He’s an actor, a performer, a joker, a funny man – and he runs quite well, too. Tony Audenshaw, the actor who plays Bob Hope in Emmerdale, held the title of fastest celebrity three years consecutively. A serial marathon runner and natural performer, he’s dressed as Papa Smurf, Elvis, Tarzan – and this year, a baby! Like all runners, Tony has to fit in his passion with a busy schedule and family life, but he keeps it balanced, and most of all fun-filled!
Forty-five year old Tony hails from Denton, Manchester. A member of Stockport Harriers running club, he’s been running for 14 years, longer than his time in ITV’s soap, Emmerdale which he joined in 2000, as Bob Hope, the café owner, shopkeeper and more recently, bankrupt bar man. In a previous life as a jobbing actor, Tony was Mickey Mouse at Thorpe Park – a taste of things to come!
Like many late starters, Tony “did cross country at school”, then put on weight, and became in his own words, a ‘fat lad’. So he decided to do something about it, and, at the time, he says, “I thought Marathons were the only races you could do.”
He ran his first marathon in 1996, in 4:24, in 1999, he had another go and managed 3:58, then just five years on, in 2004 he knocked an hour off this time in Dublin, achieving a sub three. By April 2006, he ran a best time of 2:58:49 in London ranking him in the top 250 for his age group that year. To achieve the PB meant sacrifice. “I worked so hard, and gave up so much,” he says. “But I loved feeling really fit, especially, as I’d spent most of my life not feeling fit – not fit at all!”
“I was so strong”. It’s that feeling of fitness and strength that keeps him running, “I love feeling the air on my cheeks, feeling fit… it’s ‘magic, free and easy!”
Like many runners, Tony’s mammoth effort was followed by injury including the dreaded plantar fasciitis and shin splints. But it didn’t deter him, and the fun-loving actor, decided it was time to “fancy dress it”.
COPING WITH COSTUMES
In 2007, he entered a competition to run the London Marathon as the fastest Elvis. “It was brilliant,” he says, “I wasn’t going for a time and the crowd was out of this world. I didn’t get recognised as Bob, but as Elvis ….well, as I’m a bit of a performer, I lapped it up.
“It was funny, I poured water on myself and it weighed down my flares. My white Elvis suit went see-through, which drew even more attention from the crowds!”
Two years on, Tony dressed as Tarzan in London. Apparently the loin cloth was easier to run in, “I had virtually nothing on, it was great, I was really cool and with no time goal, I was totally relaxed. ” That year he ran 3:01: “How did I do that?” he muses.
It didn’t seem to matter what he dressed as, he managed to retain the fastest celebrity runner title for three consecutive years. In 2009 he dressed as Papa Smurf.
“The beard was itchy and irritating, and the hat hot, butI loved the atmosphere.” And he still mananged a respectable 3:15 finish.
WINTER OF DISCONTENT
But like most runners, the desire to keep on running is always there for Tony, and he describes marathon training as a love-hate thing. “This year I decided to go for it again.
Then came the ice and snow and worse winter for 30 years! “For five weeks I did no quality work and then I picked up psoriasis and a cold sore after a half marathon.”
My interview with Tony is a month before the London marathon and he’s nursing a groin strain. “Yesterday was the first run I’d had in three weeks!” he admits. But he remains optimistic, as his training, by most people’s standards has been consistent.
“I tend to do three weeks on, and one week ease back. And I do a lot of 70 mile weeks. Over the last couple of months I’ve done three 80 mile weeks, followed by two 50 mile weeks – and then nothing. ” Tony trains hard, “I do three to four key sessions every week: a long slow run, a threshold run, intervals or hills, and in the run up to the race, I like to practice race pace, by running 12 mles before a 10k.
“I do half mile repeats on the hills, and my threshold runs usually include 2 x 3 mile repeats with a mile jog between, which I build up six miles solid, then to 2 x 3.5 miles which I build up to 12 miles solid. I’m an out and out distance runner, and although I know it helps me get faster I find I get injured on the track.”
Not surprising, that Tony’s taken to Ultras, running two last year. And he’s planning to run the 56-mile, Bullock Smithy Ultra Fell Run for a second time later in the year. Running has a dual purpose for the extrovert with an introvert side, “I love the camaraderie but I enjoy being on my own.
“I’ve got a digital voice recorder and use running time to learn my lines.” He’s currently producing Tony’s Trials on Martin Yelling’s and Tom William’s weekly podcast, www.marathontalk.com. “I like to prepare these whilst I’m running, ” he says.
He laughs when I ask him if he uses his running to help with his emotions from acting, “Well, for the last nine months, I’ve been serving drinks behind the bar,” he says! “But, tomorrow I’ve got a 12 hour day, stuck inside, doing an emotional scene, so I’ll run to to let off steam.”
FIND THE GAP
When it comes to fitting running in to his hectic schedule, Tony has to go with the flow, “I run when there are gaps,” he says. “I avoid sitting in traffic, by getting to work at 630am so that I can have a run before we start filming at 730am.” And, depending on his schedule, Tony will find time during the day, too, “if the make up girls let me. There has to be enough time for me to shower between takes,” he says.
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
The training has been good for London, but he won’t being taking it too seriously.
“When I ran sub three I stopped, looked at my life and realised I didn’t want go to bed early and stop seeing my mates. I’m a big eater and I enjoy drinking and socialising.” And Tony the entertainer can never take a back seat, no matter how serious his training gets! “I’m wearing a nappy with a safety pin, a bib and I’m carrying a big a dummy,” he laughs. But, the serious side is that Tony will, like many other marathon runners raise thousands for his charity.
For more information about Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, visit www.banana-army.com.