A conversation and a coffee with one of my heroes.

The youngest, aged twelve, could not conceal her disappointment, and turned away, feeling as so many of us have felt when we discover that our idols are very ordinary men and women.

This quote is from Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott, 1886. It is similar to the Hollywood adage that ‘you should never meet your heroes’. I suppose we have all experienced that crushing feeling of meeting someone that we have long admired and realising that they are nowhere near as inspiring or super-human (or even just personable) as we thought they would be.

But I am a natural optimist and I still believe that surrounding oneself with great people is a sure-fire way to feel positive, get inspired and learn. And if it turns out that your hero is a let-down then it is better to know and move on than live in blissful ignorance that someone you look up to is, in fact, not nearly as inspiring as you thought they were.

I was once at a theater in London. I can’t remember what I was seeing there. What I do know is that I was leaving early. As I made my way down to the lobby of the grand old Victorian theater, the doors on the ground floor opened and Rod Stewart appeared. He looked as though he was leaving too, overcoat in hand. Moments later the doors again opened and a woman appeared. Stewart turned to see who was also coming out and she said something along the lines of:

Rod, I am such a huge fan. Could I have your autograph, please?

This was a grown-up woman. Probably in her forties. Her eyes sparkled and a huge smile on her face told me that she was totally smitten by this pop-superstar. Stewart didn’t miss a beat as he pulled on his coat;

No! You can’t have an autograph

And he walked out of the theater to a car waiting in front. What a total fucking arsehole. This was a lobby completely empty aside from me, Stewart and a fan who had left her seat early to ask for an autograph. The look on her face was utterly terrible and I will never forget that moment. She looked completely crestfallen and I hoped that something terrible would happen to the saggy-faced dickhead who had made that woman feel so small. I wanted to console her but if she knew that I had witnessed her humiliation, it might have made her feel worse.

So when I had a chance to meet one of my heroes, I really hoped that he would be as amazing and inspiring as I believed he was. Well, my story has a very happy ending.

David Hieatt is a very, very cool guy.

Why is David Hieatt one of my heroes?

14.03.12_Hiut_Denim_Factory_588_rtpI have a few things in my life that I am fascinated by; building a business; photography (especially street photography); denim culture; running; cycling; independent publishing. David is involved in quite a few of them (and a whole lot more). And it appears that my fascination with what he makes and does is not unique. Last week David sent me a pair of Hiut jeans and when I posted about them on my social channels the comments came flooding in. Here’s a selection;

“I’ve enormous respect and admiration for these guys in all their guises”

“The perfect storytellers”

“Love this company. Have you seen their year books? I have every one. Obsessed”

“I’ve been coveting them for ages too”

“They have such a good setup … a back story”

“YESSSS! I met David a few years back. The project is so beautiful. Community / social minded AND great design”

Start at the beginning

I am not sure when I first came across David. Almost certainly it was when I found out about the Do Lectures. This is a series of events that started in a converted barn on a farm in south-west Wales. The idea, according to the website, is to;

bring the DO-ers of the world together – the movers and shakers, the disrupters and the change-makers – and ask them to tell their stories. Under star lit skies, in a bind with nature, they would inspire others to go out into the world and DO, too.

The Do Lectures started in 2008. At the time I was toiling away, working for a marketing agency. I was living from month-to-month, earning and spending too much. Happily I was also starting to find meaning through running. I ran 2:51:52 at the Berlin Marathon that year. I had no idea that there was a world beyond trying to climb the corporate ladder. I spent all the money I earned to offset the pain of having to go into work to do something pretty meaningless five days per week.

At some point I am pretty sure I saw a video about the Do Lectures. It looked amazing. I realised that the misgivings I had about my lifestyle were not unfounded. David and Clare, the team behind the Do Lectures, had assembled a great cast of speakers, many of whom suggested that there was another way.

Before the beginning

Years before I stumbled into the intellectual clearing that the Do Lectures represented in the thick forest of obligation and stress that is work for most people, David had founded Howies with his wife Clare. They started the brand in 1995 and soon they were making waves as well as great clothes.

The Howies story is not all good. David subtly refers to that on the Hiut Denim website when he writes;

I learnt my lesson from the last company the importance of keeping control.

But I guess the problems that he experienced at one business are the foundations that are allowing David and his colleagues to build another business that is much stronger and resilient.

Meeting my hero

A few years ago, I started corresponding with David. It was the odd tweet initially. Then an email or two. I was voraciously consuming whatever I could that Hiut Denim and The Do Lectures were producing. There was a report called The Stress Report that I think everyone involved in building a business (not just the owner or senior managers but everyone concerned with the development) should read. I dreamed about the day that I could attend the Do Lectures in person (once Freestak and Like the Wind allow, I will be buying myself a ticket for sure!)

The Hiut Denim Grandmasters
The Hiut Denim Grandmasters

Then I had the chance to go to Bristol to speak at an adventure festival. In Bristol I was half way to Cardigan where David and Hiut Denim are based. I had the excuse that I wanted to visit a friend who also lives out that way – Chris (a great runner who works for a business taking visitors out into Cardigan Bay to meet the wildlife that lives there – check them out if you are ever in the area). So I contacted David and asked if he would be around. We agreed on meeting at Hiut HQ for a coffee on Sunday morning.

So that is how I found myself standing in front of a single storey unit on an industrial park on a cold Sunday morning, waiting for someone who from afar had inspired – and continues to inspire – me in my effort to build something.

Across the road from the home of Hiut Denim there were some sheep grazing in a field. Industrial parks in south-west Wales are not like those in north London where I live. I watched the animals work their way across the grass. Such a simple life.

I actually felt a bit overwhelmed at the time; by the struggles my wife and I are having trying to start a family. By the problems of running a business pivoting into a new area with huge promise, but not quite enough existing income to be comfortable. By my receding fitness and plummeting self-esteem. By the potential risk of driving over 100 miles to meet a man who might not be what I think he is.

The moment David pulled up in the car-park, I knew that meeting your heroes is the right thing to do. He had taken time away from his family on a Sunday morning to meet me – a complete stranger – and open up the Hiut Factory to make me a coffee.

Whilst he fired up the coffee machine (it is clearly an important part of the fixtures in the factory) David and I chatted without any awkwardness. David was interested in what we are doing at Freestak. Enthusiastic about Like the Wind. Understanding about the struggles. Encouraging about the future.

