BRIDGING THE GAP: Britain’s top male marathoner, DAN ROBINSON spoke to NICOLA BAMFORD about his meteoric rise to the top of the British endurance scene and king of sensible pacing offers the Run Britain audience some inspirational advice and tips...(written for UK Athletics 09/08).
The 33 year-old Stroud AC runner has an impressive athletic CV considering his status as an elite athlete only dates back to 2004. However, with a Commonwealth bronze and two top-12 World Championship performances under his belt, the part-time sports teacher shows no signs of slowing down in his one-man quest to re-establish Britain as a global distance-running force; as he approaches this summer’s Beijing Olympics with an abundance of self-belief and determination to tackle the might of Africa.
Taking time out from his hectic training and teaching schedule the Adidas elite endurance ambassador answered took part in an enlightening Q & A...
1. You took up running to lose weight after university - how old were you when you started running seriously? And what was your motivation behind becoming a runner?
I was 23 when I started running seriously, at 24 I ran a 2.37.56 marathon (London 1999). I was playing football to a Sunday league standard and being only 5ft 4 I reckoned that I needed to be the fittest person on the pitch to get anywhere! I joined a gym and started hammering it on the treadmill!....
2. Your first competitive race was a marathon and you ran a very impressive 2:37.56 – explain how it went? Also, which has been your favourite marathon and achievement – Helsinki and Osaka (World Champs in 2005 and 2007, in which you finished 12th and 11th, respectively) must be up there?
My first marathon was brilliant - I had no idea what to expect and just loved the whole day, the build up and atmosphere was amazing. I remember feeling quite emotional at the finish line, more so than any marathon since. My training for it was 5 treadmill sessions a week of between 6 and 12k each, pretty much as fast as possible.
I've had quite a few memorable moments - running 2.13 to qualify for the Athens Olympics was special, and running into the Panathainoko Stadium in Athens was unbelievable.
My 2 runs in the World Championships were really satisfying too, the culmination of very good spells of training and being able to come through the field as I did (I think I was in 50's at halfway in both Helsinki and Osaka) made all the difference in the tough conditions. Coming into the MCG in Melbourne in bronze medal position has got to up there too. There were 90,000 people in there still on a high from the women’s marathon which an Aussie won. They weren't quite as happy to see me mind you.....
3. Were you always a talented athlete or have you had many disappointments and setbacks?
I seemed to progress quite quickly from London 1999, and by 2001 I was running 64.23 for the 1/2 marathon and got my first GB vest in the World half marathon championships in Bristol. Later that year I ran 2.16.50 in the Frankfurt Marathon for a big PB. I seemed to stall a bit after that, in hindsight probably not that surprising given that I had only been running for a couple of years. It was very frustrating at the time though. It wasn't until London 2004 that I improved on my marathon PB, having hovered around the 2.16 - 2.18 mark for nearly 3 years.
My major disappointment since then was the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg. I was in the shape of my life but got carried away and at 20k was up with the leaders trying to go with the surges and changes of pace. If I had run how I usually do in the Championships I reckon there was a top 5 or 6 place to be had. As always, you learn a lot from when things go wrong and I was able to put it right at London the following year and in Osaka last year.
4. Are you self-coached?
I am coached by Chris Frapwell. He is local to my club, Stroud and District.
5. You had a breakthrough in 2004, when you took three minutes off your marathon best for 16th in the London marathon; which gained you selection for the Athens Olympics – tell us more...
London 2004 was definitely my big breakthrough. It was the Olympic trial and the guys knew that a sub 2.15 run would probably be good enough to gain selection for Athens. I was lucky in that Jon Brown was in the race seeking the qualifying time and was only looking to run around 2.13. This turned out perfectly as he ran at that pace the whole way and I was able to use him as a pacemaker. I knew that he would run as even paced as possible and that if I kept him in sight there was a good chance I'd get the qualifying mark.
6. How did it feel to collect your first Championship medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games? And explain how the race went...
The Commonwealth games were a fantastic experience, it was great to go to a sports-mad country like Australia for a Championship, the media coverage was unbelievable - I can only imagine what the Olympics in Sydney were like. Again, I knew I was in really good shape going in to the race and thought that a top 6 place was quite likely if I had a good day. There were 3 good Tanzanians and 2 Kenyans in the field so initially thought that a medal was a long shot. I ran in a good group for much of the race, there were a couple of South Africans and the 3 Australians there too who were getting amazing support all along the course. At around 30k I sensed that the others were tiring and put in an effort, I soon had a gap and pretty soon could see one of the Kenyans up the road. I gained on him quickly and managed to go by him straight away. By 33k I was in 3rd and moving away from the guys behind. The last few miles were tough but knowing that a medal was in my grasp made it a lot more bearable! I could see the MCG stadium looming and running into it and round the track was incredible.
