Jack Rowe is a European Indoor finalist, regular in the GB vest and winner of the most recent trials race for the European Cross Country Champs.
Right now he has a case to say he is the best male endurance runner in the country. Yet despite this every time he tows the line is just another opportunity to help keep a roof over his head. Rowe says:
“I see everything as multiples of my rent.”
Winning the Liverpool Trials race? That’s just under one month’s rent. The biggest cross-country race in the UK yields £500 to the winner. That’s before you take away the £40 Jack had to pay British Athletics to make the plane.
There isn’t money on the grass, not any longer.
“If you’re Adidas (or any other brand) you don’t want to sponsor someone who is just good at cross-country.”
Making ends meet.
Outside the World Class Programme, without British Athletics funding, Jack has to think of alternative ways of making a living. Ones that can’t just be racing.
One of the UK’s best athletes has a part-time job, working as a talent acquisition specialist for a Forex trading company two days a week.
“You’re looking for the highest paid job you can possibly do for the smallest number of hours”.
Those five days where he’s not working in an office he’ll be trying to earn enough through racing to make the whole system viable. Fail to win races and the house of cards start to fall down.
Jack talks about how some of his friends will say “isn’t that your job to win races? I don’t have money on top if I don’t perform well at my job.”
Jack to a certain extent agrees, but I put it to him that his friends probably wouldn’t be unable to pay their rent if they had a couple of bad performances. Luckily for Jack he is running well (he was 18th in yesterday’s Euro XC) but he readily admits he has little back-up plan.
Jack Rowe’s target is clear:
“I want to make a world team or Olympic team in the 5k. Once I’ve done that I think I’ll quite quickly slide to the 10k or to the marathon.”
But Rowe also admits making teams takes time, especially in the 5,000 and 10,000:
“As a 5k, 10k athlete it takes five or six years for us to get there. People forget that. You can run 3.36 if you are 20 and you’re that talented, you can’t run 13.20 (over 5000m).
Even Alex Yee couldn’t do it. Unless you’re Jakob Ingebrigtsen and you’ve been doing 120 miles since you are 16. As a British 20-year-old we see 80/90 miles a week and think he’s training hard. 80/90 miles ain’t enough to run 13.20. Alex Yee was training four to five hours a day as a triathlete and only just broke 13.30.”
Moving to the roads
So Rowe is faced with a choice between chasing an ambition he knows will take years to achieve, with little financial reward should he achieve it, or move to the roads where he knows he can make a career of it:
“There’s so much money on the roads that it’s horrifying to turn down. I had no idea then I looked up the British-only time bonuses for London (marathon) and I almost fell off my chair.
I couldn’t believe it. $8,000 to break 2.12, which I know is really quick but 2.12 isn’t the 2.12 from five or six years ago because of the shoes. I feel like I can do that. $8,000 is a lot of money.”
It’s the reason we’ve seen Rowe competing in the Big Half and winning the Great South Run. A big juxtaposition with the first time he broke four minutes for the mile at Wimbledon Park track this summer:
“Apart from 150 people on the track no-one has any idea. If you run the Great South, you win a race of 15,000 people and 15,000 people look who won today?”
Worlds, Europeans or Commonwealths?
Rowe faces the further conundrum of which championships he competes in in 2022.
“Obviously the world’s is the blue-ribbon event but actually from a developmental piece, going to the world’s and getting knocked out in the heats of the 5k. I’d love to make the final but I’d have to have some run.
I’d have to have some run to make it, some run to make the final. Whereas going to the Europeans or the Commonwealths would actually be a bigger developmental piece for me.
Flying 10-12 hours and potentially getting knocked out in the heat. The disruption to training, to your season, is that actually beneficial? Or is actually going to the Europeans and trying to come top four, top five, trying to win a medal at the end of the season is that actually better for you?”
Breaking Aldershot, Farnham and District’s club record.
When these decisions are also your livelihood it becomes an ever more difficult one to make but if money was Rowe’s motivator we know he’d have made different choices so far.
“I think I’ll do roads pretty soon but for my ego. I have to tick that box (making a Worlds/Olympic team). I almost need to know that I was good enough to do it.
I’ve got to go and run a club record (13.13). I’ve got to go and beat (Andy) Vernon and Thommo (Chris Thompson) to make the event.”
Judging on Rowe’s development within 2021 you’d be a brave man to bet against it being an ambition he one day could achieve. But if he doesn’t manage it in 2021, Rowe will face some tough choices. Chase the dream or cover your rent?
Even the best in Britain are walking a tightrope.
If you enjoyed our interview with Jack Rowe, feel free to share and subscribe below.
For more like our interview with Jack Rowe, subscribe to the latest athletics content below (for free).
Feature photo of Jack Rowe from University of San Francisco Athletics website.