We talked about books we had read and loved. People we both admired. The greater purposes behind making jeans or connecting endurance sports brands and influencers.

Meet your heroes

All too soon we had finished our coffees and a tour of the factory. David offered to send me a pair of jeans (they are amazing – I am wearing them now as I write this). I gave him a set of Like the Wind from issue #2 to #10. We said that we would continue to stay in touch.

I had a few hours in the car driving back to London. Often I think that time in the car is completely wasted. I can’t send or read any messages. I can’t work on anything. But that Sunday afternoon was a perfect opportunity to reflect on what it means to meet people who have the power to inspire. There is a theory that each of us is the product of the people around us. Jim Rohn says that;

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Your heroes add to the equation. Pick them well because they will have an impact.

Robbie Britton and inov-8: two great things come together

Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I'm sure he'll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/
Robbie getting the jump on the competition (I’m sure he’ll get indigestion doing that) © http://www.xnrg.co.uk/

I have recently had the chance to get to know ultra runner, adventurer and all-round top-bloke, Robbie Britton and we have crossed paths at a number of events – almost literally at the Bristol half marathon last year when he was pacing a group (did they have any idea of the caliber of the runner leading them along, I wonder?) as I ran past on the road back into Bristol. I was gritting my teeth and trying for all I was worth to hang on to 75 minute pace. Robbie looked as cool as a cucumber as he floated up the hill with a peloton of runners glued to his back. He easily managed to shout some encouragement to me. I could barely wave in response!

The last time Robbie and I met for a coffee, a few months ago, we were chatting about plans for the future. I was getting ever more embedded in freestak work and the launch of Like the Wind. Robbie was clearing the way for a tilt at ultra-running stardom.

Well, I am pleased to say that I have managed both of my targets – freestak is growing daily and Like the Wind issue #1 is out.

But what about Robbie? How is he getting on?

Pretty bloody well is the answer. Having been crowned 2013 UK Ultra Runner of the Year, Robbie has now announced that he is joining inov-8 as one of their sponsored athletes.

He is already a fan of their shoes and has raced in them quite regularly. Inov-8 are looking for committed athletes to join their team. It is a match made in heaven!

What’s next for Robbi-v8?

So having joined the inov-8 team, Robbie has announced that he is not resting on his laurels (presumably the same ones that he picked up in Athens at the end of the Spartathlon). His next big race is in a place very close to my heart – the Canary Islands, where I just spent a glorious week with Julie – where Robbie will take on the Trans Vulcania in La Palma on 10 May.

Robbie’s thoughts about the Transvulcania are typical from what I know of him:

I have been to La Palma once before, taking in a few epic days in the mountains before setting off to sail the Atlantic in a boat built by a crazy old man advertising for crew on Gumtree!

At 51 miles, Transvulcania is a little bit short for me but it has more ascent – there’s 2,000m in the first 11 miles – than the 24-hour stuff. I will go there, chuck myself in the mix and see what happens. I am always up for challenging myself.

Winner, winner, Robbie Britton
Winner, winner, Robbie Britton

I really admire the fact that Robbie is up for challenging himself, whether that is on a relatively short 50 miler or over hundreds of miles on the roads in Greece. He’s always up for giving it a go.

In the spirit of having a crack at all sorts of different events, Robbie is also going to resume international duties and take on probably the most iconic trail ultra of them all:

I have the World 24hr Running Championships. The target this year is a top-10 finish. I’m already feeling good about my chances as I feel fitter and stronger than I was last year.

And what year would be complete without a trip to the Alps? The 103-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) was shortened due to awful weather conditions the last time I ventured to Chamonix in 2012, but the atmosphere of the race got into my blood and this year I will return. I can’t wait.

Interview

I had a few questions for Robbie after he told me about the inov-8 link-up and being the thoroughly lovely bloke that he is, he was happy to answer them for me:


SF: What is it about inov-8 that attracted you as an athlete?

RB: I love their shoes and the fact that lightweight is king for the kit. When I race I want my kit to be as light as possible because running 100 miles is difficult in the first place. It is great to be supported by a British brand and to be able to take that to races across the world.

SF: What are you most excited about in the coming 12 months?

RB: Most excited about… So much. The competition in TransVulcania, the chance to fight for Team Medals in the World Champs (The Mens & Womens Teams are both strong enough to contend this year) and then all the British runners at UTMB, we’ve got a good bunch going!

SF: If you could take on any challenge, what would it be and why?

RB: One day I will travel to both Poles on foot. I had to step out of my Antarctic expedition (www.south2014.com) to concentrate on my running but I will get there. The Antarctic continent is the toughest place on earth and the men who have lived and died there inspire me. Oh and Western States, because I have to race that one day.

SF: Who inspires you to train and race as hard as you do?

RB: I take a lot of inspiration from explorers & mountaineers, people like Walter Bonatti and Doug Scott, who crawled off the Ogre with two broken ankles. In the World of Sport I admire anyone who gives their whole to compete at the highest level. Mark Cavendish is an great athlete who trains hard and races as if nothing else in the world mattered. [Obviously Robbie intended to include me in this list, but probably ran out of time… or something like that…]


What about inov-8?

I am a big fan of inov-8, both the company and the products. As a business, they seem to be completely authentic. The people I am in contact with there – hello, Lee, Natalie and Matt – are all committed athletes themselves. They really walk-the-walk and I think that makes all the difference.

I also think their gear is great. I was lucky to have one of their Race Elite 260 Thermoshell tops in my bag for the UTMB CCC and it is a constant companion when I am out running or fast-hiking. It is just warm enough for after a race or as an emergency top when out and about but scrunches up really small and weighs very little (well, 260g as the name suggests!) Julie has a Race Elite 140 Stormshell which is a super light-weight waterproof jacket that is perfect to carry in your pack and pull on when the weather suddenly turns. It was ideal for when we were running in Gran Canaria last week and we went from warm sun by the coast to snow at 1500m above the sea inland.

As for shoes, I think that inov-8 have a great range of running shoes, although I am particularly a fan of the trail shoe range that inov-8 produce. I know that Robbie is a big fan of the X-Talon 212, while I have really enjoyed running in the Trailroc 235 and the Roclite 315 for longer stuff. But I think there is something for everyone if you want a shoe to tackle off-road running.

Greatness assured

So there you have it: a great athlete teaming up with a great brand. Greatness is assured. I have to throw in a plug here and say that Robbie was very kind and contributed a story for Like the Wind magazine which if you get a chance to read it will resonate with his comments about wanting to give his all when he trains and races and also the fact that he admires people who hold nothing back.

