Interview with Oliver Harrison

Oliver Harrison started running, very occasionally, in 2002 but only properly got into running in 2007. He was quite unfit, had a poor diet and was a smoker. Then, his girlfriend’s sister (now sister-in-law) invited him to join her and her partner to complete a triathlon. He did it by giving up smoking and training fairly consistently (3-5 times a week). He really enjoyed it but when he had a child and his time was more limited, he chose just to run. He started a blog to motivate himself and encourage more people to enjoy the benefits of running.

What is your proudest running achievement?

As part of the Leeds Triathlon in 2012 I achieved a sub 40-minute time on the 10km run leg. It’s one of only two occasions I’ve managed this for a 10km and to do it at the end of a triathlon makes it feel extra worthy. Also, more than any other run, that time felt deserved. I trained hard and targeted my training. There were no miles wasted.

What has running taught you? 

That despite appearing incredibly calm on the outside, I have a restless energy inside me. It’s only through running regularly that I’ve realised that the energy has always been there. I just often chose to direct it in very unproductive ways.

What is your most ambitious running goal?

To date the longest distance I have ever run is a half marathon. I’m currently considering entering Endure 24 in 2020 with a view to aim for 100 miles.

How far in advance do you plan your races? 

This totally depends on my level of fitness but generally speaking between one and three months. One month if I’m feeling fit, but three months if I know I’ve got a bit of work to do to get a time I’ll be happy with.

What is the most miles you’ve ever run in a week?

I couldn’t honestly answer that because it’s not something I usually keep track of. At a guess probably 20-25 miles. I was training with the aim of getting a sub 40-minute 10km in the middle of June 2019. I got nowhere near (41:54).

What is the longest period you’ve ever trained for a race?

Again, I can’t be certain but knowing how I plan these things it would most likely have been a three-month build up to a half marathon.

What has been your most serious running injury?

I’ve had recurring injuries in my right knee for the past ten years. On several occasions it’s stopped me running for six to eight weeks. It’s been incredibly painful at times but apparently it’s caused by something as simple as an underactive glute on one side. I didn’t think I needed to exercise my glutes if I was doing so much running.

What cross-training exercises do you commit to?

I’ve always been very bad at cross training. More recently I’ve been doing pilates at least once a week but now aim for twice a week. It’s crucial for me to keep my knee pain under control. More recently following a groin injury (which put me out of action for six weeks) I’ve started to do a bit more strength work but I’m just trying to find what works for me.

What would persuade you to work with a running coach?

I’d struggle to commit to using a coach. I’d have to feel I was getting value for money. By which I mean my funds are always very tight at the end of the month and I’d have to sacrifice something else to pay for it. So I’d need to feel the coach was giving me some knowledge or expertise that I couldn’t give myself or find out for myself.

In one sentence, what does running mean to you?

Running means a place of freedom where everything else apart from the next footstep gets forgotten and life, for as long as I’m running, is as simple as it ever has been.

Strong Finish at Chelmsford 10km for Final 2018 Race

My first 10km race in almost a year and half was slightly hampered by my persistent shin injury.

Having fully recovered from my eighth marathon I wanted to end my 2018 racing season by running strong over a new course in my hometown.

But I hadn’t been able to train much leading up to the event. The five workouts on my turbo trainer (amounting to 69 miles) and four training runs (amounting to 17.6 miles) were insufficient to give me confidence I would set a new personal record.

I focused on effort level rather than pace, although I couldn’t resist setting myself the target of a sub-40-minute performance.

Even during my warm up I could feel my shins weren’t fully healed. Still, as I set off from the start line I concentrated on passing runners rather than glancing at my watch.

A gradual, but long incline was my first challenge and I was soon faced with a winding road that undulated far more than I had anticipated (41m of elevation gain and 36m of elevation loss, according to my Garmin).

I continued to overtake runners who were breathing heavily after so little distance. It reminded me of my controlled, soundless breaths, keeping me from overreaching. I also focused on my arm drive, opening up my hands and keeping them from crossing my body.

The only occasions I checked my watch were when it vibrated to indicate mile splits. I knew I was on target for my time after I covered 5km in approximately 19 minutes. I ended up running every mile under 6:25, my fastest at 6:11.

