Runners At The Sharp-end #5: Mat Chataway

Mat Chataway at the National Lottery Olympic Park Run. 31 March 2012.

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.

Runner at the Sharp End #4: Ben Wickham

I first met Ben at the Hackney Marshes ParkRun where it became immediately obvious that we were quite evenly matched. At the time I was living in Hackney so Ben and I were neighbours and ended up running the same races a few times. I was immediately and really hugely impressed by Ben’s level of dedication (as well as his amazing sun glasses – more on that later) and it was obvious to me that Ben would be someone that I would find myself chasing quite often in races. He had already set himself the target of a sub-75 minute half marathon and a sub-2:45 marathon when I met him and at a couple of races where we both ran, he came fiercely close to the half marathon target. Then with the London marathon 2012 looming on the horizon, it clearly all came together and Ben ran 73:19 at the Paddock Wood Half Marathon on 1 April and then cruised to an eight minute PB with 2:42:19 time in the London. Truly a runner at the sharp-end, here is what Ben had to tell me and if you want more from Ben follow him at twitter.com/@benjiwickham

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)?
Ben in full flow... in a triathlon (but we'll forgive him for that)

I used to occasionally run the odd 10k. Maybe once a year. I always wanted to do a marathon, but badly strained my IT band whilst training (badly) in 2009, making it almost impossible to run any distance. From there I took to swimming and cycling to rehab it, and built the miles slowly to get to the start line of the 2010 London Marathon. Along the way I sort of turned myself into a triathlete.  My previous best time was somewhere around 55mins for a 10k. In training for that marathon I realized I had some potential to run pretty well, and by the time I got to the start I was shooting for sub-3. However, I exploded, running the 2nd half in 2hrs 10min, posting 3:39. Rather than put me off it fired me up to see how fast I could go. So far I have a 16:38 5k, 34:45 10k, 73′ half and 2:42 full. Those last two took some doing 😉

How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I’d say I’ve been seriously running since the build up to VLM in 2010, so maybe just under 3 years, but I’d done a little bit of fun-running before. I always enjoyed the racing and the act of seeing how hard you could push you body over a given distance. As my limits expanded I just kept on looking for the edge, and still am.

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

I’m not coached, but I read a lot, and listen a lot. I tend to try and absorb every detail about anything that interests me. I have a number of people who I bounce ideas off and discuss anything sports related. Top of the list are Mark Sheppard, who taught me Tai Chi, and coaches a variety of sports, and Hilary Ivory, who is a journalist, author (collaborating on Paula’s latest book), personal trainer, and has a marathon PB of 2:40.

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

Ironically, I’d say the biggest influence on my running was the injury to my IT band. It forced me to take up swimming and cycling, which have been vital in allowing my training to continue injury free, and it forced me to forensically examine my technique. The memory of not being able to run also keeps me sensible when I develop niggles.

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

Stretch your calves. So many injuries and niggles that I develop can be traced to tight calves. They tend to feel OK, but pull on other bits of your legs, and you develop an injury that seems unrelated… and it’s not until you do a decent stretch you actually notice how bad they are!

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

Definitely my Oakleys. I think it’s vitally important to keep your face relaxed, as tension creeps into the shoulders and down into the hips and legs. The ability to keep your head up and eyes open is crucial to reducing tension. They also put me mentally in race-mode… physically feeling like a barrier to the outside world. And let’s face it.; I’m a triathlete too… They look cool.

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

New York Marathon 2011. It was the first time I felt controlled and relaxed all the way through a marathon, allowing me to soak up the sights. Lots of friends on the course, simply the best start I’ve ever seen, and coming down onto 1st Avenue is spine-tingling.

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

Specific training. Lots more slow miles, and less, but more targeted speed work. I leave it really late these days to tailor my training for races and as a result arrive much less burnt out to the start line, and have less injuries.

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

You have depths and abilities you cannot imagine right now. I was never picked for any team at school, and was bottom of the class at music. These days I happily play guitar by ear and blitz marathons. I’m not sure I would change my past, but if only I’d known I may have found out sooner.

Do you stretch enough?

See my answer above. Calves, calves calves. And some IT bands for good measure.

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?

Running at elite level to me seems to be coming out of a bit of a low patch. Whilst we aren’t up there with the east africans, there are certainly green shoots. It’s always going to be a hard sell as a lifestyle, but improvements will take years, and there are genuine characters in the sport to help. We need to push these characters. Use the interest that they generate with sponsors and race directors to create massive events, and media coverage off the back. Athletics is starting to get huge coverage these days, and it’s likely that in 3, 4 years time we may see the benefits of that. However, at a grass roots level, I think it’s never been greater. Parkrun, running clubs and local races all combine to make it a genuinely mass participation sport, and one that brings me into contact with all sorts of people. At my level, running has everything I ever need.