I think that the final word should go to Robbie who finished answering my questions with a quote that he should have embroidered on his inov-8 racing kit:

Racing is life, everything else before and afterwards is just waiting

Steve McQueen

Says it all, really!

 

 

You can read more about Robbie joining the inov-8 team on his blog post at: http://team.inov-8.com/2014/02/25/great-britton-an-ultra-committed-athlete/
inov-8 designs and manufactures naturally fast, stripped-back products and shoes with best grip for committed athletes across the globe. Born in the UK in 2003, inov-8 now trades in over 60 countries and remains passionate about delivering performance through innovation. To learn more visit www.inov-8.com

Meeting Anton Krupicka

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It would not be hard to argue that Chamonix, France is the spiritual home of trail running and ultra-trail running, at least in Europe (though I would say that it is the global hub for trail running) and one of the strongest pieces of evidence for that, is that this tiny town, tucked in the bottom of a valley bang up against the foot of the Mont Blanc massif, with glaciers towering above it, is home to some of the greatest trail runners in the world: Killian Jornet, Lizzy Hawker, Sébastien Chaigneau… and me for a few months this year.

So I was not hugely surprised – but I was hugely delighted – to see none other than Anton Krupicka strolling into the café where I was having lunch today. I am afraid that I was not about to allow the chance to meet him slip by, so I introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes about the up-coming UTMB race which will be the first time Krupicka has tested himself on this course.

He was charming, not at all annoyed to be accosted by a complete stranger and really happy to talk tactics (and amazingly about his concerns) for the UTMB. Anton, if you are reading this, I hope that the race goes really well and that your first foray onto this iconic course is a huge success.

Meeting the inov-8 team in Chamonix

I have long been a fan of inov-8. And not just the shoes, though it is worth saying that I think their shoes are ace and since I tried on a pair of the Road-X 233s I realised how much more there is to the inov-8 range than just trail shoes. But also what I perceive to be the philosophy of the company. I like the ‘challenger’ attitude that the company started with and the way that innovation (see what I did there) is at the heart of what they do.

So I was absolutely chuffed when Lee Proctor, from their marketing team, got in touch and asked me if I’d like to review some of their products. I was even more chuffed when, on discovering that inov-8 were taking their newly formed international trail running team to Chamonix for a training retreat and a chance to tackle a couple of iconic races out there, I was invited to come and meet the team at their chalet. I jumped at the chance.

The inov-8 story

To provide some background to my meeting an international team of top quality trail runners, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the history of inov-8, which is 10 years old this year.

Inov8_logoThe company was founded by Zimbabwean Wayne Edy, who had been working for some time as a consultant to the outdoors industry. Based in County Durham, Wayne decided that there was a gap in the off-road running shoe market which at the time was dominated by Walsh.

Wayne was advised against heading into muddy territory, but persisted by designing and manufacturing the first inov-8 shoe: the mudroc 290, ordering 2,500 pairs from China. With a house full of pairs of shoes, Wayne started calling retailers and trying to drum up orders for his shoe. As good timing and luck would have it, Wayne was the right man, with the right product in the right place at the right time and the notoriously close-knit off-road and fell-running communities started to talk about his shoes – word spread and sales grew.

The story of inov-8 is one that shows how important a great product, along with a charismatic team and a strong philosophy is. Soon Edy had done a deal with the most influential retailer in the UK fell running scene: Pete Bland Sports. And from there, as demand for the new inov-8 shoes grew amongst runners, the retailers became more and more receptive.

Then inov-8 struck real gold…

Melissa Moon and the mudroc 290

In 2003, the year that inov-8 launched, a runner by the name of Melissa Moon was training hard for the World Mountain Running Trophy in Gridwood, Alaska.

Melissa has travelled to Gridwood in advance of the big race to train on the route that the race would take. She had given herself eight days to get familiar with the course. Nothing was left to chance in her preparations and as Melissa knew that it hadn’t snowed during the summer in this part of the USA for the last 15 years she had the right racing flats for the day.

Shockingly, on the day of the race the assembled athletes awoke to find a blanket of fresh snow all over the course! Luckily for Melissa the English team came to the rescue and offered to lend her a pair of inov-8s. As you will probably have guessed, the shoes were perfect and Melissa went on to win the race and the World Champion’s crown. It was perfect PR for inov-8 and kicked the brand into the limelight.

The story since then

Since hard work and a little bit of luck both played a part in helping to make inov-8 a worldwide force in off-road running, the company has expanded to create products for a range of committed athletes. There is not an extensive road-running shoe range as well as shoes designed specifically for ‘functional fitness’ athletes (cross-fit crazies as I like to call them).

And inov-8 has a range of running apparel and accessories to go with the shoes it produces.
You can check out the entire range of products on the inov-8 website here.

The latest chapter in the inov-8 story, at least as far as trail running goes, is the creation of an international team of trail runners, who came together in the last few weeks and travelled to France to a chalet near Chamonix, for a week of bonding, training, learning, product testing and racing. And I was lucky enough to get to meet up with them…

The inov-8 trail team

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 17.53.58The members of the inov-8 team in Chamonix included:

Brendan Davies from Australia – recently the winner of TNF 100km in his native Australia after a magnificent 5th place in the 100 mile Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, Brendan is a really lovely chap and a teacher to boot! Check out more here.

Shona Stephenson (also from Australia) was third in TNF 100km recently and won her first 100 miler: the Northburn 100

Alex Nichols is from the United States of America and races anything from 5km to 50 miles.

Scott Dunlap, also from the US, is a full-time executive and masters athlete who manages to boss the trails as well as training for and competing in triathlons. Busy chap! Check out his biog here.

Oli Johnson is the first of a clutch of home-grown UK athletes running for inov-8, with a particular appetite for fell running and orienteering. Check out his blog here.

Robbie Simpson is a Scottish athlete competing for inov-8 and a big fan of technical routes in trail races.

Ben Abdelnoor seems to have an affinity with the stranger races available and is also stepping up in distance this year. It will be interesting to see what he can do, especially in the 50 mile races he has planned.

Anna Lupton is a fan of the Three Peaks race and has competed at the World Long Distance champs, so she is no stranger to the sorts of longer races that are so popular in the Alps. Check her out here.

Sarah Ridgway is the last of the UK athletes who joined the team in Chamonix. I have saved her for last because I really love her blog and there is a wonderful video of her that is well worth checking out, here.

