Sunderland Harrier Craig Gunn was a late comer to athletics and is now trying to make up for lost time. He was 29 when he joined Sunderland Harriers having been a leisurely jogger previously and a footballer from being young.

Playing football lasted until his mid- 20’s before realising he was okay with the running side of the sport but not with the finer points of the game.

A good friend of his, Luke Gallagher, introduced him to a cycling/running keep fit regime, as he was just running to justify a bad diet and drinking too many beers. After he joined the gym at Houghton it was David Hall who challenged him, setting him army 1500m runs and tests to start him on interval training.

Craig Gunn - Running For Enjoyment.

Gunn, now aged 33, said: “I’ve always been competitive, it was probably from then I started to really take note of stats and times and wanting to improve.

“I had resisted joining the Harriers for years, as I was enjoying doing my own thing. I was put off by the thought of being far slower than lots of other runners. But following an injury in 2017 I realised I had plateaued, if not gone backwards, so was keen to get myself back to where I was as soon as I could. In hindsight, I wish I’d joined the Harriers years previously. The support from everyone, coaches through to other runners, was invaluable.’’

An unusual Christmas present from his sister Abby put Gunn on the right track in 2018 and led him to medal in his first race. “Abby booked me a place in the 2018 Staveley 10k fell race, it’s not the kind of race I would have normally have considered doing for my race debut!

“However, to my surprise I finished second. Through finishing in that position, I was given a place in the race for 2019, where I ran over four minutes quicker in achieving my first ever competitive race win, which will always hold a special place for me. The whole event has a great carnival atmosphere in a lovely setting. I had another place for this year after 2020 was cancelled, but l couldn’t make it.’’

Gunn was now fired-up after his win at Staveley and it was not long before he tasted another victory. But, before then, he warmed up for the event with third place in the Fleetwood Half Marathon (78:35), two months before taking on the tough Kielder Half Marathon where he surprised himself by winning by 90 seconds in clocking 76:19.

”I just love racing in general, the build-up, the camaraderie especially in team events, working hard during the race itself and the feeling after it has all finished".

“I had a great block of training recently hitting 70 miles a week, which lasted for about five months. I was training seven days a week, with a few double days. I’m really fortunate and grateful to Carla that I can afford the time. I’ve reduced this to six and single day runs recently as I’ve torn my meniscus so I had to drop that to 45-50 miles a week".

“My coach, Richie Tough, sets some quality Tuesday sessions which I look forward to and it’s always great training with the other lads. I’ve been fortunate to train with faster lads like Andy Powell and Stephen Jackson recently. I’m always off the back of them but determined to narrow the gap! Combined with Richie’s support and advice, consistent track sessions have undoubtedly helped improve my running this last three years.’’

The programme manager for the NHS added: “I ran a 5k in 15:25 for my first race post-lockdown, which was pleasing for a first race in almost a year. I’m hoping to keep chipping away at that, I really believe I can bring that time down. As for races longer than 5k, I know I have room for improvement – I’ve just brought my 10k PB time down to 33:31 and the half marathon of 1:16.19 needs revising. I’m hoping to get some track races in this next year to test myself over some shorter distances".

“To be honest, with the physical, mental and social benefits running brings, my main aim and ambition is just to continue enjoying running and racing as long as possible. I’m realistic to know I’ll never be any great shakes as a top runner, so I really just hope to continue enjoying it as long as I can".

“I am really competitive so will keep looking to progress and improve my PBs of course, but I’m conscious we so often get into running and enjoy it, then go chasing times, PBs and places at the detriment of the enjoyment element, we forget to appreciate the running side of it. I’m hoping I can find the balance between the two for as long as possible.’’