Interview with Yiannis Christodoulou

Yiannis Christodoulou started running back in 2012 after being inspired by the London Olympics. He initially wanted to get fit and stay healthy, but then lead him to competing for the Great British Triathlon Age Group Aquathlon team at major Championships. Follow his running journey on Twitter and Instagram

What is your proudest running achievement, and why?

My proudest running moment is when I represented GB in my age group recently at the 2019 European Aquathlon Championships and becoming European Champion. It has shown me how far I have come and for me it’s not about how talented you are; it is about training hard to achieve your goals.

What has running taught you about yourself?

Running has taught me a lot. I love that after a hard, stressful day of work you can just put your trainers on and go for a run and get lost and relax. The most important lesson is that enjoy what you do and don’t let anyone put you down, they do not have the right to do so and you should be proud of what you want to do/achieve.

What is the most ambitious running goal you’ve ever considered?

I know this sounds a bit odd but I think setting unrealistic targets are a good way to go. Because you try your hardest to get there. My most ambitious goal was to run a sub 1:20 half marathon, which I did achieve but when I did my first one it seemed too ambitious.   

How far in advance do you plan your running races?

At the start of the year I plan my races for the rest of the year.

What is the most miles you’ve ever run in a week and why did you run that far?

65-mile weeks. I know it isn’t much. I was doing marathon training then. These days I don’t get above 30 miles per week as I have to cram in other training.

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

Start of the year for the World and European Aquathlon Championships. The last race was in October so 10 months, then I have a good break with complete rest. 

What has been your most serious running injury?

I have had a few serious injuries when I first took up running for the first few years and nearly quit as it was getting too much. I was out for just over 3 months with an achilles injury. All my injuries were due to over-training – going too hard and not listening to my body.

What cross-training exercises do you commit to?

Loads because I compete in multi-sports. I go to the gym twice a week, swim four times a week and cycle three times a week. I stretch after every session and every morning. I also foam roll after hard sessions.

What would persuade you to work with a running coach?

For me I would like to meet them in person or speak on the phone, It’s not a big deal. However, I  would like to know their qualifications and background into the sport. But I would send my plans for previous races and discuss what they can do for me and training techniques. I have to make sure the training will be tailored for me and not training that is copied for every person such as in books. I am very critical on choosing a coach as being a running coach myself I know it’s important to get the right coach for that person. I normally interview the coaches and then go from there. 

In one sentence, what does running mean to you?

Having fun and enjoying it; most of all the friendships and people you get to meet along the way.

Interview with David Knowles

David Knowles began running as a 16-year-old. He was a sprinter to begin with, competing at 100m, 200m and 400m. Then at university he moved to middle distance track events. His running highlights include running at Crystal Palace and at a Loughborough International event in the 1980s, and more recently running to raise money for charities at the Great North Run and the Great South Run.

More information about David can be found on his Twitter account.

What is your proudest running achievement, and why?

The achievement I am most proud of is restarting running, in the certain knowledge that I will never set a new personal best – except possibly in one distance. I was fortunate to study at Loughborough University in the 1980s and train with Olympians under the legendary coach George Gandy. But a career in policing and having children meant that running took a back seat. In my late 40s I found running again. The realisation that I will never run a mile or a 10K as fast as I could when I was 20 is tough but the mindset of a returning middle-aged runner needs to be different – as soon as my mindset changed, I enjoyed running.

What has running taught you about yourself?

Running has taught me about my own mental strength and how to improve performance by practice and discipline. But it has also taught me that you can have fun even when you are trying hard. My biggest internal smile was during the 2017 Great North Run, when I realised I was running amongst people of a similar mindset to me, all of us trying to be our best. The capacity for people to provide jelly babies and ice lollies amazes me.

What is the most ambitious running goal you’ve ever considered?

This year I made the decision to run a marathon in 2020. I have run quite a few half marathons but never a full marathon. It is the only race distance I have never run so it is an opportunity to run a PB.

How far in advance do you plan your running races?

I look about 3-6 months ahead for half marathons and 10Ks, though for the marathon I have planned this was booked 12 months in advance.

What is the most miles you’ve ever run in a week and why did you run that far?

When I was at Loughborough I regularly ran 50 miles per week, training at least twice per day including a long run on Sundays. It was the schedule that George Gandy set for the team so I just followed it. In my second running career I regularly run 25 miles per week but I’ve run further for the Miles for Mind challenge that RUNR promote.

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

If you include ‘mental preparation’ then 12 months, for a marathon in 2020. Though I cannot say that I am running the proper miles in training yet. Aside from that, I just run for the next race these days.

