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Running Feat meets...Iwan Thomas

10-10-2013

As a former European and Commonwealth champion and the current holder of the British men’s 400m record (he ran 44.36 in 1997), Iwan Thomas has gone down in history as one of country’s best one lap runners. Since hanging up his track spikes, the 39-year-old Welshman has remained sporty by taking up endurance events including the London Marathon (where he has achieved a PB of 3 hours 58 minutes) and triathlon.

He’s also become a TV favourite by moving into presenting, working on athletics coverage and programmes like BBC’s The One Show. His next challenge is to run the Great South Run in October where he will try to raise more money than Spice Girl Mel C can muster when she runs in the Great North Run in September. Running Feat caught up with him to find out how his training is going, how he made the transition from sprinter to marathon runner and if it’s true he ‘nearly drowned’ when he took part in the Blenheim Triathlon this year…

How are you feeling about doing the Great South Run?

I’ve done the Great South for the last four years, I’m looking forward to it, it’s a fantastic course that’s flat. I’m going to be raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, I going to give it a good go to beat Mel’s fundraising effort as I love a challenge!

How did you find the transition from being a 400m runner to doing the marathon?

It was difficult. Every year I do the London Marathon and people overtaking me saying ‘what are you doing, you should be faster than this!’ But it’s completely different. The reason I do it is to try and keep fit and replace that buzz from competition that I used to get as a track athlete.

Will you do the London Marathon next year?

I’ve said no but I probably will. The atmosphere is brilliant. I say every year I have a mare and say on the Monday after that I won’t do it again - but then I do as it’s such a great event. I might even do the New York Marathon although I’m not sure as I had such a bad time at London this year.

What went wrong?

You don’t want to know! I took on too many gels when I hadn’t trained with any which led to a bodily malfunction in mile 15!

What’s your marathon PB?

3.58. It’s nothing special but alright for an ex-sprinter.

How hard do you train for the marathon?

Not hard enough. I keep a base level of fitness all year round and then I think I’m fit enough to do the marathon – but then it really hurts! That’s why the Great South will be good as it’s only 10 miles. But being an ex-professional athlete you always have that mental strength so when it starts to hurt, you know how to push yourself through that pain barrier. I could train harder and get down to around 3.30 but I don’t think I’d ever run quicker than that, I’m not built for it and I have more fast twitch fibres.

Was the marathon harder than you expected?

I knew it would be tough but yes. It’s a different pain to what I was used to. Racing over 400m you get lactic acid and have to dig deep and then you may feel sick for ten minutes afterwards if it was a hard race. But the marathon, the first year I did it I couldn’t walk down the stairs until the Thursday after! It’s not natural, it’s such a long distance! The marathon is the toughest thing I have ever done.

What do you enjoy about these events?

They give people the chance to rub shoulders with other people from different walks of life. It’s good to challenge yourself. I like chatting to people there and the fact anyone can go along and race against people they may have seen on TV. Everyone is always really friendly. It’s completely different to when I competed in the 400m as in the warm up zone you are completely on your own and you wouldn’t be friends with your rivals.

Do you train with a club?

No, I do most of it on my own. I do my local parkrun though so that gives me the opportunity to run with other people. Parkruns are brilliant as you can turn up for free and 5k isn’t very far. You can challenge yourself each week.

What do you enjoy about running?

I use it to clear my head, running is my downtime. It’s also a sport that’s cheap to get into, you just need some trainers and you’re off.

Anything you don’t like about it?

I can find it boring as a have a short concentration span so I have to have music. I just give myself little challenges and break it down eg if I’m doing five miles, I break it up into miles and get through each one. It can be tough on the body and the knees but I do think it’s the best form of exercise.

Do you do any other training?

Yes, weights and gym workouts. I’ve also been doing triathlons and my pb is 1.08 for the sprint distance. This year I had a bad time at Blenheim though. If you are a newcomer to sport I think triathlons are great as there are so many areas in which you can improve in terms of technique or getting out of your wetsuit quicker, it makes it good fun.

What went wrong at Blenheim?

I don’t know, I hadn’t done a triathlon for a couple of years and I got in the water and had a bit of a panic attack. I wasn’t breathing properly so waved to the rescue boat to get a lift home. It wasn’t as bad as it was reported, I didn’t nearly drown! It hasn’t put me off! I was furious with myself afterwards for not finishing.

The athlete will compete with Mel C to see who can raise the most money for charity

How did you get into sport?

It was my P.E. teacher at school. I did well at sports days and he dragged me in the right direction and it went from there.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into running?

Set realistic goals, don’t go out on your first run and think you can go for ten miles. And remember it will get easier. Also, don’t do the first mile too quickly or you may struggle to finish. I’d also advise not just doing steady runs as then you’ll just become a plodder. Interval training is really good eg go for a 20 minute run but have sections where you mix it up, running faster for a minute or to a lamp post.

Do you still do any track sessions now?

No, but I want to. The first time I did the London Marathon I was doing track sessions and I ran faster than I have since. If you can find a running group or someone you could run with it makes a difference.

Do you have a diet you have to stick to?

No, I never have. When I was younger and training hard I needed lots of calories. The danger I have now is that I still have that massive appetite so as I’m getting older I am conscious I have to keep my training up to a certain level. I don’t want to become one of those ex-athletes who let themselves go a bit.

As well as taking up endurance running, Iwan has become a poplar TV presenter

What do you think of the recent drugs scandals in athletics?

When I heard about Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell I was really angry and disappointed for the sport. It is a good thing we are catching the cheats out though. But the danger is people tar all athletes with the same brush. People might be put off the sport because they think the very best are on drugs but that’s not the case. It’s just a handful of idiots who see the benefits of being the best in the world and take short cuts to get there. I don’t think that should put off the 99.9 per cent of other amazing athletes and the good youngsters trying to live up to their heroes. The good thing is that catching people out can hopefully act as a deterrent for anyone tempted to do the wrong thing.

Some have blamed their supplements…

You have to be really religious with what you take. We are given a pamphlet on what you can take eg if you have a cold. If in doubt the best thing to do is phone your governing body and say ‘I’m thinking of taking this, can you check it out for me.’ Some people are silly enough to take something that someone tells them to - but I think it’s your body and you have to be responsible for that.

What are your thoughts on the London 2012 Olympic legacy?

Britain are really stepping up as a country in sport. We’ve won Wimbledon, the Tour De France and The Ashes. Hopefully all this shows children that we’re all human and with hard work and determination you can get there. It winds me up when people look up to those who have been on a reality show over someone with genuine talent who has done well for our country. It’s all about role models. I don’t think it’s any coincidence at the moment that women’s middle distance running is strong as it’s got to be because of Kelly Holmes in Athens. Hopefully Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis can do the same for today’s youngsters.

At this year's Great South Run Iwan Thomas is raising money for Macmillan Cancer using his Vodafone JustTextGiving code. If you would like to donate to Iwan, please text IWAN74 £3 to 70070. To sign up for a free personalised JustTextGiving code to help with your fundraising visit www.JustTextGiving.com