Martin Yelling and Tom Williams were our guests on Episode 19.
C259: Martin and Tom, welcome to cloud259.
Tom: Thank you very much.
Martin: Thanks very much, guys.
C259: First question I’ll toss at Martin, since you did this interview. I was listening to Episode 205 that you did with Mark Steinle, and he said something like if you want to run a marathon balls out, you’ve got to be prepared to be absolutely shattered, month in and month out, training wise. He set the bar not at 100 miles per week, but rather at 150 miles a week. First off, do you this is what it takes to get under 2:10, and do you think this might be what is holding British marathoning back at the very sharp end?
Martin: Tell you what, hit me with a massive question first out, why don’t ya.
Tom: Keep your balls in, just keep your balls in.
Martin: I know. My balls are hanging right out at the moment. Listen, firstly, thank you very much guys for having us on the show. Listening to your intro like that makes me stand back and think about the way that Tom and I set up Marathon Talk what seems like all those years ago, 209 episodes ago, and some of those things you spoke about are fantastic, so thanks for inviting us both on your show. Back to the question, the Mark Steinle interview was actually fascinating. Here’s a British guy that’s run under 2:10, and he got better with every single marathon he did. He did 2:11, then 2:10, then he did 2:09. One of the things that struck me about what he said was I gave absolutely everything to my training and my racing. Of course when we look back at Mark’s career of marathon running, it was relatively short, three, perhaps four years at the top end, and that’s because he suffered an Achillies injury, suffered a few problems later on that really cut short a promising career. He ran 2:09 and that’s good, but could he have run a 2:07, with a little bit less balls actually out there the whole time approach. Certainly I loved his approach to training and also to racing itself. The thing he said that struck me the most was that 100 miles a week just isn’t enough, and if aspiring elites think that it is, they need to think again.
C259: Right, do you agree with that? It might have shortened his career, arguably, if he ended up injured. But you can’t argue with the results. Jeffrey Eggleston and Ryan Vail do about 150 a week and it seems to work for them.
Martin: I guess everybody is different, and the key for the best marathoners in the world is that they know what works for them. For Mark Steinle, it would have been big miles. For Rob de Castella, who we had on the show, it was doing almost the same week, week after week after week.
Tom: If we look right now on who’s having success outside the East Africans, the Japanese are absolutely flying. They had five men in the World Champs, all who had run 2:08 that year. They are famous for doing high mileage, we are talking 300K a week, 180 miles. When we think back to the interviews we’ve done and the people we’ve spoken to, I don’t think many of Steve Jones, and Charlie Spedding, and Ron Hill – I don’t think many of those guys did less than 130 or 140 miles a week.
Martin: You rarely hear of a low miles, high-quality world class marathon runner, do you?
Tom: What did Paula do, she was right up there, at 130 or 140 miles a week, something like that. I would like to know what Mo’s doing. Alberto seems to have a different take on this. I seem to remember an interview with Alberto who said the worst thing for the marathon was marathon training. Didn’t he win New York, the first time out, off of 10K training? Then he did marathon training and didn’t quite crack it.
C259: I don’t think Salazar believes in the ultra-high mileage, but he’s got a lot of other tricks up his sleeve. Interesting that you note Salazar since he is consulting UK Athletics now. What is your take on Salazar? He’s a bit of a controversial figure in running, but you can’t argue with his success, both as a coach and as a runner.
Tom: The biggest thing with these sorts of characters is the belief they give their athletes. With Salazar you’ve got the cryogenics stuff. Does that really make a difference? I don’t know. Paula used to wear magnetic things around her neck and she had the compression socks. Sometimes I wonder if a lot of those things they have are psychological crutches that actually give these athletes the real confidence. On the start line they feel like they have an advantage. That can make a huge huge difference. Perhaps one of Alberto’s great strengths – not to take away from his actual coaching, and I’ve been watching some videos of his strength stuff recently, and clearly physically he’s made a big difference – is the mental side. I don’t believe in the UK as a sport that we have that belief right now. I’ve spoken to elite athletes who believe East Africans have an advantage. I don’t believe they do. I really don’t believe East Africans have an advantage. Ron Hill ran 2:09 43 years ago, 44 years ago, Dave Moorcroft is a normal guy – I know Dave Moorcroft fairly well, he’s a n0rmal guy – and he ran 13 flat for the 5k 35 years ago, 30 years ago.
Martin: I’ll tell you what else about Salazar. He has charisma, he has leadership, and he clearly passionately believes in the skill set that he has. I’m not sure within British athletics marathoning at the moment that we have somebody that has that level and that mantle and that respect, that an athlete can look at and go, okay, I really, really value your credibility, not necessarily your achievements because I don’t necessarily believe to be a great coach you also have to have been through the great athlete scenario, but to have that, you know what, I absolutely know what I’m doing, to have the results, the credibility, the trust, and the charisma to be able to lead what is effectively the best runners in Britain. I’m not sure we have that here right now.
