'I can't keep up with my wife'

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
But Paul Morris is quite happy to come in second to his marathon-running other half. Adi Bloom reports

As PE teacher Paul Morris puffed his way through the London marathon, his mobile phone rang.

His wife, he was informed, was one of the first 35 runners in the race.

Then, several minutes later, the 36-year-old's phone rang again. Tracey, his wife, had finished the race. And again: she had been the first British woman to finish.

"The phone was really only for the end, so that we could find each other," he said. "But then it didn't stop ringing, with friends and family ringing to congratulate us. I had to remind the callers that I was running the race, too."

Mr Morris has made his living from sport for the past 13 years. As head of PE at the all-boys Leeds grammar, he coaches boys in football, cricket and athletics. But, this week, he was unequivocally eclipsed by his optician wife, who completed the 26-mile race in 2hrs 33mins 52secs, qualifying her to compete alongside professional athletes, such as Paula Radcliffe, in the Olympics next August.

Mr Morris is not the only PE teacher to have encouraged his wife's ambitions. It was her PE teacher aunt, Catherine Parry, who entered Mrs Morris in a 10km north Wales race, the first competitive race she had run since leaving her Anglesey secondary.

At the age of 30, after a 12-year break, Mrs Morris had taken up running to keep fit. But Ms Parry , who teaches PE at St Richard Gwyn high, in Anglesey, saw potential in her niece's evening jogs.

"Tracey is a very modest person," she said. "She didn't have a lot of self-belief or any awareness of her ability. It's only now that she's realising her potential to run reasonably well."

But, having helped her niece to develop previously untapped abilities, Ms Parry has no desire to emulate her.

"Tracey has proved that you're never too old. But I'm 52 and have a knee injury. Unless I have two replacement knee caps, running a marathon is very unlikely."

Mr Morris completed the marathon in 4hrs 45mins, raising an estimated pound;3,000 for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. But he insists that he is happy to come second to his wife.

"My pupils are always teasing me and telling me I should keep up with her," he said. "But she's an athlete. I was happy just to finish.

"I'm not built to be a runner. Even if we're just pounding the pavement together, I can't keep up with her. But if there was a throwing or a power event, then I'd beat her."

But, he said, he is secure in the knowledge that his own future on the sports pitch is in a different capacity. "I'd rather teach a class of unruly 14-year-olds any day than run a marathon. At least I'm kind of semi-talented at that," he said.

Ms Parry intends to travel to Athens to watch her niece run in the Olympics. She says that she is able to identify with the gruelling training regime Mrs Morris will now face.

"As a runner, you have to think about workload, time-management, motivation and enthusiasm," she said. "So I can empathise with Tracey. Though whether I could actually do what she does is another matter."

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