Bionic Bladder Man

JULY 2015: Richard Carter has been involved with Brighton & Hove Athletics Club for the last four decades. In his teens he ran for his country.  Since then, he has gone on to coach some of the club’s elite distance runners and, more recently, has switched to coaching children. He was instrumental in the establishment of Brighton & Hove parkrun. And he is a regular volunteer Start Manager for London Marathon, each year recruiting and managing a team of volunteers to look after the Fast Good for Age start. He had a major setback a few years ago with a life-threatening illness, and emerged receiving the award of Sussex Sports Coach of the Year! I was delighted when Richard agreed to an interview.

Richard, I know your running reached quite a high standard when you were younger. What was your greatest achievement?

I ran internationally for England and GB for eight years, from 1982 to 1990, both in cross-country and on the track, and I was three times English Schools Champion.

The highlight though was winning the Junior National Cross-Country Champs in March 1983. Unfortunately, a week later, I broke my ankle. That was just before the World Cross-Country Championships in New York. Of course, I was unable to run. I’d been the favourite to win. A Spanish athlete, Pedro (who I had recently beaten twice), went on to win it. And he was the last non-African to win the event!

Your dad Chris was also a great runner and even competed in the Commonwealth Games and two Olympics. What do you remember about running as a boy and how much did your dad inspire and influence you?

Yes, Dad also held the British 800m record with a time of 1:46.3… and that was on a cinder track when he was a full-time Police Officer. I remember watching him on TV running in Mexico when I was just three years old. And he was the founder member of the International Athletes Club, which meant I got to meet lots of famous runners.

I ran on the track as far back as I can remember. I always loved running but there was never any pressure to follow in Dad’s footsteps. I can’t remember what running I did exactly in those early years. Dad was always there to encourage me but I only really took up running seriously when I was 15.

For as long as I’ve known you, which is almost 20 years, you’ve been involved with coaching. What originally prompted the transition from running to coaching?

I was really keen to put something back into the sport which I’d got so much out of when I was competing. I got injured and had regular back problems but wanted to stay involved in the sport, so that was the catalyst which got me into coaching. I was living in Canada then. By the time I returned to the UK in 1997, aged 32, I’d put heaps of weight on and got up to 15 stone. I’d not run for 18 months.

Back in Brighton I got into training again and combined running with coaching. In 2000 I ran a 2hr44 London Marathon and, two weeks later, won the Three Forts Marathon. I then went on to race 5000m on the track in around 15:30.

In 2002 I became Brighton & Hove AC’s senior men’s Track Team Manager, was already organising our winter team and was the Middle and Long Distance Coach.

In September 2005 your world was turned upside down when you were diagnosed with bladder cancer. I know this was particularly impactful having a young family to support. Almost 10 years on now, what do you recall of that time of your life?

Emma was just three years old and Fran was three months pregnant with Ben. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. We decided to defer my operation until after Ben was born.

1st March 2006, Fran was induced, Ben was born and a week later I was undergoing a major operation to remove my bladder.

Ironically, I was reasonably fit at the time, running three to four times a week which, combined with a positive mind set, I’m certain was a significant contributory factor to me getting through it all. And I was overwhelmed with a fantastic support network of friends, family, work colleagues and particularly the athletics community.

A bit of a statistics addict, I logged absolutely everything, meticulously analysing my progress every day. I was determined the cancer was not going to get the better of me. I was adamant I was going to continue to be Brighton & Hove’s Team Manager. It helped take my mind off the illness. I went along to our first team match in the April, wearing my Catheter. We won!

The following year, I trained Steve Hollis, Athletics Journalist at the Argus, to run the London Marathon. I competed myself, dressed in my ‘Bionic Bladder Man’ costume, and was delighted to have raised £5000 in the process for Cancer Research UK.

That was obviously an extremely difficult and stressful time for yourself and your family, and I know there have been subsequent health issues. But it’s fantastic to see you looking so well now, and you are absolute proof that the fitness gained from running, along with such a positive attitude, can have a huge input in beating serious illness.

When I first met you, I remember you telling me that eventually you’d like to work with kids / the next generation of athletes! And now you’re doing exactly that, managing Withdean Athletics Academy. What attracts you to coaching children? It must be very different from working with adults.

I was always very conscious of there not being much structure for young ones outside of the athletics club environment. I wanted something for my daughter to enjoy. I was a trained Teacher and felt I could use my experience to help the kids. Younger kids can take good training. All the basic skills, drills, core work, etc can be instilled early on. In 2013, I took over Brighton & Hove’s Under-11 group, which back then had just 25 members. (It now has over 60 members and I have three Assistant Coaches.)

So, tell me about the Academy. When do you meet? What sort of things do you do? And what ages can you accommodate?

It’s at Withdean Stadium on Saturday mornings. We’re currently on a break but it will resume at the beginning of September. We split into two groups – ages 4-7 and 8-12.

Under the age of 13 it’s far too early to specialise in any one event, so we focus on variety and having fun. We don’t just run; we get the kids throwing and jumping and sometimes also incorporate some cycling. With the younger ones we do things like marching to encourage correct posture. It means they get to do all the right drills without even realising. I should add that the Saturday morning sessions are all-inclusive, and that includes kids with disability.

And I’m always keen for parents to get involved, assisting with the sessions rather than simply spectating as this can really help motivate the children.

We also run a Thursday evening session, which is by invitation for children who we recognise have talent and who would like to take their athletics a step further.

In the meantime, for any kids looking for some summer holiday fun, including a variety of track & field events, games and competitions, we have ‘Startrack’ which is held daily at Withdean, August 3-7 and 10-14. Details are on the Freedom Leisure website… http://www.freedom-leisure.co.uk/page.asp?section=1774

So, if any parents would like to get their kids involved (or indeed get involved themselves) with the Academy, who should they contact?

They can email me at rich_the_runner@hotmail.com

Richard, you’re clearly a big hit with the kids. As you know, my own goddaughter joined your group and has named her goldfish ‘Richard the Runner’ after you! Congratulations on everything you’ve achieved. You’re doing a fantastic job with the Academy. Keep up the excellent work and we’ll follow, with interest, the progression of some of your athletic stars of the future!

By Mike Bannister

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