C259: That’s a great point about Salazar. From a purely nationalistic perspective it was a little tough watching the London Olympics because we saw Mo Farah beat Galen Rupp, and Rupp was celebrating as he should have been for getting a silver medal, but I was just thinking that suppose Salazar with all of his charisma and his tricks been training only Rupp. Might Rupp have not have seen Farah almost as a teammate? Might he have had an advantage over Farah? The counter-argument is that by training with Farah, Rupp was able to do a lot of things that he couldn’t have done otherwise, but it’s very interesting how Salazar is now helping the UK. He really transcends the nationalistic boundaries.
Tom: But does he transcend the commercial sponsorship side of things? Of course, Nike have signed a deal, haven’t they, so are Nike more powerful than the national side? Is the swoosh replacing the flag?
C259: So we’ll be seeing the swoosh instead of the Adidas logo on the British kits, correct?
Tom: Perhaps instead of the flags. Perhaps they’ll merge, and it’ll be Team Nike. That would be no good.
C259: One of the things we talk about on this show is the gap between participation and real fan interest in the sport, comparatively at least. We are trying to change that, we know you are. In Britain the one thing you have that is far superior to what we have in the U.S. is the televised product, at least the announcers. You’ve got much more knowledgable announcing. We’re happy to see that tomorrow Edinburgh cross country is on with BBC announcers. Do you often think about how the televised product could be improved?
Martin: Hugely. Firstly, you do have some very competent announcers in the U.S. Maybe they don’t get the platform that they need, and maybe the U.S. networks don’t cover athletics, track and field, road running, in a such a way that they could. But also, here in the U.K. and across in the U.S. I’m sure you’d agree, the type of coverage, the content of coverage, the level of the coverage on the TV certainly isn’t what it could be. If you look at football, or soccer, for you guys (I like to put things in the correct way across the pond). We look at rugby, we look at tennis, we look at basketball, the way in which those sports have adapted and therefore from a technological point of view the type of commentary that you can provide has changed hugely. The insight into the game is very different and therefore the commentator has been awarded with rafts of really great information to put across. You could have that in running. Why can’t we have other things to talk about during the race? Because not all our commentators here in the U.K. unfortunately are as capable as the likes of Tim Hutchins and Steve Cram.
Tom: I do think that there is a big issue of East African dominance. That is a problem. I was reading an article today about how the agents have failed because they have not built the characters or the personas of the East African athletes, so people aren’t that bothered. One of the reasons I wanted to do Manchester was that last year Manchester was head-to-head between Dave Norman and Andy Jones, the same thing as the year before, for th win. They are only running 2:20 I think, but it’s very interesting, very exciting, and you can commentate on that, whereas I’ve just watched the coverage again for the Yorkshire Marathon. It was a couple of East Africans I’d never heard of, battling it out for the win in 2:15 or something, and you just aren’t bothered. You watch the television coverage and you think this is interesting, this is interesting, and then it just goes back to something, I’m not interested in this again. You can’t relate to them, the interviews aren’t interesting, you’ve never heard of them before and you’ll never hear of them again. Watching Wilson Kipsang or Geoffrey Mutai duke it out is great, or watching Haile against Paul Tergat. I can’t wait to see Mo go up against Wilson Kipsang, I’m hoping Geoffrey Mutai will be at London, that would be great, but when you get to the slightly lower level it’s not so interesting. It’s like watching the second division of the Spanish football league. If you put that on British television, nobody will watch it.
C259: I guess with the London Marathon coming up, having Mo Farah in there will help a great deal. Tirunesh Dibaba is running for the women, she’s not British but she is a superstar. Maybe that will draw some interest. What you are talking about Toni Reavis talks about that a lot. It needs some creative thinking, because I can’t imagine not having the best runners in the world to these races. It’s about trying to make that interesting.
Tom: Yeah, and I think with the best runners in the world you can do it. You can have big city races and you can have ten Kenyans in the lead pack and you can talk about that and it can be exciting because they are doing mind blowing things, and you have seen them the year before, you do know one has the world record or is the world champion. I think you can do that. But at the more intermediate level, the point where people get interested – take the World Cup finals in soccer, then you are interested in Spain versus Argentina, but every week, you want to watch Manny Light against Liverpool, you don’t want to watch Athletica Madrid versus Barcelona. You want to be able to relate a little more. There is a huge number of foreign players in the premiere league, but at the slightly lower level you want to watch your local teams, people you can relate to. You mentioned in the intro Chris Thompson. Thommo, huge potential, gets injured a lot, but has got a great character, and is someone people can really relate to, and if someone like that was able to step up and become a 2:05, 2:04 marathoner, 2:06 marathoner, whatever it is, I think that would make a big difference. Still, at that elite level, at the heights of that level that’s great, but when you’ve got things like at the Brighton Marathon, the first six guys are Kenyans you’ve never heard of, and then there’s fifteen minutes, and then there are some Brits. I’d rather not have the six Kenyans or the fifteen minutes and then have a really great race between the Brits, that people get into and get excited about, and you’d be bothered who had won, and you’d take an interest in sport.
C259: Let’s shift to your show now, MarathonTalk. What started it?
Tom: It was Martin’s idea, don’t blame me.