Florian Reichert is the only German athlete on the team to come to Chamonix, Florian (known as Flow) is another teacher and he runs for Arc’teryx as well as inov-8.

Meeting the team

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Shona getting ready for (another) run!

When I met the team, they had only just come together and were all nervously anticipating a weekend which would test them all the the limit – for many of them, they were hoping to take on the Kilometre Vertical on the Friday and the Mont Blanc Marathon on the Sunday. And they were all going to race it!

I was shown around the chalet that the team were staying in by Lee Proctor from inov-8’s marketing team and then invited to stay for lunch as I heard the athletes plan their races, talk about their favourite inov-8 products and share their recent racing stories.

While I was with the inov-8 team, the sense of excitement at being in Chamonix, surrounded by the mountains, was palpable. In fact I heard that the two Australian athletes had arrived at the chalet in the dark after a flight around the world and were still excited enough to want to go for a run with their head-torches on!

I was also really happy to be given some inov-8 shoes to try out. The first was F-lite 262 and I was given a pair of the Trail Roc 235. It was great to have not only Lee’s thoughts on the shoes along with inov-8’s official line, but I was also able to discuss the shoes and the best distances and conditions in which to use them with the elite athletes who use them day to day. Along with the Roc Lite 315’s that I have with me in Chamonix, there will be product reviews on here in the next few days.

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Brendan relaxing after lunch

For now let me say that I have tried all the shoes and love them all. In order of weight and substance…

The Roc Lite 315s are amazingly stable, grippy and almost seem to be a bit water-resistant, so great for long days out on the trail, racing over rocks and roots, hiking up inclines and splashing through the streams that wash down the mountain sides.

The F-lite 262 have an amazingly comfortable upper – almost sock-like – with a grippy and cushioned sole. These could become my favourite trail shoe for shorter races up to 40km or so. They also look great in my opinion!

The Trail Roc 235 is similar in feel to the F-lite 262, but the three different materials used in the out-sole make this a super-grippy shoe and I will be interested to try this in a variety of races, possibly even some cross-country races when the season starts back in the UK this autumn.

Great for inov-8

So I would like to say thanks to the inov-8 team for making me feel so welcome and for the shoes to test. There are some very exciting things happening at inov-8. While I was there, one of the team, Matt Brown, showed me some prototype elite kit that looks utterly amazing, while Lee and most of the team paraded around in a two-way half-zip duvet jacket that is immediately on my ‘most coveted bit of kit’ list (yes, I do have one of those!)

Along with the quality of athletes that Lee and his colleague Natalie have brought together – three in the top ten of the Mont Blanc Marathon, by the way – the new products and the way that the people at inov-8 are treating trail running, means that this young company, with modest roots in the UK, could go on to become a powerhouse in trail running, taking on the more established ‘mountain brands’ from the Alpine countries and beating them at their own game. It’s certainly going to be interesting watching what happens next…

 

Feet In The Clouds interview with Richard Askwith

FITC coverYou may have recently seen my review of Richard Askwith’s book about fell running, Feet In The Clouds, which is being re-released by Aurum Publishing. A classic text that I have probably read half a dozen times, you can read my review here.

In addition to sending me a copy of the book, which you can win here, Richard also kindly offered me the opportunity to ask him a few questions about fell running, his experience and the response of the fell running community to the book. Here is what Richard told me:

What do you think are the attributes that the best fell runners possess and can a ‘normal’ runner acquire them?

The single most important attribute is toughness: physical, mental – everything from courage to the ability to shrug off incidental pain. Some people seem to start off with a lot more of this than the rest of us, but I think you can acquire it, if you want to. Apart from that, you need to be superfit: aerobically, anaerobically, in terms of strength, in terms of agility and in terms of stamina, with the kind of natural athleticism that allows you to handle very high speeds on the descents. It clearly helps if you weigh next to nothing: I’ve never seen a top fell-runner carrying an ounce of extra fat – although we middle-of-the-packers sometimes to get away with it. Finally, but not least, you need to be at home in the mountains. This gives those who were born and bred in the fells a major advantage over those who grew up in cities. But if you really want to become a mountain person, you can: you just have to arrange your life so that you can spend lots of time in and on the fells. It’s a bit mad, I suppose. But I think it’s worth it.

What was the hardest part of writing the book? And what were the highlights?

Deciding what to leave out: there were so many people and achievements and places that cried out to be written about, and I simply didn’t have the space. It was also quite tricky to get into a state of mind where I could describe to non-fell-runners what fell-running is like. Part of the secret of getting better at fell-running is that you have to let it become second nature, so that you simply stop thinking about the discomforts and the dangers and just get on with it. But you can’t really write a book just by saying “It’s no big deal.” So I had to think my way back into earlier states of mind, when I was really aware of all the difficulties.As for the highlights: the best bit, without question, was the people. There were so many different people who helped me, in different parts of Britain (and beyond), of different ages and from different backgrounds, each of whom had their own special insight into this wonderful sport that most people in the country had simply never heard of – and every single one of them responded to my requests for help with enthusiasm and generosity. They gave me time, information, tips, introductions, quotes, archival material: it was as if there was a kind of collective will that a book about fell-running should be written. I don’t know if they were all expecting the kind of book that I wrote, but I hope that not too many of them were disappointed.

How did the fell running community react to the publication of Feet in the Clouds?

They were very kind. I don’t suppose the book was to everyone’s taste, but generally people seemed glad that I’d tried to capture the best of their sport in print. More recently, some people have expressed concern that the book’s success has encouraged excessive numbers of ill-prepared novices to give the sport a try, putting themselves and others at risk and damaging the environment and atmosphere at some of the most popular races. I do worry about this, although I don’t think the surge in interest in off-road running in recent years is exclusively related to Feet in the Clouds. But I think that really feckless novices tend to be discouraged pretty quickly by the discomforts of fell –running, and I hope that most people are bright enough to understand that, if you’re going to come into a sport like this, you have to show a bit of respect: for the mountains, and also for the people who live and run in them.

As a fell runner, how do you view the growth of ‘trail running’ as a sport distinct from fell running?

I welcome it. Different runners want different things, and individual runners want different things at different times. So it’s good to have two distinct sports that cater for different tastes. If what you’re after is basically an off-road run in nice scenery, trail running is for you. If you want a mountain adventure that also involves running – some of it fairly kamikaze running – then that’s fell-running.

