Why focussing on the marathon might be the wrong thing to do

I was recently at a really cool event called Write This Run – a get-together for running bloggers in Bushey Park. There were 12 speakers at the event, from inspirational characters like Mimi Anderson and Kevin Betts to a running form coach, a personal trainer, some blogging experts and Scott Overall. This post is all about Scott and one of the things he said during his talk.

A potted history of Scott Overall

Scott Overall in Berlin 2011
Scott Overall in Berlin 2011

Scott Overall is an international athlete and Olympian, having pulled on a Team GB vest to represent the country a number of times, initially over 5,000m and then, in 2012 in the marathon. You can find out more about Scott on his website: www.scottoverall.com.

But it was probably Scott’s marathon debut in Berlin in 2011 that catapulted him into the limelight and certainly meant that he was the male winner of the inaugural RESPY awards. He ran 2:10:55 and finished in 5th place overall.

Possibly the most impressive thing about Scott’s debut marathon was that at the end he said that it felt easy!

Easy! 5 min/mile pace… But the reality is that if you are used to training for and racing over 5,000m on the track, marathon pace does feel easy. This is why we all do track training. If you train part of the time much faster than marathon speed and can manage the fuelling issues around the marathon, then the pace won’t be a challenge.

Since Berlin

Since Berlin, things have not gone so well for Overall. He decided to pace other British athletes in the London marathon to try to help them get the qualifying time. They didn’t follow him and he stopped before he had said he would.

Then Scott went to the Olympic Games marathon and ran a disappointing 2:22:37. He followed this up with 2:14:15 in the Fukuoka marathon later in the Olympic year. And then in the London marathon this year he didn’t finish, dropping out just after half way.

Too much focus

Listening to Scott talk at the bloggers meet-up at the weekend, I was really struck by his plan for how to rectify the few poor marathons he has run since the amazing race in Berlin: he is going to focus on track work and training for 5km and 10km races.

The lesson we can all learn

Scott’s comments made me think that perhaps the problem has been that he had been focussing too much on the marathon, both mentally and physically? And I suspect that for many of us the same might be true. It is all too easy to get overly obsessive about marathon training and that can have a negative effect on both body and mind.

In Overall’s case, leaving the marathon to one side while he trains for shorter distances will allow him to get some mental perspective on the 26.2 mile race and also allow him to train in a way that his body is more used to: still likely to be very high mileage, but fewer of the really damaging long runs.

In my case, I think that the launch of the business I run with my wife, meant that I had less of an obsessive focus on the marathon. I missed sessions because of work and possibly through that avoided over-training. I also did other things like a little bit of swimming and cycling. And I felt more relaxed: suddenly my self-esteem and confidence was not precariously reliant on the time that I could run a marathon in. The result for me, was that I went into the London marathon this year relaxed and ready to do my best come what may… and I loved every step of the way to my new PB!

I hope that for Scott the same is true. He is undoubtedly a hardworking athlete and I really hope that he has a great race when he returns, refreshed mentally and trained perfectly, to the streets of Berlin later this year.

And maybe if you have been training consistently hard for marathons for a while now and worry that you are hitting a plateau, a change will be as good as a rest. Try training for 5kms or 10kms or even for a bike race or a triathlon. Mix it up and let me know how that works for you…

The RESPYs are back!

This time last year, in a fit of anger about what I, and many other people saw as the sexist and non-representative shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, I created my own awards… the Running and Endurance Sports Performance of the Year awards or the RESPYs.

If you have been reading this blog for a year or more, you’ll know that I was really overwhelmed by the response to the awards. I got emails and tweets and Facebook messages and even a carrier pigeon (OK that is not true, but it should have been) nominating men and women who had done amazing things in endurance sports in 2011 and deserved recognition for them. You can see the list that I had received after only a few days here.

In the end, after counting up all the votes that I received, the two performances – there is a RESPY for men and one of women – went to Chrissie Wellington, for her epic and utterly amazing win at Kona despite a terrible crash on the bike in training just before the race, and Scott Overall for his equally amazing debut marathon in Berlin, with a finishing time of 2:10:55. You can read about the winners here.

Now the RESPYs are back!

2012 has undoubtedly been one of the most amazing years for sport in this country for a very, very long time. And endurance sport has had its fair share of wonderful moments in 2012. I am not going to risk swaying the nominations but mentioning any performances, but inspiration has not been in short supply.

What I am hoping to do, is uncover another treasure-trove of endurance sport performances that should be celebrated from 2012 and then allow anyone who cares to, to vote on them and pick another two winners. There are only a couple of guidelines:

  • ANYONE can be nominated – the RESPY could well go to someone who didn’t feature on the back pages or indeed any pages of the national or even the specialist press in 2012. Some of the most amazing stories from last year’s RESPYs were those of people I had never heard of, doing amazing things and pushing themselves to the limits for nothing more than the love of endurance sports
  • I’m after outstanding performances in 2012, so please make sure you tell me what your nominee has done that justifies the RESPY
  • Nominate yourself or someone else, but if you do nominate someone else and they are not world famous, maybe mention it to them, so they’re not shocked if they win and I turn up on the doorstep with a trophy
  • Nominate as many people as you want
  • Please don’t nominate Ron Hill again… in fact, that nomination was hilarious, so maybe you should

I really want this to be a celebration of all the things that are great about endurance sport and there are some truly amazing stories out there, so get thinking. All you have to do to nominate is send an email to respy@simonfreeman.co.uk or tweet me @simon_freeman (though I doubt 140 characters will let you tell me much of a story!) or you can simply reply to this post and put your nomination in there.