Martin: I think what started it was me seeing that what was available in the public domain in terms of knowledge sharing, the quality of it, the acceptability of it, wasn’t quite as good as I thought it could be. For example, there was nothing on iTunes in the UK market that reached a wide audience of varied ability of runners, encouraged them, inspired them, got them involved in different things. So I sat down with Tom and said I think we could do an Internet radio show on iTunes and available elsewhere of course, and call it Marathon Talk, and it would just be me and you talking about our training, and a few things going on in the world of running. What do you reckon? We took a lot of leads from the great podcast all about Ironman distance triathlons called IMTalk, and the guys John and Devon were fantastic at giving us a steer, giving us a lead at how to get things off the ground.
Tom: It used to be called Ironman Talk, and then Ironman Corporation I think threatened to sue them. It’s brilliant, they’ve been going about six years.
C259: This is our 19th episode of cloud259 and you’ve just completed your 209th episode of Marathon Talk. Did you have any idea when you started in January 2010 that it would extend this far and beyond?
Martin: We’d always had the hope that it would. We always thought that we had the capacity to keep the show going. There’s nothing more frustrating, is there, then engaging in something and loving it as a user and as a participant, and then it ends. A times, Tom and I have nearly broken ourselves to get the show out. We haven’t missed a Wednesday in four years.
C259: That was our next question. Has sticking to the program ever gotten you in trouble? You have been remarkably consistent. It boggles my mind that every Wednesday there is a new show.
Tom: That has been quite surprising. For the first couple of years it was always us. Now when we go on holiday or are away, you do get a guest presenter. We’ve had some really great guest presenters and that has been a load of fun. But for the first couple of years actually, a bit like new parents, you don’t want to give your kids to someone else. So you are like, I’ve got to be on the show, I’ve got to be on the show. We’ve recorded while Martin’s been in Lansrati, I’ve been in Lansrati, Martin’s been in Chicago. We recorded our Comrades episode in an IPad in a double bed in my friend’s mum’s house.
Martin: Will you stop giving our sleeping secrets away?
Tom: When you think of the level of content that goes out every single week. Tony of course with Tony’s Trials, and Duncan Edwards with Boy on the Run. The interviews are great. One of the big things we learned from Devon and John at IMTalk, one of the things they said at the beginning, is it’s very very very hard to create content. For example, we do a section called Training Talk, where we try to come up with five tips around training. When you are creating stuff, it’s very difficult to do, and it’s very difficult to not repeat yourself as well. The more content you can get that generates itself, like an interview or news, the better, because that’s much much lower in terms of work load. Like tonight, you can say to me and Martin, can you come on the show, great, and of course there’s a little bit of prep and questions that you prepare in advance, but then the content just creates itself, and that makes it a lot easier. That has been key to having us get out 90 minutes a week for four years.
C259: Any particular highlights or lowlights of the show you’d like to mention?
Tom: Speaking to Martin every week is my lowlight, definitely. We were friends before we started, but we weren’t like best mates, we were just good friends, really. I remember week one, Martin saying to me something like, do you realize we’re going to have to speak to each other every week, once a week, forever, we’re going to have to speak to each other on the phone. And that was a really strange concept.
C259: We don’t like each other as much as you do. We keep it to once a month or so.
Martin: That’s one of the principles of the show, though, and particularly around the success of the show, is its regularity. If you don’t keep something regular, not only do we feel like we’d let our community of listeners down, but it encourages people to listen, to sustain their listening, because they know that every week this is going to come out, rain, shine, whether Tom is crying over a little niggle, or whatever is bothering him that particular week, I’ll pick him up and we’ll carry on. One of the funniest things that I’ve experienced on this show is we got criticized once for our relentless positivity, for always being positive about the world of running.
Tom: Probably the most amazing thing for me I’m sure you feel the same Martin is the friendships that we’ve made, not just between listeners that didn’t know each other before and have met through the show and are now become great mates, but also between us and the guests. I was out for dinner last night with two friends, Matt and Adam Chattaway who I’ve met as interviewed their dad. They e-mailed us and said could we interview their dad, and we interviewed their dad and we’ve sort of become mates. Martin has been running with them last night and I was in London last night and we had some dinner. Just making friendships with people who have a similar interest to you is wonderful.
Martin: Also connecting people across the world. We’re very fortunate in that our listenership is global, pretty much. Those people will connect with each other. They’ll make friends, they’ll speak, they’ll hook up at races. It’s one big happy loving family.
C259: There are a lot of positive feedback loops with running, and I think your show has shown that.
Tom: A lot of people don’t have positive support. So they are running, and their husband or wife or kids or friends are like, negative in that, they’ll say why are you running? Why are you doing that? They don’t say well done, or they won’t say how did you do. By creating the communities, it gives a lot of people other people who will say well done, and I think that’s hugely important.
C259: On the show itself you’ve interviewed the best runners in the world. One of them that was difficult to listen to, because he has passed, but also because it was hard to understand what he is saying, was Sammy Wanjiru. How was that episode for you? You’ve got the best marathon runner in the world, and it must have hit close to home for you guys when he died.
