When did you start running and what sparked your interest?
Back in September 2003, I was teaching English at a university in Lille and an Irish colleague of mine, Myles, was running the Lille Half Marathon.
I remember going along to watch and noticed that there were a few shorter races as well as the half marathon. I remember saying to Myles that I’d be up for coming along next time he was doing a half marathon and running as well if there was a shorter race.
Two months later, he was doing another half marathon over the border in Belgium along with three other people I knew. A five mile race in a small town called Ploegsteert in November 2003 was my first ever race and I think I’ve still got the t-shirt from it.
I think it was the buzz surrounding the Lille half marathon that was one of the main motivating factors. At the time, I wasn’t really doing much sport and I started off going for some short runs in a park by the river Deûle and the citadel in Lille as that was quite near where I was living.
I was due to return to the UK in summer 2004 and set myself the objective of building up to a half marathon before I left. I did a ten-mile race that started in Belgium and finished in France in spring 2004, and completed the Phalempin Half Marathon in June 2004.
It was quite a scenic and flat rural route in a rural area south of Lille that went through a forest.
Did you achieve anything notable as a runner at school?
At primary school, I think I considered it a success when I was only third last in the running race at sports day. I wasn’t really all that quick or coordinated, although I think I might have improved a bit at secondary school.
I’d say I was someone who had a keen interest in following sport, especially football, and enjoyed it recreationally without being particularly talented.
I represented my secondary school at cricket, although my highlight was scoring home and away in football matches against our exchange partners from Kiel on a German exchange in 1996 and 1997.
One of the three goals was an own goal admittedly, but I’d like to think I played my part in the team’s success. I think it puts me right up there with Alan McInally (who played for Bayern Munich from 1989 to 1993) on the list of Scots who’ve scored goals in Germany.
It’s probably fair to say that quite a few of my PE teachers from school might be a bit surprised to know that I now go running four or five times a week.
Did you continue running into early adulthood or was there a break?
I was almost 24 when I started running half way through my two years in Lille. When I returned to the UK to do a PhD in French at Leeds University, I kept on running and joined a club near where I was living in North Leeds.
That made a massive difference in terms of being able to participate in sessions where we would do speed work and hill training.
Running in a group is great both from a social perspective and when it comes to picking up tips from others. I kept running for a year or two when I moved to Wales in 2007 but gradually got out of the habit.
In summer 2017, I decided that I needed to get more exercise so I started running again as I’d got so much out of it before. It was quite different in some ways with living in a very different area and having a young family.
As a result, I got into the habit of doing a lot of my runs first thing in the morning before breakfast and heading off to work.
Joining Eryri Harriers in autumn 2017 was great and I’ve benefited so much from being part of the club and enjoyed the club runs. It’s been great to discover new routes in the local area and do some fantastically scenic local races.
What is your favourite distance?
When I first started running, half marathons were often my main focus. I preferred 10 mile races or half marathons as it felt like I had more time to get into a rhythm than with races of 10km or shorter that felt a lot more intense.
I think I actually did a bit better in 10km races, but I enjoyed half marathons more and saw them as more of an achievement.
Are you a fan of track athletics at all, or do you prefer running on road/cross country?
I quite like watching a variety of athletics events, although when it comes to my own running I’ve always had a preference for road running.
I particularly enjoy road running in more rural and scenic locations, which probably explains why I’ve tended not to do all that many big city races apart from when I was living in Leeds and did a few races in Yorkshire such as the half marathons in both Leeds and Sheffield.
I’ve not really done a cross country race, and just done a little bit of fell running. I like being able to relax and not worry too much about losing my footing, which might explain why I’ve not got all that much into running off road.
That said, heading off-road can be good for training and it’s certainly something that can get you out into some amazing scenery. I’ve only run on a track a few times, and I actually found it quite dull as it just involved going round and round as if I was a hamster in a wheel.
That said, a bit of track work can be good for training.
What qualities does a good runner need?
I think it depends a lot on what you want to achieve and what sort of running you do.
Focus and determination are important in some ways even if you’re not doing races as there can be days when you look out the window and the idea of going spending time outside in wind, rain and cold might not look instantly appealing.
A lot it is to do with mentality and habit really. I think I’ve got to a stage where I’m really not all that bothered about what the weather’s like, I’ll just adapt what I wear and where I run depending on what the day’s like and how I’m feeling. I think icy weather is probably the only real exception I’d make as I really don’t like running when it’s slippy underfoot.
Getting to know yourself as a runner and listening to your body in terms of when you can push it and when you need to take it easy is also important.
Have you ever been involved in a race where some of the competitors were well known?
I don’t think there have been all that many races I’ve done where there have been well known athletes in the field.
During my time in Yorkshire, I think I once did a 10-mile race in Thirsk in which Tanni Grey-Thomson was competing.
There may have been a few other races in which there were some well-known competitors, although they’d probably have been well ahead of me.
As it happens, I actually encountered a notable runner before I got into the sport. I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my school German teachers, Donald Macgregor, finished 7th in the 1972 Olympic Marathon.
