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How a little went a long way


On your marks - Ruth, Graham and Andrew Little

On your marks - Ruth, Graham and Andrew Little

On your marks - Ruth, Graham and Andrew Little

‘Winning Runher was just such a great feeling.'

Ruth Little (25) owns and runs Rollo Pollo cafe in Belfast. She says:

I decided to enter the October Runher last year with a friend of mine — I also know a girl who does the wheelchair race. I hadn’t done it before so the last thing I was expecting was to win the 5km race the first time I entered.

I'd never been to an all-girl competition or anything like that so I had no idea what the standard would be like. It was a lovely atmosphere though and nowhere near as competitive as it would have been with with men and not as intimidating. My dad and my sister-in-law were there too so I had lots of support.

These days I train about three or four times a week. I run, do circuit training and I do Pilates, too. Pilates is for injury prevention. If you keep your core muscles strong it can stop you favouring one side or the other because I tend to favour my left side. I was quite sporty at school and did the usual things like hockey and athletics. I was even the Irish schools and junior 800 metres champion.

I went to Australia for a year after school and got involved in a running club there. I ran at a few meets and won the New South Wales Under-20 800m.

I came back from Australia and went to Northampton University to study history and effectively stopped running. I had injured the iliotibial band in my left knee and it started a load of problems with my knee that were difficult to recover from so I couldn’t run properly any more. I kept fit by cycling and swimming instead.

I graduated when I was 22 and then returned to Australia for a year. While I was there the first time I saw lots of cafes featuring a healthy rotisserie chicken take-away. There was nothing like it over here and I saw a gap in the market. I went back to work in one of the cafes for a year after I graduated so I could get experience in the business.

When I came back to Northern Ireland I was ready to open my own cafe. I had a business plan which I had worked on while at at university. I had also taken lots of extra-curricular courses for small businesses. I even won a business competition which helped to fund my second year in Australia. I always wanted to open Rollo Pollo on the Lisburn Road because I thought it would suit that sort of expensive market. It was definitely a daunting prospect but the power of the idea took over. We opened in December 2007 and have been weathering the recession. I started running again a couple of years ago. I did a Rotary relay in Enniskillen with my dad and my sister-in-law who are both keen runners.

Competing in and winning Runher was a brilliant experience.

I will be running again in June. I don’t know if I will win again — I think that will depend on who else turns up on the day.”

‘I look for events that are a bit more extreme’

Graham Little (32) is a freelance journalist and sports broadcaster. He lives in Belfast with his wife Claire and son Christian (10 months). He says:

I think Ruth is a tremendous athlete. There was a point when she very nearly ended up as Irish and Australian Junior Champion in the same year if it wasn’t for injury.

It’s fantastic that she won Runher having come back from hurting her knee. That she manages to train and run a busy cafe is amazing. I think if Ruth could be a full-time athlete she would achieve great things. She is the best athlete of all of us.

I've always been into sports and I was big into rugby and football at school. I went to Loughborough University where I read sports studies with English and I played rugby and did athletics while I was there.

When I left university I went to Australia to work at the Olympics. I was reporting for the Irish News and also started writing some travel pieces while I was there.

After the Olympics I came home and worked as a journalist for the Impartial Reporter in Enniskillen for about a year-and-a-half. I played rugby in Enniskillen but moved to Portadown when I started working as a sports reporter for UTV.

After three years at UTV I went freelance. I felt I wasn't going to go any further at UTV and there were other things I wanted to work on.

I now do a lot of freelance travel writing and presenting for Sky Sports as well as a number of other reporting jobs.

I'm still very into sports. I like to be challenged so I go out of my way to find events that are a little bit more extreme or different.

I try and go for three or four different events a year and they can be in any discipline.

Recently I swam the Hellespont almost 200 years to the day after Byron did it. The current Lord Byron was there on the day and his son joined in the race.

I've taken part in a mountain run in Wales called Man v Horse as well as a 1,350 miles cycle race around Ireland.

