On Your Marks: Top tips from London Marathon star James Westlake

I am hoping to complete the Run Gatwick Half Marathon within 2hrs 40mins.

Two Sundays back, local runner James Westlake completed the London Marathon in 2hrs 24mins 19 secs and finished 8th overall outside of the elite runners.
Just soak that in a for a second. James ran twice the distance I am hoping to do and in a faster time than I am expecting to do. As the half marathon nears (May 13, eek!), I thought what better person to get tips from than the Crawley Athletics Club member and Hassocks footballer.
What made you want to get into long distance running?
I was playing football for St Francis Rangers in the County League when I picked up a nasty injury to my knee. I had a couple of operations and was on the road to recovery when I decided I needed a goal to work towards. My Mum was running the London Marathon in 2012 so I made the decision to run as well and raise money for a charity.
How half marathon/marathons have you completed?
In total, I’ve run 9 marathons (Two Brighton Marathons and seven London Marathons). I’ve run five half marathons but there is certainly work to be done time wise across this distance.
Do you remember the first half marathon/marathon you completed? Where was it and what time did you do it in?
My first experience of marathon running was at the London Marathon in 2012. My Mum was also running and through her training it inspired me to give it a go. There was still a bit of time when I made the decision so I was able to get a charity place for the day. Much to my amazement, I ran 3 hours 14 minutes for my first ever marathon and the bug grew from there. I knew I could go quicker and I really wanted to go under 3 hours so it was onto the next one. 8 marathons later and I’m competing at the top end of the race.
When you are training for a race, what does a typical week's training look like?
Working with my coach, we normally set a plan for about 14-16 weeks out from the event, whether that be a half or full marathon. There are three parts to the plan, laying the foundations, peak mileage and then finally the taper (the best bit!!). I’m extremely fortunate to have a great coach and be part of a fantastic group of runners called the AB Training Group. Being part of a group really helps with the training, pushing your limits and working together to always improve.
A normal week would look like this: Monday - Steady run; Tuesday - Session with AB Training Group; Wednesday - Recovery run; Thursday - Session; Friday - Rest day and sports massage; Saturday - Parkrun or session; Sunday - Long run
Taking a rest day and having a massage is vitally important and is something that shouldn’t be disregarded. I’m fortunate to have Boniface Sports Massage looking after me having a massage on a weekly basis and this helps massively with recovery!!
And how important is it to watch what you eat when training for a long distance race?
This area, whether training for a half or full marathon, can be over complicated at times. At first, I was always watching what I was eating and telling myself I couldn’t eat certain foods. Of course, it isn’t a great idea to be going out on the beers or to be having take aways every other night but I certainly believe that it’s important not to over complicate things. You are training a lot, your body is using energy, you need to replace those calories in order to recover and be able to run again. Be sensible but at the same time, don’t over complicate things. Nutrition is important but keep it simple and stick to what you know and like.
What one bit of advice would you give someone like me who is looking to complete their first half marathon?
Get to know your body and try to understand it what it can and can’t cope with training wise. Routine, discipline and consistency are all so important when training for any distance. Get yourself into a routine that works for you around your work and social life. Be disciplined and stick to what you know but be clever if you are struggling with an injury, cross train (swim or cycle) and take the pressure away off your body. Consistent training is going to improve the body and prepare it for what is ahead on the day.
What is your motivation to keep doing these long distance races?
I’m naturally a competitive person. Whether it be in training or racing, I always want to win or improve my personal best. I also enjoy that feeling when you cross that finish line, all that training and the sacrifices that are made to achieve that goal all just builds into one moment.
What is your ultimate ambition in relation to long distance running?
I would love the opportunity to represent my country. What ever distance that maybe, 10k, half marathon or the full marathon, that would be the ultimate goal and a dream come true!!

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James Westlake during the marathon. Picture by PW Sporting Photography

James Westlake during the marathon. Picture by PW Sporting Photography