I think I was aware he’d represented Scotland in the Commonwealth Games but don’t think I knew about his Olympic exploits, which I think is a mark of his modesty.
He sadly passed away last year and I remember reading in one of the obituaries that he was still running and winning marathons with times under 2 hours 20 minutes when he was in his forties.
He was one of several inspirational modern languages teachers I encountered at school, and someone who always brought a degree of humour to his teaching as well.
Do you have any running idols?
As I wasn’t a runner growing up, I didn’t really have any idols in the way that a lot of people do if they’re into a sport like football.
I was born in Dundee and grew up in Fife, so I remember there being a lot of talk about Liz McColgan in the late 80s and early 90s as she was from Dundee.
In recent years, it’s been amazing to see what Eliud Kipchoge has achieved in the marathon. Watching him break the two-hour barrier on television early one Saturday morning in 2019 was amazing.
The fact that I’d run the Chester Marathon the previous weekend in some way made it more meaningful to me even though he’s on a totally different level to a mere club runner like myself.
I think the fact that my dad is a runner may have been an influence on me. I remember him running back in the 80s and 90s and he’s still doing it as he approaches his 75th birthday next month.
That’s certainly something I’d like to be doing a few decades from now.
What is the toughest race you have ever faced?
I remember twice vowing that I’d never do a fell race again after particularly tough fell relays in Yorkshire back when I was living in Leeds.
Here in North Wales, the Nick Beer 10km race in Llandudno is pretty tough as it winds its way round the Great Orme. The first half of the race is mainly uphill and pretty challenging.
I’m sure it’s nothing compared to Ras yr Wyddfa, which involves running from Llanberis to the summit of Snowdon and back, although that’s not really a race that’s on my radar as I’m sure anyone who’s seen me running down the side of a hill will understand.
Would you encourage your two young sons to start running? Or have they started already?
As a parent, I’m just keen for them to be physically active and find sports that they enjoy. If they decide that running’s what they want to do, then I’ll certainly support them in that.
For the time being, our older son is a lot more into sports like gymnastics and swimming that I absolutely hated at school. He’s also played a little bit of football and done some climbing.
He did run round our garden something like 50 times a while ago as part of a challenge though. His younger brother sometimes zooms about saying “I’m running like daddy!”, which is nice to see.
Do you benefit running wise from living in such a nice part of the world?
It’s fantastic to have such amazing scenery right on my doorstep. I love being able to head out towards Llyn Ogwen or up through Mynydd Llandygai towards Marchlyn.
What makes a real difference is not just living in a beautiful area but also being part of Eryri Harriers, which is a really welcoming and friendly running club.
Joining in with the regular club runs has been fantastic for me in terms of improving as a runner since I’ve got back into it, and also getting out and exploring new routes, whether it’s by the Menai Strait or near Llanberis.
The people who organise the regular club runs – in particular Dilwyn Rowlands, Dyfed Whiteside Thomas and James Harwood – deserve a lot of credit for what they do, as does everyone else who gives up their time to make the club what it is.
Being able to go on regular club runs again is something that I’m really looking forward to once it’s possible for the Covid restrictions on sport to be lifted.
What has been your finest achievement as a runner so far?
Completing my first marathon in Chester in 2018 is probably what’s given me the most satisfaction.
Back in my mid-20s when I was running regularly and doing a few half marathons, I never thought I’d ever run a full marathon.
I just didn’t think I’d have the time to put in the necessary training and I wasn’t sure if my body would be able to cope with the amount of miles I’d need to do. Towards the end of 2017, I started thinking that it might be a nice challenge to see if I could run a marathon before turning 40 in 2019.
I wasn’t sure if it was realistic at first, but talking to fellow runners at Eryri Harriers about marathon running and marathon training made a massive difference and helped me to realise that it perhaps wasn’t a crazy idea after all.
Crossing the finish line at Chester Racecourse in October 2018 was certainly one of my happiest moments in running. It was great to have done the race along with two fellow Eryri runners – Steffan and Matt – and also to see my wife and kids at the finish.
Is there anything you would still like to achieve in running?
In terms of times and races, I’d love to be able to complete a marathon in under three and a half hours after coming within a few seconds of it at Chester in 2019.
Living where I do, I really think I should have a go at Marathon Eryri one year as the route looks amazing, although I’d like to get a few more flatter marathons under my belt first.
Ultimately, what I’d most like to do is to keep on running and keep enjoying it for many years to come. It’s something that I got into initially in order to improve my physical fitness, and over the years I’ve come to appreciate that it can have a really positive impact on mental health as well as physical health.
This has been particularly true during lockdown when getting out for a run has helped to provide a boost on so many occasions during quite a challenging period. It can really help me start the day in a positive frame of mind, or break up the day nicely when I go running nearer the middle of the day.
Although I haven’t done any races for over a year due to Covid, still being able to go out running four or five times a week has been fantastic.
It’s been good to take part in a few virtual challenges and stay in touch with fellow runners, especially when it’s not been possible to meet up and go running in groups.