We’ve often said that one of the best things about running has been the people we meet along the way. We rarely go on a trip without meeting someone new or getting to know someone we already know even better. Sometimes it’s just a brief encounter – a short exchange of views or sharing a particular moment in or after a race. Other times there is a connection and we become friends for life.
The runners we meet all have their own story – their reasons for running, their favourite events and their running goals. They come with a wide range of abilities: some enjoy running, for others it’s a bit of a trial, but they have all found something in running that fulfils a need. We’ve met some amazing runners over the years and we always find their stories interesting. We’d like to introduce you to some of these people, and we’ve asked them to tell you a bit about themselves in their own words.
Anthony Collier BEM
This week’s Friday friend is one of our ‘Comrades Friends for life’, Anthony Collier.
Despite all sharing our love for this amazing event, it’s probably fair to say that we actually came to each other’s attention more through not taking part than from running it. All three of us have shared the misery of missing Comrades due to injury. For us it was just one year. For Anthony, what was originally thought to be a running-related problem turned out to be a more serious diagnosis, an incurable prostate cancer with much more profound consequences than missing Comrades.
We hear about people facing adversity with courage and positivity, and from where we are sitting Anthony excels at this. Whilst there are almost certainly darker moments, Anthony’s attitude and achievements since his diagnosis have been hugely impressive. He has dedicated much of his time to trying to make sure that others do not have to face what he is going through, while at the same time highlighting and appreciating the things that are important in life, such as friends and family and experiences in the moment. What we see is pretty convincing.
As well as raising awareness about prostate cancer with a series of talks and a social media campaign, Anthony has been raising much-needed funds for research into the disease. We have added a link to Anthony’s fundraising page at the end of this post.
Amongst his other achievements, Anthony has been awarded the British Empire Medal for his charitable efforts, and elected Provost of Altrincham.
No one can tell Anthony’s story as well as he can so let’s hear what he has to say about living and running with cancer.
Why do you run/what do you get from running/why did you start
By the time I got to my mid 40’s my kids called me Mr Blobby (younger folk, google it). The firm I worked for sent me for a medical when I was 45 and they said that I was borderline clinically obese and my blood pressure was so high I’d be on drugs for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something naturally. I’d always played lots of sport. I played Table Tennis just below county standard as well as social squash but clearly I needed to do more so I started running with the informal running club at the gym where I played squash and 2 years later we formed Styal Running Club. I was one of the three main Committee members and have been either Treasurer or Secretary ever since. We started with about 15 members and a few social members and, whilst still small, we have grown to over 70 members.
I started to run to lose some weight but soon realised that I loved the running community and over the last 17 years I’ve made so many friends all across the world through running. Even when I’ve been injured I’ve turned up at local races just to chat with running buddies from other clubs. I think the running community is amazing, supportive and incredibly friendly.
When I was at my running peak I got a great sense of achievement when I ran a good time or a long distance or bagged a PB but the best bit was running with my club mates, trips all over the world and encouraging each other to new heights.
In May 2017 my runners groin strain was hampering my training for Comrades 2017 so I had an MRI scan and was devastated when it was diagnosed as stage 4, incurable (effectively terminal) prostate cancer. The groin pain was coming from stress fractures of the pelvis which was where the main bulk of the cancer was but it turned out that I had metastisis in virtually every bone in my torso from pelvis to skull and I was told that I may have as little as 2 years to live. Even scarier I was told that I’d probably had the cancer for 10 years given the spread. I’d had no symptoms whatsoever and I think this should give men a really vital message that they need to be proactive about their prostate health and get to the GP’s and insist on a PSA blood test. Amazingly in that 10 years I’d run 19 marathons and 1 ultra!
Treatment for advanced stage prostate cancer removes male hormone and both men and women need that to power their running. I have none now but running is such a massive part of my life that I can’t just give up. I’m a lot slower and don’t have the strength to run as far but I’m still bloody minded, determined and stubborn and I’ll carry on running and racing as long as this illness lets me and so long as I don’t finish last I’ll be happy. I even managed to complete the London marathon in 2018 a year into treatment. It was a massive personal worst but I raised £13,000 for Prostate Cancer UK and it’s the marathon I’m proudest of because it took lots of guts just to take it on let alone complete it. It was also my 20th and last marathon! I’d actually got an over 60 Good For Age time to get the entry and I’m glad I didn’t waste it. You don’t get too many chances to run London.
Best running achievement
I’m very proud to have run all 6 of the World Marathon Majors. The Majors were barely even heard of when I completed the 6 in 2014 and I was in the first 30 Brits to complete them. The 6 star medal wasn’t even introduced until 2016! I did my first at age 54 and last at age 57 with an average time of 3:27 and was very consistent. I’m very happy that I’ve inspired lots of other runners to go for the 6.
As you know, Comrades is just an incredible race and a real achievement to complete it. I was never in Jacquie’s class but I finished in the top 17% of the 50-59 age group when I was 59 in 2016 in a time of 9:46. It was utterly terrifying but an absolutely incredible, indescribable event. It really gets into your soul and I’d have loved to get a back to back medal in 2017 but it just wasn’t to be.
Running bucket list
Comrades had been my top bucket list item for years when I made my first attempt in 2015 but had to pull out after 17 miles due to injury. In my circumstances I’ve achieved all I’m going to in my running life so my bucket list item now is just to keep on running and when I’m forced to stop running I’ve recently qualified as a coach and that should future proof my involvement in running and my club
It’s impossible to say anything other than Comrades. It’s so utterly iconic and a race that attacks all your senses. However the Boston marathon pushes it really close. It’s another iconic race, a real runners race and very different to the other marathons that I’ve done. I ran it in 2013 the year of the bombings and my Wife and my running buddies Husband were 400m from the bomb sight. We were very lucky to have finished before the blasts but it was a strange eery place for the few days we stayed in the City afterwards.
Advice you would give to others/ your earlier running self/what you wish you’d known
My main advice to any runner is that you only get out what you put in. If you want to run faster or further you’ve got to train faster and further. If all your training runs are at 9 min mile pace then all you’re training yourself to do is race at 9 min mile pace! It also helps to follow a proper training plan and have an idea what your goal is. I always found that, certainly for marathons, it helped to have a target time that I’d either a) be elated with or b) be happy with or c) be satisfied enough that I wouldn’t beat myself up about.
My main advice in the current very strange pandemic times is to work hard to stay connected, particularly (after family and friends) with running club mates. As an example I recently organised a virtual relay race over a weekend with three teams of 10. Each runner had to run for 30 minutes and record the distance that they’d run. The team that ran furthest won. I asked for a donation of a minimum of £2 to take part which would go to the Coronavirus Disasters Appeal. It was great fun, our club WhatsApp group went crazy for two days and we raised over £220 for charity.
I am raising much needed funds for Prostate Cancer UK. During 2019 it was my goal to run 970 miles, that’s 1 mile for every man that dies of Prostate Cancer each month in the UK. I completed the challenge at Oldham parkrun on 21st December 2019 despite having been unwell on and off for the previous 3 months. My sponsorship link is still open though. Please read more and sponsor me at the link below.
You can read Anthony’s blog at http://runningintocancer.co.uk.
Thank you Anthony!
Each year The Comrades Marathon has a motivation motto – in 2016 when Anthony ran so well, this was “Izokuthoba” – “It will humble you”. In our attempt to not over-sentimentalise this post, we are not sure Anthony that we have done you justice but these words say it all – we are humbled by you and your achievements and proud to call you a friend.