Meet the runner - Alex Clarke-Ayerst
Alex and I are members of the same book club. I look forward to his astute insights into our latest read. Often I'll also try to mine him for running advice when we meet up. Alex has bags of talent as a runner and has had some amazing results. Hopefully there's lots more to come!
I’m a Doctor of Physics, a self-confessed geek and proud! Currently I work as a data scientist near Oxford, for an oil and gas metering company. I run for Southampton AC and also Abingdon AC second claim. Although I have two coaches who provide valuable assistance (Tony Fern at Southampton and Bernard Wilkins at Abingdon), primarily I am self-coached. I also trained at Loughborough University under George Gandy for 7 years, who was a big influence. I realised distance running was something I was good at after winning 800m and 1500m races at my school sports day. I joined Team Solent when I was 12, coached by Peter Haynes at Southampton sports centre. Two club mergers and two decades later, I still enjoy competing for the red and white army.
Before lockdown I did the Leeds Abbey Dash and Telford 10k. Although my focus was on 10km races over the winter, my training was broken by illness and I recorded some of my slower times. The spring 10km season was curtailed by lockdown, I'm looking forward to getting out and racing when things return to normality.
A normal training week looks something like this:
Mon 60mins easy
Tue Track intervals (Example 16x300m off 100mjog)
Wed 60mins easy + strength & conditioning circuits
Thu Track or grass intervals (Example 8x600m)
Fri Rest or 30mins easy
Sat Long road intervals (6x1k or 5xmile)
Sun Long run 10-15 miles It may sound boring, but I have to say 400m reps on the track are most enjoyable for me. Some people really don’t like running in circles but for me nothing beats the buzz of running fast on the track. Particularly with a good group pushing you on. I’ve mostly really enjoyed lockdown! I’m due to become a father in July, so my current priorities have changed a little. Spending lots of time at home with my wife to prepare has actually been great. That said, getting out for my run each day is definitely keeping me sane.
2016 was my best year, running 29:42 at the Trafford ‘10km’ in March felt like a breakthrough performance, until the course was subsequently found to be 100m short! Even so a time very close to 30 minutes would have been on the cards. Running 66:39 for 6th at the Reading Half Marathon, and a track 5000m PB of 14:35 were the standout races. My worst race? Other than my first cross country race in the Hampshire league where I finished last and ran wearing tracksuit bottoms, I soon learnt from that one! It would have to be the London Marathon 2018. I went into the race fit and confident after a great build up, hoping to run 2:25 or thereabouts. Given the extreme heat that year I should have revised my goal, however after passing halfway in 1:12 I suffered badly with cramp in the closing stages. With the help of a lot of Lucozade sport I dragged my legs to the finish in 2:37. Still a very respectable first marathon but it taught me a real respect for the distance.
My best piece of kit has to be my orthotic insoles, I’m a serial pronator and it has given me problems over the years with my ankles. They allow me to enjoy my running pain free.
My favourite book on training is "Daniels' running formula", by Jack Daniels (Coach and exercise physiologist, not the whisky manufacturer!). I also love a good motivational autobiography and “Running Free” by Seb Coe has to be my pick, he was my idol growing up as an 800m runner. I’ve lost my running mojo a few times through injury, but I find it comes back naturally after rest and rehab. I really enjoy the process of getting back into shape after a long layoff. It’s like the early days of running when you can see the improvement with every session, and the motivation is high. Often you can reach a new height after an extended time out, so it’s important to stay positive.
Mainly I try to eat real food, and plenty of fresh fruit and veg. That said I’m not afraid to stuff my face with cake when the mood strikes! I think as runners we have earned it as long as you eat enough of the good stuff. I was a vegetarian for 7 years and still rely mostly on plant-based protein sources. I do use a pea protein supplement after training and take a multivitamin.
My running philosophy used to be very much ‘go hard or go home’, but recently my philosophy has changed. To me it’s all about enjoyment, I realised fairly young my Olympic dreams would never be realised so it’s important to have fun with it. I’m still competitive when it counts but I now try to ignore pace on most of my runs and just base it on my effort level. I even got rid of my Garmin recently in favour of a really simple fitness tracker.
5k on the track is probably my sweet spot. I have had good success over longer distances up to half marathon but enjoy the 5k more. I love nearly all sports and exercise, including regular cycling and swimming. I would love to do a triathlon in the near future, although my swimming technique has traditionally been terrible, I have been working on that. My workplace has run weekly Pilates classes for a few years now. It’s mostly a bunch of middle-aged groaning men, and they love it! It has certainly helped my flexibility and injury prevention.