Kelsey Media CEO Steve Wright speaks to MF about targeting a sub-2:52 personal best at the London Marathon – at 54 years young…
Despite having the best part of five decades of running experience under his belt, Steve Wright – CEO of Kelsey, the publisher of Men’s Fitness – is intent on ensuring his quickest days are not yet behind him.
At 54, he could be forgiven for taking his foot off the gas, but at this weekend’s London Marathon, he’s gunning for no less than a 26.2-mile PB – 25 years after recording his best time.
It’s an ambition made all the more impressive when you find out that 25-year-old PB was a blistering 2 hours 52 minutes. If he gets anywhere close to that at London, he’ll be firmly among the quickest marathoners for his age group in the country.
With a few days to go, we caught up with Steve to discuss his enduring love for the sport, fitting intense training around a high-pressure job, and how he’s adapted his approach as he’s got older…
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When did your running journey begin?
I have been running for probably 45 years. My mother was a marathon runner in the early 1980s, and my father a keen cross-country club runner for as long as I can remember – I was born into it!
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of my first proper road race: a ten-miler on a section of the then-incomplete M25 at Leatherhead.
Have you adapted your training at all as you’ve got older?
When I was a lot younger I used to run pretty much every day. If I wanted to fit in a break after a very tough session I would do a hard morning run one day, and an evening run the next.
In my 50s I’ve found, due to injury, that I’ve had to cut my running down to no more than twice a week – so I might race once at the weekend and train once in the week. I can supplement it with cycling and swimming, but if I increase the running I typically get a low-level calf tear, which takes two to three weeks to recover from.
For someone who’s been competitively racing for 39 years, I’ve learned a lot over just the last year or so on how to supplement racing and speed work with core strength and stretching sessions, as well as plenty of ‘easy’ runs. That’s all had quite a radical impact on my ability to train harder and race much more competitively.
What’s your best distance?
My absolute favourite distance is half marathon. In my 20s and early 30s, before children, I would drive almost anywhere to race a half, put everything into it, drive back home and have a little sleep in the afternoon.
I used to run for Newham and Essex Beagles as part of their track team, focusing on the 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase. Doing the speed work for these track races, and competing in the shorter-distance events was great for getting speed into my legs, which took my half marathon times down from around 85 minutes to 72 minutes.
What’s your marathon PB?
My first ever marathon was New York in 1997, which I ran in 2:58, and my best time was set the following year, at Prague, where I managed 2:52. While I’ve run lots of other marathons in different parts of the world since, I don’t recall any of them being under 3:30. I don’t think I ever quite managed to run my perfect marathon.
Are you hoping to get close to it at London?
Like a lot of people, I can talk a good marathon, but I am genuinely convinced that I have the capability of hitting a new PB, 25 years after doing my fastest time at Prague. So, I have set out to look to try and do that at London this year.
I’m now anxious ahead of the event that I may struggle, as I’ve had a small setback in my training with a minor calf injury in a warm-up half marathon last month. I suppose I have the fall-back position of trying to beat my 1997 New York result, if I can’t break 2:52. But that will leave unfinished business for later in the year.
How seriously have you trained for the London Marathon?
I’ve not gone to an extreme high-milage regime, doing about 45 miles per week, but I have done a lot of quality racing and training working up towards London.
That said, I truly believe the thing helping me race faster has been training slower; it builds strength and conditioning into my tired old body. I’ve also bought into the benefit of carbon plated running shoes, and have found the New Balance Fuelcell Energy Arc are not only fast, but very comfortable for my bony old feet. I only use them for racing, in order to save the benefit for race day.
I feel I’ve been very lucky over the past year, manging to get my half marathon time back below 80 minutes, my ten-mile time back below 60 minutes, and 5k below 17 minutes. I never imagined I would be able to do that two years ago.
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Have you had any setbacks in training?
Unfortunately, I did have a pretty big setback while racing the Paddock Wood Half Marathon last month. This is a local race organised by the running club I now belong to, but it’s also one of the biggest pre-London races in the South East. I passed the halfway point on track for a low-77-minute finish time, but just before mile nine I felt my left calf go.
I was still four miles from the finish, so slowed right down and finished the race in 86 minutes.
How do you manage to fit training around work?
I have to fit racing and training around both work and family, with four children, and it can be a challenge. My wife is very supportive, she loves athletics and is a great supporter. But I’m lucky also to be a natural early morning person. I don’t mind going out at 5:30am to do a 20-mile training run before work.
There always have been, and still are three opportunities for training every day, and if you think of it like that, you should be able to fit it in. It helps for me to have lots of options with training. I belong to the Paddock Wood Athletics Club, The Wateringbury Runners (my village group), Ocean Lake Triathlon Club, and a local cycling group. Most weeks I can’t make all the sessions I would like to join in with, but I still manage to get to do a good balance of group training with like-minded friends.
Do you have a nutrition and hydration strategy mapped out?
Well I have the perfect strategy for anything up to half marathon:
- Drink lots of water the day before.
- Two coffees, porridge and two jam sandwiches three or three-and-a-half hours before the race (get up extra early for this),
- 750ml of energy drink 45 to 20 minutes before the race.
On that basis, unless it’s hot, I can run up to a half marathon with no water, gels or anything needed on the way round. That’s not going to work for marathons!
So, while everything above goes into the plan, I have been training with gels, having been recommended the Maurten brand, with caffeine, and these are working well for me. I also have the Mourten bars. I plan to eat a couple of bars in the 90 minutes before the marathon and take five gels with me, taking one every four miles from six miles onwards just before reaching a water station to wash it down.
New Balance is the official shoe and apparel sponsor of the London Marathon. Shop the running range at newbalance.co.uk