RUNNING BEHIND BARS
The inspiring tale of how wrongful imprisonment inspired a love of running
f you ever get bored running the same local routes, spare a thought for Ray Tindall. While serving a two-anda-half year sentence in an Indian prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the Yorkshireman ran 37 miles per week on the same 800-metre circuit. Including bail time, Ray was detained in India for four years, in which time he ran a total of 7,652 miles behind bars – enough to have run back to the UK almost twice over. It was running that kept Ray sane, and it was dreaming of getting back to the trails near his North Wales home that helped him through the nightmare ordeal. The drama started in 2013 when the former British Army sniper was arrested with five other Brits on weapons charges. The group were working on an anti-piracy ship in the Indian Ocean when customs officials discovered ammunition and weapons they claimed hadn’t been properly declared and it wasn’t until November 2017 that the ‘Chennai Six’ were finally allowed back to the UK after a second acquittal. Tindall’s love of trail running began after he left the Army. While in service, he ran just to keep fit. “I started to get into trail running with Delamere Spartans in Chester,” he told Trail Running. “It ignited a passion in me. I was free and running for myself all of a sudden rather than running for my job. It felt like freedom running around Delamere Forest, but then I got stuck over there (in India). It was thoughts of
Delamere and Snowdonia that kept me going.”
Conditions were tough at Chennai Central Prison, but Ray and his fellow inmates were treated well and it was during the early-morning exercises that he indulged his passion for running.
“It wasn’t as bad as you could probably think in your mind,” said Ray. “We had a mattress on a concrete floor and a toilet in the corner. We cooked one meal a day, the rest of the time it was fresh milk for lunch and breakfast, and that was about it.
“The prison officers went out of their way to do as much as they could within their remit to help us, because they knew we shouldn’t have been there.
“Every day we were allowed outside at 6.30am, so I ran. Sometimes I ran once a day, sometimes twice. Sometimes I did strength in the morning and then ran in the afternoon. Sometimes I ran for three hours straight.”
Summer morning temperatures would typically hit 28 degrees C, with more bearable winter conditions of around 10 degrees C. The half-mile Tarmac prison loop was a far cry from the trails Ray enjoyed around his native Hull, or his current home in North Wales, but they provided great therapy during his time behind bars.
“I called it running for my mind, because it was the one thing I could control,” he said. “I couldn’t control the court – it was entirely down to my lawyer to get us free, so the only thing I could control was myself and running helped me do that. It made me disciplined, whether it was a speed session, a tempo session or a long session.”
“Initially we thought: ‘We can’t be in here long, we haven’t done nowt wrong,’ but then as the days progressed into weeks and weeks into months it was like, ‘Are we going to see an end to this?’ “Eventually we got released on bail and the charges were quashed and we thought, ‘That’s it, we’re going home’, but then they had 90 days to
appeal that decision and they appealed on the 89th day, which meant we had to stay longer and go for a trial. We waited seven months and then they said, ‘We don’t know all the facts, go back to trial’. It was a farce and an emotional roller-coaster the whole time.”
Ray’s positive attitude helped him mentally survive his ordeal in India and that attitude, in turn, is helping him move on with his life. He’s now using his experiences to build up a business as a motivational speaker and running coach, having gained a leadership in running fitness qualification.
“People have told me since I’ve been back that I’ve been an inspiration’,” he said. “Being a Yorkshireman and ex-forces, I just got on with what I needed to do.”
Ray lost 15kg in weight during his first five and a half months in prison and then, while out on bail, entered a few races to compete in when he returned home. One of those races was October’s Chester half-marathon, but his main challenge was completing 18 marathons in 18 days in Coed Llandegla Forest in North Wales last summer to raise money for charity.
Ray’s current running environment could barely be more different to his experience while captive in India. Living near Holt in the Welsh Marches, he’s based just 50 yards from trails and 20 minutes from the Clwydian Hills. Unsurprisingly, having been forced to run the same 800-metre loop every day for so many years, he doesn’t need much excuse to head out exploring the local countryside.
“I try to find a new route every time I go out. With my background in the army, I’m into navigation. I try to challenge myself that bit more by navigating a new route.
Routine is the enemy.”