Andrew is one of Great Britain's most successful mountain runners. He's also represented Scotland on the road and at cross country. In 2019 he won the WRMA World Cup. His words give some great insight into his life as an athlete alongside his job.
I’m originally from a small village called Halkirk in Caithness, but I’ve lived in Edinburgh for the past 10 years. My parents and my sister and her family are still up north so I still have that close connection with where I grew up. I work in finance for an asset management firm called Blackrock. I have a coach, Sophie Dunnett, who lives up in Caithness and has been my coaching me since 2009.
I’ve always been pretty active and into sports, and I first joined my local athletics club when I was 11 years old. I loved being part of a club, but also doing a sport that you have complete control over your own outcome. My first competitive 10k was just before I went to university but it was probably around 2007 that I started focusing more on those types of distances.
After a couple of bad experiences with marathons and a failed attempt to qualify for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, I felt I needed a change of scene and focus in my running, so I decided to target some hill races that summer. It completely opened my eyes to some amazingly scenic places, at first around Scotland and the Lake District, and reinvigorated my outlook on running. Being successful in the first few races admittedly did help ignite my interest, but after a few months I noticed that I was picking up far less injuries and niggles than I had been doing whilst focusing solely on road training.
A typical training week depends on what time of the year it is and what races I’m aiming for in the short term. I tend to keep a 5k/10k type-interval session throughout the year, but hill-type sessions will alter between longer reps in the summer when we have more light in the evenings, and shorter reps in the winter. I try to supplement my running training with some core-strength exercises and yoga for 30 minutes once or twice a week.
I’m lucky to have really supportive employers and managers that appreciate how important running is to me. Notwithstanding allowing me to take a sabbatical last year, they’re very accommodating when I ask for time off for races. I start work around 8am each day so that allows me to take a longer lunch “hour” so I can fit in a run. I much prefer that to training in the morning, especially during winter when there are fewer daylight hours. I then train after work, so most days I’ll be training twice a day.
The main thing I try to focus on to mentally prepare for races is to control the controllables. I try not to look into too much who I might be competing against and who is in what kind of form; rather try and adapt my preparations to what I might face in the race in terms of distance, terrain, ascent, descent etc. so I can best prepare my body for what is to come. I think when training/racing gets tough I try to embrace that side of the challenge; but it’s important to know when to take a step back and see the bigger picture. It can be hard, but there’s no harm in taking a rest day or two (or week for that matter) to recharge the batteries and it’s important not to ever feel guilty about doing that.
I don’t do anything specific diet-wise; I just try and eat a balanced diet. I did start taking vitamin D supplements this winter but other than that I just rely on my diet to get the necessary vitamins.
I do like either a straightforward pasta dish or pizza the evening before a race; something I know I will digest easily. I don’t tend to do races that are long enough to have a favourite food during one. My first go-to after a race is a cold pint of lager, and after that pretty much any kind of hefty carb will do!
There are many places around the world that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience either training or racing, but as a proud and slightly biased Scot I’m going to go with somewhere closer to home as my favourite location to run. There’s something very special about the northwest Highlands and the feeling of complete remoteness coupled with the spectacular scenery and beaches.
I do really enjoy competing at the Balmoral race weekend; the setting is fantastic and both the 10km and 15-mile trail racecourses are challenging. The atmosphere around the event is great, and the crowd lining the road in the last km of the 10km race as you come back down to the castle grounds gives you a huge lift. In terms of international, Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland has to be up there with my favourites; a massive event in trail and mountain running and it’s the place to be if you want to test yourself against the best in the world at these two disciplines.
I think I’d rank my run at the Snowdon race in 2019 as my best performance. I felt my uphill running was as strong as it’s ever been and coming back down, I was just able to let loose. To feel like that on such an iconic mountain race here in the UK was brilliant. My overall time was the fastest that had been run there for 25 years and my uphill split was the 2ndfastest in history, so that was really wonderful to hear.
My worst performance was last year when I ran in a relay race called Red Bull Dolomitenmann in Austria that involved teaming up with a paraglider, a mountain biker and a kayaker. It’s a really big event with hundreds of professional and amateur teams taking part, so it was very exciting to be a part of. Unfortunately on my mountain running leg I had a stinker of a race. Just one of those days where the legs just weren’t there from the start and it’s not a feeling you want when you’re facing 1500m ascent over 8km! I think had I not been part of a team I might have seriously considered dropping out, it was a slog from start to finish and never got anything close to resembling a second wind during it.
The near future is difficult to plan for given the circumstances around COVID. I did hope to try my hand at some longer marathon-distance trail and mountain races this summer and hopefully that can be my target next year if we can get back to some normality. I still love competing at the European and World Mountain Running Championships and being part of a team for that so I just want to keep making as many of those teams as I can for the forceable future.
Andrew is coached by Sophie Dunnett - https://www.performance-endurance-training.co.uk
He is an ambassador for Active Root - https://activeroot.co.uk
Andrew is sponsored by Hoka One One - https://www.hokaoneone.eu
You can find Andrew @andoug_run on Instagram and Twitter