What has been your most serious running injury and why did it happen?

I had a bad hamstring tear in my teens, which stopped me from running for many months. It happened because I had not been taught how to stretch properly. I had a calf strain in 2018 which reduced my training at a time when I was preparing for two half marathons and the Great South Run in the same month. It was very frustrating but didn’t stop me from completing all the races, although in slower times than I had planned when I entered them.

What cross-training exercises do you commit to?

Occasional I cycle. But nothing more.

What would persuade you to work with a (online) running coach?

Low cost, others to train with locally (this is quite important as you need to run with people with common goals so that there is a motivation to run at the same time) and regular feedback.

In one sentence, what does running mean to you?

For me, running is part of my identity – I am a runner and I will always be a runner even when I am unable to run; running provides physical and mental wellbeing but also satisfaction and enjoyment through shared experiences with friends.

Interview with Dominic Toms

Dominic Toms has been running since the 2015 London Marathon. He has now completed 16 marathons and is also a director of golf academy. More information about Dom can be found on his Twitter account and website.

What is your proudest running achievement?

My first London Marathon in 2015 is my proudest achievement because I ran the whole way refusing to walk a single step despite being absolutely worn out from the 23-mile mark.

What has running taught you about yourself?

Running has taught me self discipline in terms of dedication to follow strict training plans.

What is the most ambitious running goal you’ve ever set?

My most ambitious goal to date was the six marathons I completed in 2016 for my local charity and raising £10,000 in the process.

How far in advance do you plan your running races?

I plan my races (future marathons) normally a year in advance where possible.

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

The most miles I’ve run in a week is 60, which was during my marathon training.

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

My longest cycle of training is 20 weeks for a marathon consisting of running, Pilates, and core strengthening.

What has been your most serious running injury?

My worst injury was plantar fasciitis due to tight calves and tight Achilles. It didn’t stop me running as I just worked with the physio to control it before getting rid of it.

What cross-training exercises do you commit to?

On occasion I cycle in the gym.

Why do you  work with a running coach?

The reason I chose a running coach was the disappointment of seeing no progress or improvement in recent marathons. Despite training hard in my opinion it turned out I was just training my body the same and never coming out of my comfort zone. Having a weekly training programme that I have to follow and reporting back to my coach on a weekly basis gives me the motivation I needed as I don’t want to let him down as well as myself.

What does running mean to you?

Running for me is freedom, time to myself to cleanse my mind throughout a marathon training cycle. The race against myself to achieve more in terms of performance and results is also important to me.

Interview with Kay Drew

Kay Drew has been running since the late 1980s, and ran her first marathon in 1994. She has completed a marathon in every US state, and qualified for the Boston Marathon more than once. To encourage new runners, she started a running group. It still meets weekly 19 years later, although they run less than they used to. She documents her journey through her Twitter account.

What is your proudest running achievement?

I’ve got two achievements that I am truly proud of: setting an even speed as a pacer to help runners overcome their mental blocks, and bringing new runners into the sport. 

What has running taught you about yourself?

Running has taught me that following a plan, step after step, will get you to where you want to be. It may not lead to consistent, steady progress, but the overall trajectory will be improvement in either speed or endurance, or both. For example, you have to knock off today’s three-miler in order to cross the marathon finish line four months from now.

What is the most ambitious running goal you’ve ever set?

There was a time I considered building up to a 100-miler, but I no longer think that’s for me.

How far in advance do you plan your running races?

When I was running all the states in the USA, I sometimes had to plan up to a year or more in advance. 

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

I came close to 70 miles one week, but only because my schedule caused me to run two long runs in a shorter time. Training for a 100km race would make me complete a long run followed the next day by a medium-distance run.

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

I talked five runners into running their first marathon with me at my last US state marathon. We trained for a full 20 weeks with a slow build-up. I did that for my first marathon, and probably for the Pikes Peak Marathon. Otherwise, I run marathons often enough that I don’t change much other than building up my long-run distance.

What has been your most serious running injury?

I have been incredibly lucky. I’ve only had a couple of falling injuries. I was out for four weeks with a broken wrist in 2018 when I slipped on ice on a trail run. I also tripped on an uneven sidewalk in January 2019 and required some stitches and new teeth. But it was a terrible Wisconsin cold snap that kept me from running rather than my broken face.

What cross-training exercises do you commit to?

I commit to swimming, yoga and cycling – one of those activities once each week.

What would persuade you to work with a running coach?