Martin: When we do our interviews, 95%, probably 99% of our interviews are done remotely. We do them over Skype, over the telephone, we don’t actually sit across the table from the runner we are interviewing. With Sammy, I had the opportunity to sit opposite him. With Sammy, I was with him, he was across the table. He happened to be in Bedford for an activity that he was doing, and I requested an interview and I got it. You know what, it was quite tricky. I’ll be really upfront and honest with you here, he was very tired. He had a really long day of commitments, and I almost got the impression that sitting with me to talk running was about the last thing he wanted to do, but he did it, nonetheless. We sat, we chatted for about 20 minutes I think. I could see in his eyes that he wanted to go back to the hotel and have a chill and relax. I’ve been fortunate in that my wife is a very good standard marathoner herself, so when she would go to the World Marathon Majors or Olympic Games I would see as her “agent,” I would see these athletes and spend time with them and have breakfast with them and other things so it wasn’t that new to me personally. But Sammy was different, because he changed the landscape of marathoning running when he ran in Beijing, particularly around how to race a marathon from the start to win the race. He changed everything, and when he lost his life, it was a difficult day for the world of marathoning I think.
C259: On a happier note, nearly 20,000 runners have signed up for Jantastic, and I think you’ll probably end up getting around 5 times the number of runners you had last year. Another two part question: first, for runners who don’t know, describe Jantastic, and two, do you sense there is a movement towards running in England?
Tom: Well, this is season four, so when we came up with Jantastic, with a lot of these things – we’ve done a few challenges, we had the Magic Mile in the summer – it’s not selfish in a bad way, but we think about what do we want to do to improve our running personally. We are training for a marathon, whatever it might be. Maybe I was training for Ironman or whatever it was. We thought, spring marathon stuff, okay for the first month you just want to be consistent and get a consistent number of runs in. The second month you want to increase the length of your long run a little bit. The third month, you maybe want to do something hard like a race to get yourself ready for doing a marathon in the fourth month. That is the way we did it. By making it a big challenge, all we are doing is increasing the motivation for ourselves, so it’s not just us on our own, like a couple of losers, with 5,000 people also doing it.
Martin: One loser.
Tom: Don’t put yourself down, Martin.
C259: Nice comeback.
Tom: Okay, so let’s say with those first four weeks, you say how many runs you are going to do, and it’s anything between three and 14 runs per week. We figure if you do more than 14 runs a week you don’t need motivating. We did want to make it something that will change your running. It was about improvement, self improvement. It couldn’t possibly be less than 3 runs a week, and I know some people don’t run at all, so one run a week would be a lot more than none, but we figure with those guys they are welcome to walk, they could walk three times a week, but they had to get out the door three times a week. The percentage of runs that you do that you say you were going to do is your score. Say you were going to do 4 runs a week and you do two each week, that gives you a score at 50%, and so on. It’s all honesty based, you set the number of runs, it’s up to you. We have everybody from elite marathoners doing 14 runs a week through to complete beginners doing three runs a week, and they are competing on an even playing field, because if the beginner does three runs, they get 100%, and if the elite runner “only” does 13, they get 95% or whatever it is and they actually are behind.
In the second four weeks, you say how many runs a week you are going to do, and you also say what the length of your longest run is going to be each week. You might say I am going to do four runs a week, and my longest run is going to be 10 miles each week. Again, if you achieve that, you get 100% and so on.
In the third set of four weeks, in the third month you say the number of runs per week, the longest run per week, and this is the bit people struggle with – you say a predicted time for a max effort over a distance of your choice. It could be a training run, it could be a Park Run, which is like a 5K time trial we have in the UK (there are a few in America) or it could be an actual race. The key is, it’s not a target. It’s not a goal. What we figured was that by setting a goal, people nine times out of 10 will set it too easy and they’ll smash it out of the park, and that doesn’t do anybody any good. You don’t learn anything about yourself from that. What people don’t tend to understand particularly in a marathon is how fit they are. The problem with not knowing how fit you are, is that you don’t pace yourself well in the marathon and you go out way too hard, and you blow up. So the challenge in that third month is how well do you understand your fitness. Lets say you are going to run 5k flat out, what time will you do? If you go faster than that time or slower than that time, you lose points. If you get it exactly right, you get 100%. It’s not about sandbagging some easy time and then jogging in and looking at your watch and stepping over the line at the right time. It’s about truly being honest with yourself and saying I think that I’m this fit, then going flat out and finding out exactly. Of course, if you go faster than that, you lose points, which people really struggle with every year. Why do I lose points? I went faster. But the point is, you didn’t understand your fitness, and had you gone faster in the marathon by not understanding your fitness, you would have blown to pieces at mile 20. Now you understand your fitness a little bit better. This year we’ve got a bit of an investment from our national governing body, which is great. We got 20,000 people, I can’t believe it.
C259: That seems like an indication that running keeps growing as a participation sport.
