For a picture of dedication, look no further than Chris Pratt’s Instagram post of 12 February. Even while isolating, the 50-year-old Yorkshireman still managed to don his headband and run a daily 5k: 57 laps round the garden, down the side passage, round the car in the front driveway and back.
That was just one running challenge of many for a man who seemingly can’t step out of his front door without reframing it as an epic contest. He did that literally during one period of lockdown restriction last year, running 21 miles around a tiny local green – a total of 105 laps. Last year he took a major virtual challenge down to the wire, completing the 874 mile distance from Land’s End to John o’ Groats with a half marathon on New Year’s Eve. He bounced almost directly from that into another virtual run ticking off the 870 miles of the Wales Coastal Path. He can at least cover some of that for real, having been based in Bridgend in South Wales for the past three decades. When we speak, he’s a quarter of the way through, but itching to get back into real life running with his club, Ogmore Phoenix.
He took over as Chair of the club in 2017, rebuilding it with a name change and fresh outlook following what he tactfully describes as “a bit of turbulence” in an organisation originally set up in 2012. Since then, they’ve been attracting awards from Welsh Athletics like a magnet: Volunteer of the Year for Pratt in 2018, Development Club of the Year for Ogmore in 2019, and in 2020, Inspirational Club of the Year. He’s been made an ambassador for ASICS FrontRunner and even got to do a TEDx talk about the club’s achievements, titled “Building a Community Through Running”. Naturally he began his presentation by calculating that you could do a marathon if you ran around the circumference of the red dot on the TED stage 13,421 times. He didn’t actually do it, but you can bet he considered it.
The Inspiration gong came from all the activities Ogmore has organised to keep its members going through lockdown: a full year’s worth of virtual Parkruns, elevation and distance challenges such as a run to Berlin, virtual relays and various contests based around the club’s logo. “It was all the things that a lot of clubs were doing, but really working hard at presenting it well to the members and getting them engaged,” Pratt explains. “We also had a support network set up, so it was about the community aspect of the club as much as the running. We realised that we can be much more than the sport we’re providing.”
We talk over Zoom, where clever use of a green sheet allows half of his room to look like his normal office – complete with this lifelong rocker’s electric guitar – and the other half to show a tempting digital view of the Welsh countryside. He’s put the effort in as he hosts so many video chats with the club members. “It is like having two full-time jobs,” he says of the combination of his club work and his (semi-furloughed) day job making pub gaming machines. The Who Wants to be a Millionaire? game was one of his. Is his other half annoyed? Not really – she’s the club’s social secretary.
He insists that he hasn’t shown any remarkable leadership abilities or hunger for giant undertakings in the other parts of his life – he manages just two other people at his business – but running seems to have awakened something, belatedly. He only started at 40, when he got a place in the London Marathon in 2011, and mostly ran alone until he joined a club in 2014. “I did two races in 2012, but 34 in 2015, after I’d joined the club and discovered what it could bring to me,” he says. In 2015, among other things, he decided to take on 15 half-marathons. By 2019, he’d progressed to 19 marathons. “Being in a club is what opened my eyes to what running could do. My passion now is in getting that message across.”
Ogmore Phoenix is now approaching 400 members despite not having a formal base. A welcoming ethos includes a section for walkers and a Couch to 5k programme which they call “Zero 2 Hero”. That progression can also lead the keenest on to a next level: “Legend”. The glow of group experiences has been kept alive even when people have been unable to get together in person. “The sharing of photographs and sharing of stories makes everyone feel like they are still together, and as you grow, it’s self-perpetuating, with everybody reaching out to everybody else.”
For Pratt, a return to the London Marathon is the next big personal goal, as part of an ambitious scheme to join the 100 Marathon Club. As club Chair, though, he’s especially looking forward to the return of the Snowdonia Marathon. “It’s become a pilgrimage for us. We line the final corner – gazebos, flags and all that – and cheer every last runner in. People see us and think, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”