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

Simply to keep on pushing that edge. I’m aware that my limits will occur before I can set the word on fire with my running, but as long as I’m on my limit, I’m happy. I need to be honest with myself, and push more when I can. You need to learn the difference between your body saying no and your mind.

Please complete the following: I run because…

… by looking for the outside edge of your performance, not only do you learn  that edge is much further away than you ever thought possible, but quite probably all your self-imposed limits.

Runner at the Sharp End #3: John Hutchins

I recently met John Hutchins at an event hosted by the team behind the Brighton marathon, which involved a coaching seminar on the Saturday night and a 20km time-trial run on the Sunday morning. John, like many of the amazing runners I met on the weekend, was really friendly and happy to talk to me about his racing and training and what really struck me about him was the fact that whilst holding down a full time job and family commitments, with a baby having arrived only a few months ago, John still manages to fit in the training necessary to compete at the highest level. Indeed as I write this I am sitting with my feet up recovering from the Wokingham half marathon yesterday, where John beat his previous personal best on a fairly undulating and certainly windy course, to record a brilliant time of 66:48 which was good enough for 4th place. So my thanks go to John for taking the time to tell us about himself and his running as well as sharing some brilliant tips from a runner who is certainly at the sharp end.

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)?
John Hutchins in the 2011 London marathon

I guess you’d call me a road runner these days, although I’ve run pretty much run everything from 800m upwards on the track and I still dabble in some cross country over the winter. My best event is the Marathon – I’ve run 2:21 for my first two (in November 2010 and April 2011) and I those are probably my best performances over any distance. I ran a fairly quick half in the Hague last year (67:06) and a decent 10 miles in the Great South Run 2010 (49:56 – and yep, I sprinted like Mo to stay under 50!). Off the back of those runs I was kindly given the chance to run for England in the Elgoibar XC, and then I was picked (but ultimately too injured to run) for the England team in the Odense marathon last year. Technically I’ve run 3 marathons, but the first was when I was 18, when I ran 3:56… My first 10k was about 32:30 back in 2004 and I think my first half run in anger was 68:26.

 

How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I can remember my mum asking me to go to the shops from time to time when I was a kid and pegging it all the way there and back just because it took less time. So I guess I’ve always been a runner.  I did cross and track for my school and joined my club (Basingstoke) back then. But I kind-of gave up when exam work got tough around GCSEs and A levels with a view to getting properly involved once I got to Uni. Once I got there I joined the Uni team, got back in touch with Basingstoke and since then I haven’t looked back!

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

Yep, my coach is Martin Tarsey. He’s an ex-Basingstoke athlete himself and has coached me since I rejoined Basingstoke. He coaches quite a range of distances-from 400m up to Marathon. His other athletes include Mark Berridge (47.1 for 400m and 1:48 for 800m) and some other very capable track runners like Dave Ragan and Max Roberts.

(Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?
A Onesie. Ben Moreau may or may not have looked like this

It pains me to put this in writing, but I’d have to say my mate Ben Moreau. We were best mates at Uni and have stayed so. We train together sporadically, but I’m always chasing him. He’s a talented runner, but he puts the work in as well-so he’s a great example for anyone to follow (except for wearing a onesie/GB kit as pyjamas).

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

I’ve always had a tendency to gun all my runs-whether it’s racing (lead from the front), track reps (kill the first two), tempo running (start fast and then die a horrible death) or easy runs (which usually don’t turn out to be that easy…). And then I get tired. And then I feel rubbish. And then I go into a bit of a stagnant patch.

So the best bit of advice has come from most of the people that know me well-particularly my wife Joanne, Tarsey and Ben, and that is to run the way you feel. If you’re doing a tempo and you feel rubbish, don’t fight it, just cruise and be able to run the next day. Likewise if you feel great on a steady run, let yourself run a bit quicker (within reason), but recognise that if you feel slightly jaded the next day, just back off – it doesn’t mean you’re cheating!! Sometimes I find that holding yourself back when you feel great is just as bad as running too hard-and this is going to sound a bit sad-sometimes you need to feel that rush that you only get when you’re going quick, but you could go all day…

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

The Basingstoke boys ran a training weekend in Studland for a few years. We used to have proper running tees made up for it. I love my first ever one which has my Basingstoke nickname “JT” (nothing to do with a trouser snake) on it.

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

My favourite races have been the Florence marathon and the Elgoibar cross country. Florence because it’s a beautiful city, the crowds really get behind you and because it was a breakthrough race for me. I loved going through halfway feeling good and pushing on, waiting for the hurt to kick in, only to find out that I didn’t feel too bad. Elgoibar because it was a unique experience. The race is really historic and has a formal opening ceremony the night before. The course was crazy-set in the foothills of the Pyrenees and with a lap of a tartan track in each of the laps!