Martin: It’s pretty popular. One of the things that we have done is we’ve tried to make running more accessible over here. With things like MarathonTalk and of course Tom with his role at ParkRun, we’re breaking down breaking down barriers to participation so that running is easy for people to do – because it is! It’s really cheap, it’s really straightforward, it’s really cheap, it’s really effective, and almost anyone can have a crack. Nobody needs to go run a marathon in three hours or whatever, you can just get out there, lace up some running shoes, and have a go. I think that hopefully things like Jantastic and ParkRun are helping more people realize that running is not just for super-thin Lycra-clad speed snakes or old men with dribble down their jumpers holding stopwatches, it’s for everybody.
C259: Right. We definitely want to get to our little challenge, but we want people to know about your running backgrounds. Martin, you were quite an accomplished runner, you still are, but you had a sub-30 10K at some point. Can you tell us about your best ever race, and what your aspirations were as a runner?
Martin: That’s a really really tough question, my best race as a runner. I started off racing bikes, and then I met a leggy blonde at university. I needed to do a few more miles to keep up, and make sure there was a relationship to be had, so I started training more for running. I would say that I was a reasonable level national standard runner. I ran a 3:46 1500, and a 29:51 I think 10k, and a 66 flat half marathon and ran in minor internationals for England and the Boulder Bolder for GB in 2001 I think, where I think I came about third from last. I had some great experiences running, but one that sticks in my mind was a 9th place finish in the National Cross Country Champs, which is probably the biggest and most prestigious cross country race in British history. It is the best cross-country runners that come together to run that. One year I made the top 10, which for me was an outstanding run.
C259: What were your highest aspirations? Did you think at some point that you might become an Olympian?
Martin: I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t have the top-end speed for 1500 meter running. I was running 3:46, the top guys were running 3:33, 3:32. I needed to find another 100 meters and I wasn’t certain I could do that, so I moved to steeplechase and quite quickly found that I could do it. I was progressing quite quickly and was aiming to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in 1998 when I snapped an Achilles tendon on the last water jump of the race. I would have cut right inside the qualifying time. That kind of put paid to any aspirations for championships for me, because I didn’t chase at the same level again, and the only way you are going to go to a major championship is on the track. I was always just one step short. I needed a few extra rungs on the ladder before I felt I could reach those kind of lofty heights.
C259: How did you manage that transition? It must have been heartbreaking.
Martin: It was much more heartbreaking at the time than it is now. When I look back now, I’m significantly wiser about what is important in the world and what is important with running than I was them. As an athlete you become all-consumed with your desire to improve your own personal performance, and that’s a necessary quality and trait of elite athletes. At the same time it’s a bit destructive, and you don’t realize that until you’ve stepped away from it. So at the time, it was disappointing, but now I think a snapped Achilles, hey worse things happen.
C259: Tom, your journey came from a different place. Your first marathon was a 3:53, and you’ve worked your way down to a 2:49 personal best. That’s over an hour. Can you tell us about that journey?
Tom: Yeah, I had a very different journey to Martin.
Martin: You were a bit of a fat lad too, weren’t you?
Tom: My friends that have known me for a long time call me a fat person trapped inside a thin person’s body. Throughout my 20s I was in bars, drinking and partying. I didn’t do a timed run at all until 1998 or 1999, I was 24 or 25 years old, pretty unfit and unhealthy. Like most people in the U.K. I thought wouldn’t it be nice to do the London Marathon as a box-ticking thing. I was a very overweight, a very alcoholic student. My next-door neighbor’s daughter got leukemia, and she was only four. I thought I’d like to run the London Marathon and raise some money for Leukemia research. At the time purely as a charity runner I did the typical, I’m going to give up booze in January and start running and all that kind of stuff.
I took it really seriously. I try to do things properly when I do them. I came from a fairly low base. I trained really hard, I didn’t drink, I ate healthy food, I lost a stone or something. I paced myself perfectly on the day. I think I ran 1:56/1:56 for two halves of the marathon, hardest thing I ever did, 3:53. I felt at the time there was no way I could ever go any faster. It was the ultimate physical achievement for me, the pinnacle of what I would ever achieve in my life, physically. I had always been rubbish at sport at school, picked last. I was an active kid, but I wasn’t sporty. That was it. I didn’t run another step for the next couple of years, didn’t even consider running a step for the next couple of years. I never thought I’d run ever again. I’d ticked that box.
I went traveling for a few years and came back and got a job at a gym, got a degree in sports science, and was working as a gym as a fitness consultant. I wasn’t particularly fit. I thought, I need to be fit, I am a fitness instructor, I probably should be fit. I started going to fitness classes and circuit classes and teaching them and doing spin classes and took the running club out. Without really knowing I was training, I was getting a lot fitter. Some old university friends from Oxford came to stay with me. I lived in Leeds at this point. They came to stay with me for the Leeds half marathon, and they entered me in the race without telling me. They were like, here you go, we put your name down. They were all quite serious runners, running 1:30 something or 1:40 something for the half marathon. I think I had run a 1:46 or something like that before the four hour marathon, in the build-up.
