“I need a strong character to coach me” – Luke Duffy on new beginnings with the Run Yard

It is easy to see 2021 as a breakout year for Luke Duffy. A senior GB vest, Euro-Cross relay gold, three second personal bests in both the 800 (1.49.56) and 1500m (3.42.33). By most standards it was an impressive jump. But when you put it in context it suggests there’s plenty left to come.

For three-quarters of 2021 Luke had no coach. The passing of George Gandy in October 2020 left the Loughborough Head of Endurance position vacant for more than a year.

He recalls:

“I ended up waiting and saying whoever they hire (as Head of Endurance) I’m going to get them to coach me but they never hired anyone. I ended up doing the group sessions which were literally just Gandy’s sessions. Gandy was coaching me from beyond the grave. And doing my own runs and tempos and race prep which didn’t really work. It only really worked in that I was running a lot.

I ended up peaking at random times, having a really good run one week and a rubbish one the next. I managed to pb over everything but I didn’t have as big a year as I would have liked.”

Luke Duffy racing in Dortmund in 2020 (3.45.39)

“I’d rather be exceptional at one event than good at loads.”

Luke knew finding the right fit in a coach was crucial:

“I’m probably quite difficult to coach if you’re more laid-back. The coaches I’ve had in the past that have worked for me have always been strong characters which I respected quite a lot. I took their opinion very seriously.”

Luke’s housemate is his long-time Midlands rival Josh Lay, who in early 2021 started training under Matt Yates and the Run Yard group. Other members include Dan Rowden, Ossama Meslek, Sean Molloy and Yusuf Bizimana (when back from the States).

Luke remembers Josh linking up with Matt:

“Josh was really banged up at the time he went to Matt. He was injured the whole winter. I saw it worked for him. Josh ran 3.56 for the mile off probably five weeks training.”

Matt decided that Luke could be someone who would fit well in the Run Yard group and after a few conversations the pair began working together in October 2021.

Training adaptations

Luke noted some clear immediate changes to his training:

“Before, in 2021 and 2020, it’s been plenty of easy running, a session Tuesday that isn’t necessarily that hard just high volume. Tempo Thursday, grass session Saturday, long run Sunday. Repeat that every seven days.

Matt doesn’t really see it like that. He doesn’t really work in seven-day cycles. There are sessions that are there every week. Tuesday will always be a session but then it will be either Thursday or Friday or sometimes a double session Friday.

In between it wouldn’t necessarily be loads of easy double running. It might be an easy run and then a bike or a cross trainer and stuff like that. He’ll throw bike sessions in there and obviously gym. That’s been a lot different. A lot more specific to 1500m running.

I’ve noticed this past few weeks there’s many different ways to skin a cat. You don’t have to go and run a 100-mile a week and do these sessions, do this thing. There’s plenty of other ways to do it.”

Luke Duffy ahead of a Watford BMC 1500m in 2021 (3.42.33)

A changed mindset

The biggest change for Luke, however, hasn’t been physical:

“Another massive difference I’ve noticed is around racing, race day, the lead up to races. There’s a clear view of what needs to be done in the race. You can visualize it and in the race you can be more present if you have a plan.

Last season I’d be on the start line thinking I’m going to sit in the pack and get round and hopefully I’ll run a certain time. We went to Liverpool for the European Cross-Country trial. We walked the course on the day and he took me through every part of the course. What we needed to do on every exact part of the course.

It took a lot of pressure off myself. Let me just tick the boxes of the goals I’ve set for the whole race. Move up at a certain point, at this position. It took the mental side out of it really.”

“No-one’s had that kind of faith in me.”

Luke notes his training prior to Liverpool wasn’t exceptional.

“The times I was doing weren’t necessarily amazing. But to have Matt who had such faith in me. “You should make the top two, we’re going to try and win it”.

No-ones had that kind of faith in me in the past and therefore I haven’t had the faith in myself. Running’s very mental so if you have faith in yourself it can be the extra 1% you need.”

Luke finished second, booking his place in Dublin but after a brief hug it was back to business. He remembers Matt’s instructions:

“Put your trainers on and go and do some strides up on the path. I was like no, there was no way I could do that. I was absolutely knackered. That’s the kind of coach I need really, someone with a bit more of an elite mindset.”

Junior success

Luke’s 2021 success didn’t come completely out of the blue. He was a youth with serious pedigree. Aged 16 he earned Commonwealth Youth bronze in the 1500m. To do so he ran 3.49. No under 17 in the UK got within three seconds of him that year.

