approach any of it lightly, he adds. ‘Marathon running is huge fun, but it is a serious business. Treat the great god Marathon with respect. Do so, and my money is on you enjoying the greatest day of your life.’