Steve Way is best known as “that former fat bloke who ran for England at the Commonwealth Games” but he’s much more than just that.
Like many, Way started running to get fit, taking it up seriously in 2007 to lose weight and to improve his health. But once he started there was no stopping him, and after three sub 2:20 marathons in London, he went on to clock 2:16:27 in 2014 and achieved the Commonwealth Games standard.
Later that year, at the age of 40, Way represented England on the streets of Glasgow and finished a fantastic 10th running a British veteran record 2:15:16.
Funny enough the London Marathon or the eventual Commonwealth Games were not his main goals in 2014. All of his training has been geared toward breaking the British 100km road record in May – and only committed to London a matter of days beforehand.
Now four years later, Fast Running decided to speak to Way to find out how the last few years have been? Is he still enjoying his running, training and even the popular fame?
“Maybe I’m paying the price for the high mileage from back then [2010-1014],” says the 43-year-old. “These days there needs to be a whole lot more patience with training.
“I used to be able to jump up to 150 miles a week in less than a month. Now it takes months to get up to my new peak of around 120 miles.”
“The returns are diminishing too. In those couple of weeks, I’d be back in sub 70 [minute half marathon] shape in no time. Now I can still get to that level but it takes two to three months of consistent work, building up.”
More effort for smaller gains
The effect of ageing on speed and recovery is something many will be able to relate to.
Whether you’re a 5-10k runner or a marathoner, when you have to start working that bit harder and show patience for smaller goals, it can be tough.
“I’m an aerobic monster,” Way proclaims. “My top end speed, which was never fantastic, is dropping, but my aerobic ability is still strong.
“My ultra running pace – 6-minute miling – I still feel like I can do all day if I get into shape.
“But the idea that I ran 5:09 per mile for an entire 26.2 miles does feel a bit distant these days. It would be great to get back into 2:19 shape before Comrades though.”
Comrades Marathon being the biggest and most competitive ultra marathon in the world.
“To be a 2:15 runner it seems strange to be chasing my fourth 2:19 result, but the goal posts have changed,” he says. “If it wasn’t for Comrades I wouldn’t be able to put in the mileage or do the hard training.”
The Comrades Marathon is an 89km road race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in South Africa. It changes direction every year, making it either a net down or uphill race. 2018 is a down run.
“You have to be faster on the down runs. For the up run I can rely more on my strength, speed and mental toughness, but the down run you just have to be faster to get in the top 10,” says the ninth-place finisher in 2017. “Putting my eggs all into one or two baskets over the year is something that has been key in remaining competitive as I’ve got older.
“There’s still a huge competitive hunger, it just needs to be fed in the right way.”
In 2018 this means the Comrades and, hopefully, the World 100k Champs for the British athlete.
“Top ten on a down year would feel like a success for Comrades and,” Way hesitates “the podium would be great for the World 100k champs.”
In years past, having started the world 100k champs as an outright favourite and 50km world champion, it hasn’t been a great arena for Way.
“Both times I’ve either got injured or ended up spending far too much time in a porta-potty,” he says. “It would great to do myself justice on the World stage. A podium would definitely make me content.”
Secret weapon in training
So how is the Bournemouth AC runner aiming to get into peak shape now the body is a little less willing?
“The treadmill is my secret weapon. A lot of my early mileage is done inside on a treadmill at home’” he explains. “My body just seems to cope a lot better with the bouncy mileage.
“Some people pick up different injuries on the treadmill, but it suits me. It takes time to build the confidence up for lots of road mileage, but it’s all the specificity a treadmill can provide that is key too.
“Comrades is famous for it’s long up and downhill roads. A down year can be really destructive on the legs so physical conditioning is vital. I’ve actually got a treadmill that allows downhill running so a lot of easy mileage will be done gently downhill.
“The hill sessions too can be exact.”
Way took his treadmill training to another level in 2017 when preparing for the five key inclines at the Comrades, each with an iconic name, like Polly Shortts or Field’s Hill.
“My best session in the build-up last year was a 24-mile treadmill run that had exactly the right inclines programmed in for the five key hills,” he explains. “I closed all the windows in my conservatory on a sunny day and it was so hard. Polly shortts was actually easier on race day.”
Getting smart with training and this level of specificity has to be one of the reasons the British road 100k record holder is still excelling despite tougher times.
“It isn’t really injuries that interrupt training these days, but illnesses,” he says. “Over Christmas, there were two weeks where I was completely wiped out by the flu and I had to start training again from scratch. There are just more colds and viruses interrupting training these days.” So what can be done to help an immune system fight back?
“I can’t just hang around after training with the club these days,” he explains. “On a cold night at the end of a session I need to make sure I’m refuelling and out of wet clothes as quickly as possible.
“On the way to Comrades last year I actually felt the symptoms of a cold starting, but the worst stayed away until after the race thankfully.
“With the focus on one to two key events, it can all be scuppered by a cold. I might even wear one of those masks on the plane this year. I’d bath in the anti-bacterial gel if I thought it would help.”
Come the 10th of June you can track him online at the Comrades and see how he does against some of the world’s best road ultramarathon runners.
For a more low key ultra event, you could also pop along to the historic Barry 40 next month and see Way in action.
“Ultimately I’m going for a gradual lowering of my profile from those London Marathon days,” he says. “Maybe in a couple years time then only some hardcore ultra fans will know who I am.”
Might have to stop doing these interviews then Steve?