“I was a kid. I’d been running for two, three years. I wasn’t even training that much. Everything was just coming so easy to me. The Bahamas year was probably a gift and a curse. It was great to have that but it knocked me back for a couple of years because nothing ever lived up to that. I thought I’ve made it here. I was getting awards and kit drops and stuff like that. Everything was going great and I just thought I’m the best. I can do what I want.”

Luke realized over the next couple of years he couldn’t, getting overtaken in his later years of school and making negligible improvements to his times. What once had been a source of great joy became something quite destructive.

“It was very taxing on my mental health, the way I saw myself. It was like a downward spiral. This snowball effect to where I’d have one bad result and I’d go and train really, really hard for a week, thinking that week of really hard training is going to make me better.

I’d actually just show up to the next race even more tired and run even worse. I’d get to the next race and go this is the race. It’s all or nothing now. I’d end up being on the start line just dreading it, not enjoying being at a race because I put so much pressure on myself.”

Luke Duffy (bronze) and Josh Lay (silver) running at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games (winner John Mwangi Waweru of Kenya)

Managing youth athletes expectations.

Luke ultimately has come out the other side. When I put to him why it was that so many junior athletes don’t he said youth coaches have a part to play:

“A lot of these coaches are just there to set your sessions and they don’t really know how dangerous it can be. When they’re all buzzing about their athlete winning English Schools Junior Boys or running 4.06 at U15s and they (the athlete) walk around thinking they’re a god for 4.06 at that age. They don’t realise that’s not a good time but it’s good for your age. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t continue to progress.

For me, if you ran 3.49 at 16 I can’t go up to a selector and go ‘look at me I ran that at 16 and no-one else ran that when they were 16’. So unless that progression keeps going it’s irrelevant how fast you ran when you were younger. I think a lot of club coaches don’t have that outlook. I was lucky my club coach, Richard Massey, always had a big emphasis on me being good when I was 18-19.”

Reconnecting with athletics

Luke’s love for athletics rekindled at Loughborough, learning to enjoy rather than endure the sport. He is keen to give Gandy the credit:

“My mindset of athletics changed a lot under him. I could never really thank him enough. He definitely saved my career in a way (what career I’ve got) in terms of my mindset, my outlook. Moving to Loughborough was a massive breath of fresh air to me.

Because when you’re in sixth form and training on your own, every race is like “this is it”. Your whole life revolves around it. Whereas you get to uni and you get to a race and think if I run bad, who cares? I’ve got a night out afterwards with all my mates or I don’t want to drop out of this race because then I’ll feel bad on the night out tonight.

I’ll get the piss taken out of me at training or whatever. It took a massive stress out of it going to university and the frustrations definitely went away.”

Luke Duffy at the Podium 5k in 2021 (14.00)

Commonwealth ambitions

Duffy is clearly in a good place and better for the difficult few years he got through. What that means for 2022? Well Yates has high ambitions, ones Duffy won’t completely reveal just yet.

But one he will is the Commonwealth Games 1500m for Northern Ireland, an eligibility he has through his paternal Irish grandparents. 3.39.60 is the standard and it’s one for which the pair both believe Luke is capable.

“The vague goal is just to step up a level. To go from making the final of U23s to a new level. There’s a few levels before you get to the top and I’d like to move up a few rungs of the ladder.

Say if I run 3.38. Matt’s got some bigger goals but I’m not going to go there. If I ran 3.38 I’m one really good winter away from running 3.34, 3.35. When you run 3.34 you’re there. You’re making teams so just get in that position to have another breakthrough the following year. That’s got to be a target.”

It’s been a good first few months at the Run Yard and after a training stint in South Africa we’ll see Luke likely in the British Indoor Champs. Continue the progression and it’s a face we could be seeing much more of in the years to come.

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Featured image by Mark Hookway.

“Perhaps people think they’ve got to slow down so they do” – Andrew Davies on running his best past 40.

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.

Junior success

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.

Andy (far right) in 1996, representing Wales.

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.

Andrew Davies (bottom right) playing for Caersws FC.

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 Davies later competing at the 2019 World Trail Running Champs (15th)

Family connections

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.”

Andrew Davies with coach 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.”

International vests

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.

Andrew Davies sporting his Wales vest

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.

Andrew finished 31st and six months later flew out to the Gold Coast for his second Commonwealth Games. An 11th place finish in horrendous conditions saw him catch competitors the entire second half.

“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.”

Andrew Davies’s 2 Commonwealth Games Vests and GB edition for the 2017 World Champs

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?

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“Performances out there are valued” – Rory Leonard on stateside ambitions.

