When did you begin running and why?
I began running twice. On the first occasion, I stumbled into running as a relatively sporty nine year old kid back in the UK. I played for the school football (soccer) team and the coach forced us all to join the cross country team to improve our fitness. Despite initial collective grumbling, and being stung on the left nipple by a wasp in my first ever race, I was hooked by the simple masochism of British winter cross-country running.
Unfortunately, at university the incompatibility of a variety of collegiate social obligations and running meant that I retired my running shoes from the late 90’s until 2010. It was only in 2010 when, apropos of nothing and with the kind of confidence that manifests through moderate amounts of alcohol, I entered the London Marathon lottery and somehow got in. I rediscovered the joy of running again and haven’t looked back ever since.
How did you find out about DCRRC and when did you join?
I moved from the UK to Washington DC in 2016 as a diplomat. DCRRC stood out as the most active community running club that catered to all ages and abilities. It was clearly run by a dedicated group of folk, for runners, and for the love of running. The community, breadth and depth of the races, and training available on a weekly basis was ace!
What are you training for right now?
As a Brit, I’ll never get used to the hell-swamp summers of DC. I therefore tend to write the summers off and focus on shorter, faster distances or take sanctuary in the tree cover of some of the trail networks in the area’s parks. I’ll sprinkle a few half marathons in here and there and then I’ll be upping my mileage for the Autumn marathon season. I’ve got the Maui Marathon in October and my third shot at the New York Marathon a few weeks after. That’s not particularly wise, but it’ll be good if I can sneak under 2:50 again for one of those.
However, I’m very alert to the fact that I turn 40 this August and my times have been on a slight decline since 2017. In that sense, I’m really training to fight the increasingly tangible concept of mortality.
What is the toughest run or race you’ve ever participated in?
Without doubt, it was the Singapore marathon in 2013. I remember lining up at the start with the heat escaping the tarmac and burning the soles of my feet through my shoes. I remember being amazed at the size of the globules of sweat forming on my arms. I remember the stomach cramps and black spots that began to form over my eyes and the unquenchable and all-consuming thirst as I entered the latter stages of the race. I remember passing the 22 mile marker and then there’s a gap and my memory resumes with me waking up in the medical tent. My Garmin told me I had crossed the line and the last four miles had taken me an hour. The scrapes on my body suggested that I’d fallen over a few times and the unrelenting two-day brainache suggested that I was a tad dehydrated. It was the stupidest thing I’ve done and that includes Tough Guy Nettle Warrior which had dangling cattle prods in crawl spaces and six-foot high nettle fields to run through.
What’s your favorite part about being a DCRRC member?
Watching Bobby Beasley come charging past me at the one mile mark before disappearing off into the distance in every single DCRRC race. The familiarity, certainty, and regularity are all oddly comforting.
Other than that it’s just the simplicity of a good crowd of folk coming together to do something they all enjoy. It’s that sense of everyone chipping in together for something they love and all in the absence of egos.
What’s the most important lesson running has taught you?
There’s positive correlation between the effort you put in and how well you do. In that sense there are no short cuts to pulling off a good race and no hiding when things go wrong.
What is your favorite route in the area?
On my doorstep, it’s definitely the obstacle course that is the Potomac Heritage Trail from Key Bridge heading out west past Chain Bridge. Each season brings its own challenges whether its crossing icy streams in winter, wading through the edges of the Potomac after heavy rain or scrambling through overgrown foliage in the summer. It’s a little further afield but, Fountainhead is another personal favourite. It’s an unforgivingly undulating route.
What race day traditions do you have?
My usual tradition involves trying to wake my wife Irene up so that we’re not late for a race and then typically arriving there with barely enough time to run from the car to the packet pick up and then to the start.
Other than that I don’t have a routine for any race other than the London marathon which I’ve done for 10 consecutive years. That’s a special one for me and I put myself under a lot of pressure to do well. I usually spend a day or two beforehand pretty much separated from the world and focusing on mentally building myself up for the race. I’ll also wear my exact race kit to the expo under my training clothes…but I have no idea what that’s about.
What’s your proudest running moment?
There have been a few occasions where I’ve finished a race and been so pleased and exhausted that I’ve found myself breaking into a moderately undignified gurn and indulging in a bit of victory sobbing. I partially tore my hamstring in 2012. It never really healed properly for about a year and I had lots of problems whenever I tried to run. I had to take four-five months off running to go through physio and learnt a lot about how to manage my body in the process. Two months out from the London marathon and I was only able to begin tentatively running albeit supplemented with lots of time on elliptical machines. I needed to do a sub-three hour race to keep my good for age place to qualify for following year’s London marathon. When the gun went off I had no idea how my fitness was and how the race was going to play out. I sneaked in a few minutes under three hours and it felt like I had mentally pushed myself further than my body was capable. Not my fastest time, but that’s often a secondary factor behind a gut feeling of how I felt that I physically and mentally handled a race.
What’s your life like outside of running?
Being a diplomat is a pretty time-consuming line of work in DC with an endless series of evening functions to attend on top of the day job. Outside of that though you’ll usually find me going to punk and post-hardcore gigs in places like the Black Cat or DC9. Most of my favourite bands emerged out of DC scene mainly through the 90’s and 00’s and most of them from Dischord Records. Although I missed the heyday of bands like Fugazi, Kerosene 454, Faraquet and Q and Not U, there’s still plenty of good music based in DC (i.e. The Effects) and passing through here…if you like that sort of thing.
I’m always on the hunt for good vegan food which has made huge leaps and bounds in terms of creativity and availability since I gave up eating meat and dairy in the mid-90s. Fancy Radish is a personal favourite restaurant in DC, but there’s also a part of me (a sizeable part) that is enjoying the surge in popularity of vegan junkfood too (especially in Galaxy Hut).
Outside of DC, my wife and I are always planning interesting jaunts, whether it was a couple of weeks of self-sufficient backpacking through the back country in Patagonia, trying to check off as many of the US national parks as we can or the comparative luxury of an upcoming jaunt to Tahiti to swim with some particularly threatening looking fish. In fact, I ‘m writing this on the plane now with a nagging annoyance that I’ll miss the DCRRC Burke Lake race, but pleased that I’ve checked off my five Bunion Derby point-scoring races.