I captained the team to victory on that one and it was a big deal for me. My friends slag me because, although I take part in a lot of events, I don’t win many of them.

One of the best ones I've ever done was the World Elephant Polo Championship. I really wanted to become the world champion in something and decided this would be it.

I know Stephen and Ray Hutchinson, who own the Tayto factory in Tandragee. They have a polo pitch behind the castle and they let us borrow it.

We spent a few weekends tied to the top of Land Rovers practising. We couldn't get real elephants — the only ones in Northern Ireland were in Belfast Zoo — although I was allowed to get on one at a circus that came to Lisburn, just to see what it was like.

The championship is based in Nepal and has two legs to it: the professional one and the amateur one. We won the amateur one, or rather my brother Warren who was also on the team did. He scored all six goals to win the final match in 2005. I even wrote a book about the experience.

Later this year I'm going to run the Marathon Du Medoc in France. It goes through a number of different vineyards and you can sample the wine along the way.

The whole family is into sports and always has been. We used to have rugby matches in the garden and my dad took up running in his fifties — his times get faster and faster every time he runs.”

‘When we were young we’d even race each other up the stairs’

Andy Little (21) lives in Glasgow and plays for Rangers FC. He says:

I think Ruth winning Runher last year was fantastic but I'm not surprised at it coming from this family. She's a brilliant rugby player and all round athlete. If it wasn’t for injury who knows what she could achieve. We are close so even if me and my brothers can’t be there on the day to cheer her on we’ll be there in spirit.

This family is really sporty and particularly competitive. When I was young we would even race up the stairs and you got to start from a higher stair depending on how many years younger you were.

I mostly played football, rugby, golf and tennis. I always played football and ended up on the Northern Ireland under-17 team. I had had a couple of trials for clubs like Newcastle and Stoke but nothing ever came of it so I was all set to carry on with my education and go to university. I thought my chance had passed by then.

I was spotted by a Rangers scout when I was playing an away game in Holland with the Northern Ireland team. They gave me a week's trial and then put me on a year-long contract to play with the under-19 team, then a year with the reserves. I'm now on a two-year contract with the first team; I tend to play striker or right-back.

I'll stay on with Rangers as long as they'll have me providing I'm not injured. Of course, I love it but it can be hard. If you have a bad day at training then you start to question yourself but then it can be a real high to come away from a successful match.

There is a lot of pressure because everyone in Glasgow recognises me — you don't realise exactly how big the club is in this city until you arrive here.

I'm restricted now in what I can do in case I get injured. I can't take part in dangerous sports like skiing or water sports and I can't do something like hire a scooter if I go on holiday.

I can still play sports like golf or tennis though.

I’ll keep playing as long as I can. When I stop it would be nice to go into the media side of the sport like Graham.”

‘I wear a suit and trainers to work’

Warren Little (30) is a commercial lawyer and lives in London with his wife Rebecca. He says:

We're all athletic but I think Ruth is one of the most determined athletes I've ever seen. She runs a busy cafe as well as finding the time to train and compete. I've seen her race and she can push herself forward when there's almost nothing left.

The average person would consider me to be very into sports but it would be fair to say I'm the black sheep of the Little family.

I'm a jack of all trades and master of none when it comes to sports. I play football and rugby, golf, tennis and I horse-ride. I also do water sports when I get home to Enniskillen.

I wear a suit and trainers on my way into work so I can run between appointments if I have to. It's one of those things where you take the opportunities if you can. Last year I did a half marathon in London called Run to the Beat. The course had bands along it playing music formulated to motivate. My wife used to dance so she's quite athletically minded although we've noticed that for every year we've been married she's taken on one or two new sports. I've even managed to get her to join my touch rugby team.

I don't get to do as much as Graham because of my job but I really loved the World Elephant Polo Championship. I flew over to practise at Tayto but the rest of the time I would cycle round parks in Leeds, where I was living at the time, hitting a golf ball with a club. I did get a few funny looks for that one.”

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