It’s a sub-16:00 5km or 17 tattoos for the former GB international

Colin McCourt has been thrown a challenge by his friends to break 16 minutes for 5km during 2017.

His prize for doing so is £1700. His punishment for failing is to have all their names tattooed on to his body.

Breaking 16 minutes for 5km wouldn’t usually be a problem for a man who won the 1500m at the 2010 European Team Championships and who has a PB of 3:37.06 for that distance. He is still aged only 32 as well.

The reason the goal is so difficult, though, is that he has ballooned to 94kg (14st 11lb) since retiring from athletics in 2012.

A 17-strong group of friends including fellow GB internationals Ross Murray, Andrew Osagie and Andy Vernon are ready to cough up £100 each if McCourt succeeds in cracking 16 minutes this year. But if he fails then he must tattoo all their names on to his body.

“My big weakness is pizza,” he says, “I could eat it all day, every day, and I love a beer as well.”

Given this, the friends involved in the bet have been ordering takeaway pizza and sending it to his home in Bournemouth.

“They’re desperate to win the bet, but I just accept the pizza at the door and then put it in the bin.”

A prolific vlogger, McCourt is posting regular videos on Instagram as he charts his return to fitness and some of his online posts have received a huge response from runners who have also let their weight spin out of control.

Of course back in his peak, the target time would have been no problem for McCourt. He raced at everything from the European and world indoor championships to the Commonwealth Games and his top form came seven years ago. It was then that he clocked his 1500m PB at Gateshead and lined up at the European Championships in Barcelona as a medal hope but finished ninth in a slow race won by Arturo Casado of Spain.

Further disappointment came in 2012, though, when he failed to find his form in London Olympics year. By that stage, he says, his training environment had become “a little toxic” and he retired in disgruntled fashion to enjoy a normal life as a non-athlete.

“With hindsight it was a rash decision,” he says. “I went a bit insular and threw all my toys out of the pram. All my hopes were set on 2012, but I didn’t make the Games and ended my career feeling I’d underachieved a lot.

“Being an elite athlete is the greatest life you can have as you spend all your time at training camps in places like South Africa or Kenya with people looking after you,” he adds, “but I maybe didn’t appreciate it at the time.”

Since hanging up his spikes he has worked for Nationwide Building Society and last year had his first child with his partner, Rebecca.

“I went from being an active athlete to working full-time in a job that involves sitting down most of the day,” he says. “And it’s felt so easy to think of an excuse to have another pizza late at night or one more beer.”

But McCourt is now getting his teeth into his 5km challenge and says he has rediscovered his passion for running.

As for the tempting pizza deliveries from his friends… “We’re moving to Glasgow soon and I’m not telling them my new address!” he says.

» Colin McCourt will be blogging regularly about his 5km challenge on the AW website – find his blog posts here