What is the hardest run you have ever done?

I’m not sure I can answer that question. There seem to be so many contenders. My first Ben Nevis race. My second Ben Nevis race. My first attempt at the Bob Graham round. My second attempt…  My first Grasmere. My first Three Peaks. They all seem impossibly hard, in retrospect. I suspect that the worst of all my have been my very first attempt at fell-running, when I ended up covering the final couple of miles by a mixture of crawling and wriggling on my bottom. But perhaps the real answer is that, with fell running, if it doesn’t feel like the hardest run you’ve ever done, you’re not trying hard enough.

What would be the best advice you can think of for aspiring fell runners?

You need to be fit. You need to be tough mentally: this isn’t a sport for whingers. If you’re not used to running on rough, steep ground, give yourself plenty of time to master it: downhill technique is more than half the battle. Start with smaller races and work your way up from there. It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew if you aim too high, too soon. Above all, find out about the sport before you try it. Get your head around the idea that mountains are dangerous, and that you need to take responsibility for your well-being. Learn how to use a map and a compass, get some basic outdoor survival kit, and accept that this isn’t a sport where you can just assume that someone else will make sure that you have a pleasant, trouble-free leisure experience. But if you can take all that on-board, give it a go. Show a little humility, responsibility and respect, and you’ll find the fell-running community incredibly supportive and welcoming. And you’ll probably have the most rewarding time of your sporting life…

My thanks go to Richard for taking the time from his busy schedule to answer all my questions. I really think that Feet In The Clouds is a great book and if you haven’t already read it, try to win one here or order a copy – I am sure you will not be disappointed.

 

 

 

Feet In The Clouds is published in paperback by Aurum Press and will be in shops on 9 May 2013, priced at £8.99.

The good people at Aurum have sent me a copy of Feet In The Clouds to give away, so head over to the freestak Facebook page for a chance to win the book.

 

Three is the magic number – interviewing Kipsang, Mutai and Makau at the 2013 London marathon

Mutai, Makau, Kipsang
Mutai, Makau, Kipsang

It seems as though every year, the organisers of the London marathon bring together “the greatest field ever assembled” for their race – London is one of the six major marathons and is an iconic race on the bucket list of runners from the very elite all the way to the back of the pack. So the job of getting the best runners in the world to London, whilst obviously not easy, is something that the London marathon organisers pride themselves on. But perhaps this year more than any other, in the afterglow of the Olympics, Hugh Brasher, the London Marathon race director, has outdone himself by bringing together a really incredible men’s field. And today, thanks to the marathon’s sponsors adidas, I got to meet three of them: Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang and Geoffrey Mutai – the fastest three men over 26.2 miles ever.

Patrick Makau

Serious business
Serious business

Patrick Makau is the marathon world record holder, having run a time of 2:03:38 in Berlin in 2011. Sadly he pulled out of the London marathon last year with an injury and subsequently was not selected for the Kenyan marathon squad for the Olympics.

I started by asking Patrick whether he knew, in Berlin, that the world record was in his sights. He said “From the average spilts that I got during the race, I knew that the world record was possible” and he confirmed that he went in to the race knowing what the record was and what splits would be required to break it.

I asked Patrick what he thinks will be required for his current record to be broken and he told me that it will require

someone to train very hard and be in good condition on the day of the race

This idea that hard training is the key was repeated again and again when I talked to the athletes. I wondered if there are other requirements when it comes to running fast and Makau told me that racing along with a fast group, like the one assembled for Sunday, really helps and that whilst he doesn’t train with Kipsang and Mutai, he knows them and they meet at races, so they will be familiar with each other on the day.

Terrible photo. Great athlete!
Terrible photo. Great athlete!

When it comes to training, Patrick told me that he doesn’t have a coach and that he trains himself. He said that he has been running for so long that he “know what I need to do and how to do my speed sessions” which for me, reinforces the theory that all the fundamentals required to create a world-class training programme could be written in a single side of A4!

So I asked Patrick what he thinks is the best advice for someone looking to improve their running.

Quite simple – you need to be good and consistent in training. Be disciplined and follow your training programme. And don’t forget to train twice a day

See, I told you it was simple!

 

Geoffrey Mutai

The fastest man over 26.2 miles!
The fastest man over 26.2 miles!

Geoffrey Mutai is the fastest man over 26.2 miles having run the 2011 Boston marathon in a blistering 2:03:02 – which is 4’42” pace! However this is not recognised as the world record because the course layout and profile of Boston is not within the regulations the IAAF stipulates for marathon record courses. Nevertheless, 2:03:02…! And if you need more convincing that Mutai is an incredible runner, his (legal) 58:55 half marathon PB should suffice. That an a victory in the New York marathon, again in 2011, in 2:05:05.

I started by asking Geoffrey whether he goes into races with a plan. He told me:

I cannot ever say how I will race and I never start with a plan. The plans only come during the race and I have to adapt and make decisions as the race develops. Instinct plays a big part

Like Makau, Mutai said that having a fast group like the one we will see in London this year is a good thing. He said that he enjoys the challenge of a race and that having fast runners with him will provide an added boost.

Keep. It. Simple.
Keep. It. Simple.

Unlike Patrick Makau, Geoffrey does train with Wilson Kipsang and they know each other well. He said that when it comes to race day he knows that sometimes he will beat his rivals and sometimes he won’t. But whichever way it goes, he is ready to race again as soon as the opportunity arises.

Mutai also said to me that he knows that running is a solo pursuit. He said that being the fastest in the field is not important and that all he worries about is himself. I asked him what he does if he feels that a race is not going well and the simplicity that seems to be a theme for all three runners I met, came through again:

Reacting to problems is all physical. If I can respond it is physical – if I have the energy to push I will. If not, then I don’t

For Geoffrey, this London marathon is a race that he has been looking forward to for a long time. He seems genuinely excited and happy to be here and said to me that racing is one of the best things about being an athlete. His philosophy is just that:

one of the best things about being an athlete is having discipline and enjoying your career. You must be happy when you run. You must be happy when you win and when you lose

I had to ask Geoffrey what he would advise any runner who wants to improve, aside from enjoying running. He told me that “through focus you can get the most from your training and if you sacrifice yourself in training you will succeed”

I finished by asking Mutai whether he thinks that he will win on Sunday. He said that he has done the training and feels prepared. He said that

God willing, I will win

I loved meeting the fastest marathon runner ever – he is a truly lovely man and I for one really hope he does have a great race in London.