Speaking to Rory Leonard you quickly get the sense of a man who knows he has found his fit. A GB international and a collegiate athletic powerhouse in Oklahoma State. Three and a half years to hone his craft.

A family affair

But it wasn’t always meant to be that way. Rory’s parents both went to Arkansas in the early 80s. Tony finished 29th in the 1982 NCAA XC Div One prior to a successful career on the roads (13.35/28.08). Sharon herself was 109th in the women’s race and an English Schools XC silver medalist before then. Arkansas was to be Rory’s destination:

“I thought everything was rainbows in athletics and I saw the flashing lights of Arkansas. The amazing indoor track, the amazing outdoor track. Being 18 I wasn’t thinking what I actually needed and what was going to be beneficial for me.”

His parents advice was eventually what made him look elsewhere:

“We started to become disenchanted with Arkansas because it is run like a business. You start to see before you get there that you’re not the big cog in the wheel that you thought you might be.

Whoever offered the most I would have gone to. I would have been swayed anywhere. I wasn’t getting any guidance from within British Athletics. I’d won some good races then. I’d run for GB. It wasn’t like I wasn’t running for GB at the time. Without my dad it would have been difficult to get good advice.”

Rory Leonard at Lee Valley, August 2020 – Photo Credit: Mark Hookway

Following George Gandy

Rory stayed in the North East, opting instead for the less glamorous surroundings of 35 hours a week working in his local coffee shop, before opting to join Loughborough in 2020. Rory came for one man:

“It was really sad when I got to Loughborough because I came for George Gandy. A few months in and it was so sad for the whole athletics community, George Gandy passed away.

I’m not joking, the week before he did pass away, he was at Broc (a field where we do training sessions) and he was jogging around. Everyone was telling him to slow down but you could never tell him to slow down. It was people like that in the UK that made athletics worthwhile.”

Rory Leonard at Watford BMC 12 June 2021 – Photo Credit Mark Hookway

Making the switch to the US

Though he is keen to praise many involved at Loughborough he soon realized it wasn’t the fit for him. It was the US that seemed the answer:

“I realised I need to go to the States. The funding you get over there is unparalleled. I don’t think there are pros that get better set ups than being at a good programme in the college system.

I started talking to coaches again. It was thinking about who’s going to value me, who’s going to care if I get injured and are going to worry about me getting injured. It’s a long-term development. I found that at Oklahoma State with Dave Smith. I could tell I could trust him on the phone.”

16th at Euro XC U23s – Photo provided by Rory Leonard

Strength of depth at Oklahoma State

Rory has loved his introduction to collegiate running:

“It’s been great. It’s been everything I’ve needed it to be so far. The team is everything I could wish for. I’m training with a 27.50 guy every day. I’m training with low 28 mins guys every day. A guy that finished 3rd at the NCAA for 3k Steeplechase (Ryan Smeeton) who’s strong as an ox.

You’re showing up to the track each time with 20 guys who can run, who can really, really run. So even on your bad days you’ve got plenty of people to run with and get dragged round by. Then you’ve got the athletic trainers, physios and strength and conditioning coach that you can see at any time during the day.”

It seems to be paying off. As well as 16th in the Euro Cross U23s, Rory was 79th in the NCAA XC Div One, not that he knows whether that was a good performance:

“I still don’t know if that was a good run. I was seeing colours and stars in the sky. I was just running flat out the whole time. It’s chaos out there but it’s great. The performances out there are valued. It’s a slight level up from the UK because you need that competition to show what you can do against a wider field.”  

Fittingly Rory’s performance helped Oklahoma State to nudge past Arkansas for third in the team standings.

Rory at the NCAA Mid West Regional XC – Image provided by Rory Leonard

Thankful for the support

It’s all impressive progress for an athlete who only switched from football less than seven years ago but he’s clear where a lot of the credit is due:

“My parents did everything they could for me. They paid for physio but it’s expensive in the UK. I was fortunate that my parents valued athletics and appreciated that in order to stay injury free I might have to visit a physio but there’s a lot of people who can’t do that. I’m lucky now that I go to the States and I don’t have to pay a penny for anything.”

With a focus on the long-term and three and a half years to let it play out, Rory has good people in his corner. With all that Oklahoma State can offer it’s a mix that bodes well for the future.

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Featured image provide by Rory Leonard.

“The best part of funding is student finance” – Ellis Cross on stepping up to the seniors

Ellis Cross was a prolific junior athlete. A two-time English national cross-country winner in the U20s, two-time BUCS 5000m champ, 15th in the European cross-country champs U23s in 2016.

