Andrew Davies isn’t like most international athletes. Most don’t get their first senior coach at 33, run their fastest marathon at 40 and do it all on the back of a successful career as a semi-pro footballer. But for Andrew none of these facts seem extra-ordinary. They’re all logical progressions when you step out the door and keep moving forward.
To say Andrew came out of the blue is somewhat disingenuous. A successful junior, Andrew competed for Wales on the fells, road, track and cross-country.
But running struggled for his attention as a youngster. Andrew told us:
“I stopped when I was 17/18. I was playing football during the winter. When I heard my brother was doing 70/80 miles a week I was like that’s not for me.”
For well over ten years it stayed like that as Andrew signed for Caersws FC in the Welsh Premier League, a few miles from his Newtown home.
“I started up front but then because we played a 3-5-2 I was in central midfield just running up and down getting everywhere and then left wing-back, left-back, right-back, wherever they wanted. I just slotted in. Not centre back though, couldn’t head or tackle so keep me out wide.”
Highlights included a trip to Bulgaria in 2002 to play Marek Dupnitsa in the Intertoto Cup and it’s a time Andrew still looks back on fondly.
The first marathon
Running, as it often does, never went far away from Andrew and it was travelling in 2006 that gave him his first taste of the marathon distance.
“We got to Australia, did a big loop of Australia and saw there was a marathon coming up in Christchurch, New Zealand in three weeks time. So we signed up for it, did three weeks training. Went up to the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney and did loads of long runs up there.”
I’m not sure how many long runs you can fit in three weeks but Andrew clearly had some fitness, running 2.52 for 16th.
Looking back on it, Andrew recognises Christchurch as the start.
“That was it then. I thought I need to do one a year here. So then I was just playing football and training for a marathon. I was probably doing 75 miles a week back then plus playing and training with football.”
Andrew’s brother-in-law Jamie Loxam is also a runner and the two of them started training.
“He knew a few sessions of what to do so we were just going to the local track and doing 800s. There was nothing specific for marathons, I was just getting loads of miles in. I came home from work and just ran for miles. There was no structure to it.”
The miles, even if unfocused, slowly added up. 2.37 in Edinburgh in 2007, 29th in the Three Peaks World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge (WLDMRC) in 2008. 2.26 in Dublin in 2009, 5th in Belfast (2.33) in 2010. 8th in the WLDMRC in 2011 in Slovenia, then 2.25 in Barcelona in 2012.
As the running ramped up, slowly football started to take a back seat:
“I was dropping down a league, not doing that well. I thought I need to concentrate on my running now, I’m doing well at the marathons. I might as well just crack on with that. So I asked Steve to coach me.”
The link up with Steve Vernon
The Steve Andrew referring to is Steve Vernon, his brother-in-law’s best man. Now one of Britain’s best coaches Steve was, in 2013, still more known for his own running. That year he would finish second in the English National XC before winning the title for a second time a year later.
“He was just starting out his coaching then. He already had Ross Millington and maybe another athlete as well. I was a bit of a guinea-pig for him about coaching the marathon. I think it was a good learning curve.
Even now he’s always learning on the job. He doesn’t have this one approach for every marathon.”
When put to Andrew what Steve would have thought of his training upto that point, he doubts it would have been too complimentary:
“He probably saw that I was dedicated. That I would go out there and put the miles in. That was a good start but with everything else he probably thought ‘what are you doing?’ I could get a good runner out of this if I give him some good structured training.”
Andrew’s progress since the combination has been hugely impressive, even if he still does 95% of his training alone.
“It’s all done on the internet. Steve sends me the schedules and I go out there and do it. He trusts me to do it”
Within a year Andrew qualified for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the marathon having finished second in Manchester (2.17).
“It was a proper eye opener. I went to the Commonwealth Games when I was travelling in 2006 to Melbourne. I was like wow look at all these athletes. You just see them behind the barriers and see them compete. It was just amazing to see. Knowing then that I’m one of them was just incredible really.”
Andrew finished 17th that year, before running 2.16.55 in Berlin in 2015. In 2016 he stepped up to the 50k, finishing 5th in the 50k World Championships (2.58.25) in Qatar.
By now Andrew was 37 but he was only getting faster. He finished third Brit in the 2017 London Marathon in 2.15.11. That coupled with an injury to Robbie Simpson secured his spot on the World Championship team in the same city.
“Give me another mile I’d have been able to catch so many people but, no, I wouldn’t have been able to run another mile. It was so hot.”
British V40 Record
Andrew’s flourish has been astounding and turned mind-boggling in 2019. Just weeks after his 40th birthday Andrew ran 2.14.36 at the Valencia Marathon, taking 40 seconds off Steve Way’s previous British V40 record.
Now aged 42, Andrew is going for his third Commonwealth team, hoping to run the qualifying time at Seville in early 2022. It is a mark (2.15.30) he got within six seconds of earlier this year.
But how is this all possible? Andrew sees no secret recipe:
“I just think it’s consistency and motivation. My motivation’s great, it always is. I always go out and do whatever I’m told. Just keep doing it day in day out, week in week out, month in month out. You get to the race and you’re there. You’ve done all your training for it.
I’ve got quite a good lifestyle in terms of what I do. You could see it as boring but I don’t do anything stupid. Going out all the time, getting in at 4 ‘o’clock, missing the next day. I’d like to think I recover well and just keep doing the simple things right.”
Do we need to start rethinking what people can do past the age of 40?
“Maybe it’s in people’s psyche, they think they’ve got to slow down so they do. Maybe they don’t set their targets high enough.”
With the fire still burning Andrew Davies looks for one last tilt at an international vest. Or is it stupid to say last?
Full interview below: