“What excites you the most leads to the best performances” – Matt Leach

Matt Leach speaks to me from across the Atlantic, fitting in an hour or so conversation around 100 weekly miles and life as a software engineer at Google.

It’s quickly apparent he’s an intelligent man but with his athletics there’s a side of the old romantic.  

You’d be forgiven for thinking Leach is a marathon runner now. 2021 saw him improve his best to 2.15.31, finishing 9th in London on his second attempt at the distance.

A very respectable showing, just over a minute outside the qualifying standard for the European Champs and 91 secs outside England Athletics’ own Commonwealth bar.

With a 62.57 half-marathon best, part of a father and son combined world record (his 55-year-old father ran 71.10) it suggests there’s plenty left to come.

Matt Leach – second from left in the British Champs 5000m, 2021 – Credit: Mark Hookway

25 lap return

For now, however, marathon ambitions are on hold with Leach planning a return to the track for the Night of the 10,000m on May 14th. He told us:

“I think a big thing that my coaches over the years have encouraged is do what feels right. I feel like I really want to run fast on the track.

You should do what you want to do. All these races are really cool. The Night of the 10,000m, the London marathon it’s a really fun race and doing what excites you the most leads to the best performances as well.”

Matt Leach running the 2018 Night of the 10,000m – Photo credit: Mark Hookway

It means rather than chasing a Commonwealth standard that 99 Brits in history have run, he instead focuses on an even more ambitious 10,000m time. England Athletics have made the goal for the 10,000m 28:00, a mark only 33 Englishmen have ever bettered.

In finishing 4th Brit in last year’s Olympic 10,000m trials the former Bedford and County man ran 28.22, a second outside his two-year-old lifetime best.

“I feel there’s a lot of time that could come down in the 5k, 10k. 28 flat is a nice round number. I’d like to run that or as close as I can as possible. I feel there’s more time in the legs after last year.”

Long-term goals

Running fast on the track is clearly something important for Leach and it all helps towards a goal he’s happy to whisper quietly; making the GB team for the Paris Olympics.

“I do say it out loud because if I talk to people at work and they say it, they ask this question and the Olympics is the obvious thing to say. And I guess it’s not so out of the question that it doesn’t feel wrong.

I don’t think about it that much, I just want to be as good as I can be and wherever that takes me is where it is. Have fun, try and be as fast and as good as I can be. See what happens.”

Matt Leach at the Watford Open Graded Meeting 1500, 28 Jun 2017 – Credit: Mark Hookway

From Cambridge to San Francisco

It’s an attitude that has got him to this point, so why change it? His time at Cambridge University under the tutelage of Phil O’Dell saw him improve from a decent county-level athlete to third place at the 2014 BUCS 5000m.

It earned him a scholarship to San Francisco University, allowing him to juggle professional ambitions in the tech industry with the next steps in athletics. From there he continued to build.

“From my personal point of view consistency is a big thing. Trying to build miles on top of miles, years on top of years. Not trying to push it too far that you end up getting injured, taking a few steps forward but three steps back.

Every year I try and keep on improving. This year I’m trying to take my strength and conditioning more seriously than I have done in the past.”

Peninsula Distance Club

After university Leach chose to stay on the west coast, linking up with his current coach Dena Evans at Peninsula Distance Club.

“Peninsula Distance Club is a running club based in the Bay Area. We have probably around 50 or so people maybe 20 to 30, who train regularly, meet two maybe three times a week. For a Tuesday and maybe a Saturday session.

It’s almost entirely people who’ve graduated. There’s a fair number of Stanford Phd students as well as people who work in the area. It’s just a really great community and a lot of people who I’ve become good friends with over the years.

We do 800 all the way up to the marathon and there’s been some people who run ultras. We have a big range, a really big group and I think I’ve been lucky to find that after graduating because I do think there’s more of a club system in the UK for once you leave university.”

Matt Leach in the 2018 British Champs over 5000m

Work/life imbalance

I look to wrap up the conversation, aware that Leach is a busy man. That’s clear to see and despite support from London Marathon Events and SOAR, he still essentially pursues his ambitions as a hobby.

“I always had it in my head that when I started running the marathon I would go part-time at my job because it is just a lot more training, you’re really tired all the time. There were definitely days where I was struggling at work because I was too tired.

But the marathon has come, I’ve run it and I’m still working full-time so that hasn’t happened. I do think about going part-time but I think it’s something very personal to each individual. For me I would want to be doing something that isn’t just being a professional runner.”

With big ambitions for the track, a breakthrough year in 2022 may force Leach’s hand but for now he’s happy to juggle it all.

In doing so he provides that little bit of inspiration for every other athlete doing the same.

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