This is the second in a series of interviews with Runners At The Sharp-end (the R.A.T.S). For an explanation of what I am defining as a runner at the sharp end have a read here. Richard, a member of the famous Ranelagh Harriers, is a fierce competitor, especially in cross-country races and excels at any distance he tackles on the road (his personal bests are testament to that, as you can see below). Here is what he told me;
SF: To begin with could you give us some background about yourself and your running? What distances do you run? What are your personal bests (and what were your first times for those distances)?
RG: Mostly half marathon and marathon at the moment, with a bit of cross country through the winter.
Half Marathon PB – 70.43 (Amsterdam 2011) and my debut was 81.16 (Brooklyn 2007)
Marathon PB – 2.30.46 (London 2011) with a debut 2.50.54 (New York 2007).
SF: How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?
RG: Started about five years ago (though I’d run a bit through school – mainly to keep fit for hockey, which I played reasonably competitively). I was living in New York at the time and had barely exercised for a few years; running round Central Park seemed a good way to get in shape. A friend then convinced me a 10k race would be fun… a half soon followed, and when a New York marathon place came about (rather by accident) it seemed I better give it a go.
SF: Are you coached? And if so, by whom?
RG: Yes – Nick Anderson – since summer 2010.
SF: (Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?
RG: Any number of friends I’ve made through running – anyone, at any level, who shares enthusiasm for the sport, improving at it, and having a good time along the way. Simon’s written on the benefits of running with a group, and I’d definitely agree: I love that running has both that brilliant social side to it, and can be the best possible space for some private thinking time.
SF: What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?
Take responsibility for anything you can control; react positively to anything you cannot.
Sounds a cliché, but pretty fundamental to running as much as anything else in life – though at the time it was a throwaway comment from someone (who’ll remain nameless) who should know better! It stuck with me, not least when a vomiting bug reared its ugly head seven days before the London marathon. Keeping calm that week was as important as getting better, and thankfully by the Sunday morning I was fighting fit.
SF: What is your favourite bit of kit and why?
RG: Much as I love comfortable kit – and toys – top of the list is two healthy legs.
SF: What has been, or where is, your favourite race?
RG: For atmosphere – New York marathon, very closely followed by London.
For how I ran – Amsterdam half a few years back. I’ve run faster since, but it was a day when everything clicked: I just felt incredibly relaxed and enjoyed a rare and wonderful flowing feeling (and a huge pb, much quicker than I’d considered possible at the time).
SF: What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?
RG: More, more consistent, and structured training. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I started out. Nick’s coaching has been a huge help in learning the different ingredients, and how to put them together.
SF: With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?
RG: Probably just to get stuck in at an earlier age: running’s something I’ve always enjoyed, but didn’t really get into until my late twenties. Part of me wishes I’d got more involved on the track in my teens; I’d like to know what I could have done over 800/1500m!
SF: Do you stretch enough?
RG: No! As well as stretching, I’m a big believer in core work (strength and conditioning) – I don’t do enough of that either, but really notice the difference for injury prevention and improved running form.
SF: What do you think about the general state of running in the UK and, assuming you don’t think it is perfect, what could be done to improve it?
RG: Participation seems to be on the up, which is brilliant – anything to help get people out the door and exercising is good news. At the sharper end – the likes of Paula and Mo are an inspiration, and I’m far from qualified to say what’s needed for more to come through at that level. In between, it would be good to see greater depth of “good club runners”, as there was in the past, and I would love to see anything that helps inspire more people to see what a brilliant sport it is, and put the work in to find out what they might achieve. For starters the London Marathon coverage seems to miss an opportunity each year in jumping from the elite race to the masses: there are some wonderful stories of talent and dedication in between.
SF: What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?
RG: The ambition is simply to make the most of chances to keep on improving at something I really enjoy. The volume and quality of my training has increased markedly over the past year or two: as with any runner, right now it’s just a case of putting the work in, trying to make sure I rest enough, and eating well. Hopefully that will translate into a great marathon buildup and race at London this year.
SF: Please complete the following: I run because…
RG: Two reasons for me: I get a kick both out of running itself – nothing beats being outdoors and active – and the honesty of seeing hard work turn into improvement.