I am a British explorer and distance runner. In the Autumn of 2014, I lead the first expedition ever to cross the Betpak-Dala or the ‘Steppe of Misfortune’ from its easternmost extremity on the shores of Lake Balkash to its western edge on the Sarysu River. I ran 190 miles, nearly eight marathons, back to back over the course of eight days within the region.
What got you into running? And what keeps you doing it?
I did my first Marathon – at the Eden Project, Cornwall – when I was about 22, so I guess the training for that was my first introduction to running properly. Before then, I was rock climbing mad, so everything was about having a built upper-body (I could do 50 pull ups at a time) but, really light, skinny (and useless) legs.
Running changed all this however, and by the time I’d finished a 100 mile, six day run on the spur of the moment in Uzbekistan’s Kyzulkum desert (as part of a six month expedition to the region) I was pretty hooked on the sport. What keeps me going now is two things: the immense challenge of trying to achieve those benchmark times judged as good by the running community – and the knowledge that being able to run well (and far) opens up all sorts of new places to explore, quickly and just under your own steam. I can’t think of a better feeling than traversing wild lands, alone and on your own two feet.
What is your typical weekly training routine?
Quantity-wise I don’t think my routine comes close to matching the Elites, but I do try to make up for it by putting in as much suffering as possible when I train. I try to get in two HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training Sessions) plus one 80% effort 10k in a week. On top of that, Saturdays are usually race day and I get in a long or easy run with the girlfriend on Sunday too. I’m also a pole vaulter and train twice a week at this which, whilst not bettering running form, does do wonders at keeping your core and upper-body balanced and working well with the big legs down below.
Do you run with a club or a group?
I’m a member of Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets Athletics Group but as a pole vaulter not as a runner. Running-wise, I sometimes train with my girlfriend (who is also a keen runner), but most of the time I’m on my own. My training is a pretty personal thing for me so I don’t mind going it alone, and it’s always fun to keep people in the dark about just how fast you can actually go.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve run?
The strangest place I’ve run would have to be through an abandoned secret Soviet military base in the middle of an uninhabited desert in Central Kazakhstan. I was halfway through an expedition I had planned to cross the Betpak-Dala, or the Steppe of Misfortune, by running eight marathons across it in eight days. It was just me running, supported by two Kazakh friends in a 4WD, when we found the base. There were around 50 buildings all completely gutted, with the nose cones of rockets strewn across the ground everywhere. It was a very creepy environment, utterly dead, and a very weird place to go running.
What song, if any, is guaranteed to make you run faster?
I’m actually one of those annoying people who doesn’t actually listen to music when they run. However if I had to pick a song that would make me go faster, I’d say Rudimental’s Waiting All Night would do the trick.
Is it just for the fun of it? Or for the results?
What is the best bit of advice you’ve had from another runner?
The best bit of advice I ever received from another runner was about cadence. As a novice, I’d always assumed that big strides covered more ground quicker, but I failed to appreciate just how much more energy you waste this way (not to mention how much your risk of injury increases). I changed my cadence to much shorter, rapid strides and my running improved no end as a result.
What simple advice would you give to a new or novice runner?
Set yourself goals, both achievable and lofty. If you have a challenge or a list of achievements you want to tick off you’ll be much more motivated to train, research into that training, and run better races as a result.
What is your favourite piece of SOAR kit?
Im a fan of the gilet in blue.
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Meantime, keep running.
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