Wilson Kipsang

VLM defending champion.
VLM defending champion.

Wilson Kipsang won the bronze medal in the London Olympic marathon and returns to the street of the capital as the defending champion, having won in 2012 in 2:04:44. This made him only the second man, after the great Haile Gebrselassie to finish three marathons in under 2hrs 5mins.

His 2:03:42 in Frankfurt in 2011 makes him the second fastest marathon runner ever, behind fellow Kenyan Patrick Makau and he has a pretty handy half marathon PB too – 58:59.

However by the time I sat down in front of Wilson Kipsang, he was ready to leave. The interviews were taking their toll and he was hungry. I had just given Geoffrey Mutai a couple of TORQ bars that I had in my bag after he told his agent that he was hungry. Wilson said something in Swahili and the second, unopened bar that Mutai had was handed over. Then he looked at me, smiled and said

Hi, I am Kipsang!

I only had a couple of minutes so I ploughed straight in with a question about tactic for the race on Sunday. Like both Mutai and Makau, Wilson said that whilst he had a rough idea of what he would like to do, the plan would be developed at the race went on.

I asked what he would do in the couple of days left before the race and he said that he would keep it simple: go for a gentle run, relax, drink water and eat well. He said that he also wanted to make sure he stayed focussed.

When it comes to the race, Kipsang said that he will constantly think about how he is feeling as they motor along. He said it is essential that you “feel the pace” and think about how far you have left to go in the race. And this translates into the advice that he gave me for the marathon itself:

Make sure you train so you feel comfortable running at a faster tempo. Be sure in the race to listen to your body and try, as hard as you can, to increase the tempo at the end of the race

My time with Wilson was up. But he finished by telling me, once again, that simplicity is the key – train hard, focus in training and racing, enjoy what you are doing and be dedicated.

Three really is the lucky number

It was an amazing experience to meet Patrick Makau, Geoffrey Mutai and Wilson Kipsang. I think that I was expecting – or is that actually hoping for – demi-Gods or people who are somehow other-worldly. After all, what they are doing seems super-human. But the reality is that they are just lovely, easy going, friendly and enthusiastic runners who keep their approach simple, dedicate themselves whole-heartedly to their sport, train hard from an early age and race to win every time they go out. It is those qualities that I think make them the best runners alive and the knowledge that miles ahead of me on Sunday they will be duelling it out on the streets of London, will certainly spur me on to do my best.

As for whether one of them will win… well I asked them all the same question. They were all too shy to really answer, but you know that they will make sure they give it their best on the day. If you’re running, I hope you do too.

Running around Hyde Park with Liz, yelling.

You laughin' at me?
You laughin’ at me?

In my very humble opinion, I think that Liz Yelling has all the attributes of a top coach – she has ‘been-there-done-that-and-got-the-t-shirt’, she has a really friendly way with us normal runners and none of the unnecessary airs and graces that could come with being an elite athlete, she has bags of enthusiasm, she can still really run and… she has a great voice for barking out instructions. All this I know, because I met her tonight for a little training session along with some tips and advice in advance of the London marathon, in five week’s time.

Hyde Park, but no where to hide

We – that is Liz and the two other runners who were invited for the session – met at Marble Arch in central London, just as the sun was starting to set on a rather grey day. There were some quick introductions and then we were off, jogging through Hyde Park towards a spot on the side of the Serpentine that Liz is clearly all too familiar with.

After a short warm-up, Liz took the three of us through some drills, which she explained are better for activating the muscles before a session then static stretching. Since meeting my coach, I have started doing these sorts of drills, but it was nice to see a couple of different ones that Liz uses and she helpfully pointed out that the ones she showed us could be done standing still or moving forward, depending on whether there is space to move around.

The session and some clear instructions

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 00.08.31
Me and Liz Yelling

After the warm-up and the drill, came the session. This was a mixed pace session, involving running on a set loop on the paths in the park. We set off at marathon pace for a set period and then, after a short standing recovery, turned and ran back the way we had come at threshold pace, aiming to get back to the start point faster than we had run the out-leg. Then we repeated the exercise with the out-leg at threshold and the return-leg at faster than that. The final set was – for me at least – a return to the first set.

Almost as we started the session a big group from British Military Fitness took up residence on the patch of grass that we were running around. There were at least 20 trainees and three military instructors and as they grunted and puffed and growled their way through the session the army instructors barked out instructions and orders and motivation. They were noisy in fact.

But Liz took this completely in her stride and covered the ground between where we started and finished to call out the end of each rep and the recovery times. I was worried that I might not hear Liz and I would need to time myself. I needn’t have worried – as clear as a bell, over the racket of the soldiers and their mini-squaddies, Liz’s voice rang out. A great attribute for a coach, to be heard like that!

I thought the session is a great way to get in some faster running with a clear focus on what needs to be done – measuring your effort on the way out and then upping it for the way back. It also means that a group of mixed abilities can train together starting and finishing in the same spot.

We finished off with some strides (I can confirm that retirement from international marathon running has done nothing to dent Yelling’s speed!) and a short cool-down as the darkness descended in the park, ending a really good – albeit short – session.

Tips from a seasoned pro.

While we were running, Liz shared some of her tips for the final few weeks of the marathon and I thought I’d pass them on:

  1. Liz said that on race-day she has a very light breakfast: three slices of white toast with butter and jam, maybe a slice of cake (cake featured quite prominently in the conversation throughout our time with Liz!) and a cup of tea or coffee. She said that anything heavy and fibrous like porridge can be hard to digest and went on to suggest that race-day breakfast should be practiced before the big day
  2. Gels form an important part of Liz’s race nutrition and she said that in a marathon she would take six of them. In her case the gels would be taped to bottles that were laid out for the elite athletes, whereas the rest of us have to carry them. But they are obviously useful and worth getting right in training
  3. We talked about pacing and Liz said that knowing your pace is crucial. I was pleased to hear that Liz used the same tactic I do in races – a stopwatch and target split times written on the wrist. She admitted using a GPS in a race once and said that due the inaccuracy that is standard with all GPSs, it was one of the biggest mistakes she ever made
  4. Liz has never needed to use the loo in a race. She told us that it is crucial that runners plan their race-morning preparation to make sure they are completely comfortable when they set off and remain so throughout a race like the marathon
  5. During the taper, Liz would maintain the frequency of her runs, i.e. if she ran every day, she would continue to do that all the way up to the race, but reduce the duration and intensity of the runs to the point where the run the day before the race would be a 30 minute jog. She didn’t like not running because it left her feeling stiff and tight

The future?

