For most people new to the world of triathlon it can be a confusing and daunting sport. Not only for the details of the race itself but also the complexity of how to actually train for it. The majority of people I've spoken to who are planning their first seem to agree that they spend a lot of time focusing on the swimming section, specifically if it's an open water triathlon. As the only part of the race I'm actually scared of doing I can sympathise with this, so much so that I find myself almost dismissing the running and cycling under the banner “I can do those so I'll leave them till I've sorted out the hard bit.”
Although I may be painfully jealous of anyone who has little or no fear of the open water swim, I often forget that there are people who have similar doubts about the other disciplines. So I decided to speak to someone who knows a bit more about running than me to help with some useful guidance.
Simon Freeman didn't become involved in running until he took part in an 8k fun run when he was 31. Before then he ate unhealthily, did little exercise and smoked. Since that first event nine years ago his love of the sport has made his life very different. As well as achieving a 2.37.07 time at the London Marathon in 2013 he's gone on to produce the heavily praised running magazine, Like The Wind. I spoke with Simon to find out why he loves running so much and hopefully to gain some advice on how to become better at it.
You ran your first race in 2005 at the age of 31, what spurred you on to take part?
I started running as a way of taking control of my life after more than a decade of smoking, drinking too much and eating badly and I realised pretty quickly that the best way for me to see how I was progressing was to run a race and try to set and then improve upon my times. Eight years later, that is a journey that I am still on (although seeing progression is getting harder and harder!)
What motivates you to keep running still?
In part it is curiosity to see how much I can get out of myself. I still think that I am capable of setting another marathon personal best and I want to know how fast that could be. However increasingly the main reason is simply that I am an endurance sports addict and I love training, meeting people in endurance sports and taking on challenges and races that test me physically and mentally.
How many races have you run over the years and what's one of your most defining memories?
I have run dozens and dozens of races: far too many to keep count of. There are so many amazing races that I have done but I guess a few stand-out ones are: the New York marathon when I ran with my wife and we crossed the line together beating the target she had set herself by half a minute; my first marathon - the Halstead Marathon where out of the blue my brother and my best friend appeared at the side of the road to give me encouragement; and the 2013 London Marathon where I set my current personal best - despite having launched a business with my wife six months before (which is not good for training) everything clicked together and by 20 miles I knew that I could set a new personal best time.
What advice would you give those people thinking about taking up running?
Take it slowly! When I started I had no guidance whatsoever and I just went out and ran. I hated it. By the end of my road my legs would be burning, my heart thumping and my lungs screaming. Then after about 6 months I went running with a friend who was an experienced marathoner and we ran along chatting - suddenly I loved every moment of the run. Basically he had slowed me down so that I wasn't just running as fast as I could all the time.
Where's your favourite place to run?
In London I love Hampstead Heath. Any season there is something beautiful and magical about it. But outside of London I love running in the Alps around Chamonix: that is trail running heaven for me.
Your magazine, Like The Wind, is now on it's second issue. What made you decide to launch it?
The magazine is produced by three of us: my wife Julie is the art director, I am the editor and Imogen Lees is the magician (that is the sub-editor) and we all work for nothing because we love stories. That is the whole point of the magazine - to deliver inspiring, moving, amusing and motivating stories about running. There are some great cycling, outdoors, skating and climbing magazines that are all about stories and we thought that runners deserved the same. Thankfully it appears that we are not the only ones who love stories about our amazing sport.
What makes it different from other running magazines?
We don't try to tell you 'how' to run, we explore 'why' people run. We don't have any race reports, product reviews or training tips. Instead we have stories from every type of running, on every different surface and over every different distance. In the current issue we have an amazing story by ultra-running legend Dean Karnazes alongside a tale about a runner training while in prison and a short story of one runner battling a single hill. It is nothing if not varied!
You've recently become involved with The City Of London Mile. For someone who spends a lot of time running endurance events, what is it about a shorter race that interests you?
My interest in the mile is curiosity again. When the organisers talked to me about the race I honestly had no idea how fast I could run a mile (since running the Westminster Mile I now do, but that was my first ever mile and now I want to know how I can get quicker). I also really love the fact that the City of London Mile is free to enter and is short enough that anyone can run it while also being a distance that runners can take seriously and get their teeth in to. Something for everyone.
What advice can you give to someone who's been running for a while but is struggling to improve?
I think that for many of us, me included, we stop learning about locomotion once we are walking, so one of the things that helped me improve was getting coaching advice. My coach, Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs, has helped me with everything from what type of training to do and how much of it, running technique, what to eat, how to recover and how to approach races. It has been a steep learning curve! And of course a copy of Like the Wind will help with motivation!
Finally, have you ever done a triathlon?
I have done four Olympic distance triathlons in a short and not very glorious career a few years ago. I really loved them, but wasn't confident in the water or on the bike and I wanted to concentrate on becoming the best runner I could be. But they are great fun. Obviously having focussed so much on running I found the run the best bit. My best result was 10th: I got off the bike in 40th place but was able, over 10km, to pass thirty guys ahead of me. I know that I will try triathlon again - one of the team at the business I co-own, Freestak, is doing a half-Ironman this summer and I am getting very interested in her training, so that might be something I get back in to very soon.
Issue 2 of Like The Wind is now available to order online.
The City Of London Mile takes place on 22nd June and it's free to take part. Click here to view the online registration.
(Image: Mark Frudd)