Britain's Last Olympic medallist at the Marathon has recently finished a book which is sure to be a hit with the distance running scene. From the battle in London against the great Steve Jones to running at two Olympic Games and taking a bronze medal in his first. Having released the book earlier this month he took time out to have a quick chat to RunnersLife.
How did you get into running?
My first experience of running was at school. I wasn't the best at school, but I was one of the best, and it was my first taste of any sort of success. I have poor eyesight and struggled in ball games. I was also near the bottom of the class academically, and running was the only thing I seemed to be good at. As I got older, I continued to improve and joined a running club, Gateshead Harriers, when I was 16.
Why did you like running?
Originally I liked running because it was the only thing I was good at. As I developed, I liked it for more and more reasons: it is clear cut because there are no unlucky bounces, or bad refereeing decisions to alter the result; you get out of it what you put into it; runners in general are a great group of people to be with; and I love the feeling of sheer joy that running through the woods on a sunny day brings.
Who were your idols?
There are a lot of runners I admire greatly, but my first real idol was Ron Clarke. Although he never won a major championship, I loved the way he would go straight to the front and run away from everybody. He used to smash world records entirely without pacemakers. He was robbed of his greatest chance to win the Olympics when he was in the form of his life in 1968, and they held the Games at the 7,000 feet altitude of Mexico City. Of course, other runners who I think are brilliant would have to include Carlos Lopes. Did you come through junior ranks or straight into your preferred distance?
I worked my way through all the distances. I ran 800 and 1500 as a teenager. I managed 4:03.5 for a mile but I had no sprint finish, so I moved up to 5,000 and then 10,000. I was more successful the farther I ran, and in 1983 won the AAA 10k and finished 4th in the Commonwealth Games the tear before. I didn't try the marathon until I felt that I had fulfilled myself on the track, and I was 31 before I ran my first race over my best distance.
Did you have a coach?
Strictly speaking, no I didn't. I didn't have anybody setting daily sessions for me. However, I did have a very good and long lasting relationship with Lindsay Dunn. I always discussed major decisions with him, and was often happy to do sessions that he devised. His influence was vital in my career, but I always made the final decisions.
I think it is important for runners to be used to making their own decisions, because in competitive events you have to be able to think on your feet and respond quickly to what is happening.
What sort of mileage would you do?
I had a long series of injuries and I found that a lot of high mileage was counter productive because it would increase the chances of a problem. I usually ran about 85 miles per week in winter and about 65 in summer. I used to do a six week spell of 110 miles per week in the spring to boost my endurance. (This was one of Lindsay Dunn's ideas.) It seemed to work very well for me without causing any problems, other than extreme tiredness! I think a solid base of endurance built through years of steady mileage is the essential foundation for any distance runner, but you shouldn't get too hung up about the numbers. The right mileage varies a lot between different people.
What would be a typical week in the summer and winter?
The structure would be the same; the sessions would be different. A long run on Sunday - between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Monday, Wednesday and Friday would be steady running. Tuesday was a track or hill session. Saturday was a race or another session, and Thursday always depended on what else was happening. It was often an anaerobic threshold run, or another long run when I was marathon training. It has been proved scientifically and empirically that a maximum of two speed sessions per week is better for you than three. People who run three fast sessions a week show great progress at first, but their improvement soon peaks and peters out. People doing no more than two speed sessions a week can show continued progress for years to come.
Did you train though races?
For minor ones, yes, but never for major ones.
Did you train in a group?
Tuesday track sessions and Sunday long runs were much better in a group, but I did most of my other running alone.
What was your longest run? How fast would you do it?
I regularly ran for 2 hours with a Gateshead group that would include people like Brendan Foster, and in later years, Kevin Forster. We didn't push it, but would still go close to six minutes per mile. When I was training for marathons, I used to do a 28 mile run about three weeks beforehand. I usually did this by myself to make sure it was run at my pace.
Did you ever do weights, circuits, cross training outside of the running?
I could say yes to this question if you include stretching. If I was injured I would do other types of training like swimming, to maintain some fitness, but I regard running as the best training for runners.
Did you ever train abroad, altitude or warm weather?
I went altitude training a few times and I am sure it helped me. I also found a lot of benefit from a week in somewhere like the Algarve in cold and windy March. You can run much more freely in warm weather than you do when you are hunched up against the cold.
How fast were runs outside of 'sessions'?
My steady running was about 10 miles per hour, or six minutes per mile. I occasionally took an easy run of 7 minutes per mile.
Were you asked to join the new UKA panel involving other top British athletes?
No, I wasn't asked, but compared to the likes of Brendan Foster, Seb Coe, Ian Stewart and Steve Cram I probably don't qualify as a top British athlete.
Do you coach anyone now?
I don't coach anyone. I think the greatest skill a coach can have is the ability to recognize what works best for different athletes. I am not sure that I could do that as well as somebody like Lindsay Dunn does it. However, I do get involved with some of his athletes. He sometimes asks me to mentor them on my favourite subject, which is the mental approach to producing your greatest performance. Again, this is what the book is mainly about.
Are you still involved with running?
I do commentary on the London Marathon for Radio Five Live every year and the mentoring of a few local runners. Apart from that I am mainly just a very interested spectator.
Do you have any thoughts on how to improve the distance scene in Britain?
I have included a chapter on this in the book because I feel strongly about it. I think it is an enormous social problem, the root of which is the greatly reduced physical activity that children are involved in nowadays compared to previous decades. I see this as a huge problem for the country and not just the sport. Many children are so inactive that their physical development is leading them towards obesity rather than sporting achievement.
"I have just published a book called From Last to First and the answer for many more of the questions that were asked is what the book is about. It took a book to answer these questions, because none of them can be answered properly in a few lines. All these questions have a much more meaningful answer when they are covered in their proper context, which is what I hope the book does. I don't want to avoid
the questions, but I think that giving partial answers here and then reading the book would make both accounts unsatisfactory. I have a website, http://www.charliespedding.com/, and you can read a few sample pages on the site, and you can buy the book directly from there too."