I said oh, I’ll run with you guys then, and I ran 1:26 and PB’d by 17 or 18 minutes, having not done any specific run training at all. I was obviously a lot fitter. At that point the bug bit me, and I thought maybe I could run a much faster marathon, and of course then I went on the sub-three hour journey. I ran 1:26 and people said to me you can probably break three hours. I know that one of you guys has done it, and one hasn’t yet and I’m sure you will. When you can break 3, and start your time with a 2, that becomes quite addictive. You become quite driven. I ran 3:10 in Lausanne in Switzerland, then I ran 3:00:20 in London the following April. Then I finally did it. I ran a 2:58 in Venice in 2004 I think. It was great and again that was another point at which I never thought I’d get any quicker. Once again, I thought, that’s it, I will never go faster than that, possibly. Years later I did an Ironman, and ran 2:49 and took 10 minutes off it. I’ve learnt by now never to put limits on yourself because so often what you think is the best you can achieve is nowhere near, you can actually go a lot lot better.
C259: You mentioned that you did a lot of drinking as a younger man. Drinking is really hard-wired into British and American culture. I studied at Edinburgh in 1995 in Scotland, and I drank more that year than any other year of my life. It’s just there. Was putting down the drink the most important variable in terms of your improvement?
Tom: I think it probably was, actually. I think it probably was. I’ve not thought of it like that before. And that was actually inspired by Michael Johnson, the American 200/400 meter runner. I read his biography. He was talking about – I’m going back loads of years here, so I may get in trouble – he was talking about being a student I think and not being able to live the two lives, i.e., live a student life and live an elite athlete life. He was at university, and so he changed the way he did things. He didn’t engage so much in the student life. I can’t remember what it was, but it was something like he started training at ridiculous hours at night while everybody was partying, because he couldn’t sleep when they were partying, and he couldn’t go partying because that would ruin his training, so he’d train while they were out drinking, and sleep during the day, or whatever it was.
I was just thinking about that, and I was getting more into running, and was also partying really really hard. I’d been at a friend’s house. I remember it vividly, I’d been at a friend’s house. I’m not a fan of drinking. I don’t think drinking is good for you. I laugh about it, but I’m not proud of that culture, I think it is one of the worst, if not the worst things about British culture, and I was a part of that for the whole time. I haven’t been drunk for 10 years, I gave up at my 30th birthday and I’m 39. But we’d been at a friend’s house, and had a really really heavy night. We woke up in the morning. It was me and Helen my wife now, and another couple woke up in the morning. There were five or six or seven bottles of wine on the table. There were only four of us in the house and there were a whole lot of empty wine bottles there. I had 16 400s to do, and I did them on the canal in Leeds. It was cold and miserable, and the canal was frozen, and it was sleeting, and I had a hangover from God-knows-where – I felt terrible, and I was with Helen, doing 16 400s, and hating it.
At that point, I said to Helen one of these things has to go. We can’t do both of these things. It’s just not possible. So we said let’s give up drinking on my 30th. So we carried on for another few months. Then on my 30th birthday we gave it up. It’s made a huge difference. I’m not saying everybody should give up drinking. I do drink a little bit now, never more than a drink, but I think if you drink too much, which I did, you have to face up to that, and you have to make your decision, which I did, which is that wasn’t a life I wanted to follow. I don’t think I’d have done, certainly an Ironman – I’ve done 7 Ironman triathlons, I’ve gone 9:24, broken 9:30 a couple of times. I couldn’t have done, me personally, without giving up the booze.
C259: For sure. Now let’s get into some inter- and intrapodcast rivalries here.
Tom: You’re going down!
C259: Before we get to us against you, Tom, at the London Marathon in 2008 you ran 2:49. I looked into the splits there, and you were gaining on Martin at the end, but didn’t quite catch him.
Tom: I tell you what, another K and I would have had him.
C259: Have you ever beaten Martin?
C259: Is it going to happen at Manchester?
Tom: No, not if he trains. If he trains, no, if he doesn’t, yes.
Martin: Was that the year I was juggling?
Tom: Yeah, juggling, didn’t you have three chainsaws or something?
Martin: Yeah, that was it, or was that the flame year? I can’t remember.
Tom: In 2008, I was literally two stone (28 lbs) lighter than I am now. I was 64 kilos (141 lbs), and I am 76 (168 lbs) at the moment. I was in full Ironman training. I was doing 25-30 hours a week of Ironman training, and that was a buildup to Ironman Germany. That year I won my age group at Wimbleball at 70.3 and I came 12th at the National Long Distance Triathlon Champs, and I was superfit and training like a full-time athlete. I think, Martin, you were running 10 miles a week or something.
Martin: Yeah, no, I think I was putting in some good miles. I went out too fast in that race and blew to Smihereens at the end. I can’t quite remember the details, but you were catching me. I think another mile and you would have hunted me down. Manchester is going to be exciting like that, because we both said that we are going to train reasonably hard for it and do as much as we can. You certainly are, you did an 80 mile week last week. I’m averaging about 50. Hopefully I can keep that up and stay injury free. If we can both reach the start line in tip top condition for where we are with our levels of investment, we both could be 2:50, 2:49-2:54 region, so it only takes one of us to have a bit of a bad day, and it’s going to be fun. That said, of course Tom, it’s not about us, is it? It’s about us taking these American boys down.
