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  • Writer's pictureKarla

Meet the runner - Pete Simpson

Pete and I ran together in Edinburgh – he was always friendly, happy to chat and you could see his improvement year-on-year. When I first thought about the blog, Pete was one of the athletes I was keen to learn more about. You’ll understand why when you read this interview.

I’m an actuary for Scottish Widows, a large life insurance company. I’m based in Edinburgh and run for Edinburgh AC. I don’t have a formal coach as such, but I attend the sessions at Edinburgh AC which Alex MacEwan and Garry Robertson set. They both help with the rest of my training plan.

I’ve always been sporty. At school and university, I focused more on team sports – football and rugby. When I started to work full time, it became more difficult logistically to play in a team and I was picking up a few niggles playing 5-a-side football. I think sport is really important for health, wellbeing and it gives you opportunities to socialise. Running ticks a lot of boxes – it’s easy to do, really accessible. Like a lot of people starting out I ran infrequently at first, running a few times a week and going to parkrun. Once I started to get a bit better another actuary, Stuart Johnston suggested that I come along to training on a Thursday at Edinburgh AC. I really enjoyed it and have been running quite seriously since.

My main target race for 2020 was the London Marathon. Due to coronavirus that was cancelled. Luckily my other target race was a half marathon from Balloch to Clydebank in mid-March. I ran a PB there, 79.14. I was really pleased with that. Since then I’ve done a few virtual races – from a mile to a marathon.

Within my London marathon build-up, I moved away from a weekly structure towards a fortnightly structure. Over a 16-week period I did eight 2-week training blocks. Typically, I focused on two bread-and-butter long runs which I alternated between Sundays and Mondays covering between 30-35km. I tried to include 4 quality sessions within the fortnight – a couple of shorter sessions e.g. on the track at a club session, mile reps or a session I really like is 1km on, 1km off and two tempo runs e.g. parkrun, 10km at half marathon to marathon pace. I found that a good way of mixing it up. I had a few steady runs in there too to reach 100-110km per week (60-70 miles in old money!).

It’s hard to decide what my favourite session is! There are little bits of each session that I like. I’d probably choose the long run if I can – it is the bread-and-butter of marathon training. I like planning a route in advance; it’s really nice to explore the area. I know Edinburgh like the back of my hand now apart from some of the suburbs. The feeling of coming in after a long run is so satisfying. I’m a big food fan so after a long run I feel justified in eating everything in the fridge over the rest of the day!

Like most people I’ve had good days and bad days during the lockdown. Zoom and Houseparty have been great for keeping in contact with people but they aren’t the same as human face-to-face contact. It’s definitely felt a bit lonely at times. I’ve found that keeping a good fitness programme has been important mentally for me to get through times like this. When the lockdown happened, I was quite near the end of my marathon training programme, so I tried to follow that through to marathon day. That’s been a good initial time filler, kept a routine and I feel like I have a positive vibe for the day after getting my run in.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh calling it my worst performance, but I definitely learnt the most from the London marathon in 2019. I got those three dreaded letters, DNF, against my name which no one ever wants to see. There were quite dramatic circumstances which led to that happening. The first 26 miles seemed to be going well and looking at my average pace I should have finished in 2 hours 52 -53 minutes. I would have been really pleased with that as my first marathon. Unfortunately, at Buckingham Palace with 500m to go I suffered a cardiac arrest. I’d love to give a detailed re-telling of what happened, but I have no memory of the race or the incident at all. Sometimes things like that force you to take a step back and think what on earth might have caused it and to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The initial tests showed that I had a very low red blood count. Red blood cells are used to transport oxygen around the body so if they aren’t there your tissues can’t get the oxygen they need and so you shut down bit by bit. That explains why my short-term memory went first but eventually my heart didn’t have the oxygen it needed. It sort of explains why it happened at the end too – I probably had some adrenaline from the big crowds at the finish but that didn’t help my heart! I had tried to include iron-rich foods in my diet prior to running in 2019 some people seem to need more. I had severe iron deficiency which was the main cause. I was also severely dehydrated, had taken some ibuprofen in the build-up to treat an injury. So, in the end it was a cocktail of factors. Now I take iron supplements and I am much more focused on hydration in races. The whole thing highlighted the importance of having a strong support network and having people around you. After something like that it is really tough to deal with. Every text from friends and family really helped. Similarly, people from Edinburgh AC really helped too – they understood how important running was and were really supportive trying to build back up again. I’d like to say thanks to everyone at Edinburgh AC.

I recently ran a virtual marathon on London Marathon day but in Edinburgh. Training had gone really well, and I was really looking forward to the marathon but then coronavirus happened. I kept deliberating about running a marathon but in my head, I knew I was going to. I did the whole marathon around the Meadows in Edinburgh – it’s flat and also, we do a lot of training there, so I’d got over my marathon hump there after 2019. It’s also very close to my flat so I could start the marathon early and I could social distance. Being a loop I could set down bottles of water at fixed points to ensure no hydration issues and if I needed to I could bail at any time. I ran 2.48.41 – a big PB and a big chunk better than the marathon I was going to run last year. Weirdly I enjoyed it – I’d been looking forward to it most of the weekend and there were distractions during the laps – water stops, gels, other runners. I gave them nicknames in my head to keep my brain occupied! It’s never going to appear on a race website but it’s definitely a PB in my head and one I’m very proud of. It was a good way to come to the end my marathon experience from the year before.

I’m enjoying a bit of time out after my marathon. I do have entries to London and New York at the end of the year. In an ideal world London would be my main target with New York as more of a fun run. It’s hard to know if they are going to happen – it’s hard to see two huge marathons going ahead by then. If not, then a smaller Scottish marathon could be on the cards. I really enjoy marathon training and building a program around it.

I couldn’t do without an old ipod nano that clips onto my shorts. On long runs I like to switch off so don’t want to take my phone, but I do like a bit of background music.

One of favourite running songs is, perhaps surprisingly, Ellie Goulding ‘Love me like you do. That was the title soundtrack from one of the 50 Shades of Grey films. It was stuck in my head during a half marathon (the Barry Buddon half in 2015). I’d had a very disappointed performance just before that at the Edinburgh half in May – it just didn’t go well. So on the morning of the Barry Buddon half I’d heard Ellie Goulding and the race went well – one of those music memory things.

I don’t have a special diet. I drink the odd protein shake after a hard workout if I don’t fancy food just after a session. I like to cook so everything I eat is homemade and I don’t eat ready meals. Nothing too exciting – just trying to eat fruit and vegetables and the odd bit of meat. I take iron tablets as mentioned earlier.

I don’t have a philosophy as such. I had a little mantra during my last training block which was ‘let’s make a highlight’. After London in 2019 I have kept a little note on my phone of each day’s highlight. I’m quite into my fitness so a lot of days my run or training is my highlight. It really helps when I don’t quite feel like it. It’s been a good way of eking a little bit more out of myself and pushing that bit more. Those little improvements add up over 16 weeks.

I am passionate about football. I’m a fan of Aberdeen football club. I’ve got a season ticket along with my three brothers and my nephew. I’m not only missing watching football but also the build-up and banter before the matches. Saturday afternoons aren’t quite as fun.

You can find Pete on Strava (Pete Simpson), Instagram (petesimpson4) and Twitter (sweet_pete4)!

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