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Meet the runner - Andy Parkinson

It was a real pleasure to ask Andy some questions about his running and life. I asked him about his career change from classrooms to a building site, coaching the juniors at Winchester and District AC, his tips for managing motivation during lockdown, strength training and more. Andy has trained as a sports psychologist and personal trainer, runs the strength and conditioning sessions for WADAC and coaches the juniors alongside his own running. He is married to Sam who I interviewed a few blogs ago.


Photo credit : Paul Hammond

I am an assistant site manager for Millgate Winchester, a design and construction business. I am currently working (once the lockdown is over) on a site on Chilbolton Avenue where we are building three apartment blocks and two houses. I carry out a variety of roles including making sure the site is safe and tidy, that the labourers have plenty of work to do, the different trades have the materials that they need, that materials are stored safely, and tools are kept in good working order. At the end of the day I need to make sure everything is locked up and secure.

My previous teaching job seemed to have gone full circle and I ended up back doing things I had done many years previously. I was a bit bored and disillusioned with it and felt I needed a change. Twenty-seven years in education is perhaps a bit long. The chance to work for Millgate came up and it was an opportunity too good to waste. It has been refreshing to do something completely different. I have learnt a lot about the construction industry and also myself. It has given me confidence that it is possible to do something other than teach and I have also met some very bright, skilled and talented people. It is a very friendly site; everybody gets on with each other working together to get the job done.

I have always been a keen sportsman and played rugby for Winchester for a number of years. I was roped into competing for WADAC in the early 90's doing sprints, jumps and relays but that was the limit of my athletics participation. By around 2011 my rugby playing days were over as I got slower and family life got busier. However, watching Sam, my wife, run the Great South inspired me to have a go myself. By this time Sam was a WADAC member along with my two older boys and so it made sense to get family membership and come down and run myself. One of the first WADAC events I ended up doing was Welsh Castles Relay and I found myself managing the team the following year. The next natural step was helping out with the junior coaching and that was it - hooked on running.

Our junior endurance group at the club is fantastic to work with. We have over 50 young athletes training twice a week aged from 10 to 15. Most rewarding has been seeing how they have really developed as a team. They enjoy training with each other and push each other on. They are very good at switching from having some fun and a bit of a laugh to getting serious training heads on. When it comes to races it is really enjoyable to see so many putting on the WADAC vest and giving it their best. They all support each other when they have had their turn to race. I don’t find anything really frustrating, well, maybe they could listen to instructions a bit better. We usually have to repeat what needs to be done a couple of times! Some of the seniors could learn from the quality of their running drills.

On a Tuesday I train with Nick Anderson’s group and on a Thursday do the club threshold or Steve Oliver’s SOS session. Since January I had been training for London, so I increased my runs to 5 times a week. Tuesday tends to be faster, Thursday threshold, Friday easy, Saturday hills and Sunday long. I enjoy the short interval work and whilst the long runs at the weekend are harder which is difficult when training for a marathon. I think that goes back to my days when I was more a sprinter than endurance athlete. For the marathon I was following one of Nick’s plans and now follow the program he sets out for the club.

I am in furlough, so I feel I have been able to really focus on getting a good run on most days. I don’t have to rush to the club straight from work to coach before doing my own session immediately after. I am not so physically tired either which helps improve the quality of my runs. Gardening and decorating have been the main jobs, the good weather has certainly made it bearable.

I think naturally I am fairly laid back and optimistic which has certainly helped with lockdown. I also like to have a plan or target for my training on a daily and weekly basis. I have also tried to keep things as normal as possible - getting up at about the same time (kind of!), eating as normal and running at similar times. I can then feel in control of the day rather than letting circumstances I cannot control take over.

Motivation is one of the key aspects that affects how we train and perform. It is both under our control and unstable. For example, we can be lacking in motivation during a run and plodding along slowly then perhaps we see another runner ahead, our motivation increases, and we run faster to overtake them. The trick is working out what motivates you and making sure this features in your current training. Often, we set longer-term outcome goals to motivate us to train such as getting a PB, maybe a top ten finish or beating another runner in a particular race. Now is the ideal time, with no actual races for the foreseeable future, to re-orientate your goals. A mastery orientation is about learning or mastering a task based upon self-set standards. So rather than focusing on a PB or a finish position you can set a goal of improving running form by keeping hips higher or using arms by driving elbows back. Get somebody to video your form before and after and see if it changes. Now could also be the time to focus on strength or flexibility. Maybe do a simple fitness test, such as sit and reach for flexibility or standing long jump for leg power, then follow a fitness program for a few weeks before re-testing to see if you have improved.

My worst performance was at Budapest marathon. It was my first marathon and only entered it because Sam was doing it. She was keen to do a city marathon and picked this one. I had not been running long at this point and followed a rough program but did not do enough training or long runs. I had 3.30 in mind but on the start line I thought 3.15 was a possibility. I found the 3.15 pacer, stuck with them for a few miles then lost them. I hit 20 miles in 2.30 and also hit a wall. Cramp in both sets of calves, quads and hamstrings made running awkward. The 3.15 pacer overtook me at about 21 miles, then a man in a pair of speedos’ and nothing else went past. Constant switch backs along the river Danube and up ramps didn’t help and I finally crossed the line in 3.54. I was given a post-race massage, at one point with three masseur’s working on my legs.

My best performance was a 10-mile personal best at the Great South Run: perfect weather, good support on route and consistent splits throughout. My Garmin said just under 65 minutes, the actual time was just over 65 minutes being the only downside. It’s interesting from a psychological point of view that I can write much more about worst performance than best performance - not good practice!

My ideal pre-race meal would be porridge with either banana or blueberries and a spoon of set honey. Afterwards I’ll eat anything and lots of it, but cake is best; fruit, chocolate, Victoria sponge – I don’t mind!

Strength work definitely helps my running for all sorts of reasons. Having come to running late having played a lot of rugby, strength was always something that was taken for granted as a necessity. It certainly helped with my form and holding good technique later in runs when fatigue starts to set in. As I have got older, I am positive it has helped reduce injury and help recovery from niggles that I have picked up. What has changed is the type of strength training I do. Running involves switching balance from one side to the other, therefore I do a lot of single leg work. I think my S&C class have been surprised at how hard exercises can be on one leg but I have noticed that their balance as well as strength has improved (and hopefully their running). My favourite piece of equipment are kettlebells - they are great for total body, functional training. I also use mini resistance bands with my class just to provide a bit more challenge with the movements. If I had to pick key exercises, they would include single leg squats, Romanian deadlifts, glute bridges, single- or two-handed kettlebell swings and a personal favourite - the Turkish get up.

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