Tom: You are absolutely right Martin, it’s all about that. I’m all over things like the Ryder Cup, and the rivalry, I love it, it’s fantastic. A good dust up with the Yanks is brilliant, but please can we have no shouts of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, that would be too much.
C259: We promise, we won’t.
Tom: Anything else is good, but in the golf, when that starts happening, oh dear. Dear oh dear.
Gregg: We’ve actually analyzed the possible results. We’ve considered your times and we’ve looked at your training – and by the way, Tom, your training has been amazing. Ever since we announced the challenge, you’ve been thoroughly intimidating us with your 80 mile weeks.
Tom: Right now sitting here I’ve not run today because I’m injured.
Gregg: We hope you get over it soon so we can take you down the old fashioned way.
Tom: I’m hoping it’s nothing major. I did a big week last week, the biggest week in my life last week. I’ve never run that far, ever. I had an easy 6-7 miles Monday, felt great, had an easy 10 miles on Tuesday, with 10 x 100 meter strides. This was an easy week for me, fortunately. When I got home my right calf, my soleus on my right side was pretty tender, really tender. I had 13 miles scheduled on Wednesday. I didn’t do that, I just rested. I could easily have run, but treating injuries those first few days are critical. A niggle can become nothing, or a niggle can become six months. I rested it, didn’t run at all on Wednesday. Yesterday I went out for an easy 10k with Adam and Matt in the evening, very easy, very conversational. I didn’t feel it at all, and it didn’t react, so this morning I woke up and it was absolutely fine, but it was still tender, and I had a 13-miler scheduled today so I didn’t do the 13.
C259 (Brenn): I think you’ll be back, stronger than ever. I had a great buildup for New York in the fall. It was my breakthrough race, I went from 3:08 to 2:56. I looked at where I was at this point, 12 weeks out, for New York, and I had an 8-mile week. I ran once or twice. You can have a real dip this far out, and given that your motivation is still high, you rest up, fix that, and you’ll be back intimidating us again. One thing I’d like to credit you for, is that you’ve certainly gotten me out there training in earnest because I thought maybe I could match up with you, but right now I’m not quite there yet. You are helping us to train harder, seeing your times on the social media, on Strava.
C259 (Gregg): That’s really what it’s all about is inspiring and getting us even more incentive to run our best race. We analyzed all the potential outcomes, and we discovered that Brenn and I are both going to have to run the races of our lives. Remember it’s two on three, I don’t know if we mentioned that on this episode, but it’s Brenn and I against you two and Tony Audenshaw from your show. We have to run the race of our lives, you two don’t matter, and Tony’s got to be visited by the Gingerbread Man at least three times during the race. That’s the key. And if you don’t know what a Gingerbread Man is, you’ve got to listen to Marathon Talk.
Tom: We are really looking forward to it. We are really excited. Just like you, when you got in touch with us and said, hey guys, we’re going to come over, we’d love to go head-to-head with you guys, what do you think? The first thing I think is brilliant, more motivation. Love it, really really good.
C259: One thing for our listeners to note. We’re going to call this the Race for the Golden Toad. There shall be a trophy. It will be a toad. It will be gold, I’m not sure how pure gold, it will be gold in color anyways. The team with the best average time will keep the toad. It may live in the UK, it may live in the US, depending what happens. There will be a race next year in the country that holds or retains the Golden Toad. We hope that should this be successful, it won’t be us against them, but it will be our listeners against their listeners. So if you are interested in such a competition, perhaps next year will be your time.
Just a note on Tony. We love Tony’s Trials. We think he’s an absolute gem. How did you get him on the show?
Tom: Tony is very famous here in the UK. Tony is an actor. He plays a character called Bob the Barman, Bob Hope the Barman, in a soap opera called Emmerdale, which gets millions and millions of viewers here. His character certainly is a household name here in the UK. It comes back to partly a charity called Leukemia Research. I ran for Leukemia Research years ago in 1999, just because my next door neighbor’s daughter had leukemia and there was no connection and I didn’t know – I was friends with Helen, my wife, then but I didn’t run with her and we didn’t live in the same town. Entirely separate from that, Helen started working as a photographer on Emmerdale, and she was really into running, and Tony and Helen both ran for the celebrity team, and the celebrity team runs for the Leukemia Research fund, so it was actually the same charity, by chance. So because Tony the actor, Helen the photographer, and loads of other friends all ran for the leukemia fund team, they all become mates. When Helen and I started seeing each other, I was running for the Leukemia team and I got to know Tony through that.
So when we started the show, I think Tony contacted us, actually. I had run with Tony a couple of times. Tony and I famously missed 3 hours. When I said I ran 3:00:20, we’d run together all the way. I got visited by the Gingerbread Man at mile 22. I was just like rubbish it, was broken at mile 22. I did 3:00:20, and he did 3:00:04. Neither of us had ever broken 3 hours before, so that was heartbreaking for the pair of us. We both did it in separate races, me at Venice and he in Dublin the following autumn. We were bonded together by this sub-3 hour journey. When we said we were going to do the show, he contacted me I think and said can I come and do a sketch on the show, can I do some audio for it. We just said yeah, great, do what you want, however long, however short, have it be whatever you want to do. Just have complete creative license to do anything you like and be yourself. The key about Tony is that he is himself. You are listening to his thoughts, and the things he said that happened, absolutely happened that day.
