We put the questions to 18-year-old Ross Charlton, Morpeth Harrier turned Modern Pentathlete, who is from Morpeth, where he attended KEVI, and is currently studying at Bath University
How did you get into running?
Well, I had started playing tennis, cricket and football but grew up being aware of the heritage of Morpeth Harriers with likes of Jim Alder, Don Speight & the Hudspiths. I'd just turned ten and thought I’d pop along to the clubhouse one Monday night and see how it went. That was mid-2012 and I’d say it’s gone pretty well so far!
Can you share some early experiences?
I always enjoyed training and after a modest start, gradually my results started to improve.
My first ‘big race’ was the Northern Schools Cross Country in February 2014. As I got to the Northumberland tent I was a bag of nerves. Didn’t think that I’d be able to run - I was so bad. Suddenly a couple of older and more experienced lads from Morpeth Harriers, Kieran Hedley and Joe Dowd saw the state I was in and got a hold of me. “Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, you just come and warm up with us, we’ll get you to the start line, once that gun goes you’ll be fine!” They were right and I’ve never forgotten what they did for me that day.
Then there was the Junior Great North Run in the September of that same year. In those days you were given an RFID chip to attach to your laces for electronic timing. Disaster struck, I hadn’t put mine in my kit bag and there wasn’t enough time to go home to get it. My Dad said: “They hand-time the podium finishers so you know what you have to do.” That focused the mind I can tell you and I came third. They actually hand time the first ten finishers but Dad has never admitted that he knew that!
Who are your athletics heroes?
I’ve always respected all athletes without ever having that many specific heroes. However, I do get very excited cheering on my teammates and lads that I’ve competed against. It’s been fantastic to see former training partners like Matty Waterfield, Dan Dixon and Rory Leonard do great things on National and International Stages. Further afield my so-called ‘brother’ Sam Charlton from Wallsend has done the North East proud as did the Durham lads, Henry Johnson, Dan Joyce and Will Bellamy who all ran in the Senior UK Championships 800m last year.
But I think that the real heroes are our coaches, who turn out come rain or shine to direct training and support us at events; and there’s the folks who set up the courses, the officials etc because without all of them, we’d have no events to show what we can do.
What do you consider to be your best performances for the Harriers?
Best team performance as a Morpeth Harrier would have to be winning the Northern Cross Country Team Award in 2019 with Dan Melling, Rowan Bennett and Tom Balsdon. We just got pipped for a medal at Sutton Park in the National Road Relays a few months earlier and that would be a close second. Also, the banter in the car on the way home from Birmingham made that trip a classic!!
Best Individual would be my 3000m run at Stretford in September 2020. I worked hard through the summer without being able to compete much because of Covid 19 but my 3000m time of 8.38, which was the 18th fastest time in the UK Under 20 category when I’d only just turned eighteen, helped make up for it.
What has been your biggest disappointment so far?
That’s an easy one, I was robbed of the chance to revise for weeks and sit my A Levels because of Covid 19. I was gutted I tell ya! (answer followed by prolonged laughter).
Can you give us a couple of funny stories from your junior athletics career?
I’ll start with the 2016 North East Cross Country Championship at Aykley Heads. I was running in the Under 15 race and came into the home straight in third place. My Dad could see behind me was one of my best mates, Henry Johnson from Houghton Harriers, coming up like a steam train. Dad went apoplectic warning me. As Henry went past me, Dad let out an expletive. I won’t repeat it but go listen for yourself, it’s still on YouTube: His site is John Charlton, just click on the Video tab and scroll back to 2016. It reminds me a bit of the Kevin Keegan outburst when he ‘lost it’ and that race has a lot more views than any of the others he recorded!
The other one would be English Schools Cross Country 2019 at Temple Newsam. I have a mate called Will Tighe, known as ‘Billy Whizz’, who ran for Derbyshire Schools. He has a girlfriend who lives not far from where we sometimes train - at the Rising Sun Country Park, Wallsend. Anyway, because Will was coming up to see her, I’d arranged a lift for him on the Northumberland Schools bus. However, whilst we had a short warm down and got on the bus, unbeknownst to us Will elected to go for a long warm down with his team-mates from Derbyshire. He was nowhere to be found. Time was getting on so reluctantly we had to accept that we’d have to leave him. The bus was pulling out of the grounds of Temple Newsam, when Dan Melling screamed, “That’s him. He’s coming!” In the distance Will was literally like Billy Whizz in the Beano, sprinting after us. We were killing ourselves laughing but happily the bus driver pulled over and he made it. After running a long, hard cross-country in the mud, we all agreed that Will’s burst of pace was the most impressive athletics performance of the day!
You are now involved in Modern Pentathlon which is a sport not widely understood in the UK despite us having considerable success in recent years. Tell us how you became aware of it and how your interest developed?
To understand the sport, we need to go back in time. The Ancient Olympics in Greece included the Pentathlon which was five disciplines that a soldier might need. I think it was Wrestling, Javelin, Discus, Long Jump and a short run. When the Modern Olympics were founded by Baron Pierre De Coubertin, for the 1912 Games he introduced the Modern Pentathlon using five disciplines which a cavalryman might need behind enemy lines. So now it’s a 200m swim, show jumping on a horse unknown to the rider, a one hit fencing competition, pistol shooting and a 3,200m run. As of the 2012 London Olympics, the run & shooting were combined into the Laser Run which is to hit 5 targets with a laser pistol at 10 metres followed by an 800m run, repeated four times.
PentathIon GB run local ‘starter’ events like the Biathlon (separate 100m swim, followed by a 1600m run). I did one at Hexham in about 2015 and from there I was invited to a National Biathlon at Crystal Palace. My Dad was very keen to see me run there because of his boyhood obsession with the ‘Golden Age’ which included Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram! So we made a family weekend of it in London.
Newcastle Fencing and Shooting Club learned of my involvement and invited me to a few trial sessions and I just really enjoyed it.
My Fencing & Shooting coach suggested that I entered the National Tetrathlon (no Show Jumping). I’d only been there a few weeks and I got annihilated in the fencing! Going into the Laser Run I was dead last. However, I ran and shot well and ended up with mid-table respectability. So I thought, “hang on, I can do this!”
Bath University is the blue riband university for the sport in the UK: tell us how what selection for it involved?
I’d say that Bath and Loughborough are the top sporting universities in the UK (Dan Melling and Rory Leonard would never forgive me if I suggested anything different!) Bath has certain events where it is the Centre for Excellence such as Rugby, Winter Sports and Modern Pentathlon. I’ve been on the Pentathlon Junior Talent Program for a few years now and in order to train with the best Juniors and Seniors, you need to be at Bath Uni. So my UCAS application form looked a bit odd, it only had one university on it!
Lockdown notwithstanding, what does a typical week's training look like at present?
Talk us through some of the specific requirements and skills required for each of the five elements. How hard it is to be good at every single one, and does a pentathlete just have to accept that you'll better at some than at others?
Great question! People often come at Pentathlon from different backgrounds. Some through the Pony Club and many through swimming. I’m a little unusual because I was primarily a runner. How hard is it to be good at each event? There’s no getting away from it, it’s a lot of hard work. Fortunately for me, I love all the disciplines so it’s a labour of love.
In terms of performance, yes the athlete has to accept that he/she will be better at some of the disciplines. The idea is to exploit your strengths and minimise your weaknesses. The thing that makes it interesting is points are awarded in the swim, show jumping and fencing. These then translate into a handicap for the combined laser run. So someone who is an ace swimmer and fencer would have a big head start but could be caught by someone who is a fast runner and good shot. Where you finish the Laser Run is where you finish the whole Pentathlon event.