I can’t wait to read about the amazing running and endurance feats in 2012 and sharing them all with you. Thank you for your support.

The Running and Endurance Sports Performance of the Year awards: RESULTS!

As regular readers will know, the Running and Endurance Sports Performance of the Year awards were born out of my own personal frustration with the BBCs Sports Personality of the Year awards shortlist. You can read why I was so annoyed and how the RESPYs nominations poured in here.






Little did I imagine however, that my solitary rant into the keyboard, from my flat in north London, would attract such attention, generating passion and inspiration and leaving me, at times, reading such great nominations with tears of pride and amazement in my eyes. So first of all, to everyone that bothered to contact me – either by email or twitter or through comments on the blog – thank you! Thank you for showing me that there is still deep passion in this country for endurance sports and for the athletes who test themselves, very often for little or no reward, week after week. These are people constantly striving to be the best runners and endurance athletes they can be and by doing that they show the rest of us the way.

I was also deeply moved by the depth of knowledge that so many responders to my request for nominations showed about the people they wanted to win the award. So often I think, sport is blighted by partisanship whereby athletes or players are either lauded or vilified, not for their skill or devotion or dedication, but for their affiliation or the colour of the shirt they wear. Throughout the RESPYs process, none of that came across. The nominees were suggested and voted for because they were recognised as having done something amazing in 2011 – a running or endurance sports performance (or performances in some cases) worthy of recognition.

Awards are for awarding

However as with all endurance events, whilst taking part is a phenomenal achievement in itself, there must always be a winner – in the case of the RESPYs two winners: one male and one female.

I must admit now that the process for picking the winner possibly lacked complete rigour. I counted up the nominations and votes for the individuals who had been mentioned, I spoke to some experts in endurance sports that I know and I read what I could about the most nominated/voted for individuals. And then I chose…

And the winners are…

Chrissie Wellington with the Women's RESPY for 2011

Chrissie Wellington for the women’s award for her phenomenal performance in Kona in 2011, where she won an amazing 4th world championship despite an extremely nasty crash on the bike only weeks before the race. I do not have the words to describe how tough a competitor Chrissie is and at the same time what an amazing ambassador she is for her sport and her passions, especially helping those less fortunate in the world. I truly believe that Chrissie Wellington should have won the BBC SPotY (as well as a myriad other awards) for her increadible dedication to the sport and her unbelievable determination to the the best that she can possibly be. Which, it turns out, is rather good indeed. Chrissie, you are a most deserved winner.


Scott Overall for the men’s award for his massively impressive 5th place and Olympic marathon qualification with 2:10:55 in his debut race over 26.2 miles in Berlin 2011. Scott is not an overnight phenomenon, having raced at shorter distances very successfully for many, many

Scott Overall with the men's RESPY 2011

years. But without fanfare and knowing that he had no opportunity to try the distance out before having a crack at Olympic qualification, Scott simply ran his own race in Berlin and showed endurance runners throughout the UK that the era of global marathon dominance by men from the UK might be over for now, there is no reason why we cannot start to see a return to the ‘good old days’ that so many commentators lament is over. And more than just the fact that Scott ran such a great time in Berlin, he is also at the heart of a group of runners who are now looking to emulate what he has done – even to the extent that he will be pacing other GB runners in the London marathon who are looking for the elusive sub-2:12 time to get them on the team. So for just going out there and pushing back the barriers that many thought were insurmountable, and at the same time making sure that there will be at least one GB vest to yell for on marathon day in the London Games in August, we salute Scott Overall and wish you all the best for a great race in 2012.

The Future for the RESPYs?

So what is next, I hear you ask? Well the RESPYs really showed me that there is passion and knowledge amongst the readers of this blog. So at the very least there will be another RESPYs for performances in 2012. Beyond that, I am still keen to acknowledge and highlight runners who might not be at the very front of the pack in major races, but who show us all that we can achieve more than we ever thought possible, so I will work on a way to develop the Runners At The Sharp-end and showcase those sorts of people. And I think that some way to doff our collective caps to all the people who work tirelessly, often voluntarily, to help keep running, erm… running should be created. So please all get your thinking caps on and if you want to nominate for the RESPYs 2012 throughout the year then please do – I am sure there is a small, low-key athletics meeting happening in London this summer which might throw up a few suggestions!

Olympic selection for the marathon

The British Olympic Association has announced three of the athletes who will compete in the marathon in the 2012 Games. The runners with early selection are… wait for it…

Paula Radcliffe

Mara Yamauchi

and for the men

Scott Overall

You can read all about it here. No real surprises there then. I think that the two big questions that need to be answered are who will take the final place in the women’s race (anyone want to bet against Jo Pavey?) and whether any other British men will make the cut. After Andrew Lemoncello hobbled home in the Fukuoka marathon at the weekend in a miserable (for him) 2:24, I think that there may be the sad sight of only one GB vest on the start line of the Olympic marathon. I hope I am wrong – who do you think is in with a shout?