I asked Liz about her future plans and whilst she said that for now she is enjoying not putting herself through the rigours of hard training, which she has done from the age of 9 years old, she does love the mountains and thinks that one day she might have a crack at the North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, just for the experience. But it is clear that the plans are far from firm yet: it is just something Liz thinks she’d like to do one day.

One thing that is clear though, is that Liz is still driven and competitive. She admitted that she cares about where she comes when she enters a Park Run (first woman usually and overall winner in at least one race recently) and she is also focused on the athletes she is training. And one thing is for sure, Liz will make sure anyone she works with hear her and know exactly what is expected of them!

 

 

 

A note about the kit – I ran the session tonight in a pair of adiZero Boston. There will be a more in-depth review, but they have immediately become one of my favourite shoes. Light, firm and roomy in the toe-box, I think I’ll be using these for hilly races and lots of faster tempo-style training runs. The tights and t-shirt were old ones I had at home. The jacket is from the new London Marathon 2013 range, but I actually ended up with a women’s jacket, so the less said about that the better! Nice jacket though.

Meeting Kate Giles from the Crewroom

As I rushed around trying to find the place I was supposed to be meeting Kate Giles, founder of Crewroom, last Friday, I knew that I was going to be late. But when I finally located where I was supposed to be, Kate did not seem worried at all. I suspect that is an important characteristic when to comes to running a business in the ever-more competitive sports apparel sector: a pretty happy-go-lucky outlook.

It is immediately apparent, however, when one talks to Kate, that when it comes to running her business, she manages to combine an easy-going nature, with a very clear idea of where she wants her business to go.

The Crewroom was born

Kate was a top level rower when she was at university and competed at national and international regattas before retiring to take up a career away from sport. But after a particularly grueling run where she was caught in the rain whilst wearing a cotton top and was so cold and wet that she ended up with pneumonia, she decided to do something and created and launched a technical apparel line. There is little doubt that had Kate not had the background in rowing, that required her to run regularly to keep fit, that she did and a determination to do things a little differently when it came to creating kit, the Crewroom might never have come into existence. But Kate’s ‘lucky’ brush with pneumonia did happen and so the brand was born.

That was eleven years ago and if you have not heard of Crewroom until now, that is not all that surprising. Kate has built her business slowly and steadily, utilizing her links to the rowing world and contacts in other sports and ensuring her love of the outdoors and a real passion for sustainability is built into the DNA of her business.

2013 – the year of bravery

2013 might be about to see a change in Crewroom’s relative anonymity. Kate told me that this year

Crewroom is going to be brave

For Kate, it is the allure of the outdoors and trying to make sport inclusive, that are her drivers. Obviously a competitive sportswomen in her time as a rower, now she is more interested in finding ways that apparel and kit can allow people to enjoy more of the great outdoors for longer, without harming the very environment that she loves being in.

Performance and sustainability

The story of how Crewroom has got into running is interesting: Kate was asked to come up with an idea or two for ways in which the Royal Parks Foundation half marathon could be the most environmentally friendly and sustainable race possible. Kate was told that it was unlikely that her business would be awarded any sort of contract in light of the competition she was up against from the giants of sports apparel, but the organisers were keen to hear what she had to say anyway.

However Kate quickly received an order from the Royal Parks half for 12,000 t-shirts, made from a carbonised bamboo and recycled plastic bottle fabric that Kate had developed and Crewroom were well on their way. Indeed I ran the second edition of the Royal Parks half marathon and still have my stink-free purple t-shirt in my kit cupboard. That was four years ago!

From the boost that Crewroom received from the Royal Parks Foundation order, Kate has gone on to develop more and more environmentally sustainable materials and products. She is at pains to point out that the primary focus is on performance, so all the kit is designed to perform well first and do as little environmental harm as a back-up benefit.

Crewroom products

I have not had a chance to try any of the Crewroom products myself; if I do then a review will be forthcoming. But I can say that it was a real pleasure to meet Kate and her team and see some of the range for 2013, which appears to be well thought out. If you want to check out the range yourself, you can on their website or if you are going to the Triathlon Show in Sandown Park from 1-3 March then Crewroom (www.crewroom.biz) will be there with all their running kit on stand D37 (and I’ll be there too, so give me a shout if you’re going – @simon_freeman on twitter)

The day I went running with Julia Bleasdale

Last week I had the pleasure of going running with Julia Bleasdale. Yep, that’s right…

  • the runner who came 8th in both 5,000m and 10,000m finals at the London Olympics, running a personal best time of 30:55.63 in the 10,000m race.
  • the very same Julia Bleasdale who is ranked as the 9th fastest female 10,000m runner in the world in 2012, by the IAAF.
  • the athlete who, in 2012, knocked 42 seconds off her 5,000m personal best taking it to 15:02.00 whilst improving her 10,000m lifetime best from 34:20.77 to 30:55.63.

And I was going to run with her. I think the main question was, would I survive?

An annus mirabilis

Last year was pretty special for Julia. The numbers I have listed above tell a tale, but whilst we ran and talked, I got the distinct impression that there was more to it than just the figures. I think that Julia really enjoyed her Olympic year. Her eyes lit up when she talked about what it was like to walk out into the Olympic stadium for the 5000m and 10000m finals. The noise, the sights, the support – she was clearly inspired and I think it has given her a desire to do more and go further.

Partly the success has been down to Julia linking up with coach Nic Bideau in mid-2011. Up to that point Julia had been self coached and told me

I was probably pushing myself too hard and as a consequence was picking up injuries which affected my ability to train consistently…

which would obviously have a knock-on effect on what she achieved.

I asked Julia how it worked with Nic and I was interested to hear that he structures her entire week, even deciding the pace that each part of every run should be done at. This is no mean feat, given that Nic is based in Australia and Julia said that she has to make sure that she feeds back to her coach about all the aspects of her training and how she is feeling, so that he can adjust her training accordingly.

But it seems to be working and I was interested to hear that more than anything, the change that Bideau has introduced is that Julia is training less intensively than before which has meant that she has been able to train more consistently.

Other support

I have written many times about the importance of having good people around you. I am enormously lucky to have an amazingly supportive wife, a great coach and many friends who challenge me a spur me on in my running. Julia similarly seems to have a great network.