7. Congratulations on such a fantastic run and PB in last April’s London Marathon (13th in 2:13.10)! – tell us how the event went for you....was it strange running with the reigning Olympic Champion (Stefano Baldini of Italy)?
I was only reasonably satisfied with my run, I felt in really good shape and was confident of a low 2.12 or 2.11 clocking. The group I found myself in was just going about 5 seconds a mile too quick early on and in the end it caught up with me and I slowed a bit more towards the end than I would usually expect to. However, I still ran a PB (just not as much of one as I'd hoped!), was 1st Brit and secured my selection for the Olympic Games, so it wasn't all bad. The last 5k when I was running with Baldini was great; being able to see him in front of me from about 20 miles was a real boost, just when you need it.
8. CONGRATULATIONS on your solid 22nd place in the Beijing Olympic marathon! Were you pleased with your performance and did you enjoy your Olympic experience?
I had a great experience in Beijing and was pleased with my run. I thought 2:16 would get me in the top20 though, and I would have liked it to have been hotter.
9. Take us through your warm up and cool-down routine...
Before a marathon I do very little warm up, and certainly no warm down! About a mile of easy jogging and half a dozen strides and I'm ready. I think a good rule of thumb is 'the longer the race, the less warm up you need.' You're just using energy that you'll need in the race.
10.Describe a typical weeks’ training/mileage...
A typical week in marathon training before London 2008...
Monday: am. 55 mins easy pm. 65 mins steadyTuesday: am 45 mins easy pm. 15 min warm up, 7x1mile fast with 1min recovs, 15 min warm downWednesday: am. 55 mins easy pm. 65 mins steadyThursday: am. 55 mins easy pm. 65 mins steadyFriday: am 45 mins easy pm. 8-16 mile marathon pace hard run or 10-14x1k fast with 1 min recovs.Saturday: 45 mins easy pm. 55 mins easySunday: 2hrs 30 mins steady/hard and hilly course.
11.Do you go on training stints to other high-altitude/warm-weather venues?
I don't go away training, either altitude or warm weather. I like being in my home environment, my own bed, eating my usual fare and of course wouldn't want to be away from my wife Jess for long periods. I feel comfortable running my usual training routes and have got to a stage now where I know pretty much what I need to do to get in decent marathon shape.
12.Do you enjoy travelling for races?
I've been lucky to go to all the major championships and that has been a great buzz, to be around like minded, very motivated athletes before a championship is great and the desire to perform is always intensified from being at the holding camps. In Macau where we went before the World Champs in Osaka last year and are going to be the holding camp for the Olympics, I managed to get some really good training in, was able to taper well and get acclimatised to the tough conditions.
13.Do you see your rivals as just that, or become friends?
I have learnt from loads of people and made some great friends too. I learnt so much from Jon Brown and John Mayock in the build up to the Athens in 2004, and being around the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Jo Pavey has been really inspiring.
14.What tips do you have for a beginner to the marathon?
You need to have confidence in your training. Ensure that enough long runs have been done, and start the race at a realistic pace. Running as even paced as possible will mean that even if you slow down it shouldn't be disastrous, a negative split is even better!
15.You were only ranked 60th going into the 2007 World marathon Championships in Osaka yet finished a remarkable 11th – explain how the race went…
Preparations throughout the summer had gone well; I'd done a couple of low key events and tried to tilt my training to include even more strength and endurance work than normal, as in the conditions I thought that would be key. I did a few more long runs and a couple of 3hrs, this gave me quite a bit of confidence and I thought that if I acclimatised well and ran a sensible race, I could do pretty well.
I was at the holding camp in Macau for just over 2 weeks before the race which I felt was only just enough time to acclimatise, the first week or so I was still feeling jetlagged. By race day, I was feeling used to the heat and set off to get to halfway in around 69 minutes. I managed this and already by that stage there were people slipping off the lead group, though I was still in only around 55th position at halfway. Up to 30k I was feeling really strong and was picking people off all the time. The last 10k was as hard as anything I'd done but could still see guys up ahead who were not getting away. I caught a Spaniard in 10th place at 40k and we ran together till the stadium where he just got away from me on the track, but I was still very satisfied with 11th place.
16. You are not Lottery funded but do you feel you’re adequately supported by UK Athletics?
I do receive some support from UKA. A group of non-lottery funded athletes receive some help with physio, medical insurance, warm weather/altitude training etc, which is a great help.
17. How much sleep do you take per evening?
I try to get 8-9 hours sleep a night and an hour in the day when I can.
18. Any words of wisdom/motivational tips for our audience?
Always have confidence in your training when you toe the line, but be honest with yourself regarding your expectations.
Ensure that all the bases are covered in your training plan, I.E. enough speed sessions, length of long runs, enough recovery/rest days.Try to have short, medium and long term goals to maintain focus and always include races in a marathon build up to use as stepping stones to the main goal. Don't worry too much about the results here - use them as a means to an end.