I’m still happily running at 56 years old, but after 25 years of marathons I think most of my “things to train for” are behind me. Maybe I would look to a coach if I wanted to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon in my next age group, or take on a Half-Ironman.

What does running mean to you?

Running has become so much a part of my identity that I don’t know what it will be like when I have to start saying “I used to”.

Interview with ‘The Runninger’

Tony Green was born in Australia and when he relocated to Sydney he started running because he hadn’t any friends to play team sports. In 20 years he has run 15 marathons with a personal best of 2:56. He is also an advocate of minimalist running, preferring to wear mostly barefoot sandals. He documents his journey through his blog and social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter.

What is your proudest running achievement?

My first sub-3-hour marathon at the Seoul Marathon 2017. It was a long-term running goal and came about after a really good block of training. I’m proud because it was a lifetime running goal and it was achieved through a lot of hard work and discipline.

What has running taught you about yourself?

Running has taught me that if I push myself and remain focused and committed that I can achieve my goals. It is a lesson I use within other aspects of my life whether they be family or business goals.

What is the most ambitious running goal you’ve ever set?

This would be attempting a sub-3- hour marathon in my first marathon. This was a number of years ago and one where I didn’t fully understand how difficult running a marathon was. I had trained well and executed a good race. I was on target at 30km before I faded and finished in 3:05. I still consider this one of my best days running and it gave me a goal to chase for a number of years. 

How far in advance do you plan your running races?

I like to have an idea at the beginning of each year what major races I’ll train for. My major races are marathon or ultramarathons so I make sure I give myself 3-4 months specific training.

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

As an Australian we count kilometres instead of miles and my biggest week is about 120km (75 miles). This was during a marathon block and I ran this far when building endurance. My weekly mileage during a marathon block will usually be 90-100km (56-62 miles) with a few bigger weeks thrown in.

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

This would be about six months. I completed triathlons for a number of years and during training for my first Ironman event I trained heavily over a six-month period.

What has been your most serious running injury?

A number of years ago I was forced to stop running for a while due to an alignment issue with my back that caused shin pain in one leg. I stopped running for about a year as I sought different medical advice that initially couldn’t successfully diagnose me. This was a frustrating period, being motivated to run but not able to get the problem fixed quickly. I’m unsure why this injury occurred but I have some back stretches I regularly do to keep my back aligned and receive massage.

What cross-training exercises do you commit to?

I should do a lot more but I have a strength and conditioning set that I try and complete twice a week. This consists of body weight exercises, core exercises and plyometric exercises. I find these beneficial for building the strength required to run long distances successfully.

What would persuade you to work with a running coach?

I’d be happy to work with an online coach if I believed I could get benefit through my running performances. I have a simple philosophy of running where I believe in three key workouts of long runs to build endurance, hills to build strength and intervals to build speed. An online coach that matches my philosophy would certainly be beneficial to help push me when I need it and rein me in when I need a rest.

What does running mean to you?

Running is both my escape from the challenges of life and the challenge that drives me hardest in my life. I get great joy from the solitude running provides me and equally the satisfaction and fulfilment from competition.

Interview with Irish ‘Parkrun Tourist’

Donal Murphy was born in Ireland and played Gaelic football until in 2010 he hurt his back and couldn’t play anymore. Ever since he has focused on non-contact sports, such as triathlon. As of 2 March 2019, he ran all 111 parkruns in Ireland. It took him two and a half years. He documented his journey through his blog and social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Why did you run all the parkruns in Ireland?

My initial motivation was to get out and see Ireland. I have done a lot of travelling around the world and have lived abroad but I didn’t know so much about my own country. I felt that the accessibility and openness of parkrun, and the geographical spread offered a good opportunity to travel to different places around the island.

What was you most memorable parkrun?

Bere Island. It’s a small island off the coast of West Cork in the south west. Firstly, you have to get a ferry there, which is unusual. Unarranged and unexpected, a guy with a van took people to the other side of the island for parkrun. The weekend I was there the volunteers arranged for the island children to run the event, so we got our instructions from a boy around 10 years old. There was no traffic so we ran out in the middle of the road, and afterwards all the runners and volunteers gathered in a local café for cake and coffee. It was in the middle of summer and the weather was great. Plus, the scenery of West Cork was fantastic.

What was your worst parkrun?

I tried very hard in the first year to do a new parkrun every Saturday. It took some sacrifice but I was on course to complete 52 straight weeks, when on the 48th week I drove two hours to the west of Ireland only for the parkrun to be cancelled. There wasn’t a nearby one so I lost my streak.

Who did you meet on your journey?