She told me about her partner, Kevin Nash, who was heavily involved in the London Olympic Games, managing the courses used for the cycling road races for the Olympics and Paralympics. His support seems to be very valuable and being a fit man himself, he can presumably understand Julia’s commitment to her sport and spends many hours cycling alongside her as she runs, whether that is in the hills around her UK base in Surrey or in Ethiopia where she goes for altitude training.

Julia also mentioned two other people who have played a part in her success: Mark Buckingham, her physio and Dr Steve Peters, the sports psychologist and author of The Chimp Paradox. Not a bad team, it would seem.

The future

As we run through the forests that surround Julia’s lovely house in Surrey, we talked about the future.

Julia knows that she has the raw talent to succeed. It is also clear that she has the commitment and desire to work hard to get better – as an example, her Christmas Day workout was four sets of 4x500m. As if that wasn’t tough enough, it was done at Kenenisa Bekele’s new track at 2,750m above sea level in the Yaya African Athletics Village, a facility part owned by Haile Gebrselassie – who, coincidentally, Julia told me is “really lovely”!

We met the week after Julia had captained the GB team in the Bupa Edinburgh Cross Country, against teams from the USA and Europe and I was amazed to hear that despite her really impressive performance there, Julia knows there is more to come because the seven weeks she had just spent in Ethiopia contained a majority of endurance training and not much speed work. Once she builds speed in, goodness knows what she will be doing!

Bleasdale’s concrete plans for 2013 include the athletics World Championships in Moscow and the World Cross Country Championships and I for one, will be tipping her for even more success.

Beyond that, Julia told me she is happy on the track for now and Rio 2016 is actually not all that far away. She (and I along with anyone who has an interest in Team GB athletics) is hoping that the upward trajectory that her running has been on, continues. And if that does happen, then her friend and occasional training partner, Meseret Defar, who won the 5000m in London, had better watch out.

A marathon, perhaps?

And I had to ask about the possibility of a marathon. Julia said that as of now she has no concrete plans, but I was pleased to hear that she believes that there will be an attempt on the 26.2 mile race in the future. I am absolutely sure that she is capable of great things beyond the track and whilst she was prepared to pace our run so that I wasn’t left behind somewhere in the trees and the falling snow, I doubt that my marathon PB would be good enough to stay anywhere near her when she does make the step up in distance.

Many thanks to Julia for hosting me at her house (the home-made scones were really delicious!) and especially for taking me for a really wonderful run in the snow. Personally I am really excited to see what the future holds and if you are keen to find out more about Julia, and her passion for creativity as well as running, check out her website – www.juliableasdale.com. I am going to try to convince Julia to allow me to ‘join’ her for a track session at some point and if that happens I’ll report back on how that goes!

Runners At The Sharp-end #7: Justina Heslop

Justina is a friend and colleague of Tom Payn, our Runner From The Sharp-end #6 (which you can read here) so thank you to Tom for asking Justina to answer the RATS questions and thank you to Justina for taking the time to do that. The first – but I hope by no means the last – female Runner At The Sharp-end, this is a really great interview and very inspiring. So take it away, Justina…

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 in London for the best part of 12 years but I’m a Geordie at heart as I lived in Newcastle until I was 21.

I’ve been to Ethiopia many times for training and have been lucky enough to make many good friends there including top athletes. I work for Run-Fast, a sports management agency, so spend a lot of time working with our Kenyan athletes.

Personal Bests:

  • 800m 2:08.02
  • 1500m 4:16.03
  • 3000m 9:07.62
  • 5000m 15:49.74
  • 5k 15:47
  • 5 mile 26:18
  • 10k road 32:40
  • Half marathon 73:11
 How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I started running as a child in school cross country races. I did my first race in plimsolls at the age of 8 and came 65th!  I did a lot of swimming as a kid then did a fun run when I was around 11.  I enjoyed it so started going along to my Dads running club, Elswick Harriers in Newcastle.  I stopped running when I started university and didn’t pick it up until my mid-twenties. So I’ve been running for about 7 years as a senior.

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

Bruce Tulloh advises me.  He sets my training programs and gives me really helpful advice on altitude training and planning for races.

(Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?

My Dad always gives me good advice and I admire his strength in completing the London Marathon- when I was a kid. I’m so proud of him!

What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?

I have received a lot of good advice but probably the advice that changed my attitude to my running and what I could achieve was from a friend in Ethiopia.  He just advised me to go in to each race believing I could win and not to worry about other competitors too much just to focus on my own running and doing the best I could do.  I went on to beat a few Ethiopians and Kenyans in UK races after this!

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

Probably my favourite thing is my purple Nike jacket that a friend from Ethiopia gave me.  And also my Ethiopia National team top. Just reminds me of friends and good times.

What has been, or where is, your favourite race?

My favourite race was a race I did in Ethiopia in Hawassa.  It was only 7k so my kind of distance and Hawassa is a little lower altitude and somehow I managed to win!  It was brilliant- they were so surprised that an English girl had won.

What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?

Believing in myself more.  After my first trip to Ethiopia about 3 and a half years ago I started to think I could achieve at lot more than I’d imagined possible.

With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?

Stick at it and try to enjoy it more.  I think I put myself under too much pressure so stopped running when I was 18.  I sometimes feel I could have achieved more if I had stuck with it. I don’t really regret it as I did different things- got a degree and travelled a lot in my early 20’s.

Do you stretch enough?

Probably not but I do yoga a few times a week.  I know I should stretch my calves after I run as they are always pretty tight but I am always more interested in chatting or eating after training…

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?

There is probably a lot that can be done but most of it just comes back to individuals working hard!  I think taking on board the things athletes are doing in other successful countries is useful.  For example in Ethiopia and Kenyan- although they do have some advantages there is no magic: most of it is hard work and wanting to win.  So I think I’m saying just work hard and strive to do your best. Where I work at Run-Fast we bring athletes over for UK races which helps make the races quicker and should encourage Brits to raise their game and not just assume that all East Africans are out of reach.  I have beaten some Run-Fast Kenyan athletes on a few occasions!

Also looking to other sports for inspiration- a lot of good stuff seems to be happening with triathlon in recent years.

What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?

I would love to compete for Great Britain. I think I just need to believe in myself and keep training hard but with balance.   I need to keep enjoying it as this will keep me motivated.

Please complete the following: I run because…

I love the people I meet through running and enjoy being fit and healthy.