How did your running journey start?
All over the place and at various stages! I flitted into and out of running for a few years doing a bit of track at school and running the Bristol half marathon after getting half fit in the Boat club at Bristol. But my first love was always cycling. Perhaps one spur to start taking running more seriously was the humiliation I felt after running my first Serpentine Last Friday of the month 5k. As a cyclist, I had assumed this running lark was a doddle and that as someone with a wardrobe full of lycra I was already at an advantage. Despite a blistering first 500 metres I ended up finishing around 175th out of 200 in around 24 minutes and got pipped by a V65 in the last 100 metres. I later managed to get that time down to a more reasonable 15:36.
What were/are your main/favourite distances?
I think athletes need to experiment with a range of distances and do what they enjoy the most without subscribing to any view that one distance is inherently “better” than the other. In terms of running I have grown to love the 1,500 metres over the years. Every race seems different and the bumping around and fighting for position adds something that you never get in road racing.
What would you consider your greatest personal athletic achievement, and what did it mean to you?
The ultimate expression of everything I have trained for and been supported in over the last 15 years was winning the 2017 World Duathlon championships in Penticton, Canada. It has a been a long and winding journey from running 24 minutes for 5k to becoming a World champion but I would not change any of it. (except that marathon I ran in Luton where I walked the last 6 miles and finished in 4 and a half hours!). It’s hard to quantify what the race meant to me though for me it’s the closest I’ve come to perfecting every element of a duathlon from both runs, to the bike and both transitions.
How did/has your approach to running change throughout your career?
Less is more. Avoid junk miles and aim to get something out of every session. This is perhaps something learnt through bitter experience especially when you are just starting out and see a direct correlation between increased mileage and race times. If you are a 5k or a 10k runner, exactly what is the logical basis for 90min-2 hours slow steady runs? If it’s fat burning or building endurance I would advocate getting out on the bike instead. If anything this lessens the likelihood of injury.
Favourite race you’ve seen and why
With regards to professional sport, it’s genuinely hard to know what is real and what isn’t anymore and so many of my heroes from the last 20 years have turned out to be characters I would not want to hold out as either heroes or role models. But this isn’t necessarily a negative. For me it shifts the focus back onto a more realistic and ultimately rewarding aspect: Amateur sport. A natural corollary of this is that my heroes are the people I train with and who train me. My favourite race of 2017 was Orion’s Fast Friday organised by our very own Barny Foot. And it was amazing to see Colin Read crack 17 minutes (16:51) for 5,000 metres.
What injuries have you had, how did you treat them, and how did it affect you mentally?
I think I have been fairly lucky on this front. Having a multi-sport background helps keep you sane if you get injured. The main thing is to keep active in the mind or body and do something that your body allows. For me this is almost always cycling. I genuinely believe in the recuperative power of low impact cycling for all sorts of running niggles. And that leads onto the other piece of advice. Don’t let niggles become injuries, take a day or two off if you need to and swim, ride or walk instead. If you have been training for 10 years or so do you really think you will lose any fitness from a few days off? Of course not. I think the last piece of advice is critical. I think self-measurement is critical and that elite athletes are always only ever 1 or two training sessions too much away from sustaining an injury. For me that is why I prefer say a track session to a 15 mile slog cross country. You can instantly tell if something is wrong and either step off the track or speak to your coach.
What was/has been your number one challenge throughout your career, and how did you overcome it?
Boredom – So I’ve always tried to keep it interesting both in training and racing. I also try to race away from my local area. I feel that you can stay fresh this way and although it’s nice to get into racing the same people it can become self-fulfilling and that to fully realise your potential you need to run against people you don’t know rather than expect to finish 20 seconds in front or behind so and so like you always do. All that said it’s great to race as part of a team for Orion and beat the other Essex clubs!
What is your number one piece of advice?
Listen to the coaches in the club and read up:
The Lore of Running:
The Competitive runner’s handbook:
…both excellent sources.
For a scientific approach look at the Science of Sport website:
Ross Tucker presents an objective overview of anti-doping which is a far cry from the bias of national broadcasters. And the Serpentine website has an invaluable link to Frank Horwill’s nuggets of advice – Frank was a former coach who helped create the British Milers club and was an excellent and entertaining writer. https://www.serpentine.org.uk/pages/advice_frank.html