What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?
  • Mileage
  • 2 hour+ runs
  • tempo running

Hard to tell which of these has the biggest impact – each adds its own little piece. High mileage for me is 80+ per week. That’s not a great deal in comparison with the elite elite marathoners, but it’s just about all I can fit in around family life and work.  2 hour+ runs give you that marathon specific training that nothing else can – where you run close to empty and actually prove to yourself that you can run the whole distance. And tempo runs prove you can run quickly and make running slower feel easier.

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

I’d probably say to myself that I should train easier, but more often.  I used to get really tired and have to take days off to recoup.  Much better to take things easier and improve aerobically.

Do you stretch enough?

Nope. But I also have chronic Achilles issues as a result.  I’m like an old man in the mornings.  Word of advice to anyone would be DO CALF RAISES. I’ve started, and they’re helping, but I wish I’d done them all along…

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?

It’s obviously not as good as it once was.  Other sports and pass times seem to have stolen / stifled the talent that once came through the ranks. Having said that, I think London 2012 is a good stimulus for change. I also think the runBritain Grand Prix is a great way of encouraging good club runners (not just the elite elite) to race in high quality events. The atmosphere, organisation, serious competition and the fact that there are a series of races to target are all awesome incentives to train and improve.  Sometimes I also feel like the club structure we have in the UK must have been great when there was mass participation, but now numbers have fallen there almost needs to be a bit of consolidation to drive growth.  But that kind of change is way above my pay grade…

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

This year’s ambition is to run under 2:20.  I think I possibly could have been ready for this had I had an amazing run at London last year.  So I’m basically approaching training in quite a similar way, but a bit more sensibly with respect to keeping fresh.  Ultimately I would love to run in a major championships, but I’m just about training at capacity at the moment-what with work and home life.  I guess I will see what I can achieve this year and work out what I could change to continue to improve.

Please complete the following: I run because…

I love everything that running allows me to do; to meet great people, to run in awesome events and to travel; to rarely get bored; to eat ALL the time; to keep fit; to compete; to work hard and get results.  Most of my mates think I’m mental…

I would like to thank John for a really great interview. He is very modest about his achievements but for me he embodies the idea of a Runner At The Sharp-end and I am sure that everyone reading this blog will agree with me that John has given us some brilliant tips and lessons that he has learned that we can apply to our own training. If you enjoyed the interview you can also follow John on twitter @HutchinsJohn.

The Runners At The Sharp-end (or the RATS!)

Like any athlete at the absolute pinnacle of their sport, elite marathon runners are amazing. As a massive fan of athletics and in particular running and especially marathon running, I love reading about the greatest runners in the world – past and present – or seeing and listening to interviews with them. But I almost always feel very slightly unsatisfied with what I learn. Being utterly narcissistic about it, I’m left feeling that there is little that I can learn from men who are running 2:04 or 2:03 for a marathon – their approach to training and life and nutrition and rest is so utterly alien to me, that there is very little, if anything, that I can adapt to use for my own success. So I decided that I would use this blog as an opportunity to do something about it.

The running community

I sometimes view the running community as a huge pyramid. There are very large numbers of slower runners who treat running as a hobby and as something that is far from central to their life. They form the base of the pyramid. As you get further up the pyramid the runners get faster, more dedicated to their running and less numerous. Until you reach the very top and there are the elite few. The pyramid is not static – runners move up and down the pyramid as their times improve or they slow down. And the analogy is not perfect because I realise that there will naturally be a bulge in the middle rather then a tapering from bottom to top (so maybe a better visual would be two pyramids base-to-base…) but I hope you get the image I am trying to create.

Runners At The Sharp End

My idea then is to interview people near the top of the pyramid, but not those at the very top. I am calling these individuals Runners At The Sharp-end (or R.A.T.S). Necessarily this is going to require some subjective judgement on my part, so please bear with me, but I think what I am proposing is that I try to interview people who have full time jobs, who started their marathon career with a modest debut (sorry Scott Overall, you’re out!), who know what it is like to not ‘be a runner’, but who have progressed to a point where they win smaller races or place in the top 50 or top 100 of big city marathons. They qualify for the roomy start-pens that you see at the front of some race fields. The idea I have is that these types of runners are more accessible than the elite men and women, they are normal (well, normal’ish) people and their training, whilst almost certainly further and faster than most, is something that we can aspire to moving our training towards.

I really hope that through a series of interviews with the R.A.T.S I will be able to gain an insight into what it takes to become a really good, in fact some might say great, runner and extract some tips from them that we can all use in our training to help us be the best runners we can be.