As fellow members of the Mornington Chasers Running Club, Mat and I managed to do a pretty good job of missing one another, but it was inevitable that we would meet. When we did I was hugely impressed with the dedication that Mat puts into his running and really empathised with his thoughts on wanting to be the best runner he can be, achieve the best marathon time possible and enjoy running for many, many years to come. These are three things that I sincerely hope I will achieve myself.
Having only met Mat recently it is evident that he has started preparing really well for the upcoming Cologne marathon in mid-October. A recent track session, where I spent lap after lap watching him pull away from me, showed me that he is in great shape and I have no doubt that as far as the Mornington Chasers is concerned, there will be a new fastest marathon time in the very near future. So I thought I would ask Mat about his running and feature him as a Runner At The Sharp-end. Here is what he had to say…
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)?
I’ve been running on and off since leaving school in 2000, sometimes jogging a couple of times a week, sometimes not at all for a few months, and doing the occasional half-marathon. I experimented (badly) with a marathon in 2006, again (a little more successfully) in 2009 and then really started to get into it at the start of last year when my brother suggested we do the Prague Marathon. Now I run anything from 5K to marathons, but it’s probably true to say that I prefer the longer stuff. My half-marathon time’s come down from 1.45ish to 1.13 (and 58 seconds, but we’ll call it 1.13) and I’ve done a 2.44 marathon having started out with one that was around 4.25ish.
How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?
I guess my running life has come in two stages: I started in 2000 as a way of keeping fit when the organised sport of my schooldays was coming to an end, but started running in a focussed and structured way in 2011 to try to achieve what I felt would be a decent marathon time.
Are you coached? And if so, by whom?
I just joined Mornington Chasers Running Club and there’s a really good weekly training session with them.
(Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?
My Dad was a keen jogger when I was growing up so without realizing it at the time, living in a house where running was an everyday thing probably had quite an effect. And then I run quite a lot with my brother now, which is some of the most enjoyable running I do.
What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?
Not that he ever said as much in words, but the attitude to running that I saw my Dad take (to run for the love of it) has got to be the best thing you could ever keep in mind. I’m pretty sure that if you strive to achieve that, in whatever form it’s going to take for you, then you can’t go far wrong.
What is your favourite bit of kit and why?
So much to choose from! Ultimately, it’s whatever shoes I’m wearing/particularly enjoying at the time (current favourites are Brooks Green Silence) because that’s the absolute basic, fundamental necessity. If I were to be deprived of bits of running gear one at a time, it’s the trainers I’d be most desperate to keep hold of (though I’d be pretty sad to see my Garmin go).
What has been, or where is, your favourite race?
For many years the only race I did was an annual trip to the Great North Run and that has a very special place in my affections. But my single favourite race experience came at the Amsterdam Marathon in 2011 because I’d gone out there hoping to break 3 hours and couldn’t believe it when I ran 2.48. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny autumn day and finishing in the old Olympic Stadium with my parents watching, and my brother also running a PB on the same day, was pretty great.
What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?
Taking the time to train properly. By which I mean doing enough reading to understand the purpose of different training sessions, properly planning a programme, then having the commitment to see it through. It is time-consuming, and I’m lucky that the people close to me tolerate it/me, but it’s amazing how resourceful you can be with your time-management when you really want to be.
With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?
Start running properly ASAP. You’re going to find out that you love it!
Do you stretch enough?
Unfortunately not. But I’m trying to get better! I’m coming to appreciate that so much of your quality “training” is actually done beyond the logging of miles. So I’m working on proper stretching and core stability strengthening routines twice a week, and then I’m also getting better at sneaking in stretches on the go. I’ll often start a quick stretch when I’m sitting on the train or standing waiting for something.
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?
I think it’s great. You just have to look at how many people are out jogging, doing Park Run events, entering the London Marathon, the Great North Run, any of the hundreds of other races occurring up and down the country every year – it’s fantastic. If you keep in mind that running is fundamentally about health and enjoyment it’s amazing how many thousands of people in the UK are deriving those benefits. I think an improvement I’d like to see is a few more really competitive UK athletes, but I can’t pretend to have any great ideas about how to make that happen. To see everyone so enthused by the Olympics was great, and now there’s Diamond League quite prominently advertised as being available through the BBC, and I believe many running clubs have seen upswings in membership – but it’s going to be important to sustain and nurture that interest correctly.
What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?
This is what I’m grappling with at the moment – I’m not really sure. In the short-term I’m running the Cologne Marathon on October 14th and want to break 2.40. I think I’m in shape to do that but I need to stay free from injuries, relax and believe in my training, and run a sensibly paced race. But beyond that, I’m trying to clarify in my own mind. I’d always said it was “to run the quickest marathon I can” but when you really evaluate what might be required to achieve that you start to wonder whether so much dedication for the sake of, for example, a 2.38 rather than a 2.39 PB is really worth it. Perhaps it’s better to say my overall ambition is to still be running and loving it when I’m old, and to achieve that I need to make sure that every short- and medium-term goal I set myself is one I’m going to enjoy pursuing – one that if I fail to achieve it, I won’t mind because the pursuit in and of itself was wholly rewarding.
Please complete the following: I run because…
I love it! At the moment, for so many different reasons: I love feeling physically and mentally healthy; I love testing, exploring and advancing my limits and trying to become the very best that I can be at something; I love the beautiful places and things that I get to see (everything looks more wonderful on an endorphin high!); I love the people I get to meet and the time I get to spend with the people I already know; I love what I learn about myself. Running has really enriched the way I experience life.