PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 31: (L-R) Jimmy Watkins, Andy 'Falco' Falkous amd Julia Ruzicka of Future of the Left performs on stage at the Pyramid Rock Festival at Phillip Island on Friday 31st December 2010. (Photo by Martin Philbey/Redferns),

Sex, Drugs, And Rock ‘n’ Roll . . . But Jimmy’s Biggest High Is Being Back On The Track

By Owen Morgan

Thirteen years ago Jimmy Watkins was finishing sixth at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Moscow.

At 23, he was one of the rising stars of British middle-distance running – the first Brit to reach a world 800 final for 25 years .

However, just two years later the Treorchy athlete would make his final indoor track appearance in the Celtic Cup at Cardiff’s National Indoor Athletics Centre.

The following year he had run his last competitive race having fallen out of love with the sport and turned instead to his other passion, rock music.

Fast forward another 10 years to earlier this month and Watkins – a former guitarist and vocalist in Future of the Left – was back on the NIAC track to take care of some unfinished business after feeling he had left the sport “on bad terms”.

Now living in Carmarthenshire, Watkins, who has been dubbed “the rock and roll runner” after singing and playing guitar in a number of successful bands, started jogging again at the start of this year in a bid to lose weight and improve his physical health.

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But the former Cardiff AAC man discovered additional benefits from lacing up his trainers again, including improving his mental health and restoring his appetite for competition.

Catching his breath immediately after running a respectable 1:30.47 over 600m at NIAC, Watkins explained what had brought him back to the scene of his last indoor race.

He said: “The reason behind this return to the track is that I was around 16 stone last year, definitely drinking too much, definitely partying too much, I wasn’t living the healthiest lifestyle.

“I promised myself I would start jogging again to get fit. I spent about two months running for fun, just to get rid of the beer belly.

“Then something just happens, the racing brain comes back and you want to test yourself against other people.”

With Watkins running again on the roads and in parkruns, his former coach Arwyn Davies suggested he should try running a 600m race at the Cardiff Metropolitan University Christmas Classic indoor meeting at NIAC

“I never thought I’d get back on the track,” said Watkins. “It started off just doing some racing on the road, which I did, a couple of 5ks and a couple of 10ks, then it was suggested to me by Arwyn, ‘why don’t you come up here and do a 600’?

“I got fit and healthy for other people because it makes me easier to live with when I’m healthy, so I did that for my family. But for the first time all year, rather than running for other people, this was the first thing I’ve done just for myself.

“This is where I did my last ever race, so I just wanted to come back down here. I felt that I left on bad terms, so I just wanted to finish some business.”

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Bitten by the racing bug again, Watkins now aims to carry on training in preparation for the Welsh Indoor Athletics Championships back at NIAC in the New Year.

“Well I’ve done one track session and then this race today. I’ll do the Welsh indoors in January and I think I could maybe do a mid one-fifty for 800m.

“I think I can do it. If you had said that to me at the start I would have laughed until my teeth fell out. But I think I can.”

Asked whether he had missed racing competitively on the track, Watkins said: “It was really bizarre, I’ve missed that heightened state of awareness.

“It’s like you get an extra power boost, in terms of your vision, your mind, your hearing . . . everything spikes.

“When you’re running on the road a lot of it is mental, you’re covering the distance and thinking ‘I can keep on doing this for half an hour’.

“But on this, you’re reacting to everything that is going on around you. I miss that and it’s just given me a hell of a buzz. It makes me want to do more, definitely.”

As well as the physical benefits of returning to running, Watkins says it has also boosted his mental health and would urge others to try running in order to help their well-being.

Jimmy Watkins switched to music after ending his running career but is now back on track.



Watkins says: “Maybe it’s something I didn’t notice so much in my 20s because it maybe wasn’t such an issue for me then, but running benefits mental health.

“Not that I was down, but I would be really up and then I would be like what you would consider a normal person – those spikes were just mental.

“Running has helped in that I’m not as up as I used to be, I’m more like a mid level, between the average person and one who’s had 10 coffees, I’m like Jimmy Five Coffees now! I’m in between.

“A lot of people don’t stick at running because they are doing it for the physical benefits. Then after four weeks they find they haven’t lost the weight they wanted and they lose confidence.

“But I can honestly say that after one run you will have some mental benefit. If you just think of it in terms of what you are doing for your health and well being, it only takes one run.”

As a result Watkins has even started up an on-line running club called Running Punks, described as “tribe of unique, incredible and awesome individuals with a punk mentality and a thirst for life and self-improvement”.

Watkins hung up his spikes at the height of his career because he had fallen out of love with the sport.

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During his competitive running days, the former Wales schoolboy rugby international competed all over Europe and controversially missed out on selection for his country at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.

He made amends for the bitter disappointment later that year when he was selected to represent Great Britain at the World Indoor Championships, where he finished second in his heat and set a new personal best and a then Welsh Indoor 800m record of 1:47.23 in the semis.

The final saw Watkins, who was seen as something of a colourful character within the sport, finish a highly respectable sixth place and tipped for a glittering career in the sport.

But the man who used to paint his spikes and keep them in separate rooms the night before a race “so that I can bring them back together again the next day and turn them into a team” would turn his back on the sport two years later.

Watkins, who would whoop loudly on the start line before races, said after he quit the track: “I wasn’t getting the same sort of buzz from athletics as I used to get.

“It had become a science and the fun had gone out of it. I used to listen to a song by The Vines which lasted exactly one minute 41 seconds and that was how I knew if I was running to schedule.

“I was fed up with all the science of running – all I ever really wanted to do was run and run fast.”

But now, having made his return to the track and re-ignited the spark, Watkins says he is back running for keeps for the sheer enjoyment and health benefits.

“I started doing it for my weight then I realised this is doing me a world of good mentally as well. So I’m back into it for the long haul now.”

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