Once I turned into the park where the athletics stadium was situated I tried to expel the last amount of energy I had. I doubted whether I could pass the final few runners in front of me, but when I emerged onto the track a man decided to challenge me to a sprint finish. As I accelerated the last 50m he stayed with me. I felt lactate rise in my legs as I made one final push to the inflatable arch, beating him by a second. I congratulated him with a hand slap afterwards in a competitive but friendly spirit.

Except for one runner who just evaded me, I must have passed fifty or so competitors to record a respectable 45th position, my 12th top 50 race finish.

The race was my first that started in the afternoon and the weather was crisp and dry. The atmosphere at the end was tremendous; lively and encouraging. I spoke to a number of runners afterwards, some from my running club, who praised me for my sprint finish and ‘barefoot shoes’.

The race demonstrated my natural resolve to push on during the uphill sections and hang on to overtake more runners, despite not setting this as a goal before the race. My heart rate was relatively steady and low throughout, revealing that I had managed my effort well over the distance.

But the lack of pain in my shins, except for the first mile or so, only compounded my overall disappointment; I feel as if I know my body less and am reminded that my racing season could’ve been even more successful. Nevertheless, it was a memorable race and one that only motivates me to fully recover and better prepare for the 2019 season.

Race Report: Southend-on-Sea 10k Classic 2012

I was matching another runner stride for stride.
I doubted I could maintain the current pace.
But I wanted a new personal record and my instinct was to keep up.
I was running in my hometown. The beach and estuary were beside me. The road was lined with loud supporters. Motivation was all around me.
But I could only focus on not slowing, despite my fear of the inevitable. Due to the limited space we weaved between runners that were not keeping pace. My heart rate kept increasing.
I knew my body could manage the hard effort. The possibility of falling back and allowing the other runner to pull away continued to test my concentration.
Then the finish line came into view. I chose to sprint the last metres, my trademark ending.
But I did not feel elated as I often do after a race.

I knew before the starting horn sounded that to get the best out of the race I had to use another runner to pace me. This strategy showed my inexperience and lack of training preparations. I felt I was running close to my maximum and my partner runner offered me a physical reminder of my desire to push my limits.

The race taught me that mental strength and confidence is vital to keep insecurities from negatively affecting performance. The final stretch proved I had more to give. But the loyalty that my partner runner had shown me made me question whether I should have beaten him.

After the race we shook hands. He said he could not have run the race as quick as he did without me. I thanked him for his influence on my race.

The runner was a man over fifty.

He inspired me with his performance. He was proof that, regardless of age, running can bring the best out of everyone. Running a road race is about competition but on this occasion it felt more important that I made a personal connection with another runner.

Race Report: Hardwick 10km

Hardwick 10km

On the start line my quads and groin ached.
As I set off I ignored the distraction and focused on charging up the first of many gradual inclines.
The road was packed with runners.
I maintained a comfortably hard (tempo) pace as we navigated the undulating rural landscape.
I kept within a pack of heavy breathers as we approached Hardwick Hill.
As runners slowed I passed them by sustaining my effort level.
Only, the route continued to ascend for over half a mile.
My heartbeat accelerated and my breath shortened.
The steep path twisted until I reached the entrance to the Hall.
I saw the leaders running the opposite way.
I chased them back down the hill, past the long queue of runners refusing to stop despite the challenging climb.
Before I conquered the hardest section I was stunned.
People began clapping me. Not just spectators but groups of runners, one after another.
I could not hold back a smile. I returned their applause.
I ran hard to catch up with the top runners. But they remained too far ahead; I was alone.
No sooner had I reached the last kilometre I was cheered again.
I sprinted to the finish, to celebrate with my family and retrieve my t-shirt with “I beat the Hardwick Hill” printed on the front.

This race was the first I ran in the county of Derbyshire, the first 10km for over four and a half years, and the first held in the evening.

Although I tapered my running I played an hour of walking indoor football the day before. This made my upper leg muscles sore when I most needed them. Although my performance was consistent with my recent training improvements and past race results it was not ideal preparation.

As a warm-up event before my marathon later in the year it was the perfect experience. The Hardwick 10km was a great test of my strength and produced an inspiring and supportive atmosphere.

My mistake of trying a new activity too close to race day reminds me of an important lesson too: experience counts for nothing if you do not apply previous learnings.