If you happen to be wandering near the reservoir north of Llanelli and spot a man running as though being pursued by wolves, shouting and cackling and filming himself on a GoPro, don’t panic. That’s just Jimmy Watkins, filming another of his “running reviews”. Even though you can’t actually hear the music he’s listening to while he runs, Watkins’ noisy enthusiasm and on-the-hoof song descriptions have made him a social media hit.
“The idea just came out of nowhere at the start of lockdown, thinking of things to take my mind off just how weird the world had become,” he explains. “What if I find an album I’ve never heard before, go for a run and record myself listening to it? I came home and googled it, and no one else was doing it. It felt like I’d invented something.”
The videos work as a suitably irreverant advert for his new club, Running Punks, which is a welcoming home for outsider types who might not be a natural fit in a more traditional athletics team. The club logo features both safety pins and lightning bolts and appears on a range of rock ‘n’ roll merchandise with items named after Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Jimi Hendrix. Their waterproof jacket is called the “Mac Sabbath”.
They’ve been hosting free meet-ups on Sunday mornings in Cardiff since July, Covid-restrictions permitting, and encouraging spin-off groups to set up in other cities wherever they notice they’re selling a lot of merch. Groups have begun as far apart as Richmond, Boston, Brooklyn and Melbourne. “Running Punks is all about knowing you’re not perfect,” says Watkins. They encourage slow running, which he says has counterintuitively made him faster, and going out without a watch on.
Watkins, 38, has had a roundabout journey to become shouty reservoir man. He played rugby for Wales as a schoolboy, then concentrated on running the 800m. He was sixth Moscow’s World Indoor Championships in 2006, but became disillusioned after another race in which he ran a PB of 1:46 and still came fourth. A keen guitarist, encouraged by his musician father, he quit athletics to play in a succession of rock bands. The best known, Future of the Left, won the Welsh Music Prize for their 2012 album The Plot Against Common Sense. Having been obliged to keep logs of everything he ate and drank as an athlete, he took to this newfound freedom rather too enthusiastically.
“There was such a divide between my two careers. It was insane. I definitely went from one extreme to the other,” he says. “It took 10 years for me to realise that there was a good reason I had stayed away from this kind of lifestyle.”
Things got particularly dark while watching the London 2012 Olympics, especially the double triumph of his occasional former Team GB roommate Mo Farah. “Regret and alcohol is not a good combo,” he says.
Now, belatedly, he’s realised that rock and running maybe aren’t so far apart. “We think of running as similar to practising an instrument. You don’t need to be aiming for guitar solos, but the more time you spend doing it, the better you’ll be. And you don’t need a £50 technical top. Just chuck a band T-shirt on and go for a run!”
WHY IT WORKS FOR ME
“Trying some new techniques thanks to Running Punks has really helped and I’m back in love with running more than ever, possibly as much as when I was a kid. It’s the one really positive thing to come out of being in lockdown.”
– Andrew ‘Bernie’ Plain
“At the start of 2015 I weighed close to 23 stone. I took up running in 2017 as a possible hobby but it became a way of life. As someone who is quite insecure, to me being a Running Punk means that ‘when your self worth is low the punk will always rise.’ You don’t have to fit in…. just enjoy.”
– Richard ‘Hexty’ Hext