These were performances which had Ellis quite rightly thinking about a future as a professional athlete. Keep up the momentum and the career would come.

“I was always of the view that you let the legs do the talking.”

Phot provided by Ellis Cross.

A two-year professional contract with Hoka followed, as well as some sponsorship from a sympathetic local company but ultimately the support stopped short of allowing him the life of a fully-professional athlete.

Making the step to the seniors

Ellis graduated from St Mary’s University into the senior ranks in 2019. Like any junior transitioning into the seniors and as outlined by Jack Rowe, developing into a world class 5000m runner takes time. Ellis admits he’s taken time to adjust:

“There’s a big gap between making that jump and then having enough money as a senior athlete because there’s a big jump in terms of the training you need to put in and your life in general. You go from being a student to being someone who has to work full-time, thinking about the future a lot more.

It’s such a big jump going into seniors, I’m still trying to find my feet really in that sense.

I’ve struggled in terms of time to be able to match that training load. It’s easier throughout the junior ranks because you don’t have to do as many miles.”

Ellis Cross at the SOAR MK Relays – Photo credit: Mark Hookway

Walking the tightrope between volume and rest

Ellis is keen to point out he does have those around him who provide good support. His employer at Up and Running in Surbiton is flexible. He also does some coaching work for Kevin Quinn’s Real Runners but ultimately he faces a difficult dilemma.

The biggest weekly miles I’ve ever done is 82 miles, so not that significant. The past few years have only been 70 mile weeks. I need to push it up to 90/100 mile weeks.

But it’s difficult to up the volume when you’ve got less time than you’ve ever had before. Ultimately more stress in training also needs more recovery. It’s a tricky balancing act where Ellis hopes for significant progress in a short period of time so he gets that extra support, but in an event that requires athletes to play the long game.

Ellis Cross finishing second in the Watford BMC 5,000 in 13.50 – Photo credit: Mark Hookway

Being more than just a good cross-country runner

For years some of Britain’s best athletes have honed their craft on the cross-country circuit. Tim Hutchings on the Sunday Plodcast recalls winters touring Europe being paid good sums to run in local cross country meets.

Strength in cross-country ultimately helped Britain’s best get better, get stronger for the track. But that’s changed and with it a key component of Britain’s success has been cut off. Ellis agrees:

“Cross country is seriously neglected in terms of the support athletes get. If you’re a good cross-country athlete there’s a good chance you’re on nothing in terms of money. Whereas if you go on the road it’s a completely different story.

Because there’s a big difference between you turning up to a Parliament Hill cross-country race in a field of 300-400 people to going onto the road. If you do a big half-marathon you’ve got tens of thousands of people that are turning up and are paying money.

These race organisers have got the money to give to athletes in terms of prize money. It’s just not there in terms of cross-country.”

An undervalued market

Ellis compares it to horse racing. Fundamentally what is the difference between horses and humans racing?

“You go to something like horse racing you get a significant amount of money that is there and people are happy to put money on, they can have a full day out and watch it. You turn up and watch people running and you get nothing.”

Cross-country and the same applies for track ends the moment you leave the event. No broadcast, little publicity two things that could be so similar (horse racing and cross-country) could not be more different. Ellis is keen to point out that the interest is there.

“Athletics is out there, if you engage with the sport it’s a brilliant sport, you watch people race it out. Cross-country it’s the most natural form of racing.

Mark Hookway puts out a race on Youtube, such a small race, an U11s, U13s race of just your local cross-country league and it will do well because people want to watch it. People do want to watch it.

The sport in general is seriously undervalued in terms of what it can be.”

Why does it matter?

These things are important. It’s not just a case of not being able to watch something. It’s about potential sponsors to the event simply not having the showcase. Less sponsors, less money. Less money, less professional athletes. Less professional athletes, less success for Britain on the global stage.

In an era in which every other sport has professionalized, athletics is left in the dark ages. Preserving a semi-amateur status may work when other sports do the same but when they move on they leave athletics behind.

Leaving athletics behind means more athletes like Ellis will face the same lack of support when trying to make the senior grade.

Ellis has many years left in the sport, with big goals he’d still like to fulfil but he has a message for those still with the support of a university:

“I’ve been saying to people at university you’ve got to take that opportunity and make every single moment count.

An athlete in our sport, the best part of funding is student finance.”

When’s it’s gone, it’s gone and taking the next step becomes all the harder.

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Featured image from Mark Hookway.

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“I see everything as multiples of my rent” – Jack Rowe on running.

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.

Track ambitions

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.

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Feature photo of Jack Rowe from University of San Francisco Athletics website.