Given the broad spectrum of people that take part in parkrun I have spoken to all sorts of runners since starting, from the ‘couch to 5k’ runners to ultramarathoners. I don’t think you would get that in any other running event. It motivates you to set goals for yourself, but also allows you to see how far you have come.

Who supported you along the way?

I’ve had support from friends and family, but getting up really early on Saturday mornings to travel hundreds of miles around the country is generally a solo pursuit. More recently though I have come across a group of like-minded tourists in Ireland, called the parkrun Trippers. We have a Whatsapp group where we share all our parkrun reports. This has become a great source of entertainment and support for me.

How did you train for all those parkruns?

My athletic goals are based mostly around triathlon, so parkrun was a part of my training, as opposed to me “training for” parkrun. I was not to too rigid in my approach to training, because there are other things going on in my life. I varied it over time, some weeks doing slow runs, and other weeks doing a tempo or near race pace.

Did you suffer any running injuries?

I was fairly lucky for a long time until the last few months of 2018 when I got a mild case of plantar fasciitis. I had to cut back on my running volume but I was still able to complete some parkruns. There were a lot of weeks that I skipped parkrun, which was frustrating. But in the long-run I was better off treating the injury properly, rather than rushing back when I wasn’t fully fit.

What would you do differently if you did it again?

I should have spent a little more time getting to know the local area. There were a few parkruns where all I did was show up, run, then go home. But again, there will always be other things going on in my life so I need to have some flexibility. I can’t always spend every Saturday being a tourist at a parkrun location.

What advice would you give other runners?

Consistency is key. Even if you feel terrible and unmotivated just go out and do something. I came across a quote that said “it is better to do a lot of a little, rather than a little of a lot”. I think that is a good approach.

Now that you’ve completed all the parkruns in Ireland what’s your next running goal?

There are parkruns in other countries, aren’t there? But more seriously, I’m still getting over the fact that I achieved my last goal. So I don’t know yet what I’ll set my mind to next.

Winter Training 2019

Goals of Winter Training

Winter training is crucial for runners of all abilities.

Generally, this period is a time to build an aerobic base, without the pressure of running hard. Thankfully (for some), the early months of the year are not packed with road races for recreational runners.

After 2018, which saw me suffer intermittently with MTSS, my priority for winter training was to return to consistent, injury-free running. My strategy was to run predominantly at an easy-pace (corresponding to an effort level of 5-6 out of 10), 5-6 days every week. My hope was to develop my cardiovascular fitness and enjoy my running again.

Statistics from My Winter Training

I’m pleased that my winter training has gone to plan. I also managed to deal with slight niggles without affecting my frequency of running.

Days: 84 (12 weeks commencing 31 December 2018 and concluding on 24 March 2019)

Runs: 70

Miles: 389

Average Miles per Week: 32.4

Longest Run: 10 miles (twice)

Time Running: 55 hours, 57 minutes and 8 seconds

Average Time Running per Week: 4 hours, 39 minutes and 46 seconds

Lessons from My Winter Training

Easy running aids recovery. But I found that it’s still demanding on the body and mind. The accumulation of miles and ‘long slow runs’ result in a lot of “time on feet”. I was able to experiment with double-run days, which are not easy to complete when running faster workouts. This strategy to increase my training miles allowed me to change shoes and routes, whilst benefiting from short periods of recovery.

Alongside my running, I’ve naturally committed to a routine of daily walking, core exercises and stretching (including some foam rolling). I’ve found that these activities encourage me to set different but complementary objectives. They also allow me to understand better my body as it deals with the training load.

My Recommendations for Winter Training

Running easy for months in a row requires discipline. It’s often tempting to speed up when you feel strong. But easy running improves the body’s ability to utilise fat as an energy source, which is crucial for endurance events. Easy running also strengthens important ligaments and tendons, which improves a resilience to injuries.

There is little pressure throughout winter training to ‘perform well’ so mileage should be gradually increased over time.* Instead, correcting any inefficiencies in running technique can be prioritised. Time-trials, strategically planned, can reveal progress in aerobic capacity. It’s crucial that they are not run at an effort level equivalent to that sustained when racing.

Winter training is a periodised approach that builds a foundation of fitness, which can ease runners into a new season of racing. If completed appropriately, runners will feel physically stronger than at the start of training, with fewer injury concerns. Runners should also have a greater desire and confidence to run hard as Spring arrives.


* Avoiding sudden increases in training loads will reduce the likelihood of running injuries, according to David Lowes, a level 4 coach, in his article ‘Wintering Well’ in Athletics Weekly, published March 21, 2019.