C259: I loved his Trials this week. I was listening to it at work, and it was difficult to not laugh out loud while listening to it. It was fantastic. Okay, fellas, thanks so much for coming on. At the end of your interviews you always ask one question. We’re going to ask two questions. First, we’re going to throw your question right back at you. If you had, Tom, 6 months of perfect training for the mile, what would you run it in?
Tom: Well, I know the answer to this because I did it. Last year, having asked people for so long, I thought I’d actually do it. I got my friend Matt Barnes, who has a 3:59 mile PB, to write a mile training program for me, and I spent six months training for the mile, as hard as I could, and I ran a 5:00.3.
C259: Also known as a 4:60.
Tom: Yeah, 4:60.3, yeah.
Martin: Well, I don’t know, also known as an out-and-out fail, I think.
Tom: First loser. Second place is the first loser.
C259: Martin, what would you do?
Martin: A couple of years ago when we ran the magic mile, I think I ran a 4:50, so, if I’m to go all guns out, could I get down to about 4:35? Yeah, I reckon that would be a bit of a stretch, but I’m going to go 4:35.
C259: 4:35. We’ll have to see how that ranks on your list. Tom, you don’t want to revise that, given that if you started right now, six months of mile training, given that you’ve already done a 5 flat?
Tom: That’s a very good question, but I could go much slower because it is so mind-blowingly painful. Honestly, running a mile flat out, when you train for it, it’s much more painful because you can inflict more pain on yourself. I’d much rather run a marathon flat out than a mile flat out. The pain is different. It’s not as intense. A lot of people were saying to me, because I was so close, why don’t you just do it next week? Not a chance.
C259 (Brenn): The mile has you intimidated. Alright, well we’ll move on to the last question. We ask this question of all of our guests, which is probably inspired by you guys, since you ask one question of your guests. Gregg and I were both trying to break three, that’s why our show is called cloud259. Now that I’ve broken three (Gregg), we’ve had to modify this question a little bit. As it goes, we want one piece of advice, it could be physical, mental, a workout, whatever, on how to get Gregg under 3 and how to get me a new PR.
C259 (Gregg): Or, another way of saying it, is how do you get us to beat you two at Manchester.
Martin: Well over here in the UK we have these amazing bits of kit. They’re really really fantastic. They are fairly new to the market, but they really really give you such an amazing boost. When you come over I’ll lend you mine. I’m more than happy to lend you my mansuit.
C259: I don’t trust that at all. It has a big zipper up the front? You zip it up?
Martin: Well sometimes no matter how hard we train, and the common things of do your long runs, progressive pace long runs, fast finish long runs, do interval sessions and threshold workouts and consistent training for sixteen weeks, and then it comes right down to the wire on race day. And what buckles? Your spirit at one particular point in the race. Tom when he ran his 3:00:20 and Tony doing his 3:00:04, when he looks back at that race, you have to be on it for the entire duration of the race when you are trying to push yourself right to the limit of your personal performance. So yeah, zip it up, boys.
C259: Zip up the mansuit. Tom, have you got anything to add to that?
Tom: Yeah, definitely. I think Martin is absolutely spot on in terms of that, yeah. When you are going for the best time you are going to do, whether it’s three hours or five hours or two hours, whatever. Being switched on the whole time, being engaged the whole time, present the whole time is hugely important. For me, almost an extension of that or alongside that, for me the biggest problem I see when people don’t do it is a lack of belief. Particularly with three hours, with guys running three hours. Girls running three hours seem to have a lot more belief in themselves, I think often it’s because almost by definition they are slightly better runners, because a girl running three hours is like a guy running 2:40 or something. The guys just lack a bit of belief, and you see them do amazing training sessions, and they are going to smash it, and then they run 3:04 or 3:03 or 3:02. I think, you just don’t quite believe you can do it, and you really really really can. It’s not a barrier. We’ve interviewed sub-4:00 milers on the show, people used to call it a barrier, and it’s not a barrier, it’s an arbitrary number.
If you can really truly believe in yourself – like when Tony was first trying to break three hours, he had run 3:08, he went to a human performance laboratory, and they tested him. They did a VO2 max test and lactate threshold and stuff like that. They said, actually, you don’t have the physiology to break three hours, you can’t break three hours. This is a guy who was in his late 30s then, had run 3:08, and 3:08 is pretty close, especially when you are not an elite athlete who has been an elite athlete for 20 years and has 4% body fat and does weight training four times a week and runs 150 miles a week, when you’re a normal guy. I remember saying, what an absolute load of utter rubbish, of course you can break three hours, you’ve done 3:08 already. My tip is believe in yourself, relax, it’s not a barrier, it’s an arbitrary number. Just relax, and you will do it. Keep trying.