Steve Way will start the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships with the second-fastest 100k PR in the field. In the following interview, Steve talks about his previous running experience, his approach to racing in a competitive field this weekend, and his history as an overweight smoker prior to taking up running seven years ago.
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Steve Way Pre-2014 IAU 100k World Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Steve Way in Qatar before the 2014 IAU 100k World Championships. How are you, Steve?
Steve Way: Very good. Very good, yeah. Traveled in yesterday, so I’m just getting used to the sights and sounds of Doha. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
iRunFar: Have you ever competed in a world championship before?
Way: I guess you can’t call the 50k a ‘world championship’…
iRunFar: It’s a world trophy.
Way: Because it’s a world trophy finals. I guess, no. In 2012, I did the world 50k. National championships, yes, but world championships, no. Exciting times.
iRunFar: Big step up?
Way: Yes, definitely.
iRunFar: Even in the competitiveness, the 100k is generally much more competitive.
Way: Yes, it’s something I’m really, really pleased to see is just how big and how deep the field is because, you know, you don’t want to come to a 100k and for it to be a joke, and it most definitely isn’t here. What do we have—130 competitors now from 39 countries and quite a few under 6:30 and quite a lot under seven hours?
iRunFar: And then some people who have never run 100k but have sub-2:15 marathon PRs.
Way: Yes, there’s some serious talent which is quite exciting because the 100k—I’ve only done two 100k’s up until now.
iRunFar: You ran by yourself, didn’t you?
Way: Yes, in both of them. So, I haven’t actually raced 100k yet; I’ve only time trialed them. So this is exciting times.
iRunFar: It’s very different because, as people have been talking about, the course is very tight, and it’s really warm and humid. You can’t go for time here. It’s not a personal-best course.
Way: No. When the selection came out on the British Athletics website, there was a “Steve Way leading the way for the male team will be going for the world record.” I was like, “Yeah, if you want to, you can. Have you seen where we’re going?” No, I’ve got no aspirations of PB-ing here at all. That’s just not even on the radar. It’s all about the racing which is exciting because with my marathon running as well, I don’t get—apart from the Commonwealth Games where I was able to race for position there at times, almost all the marathons I do are time trials as well, just me against the clock.
iRunFar: There are so many people.
Way: Exactly. At the London Marathon, I can’t hope to be vying for position, so I’m just working for a time. A large majority of my timed races are time trials, so to have one that’s not and is a proper race is really good.
iRunFar: You’ve got to have one of the fastest personal bests in the field for 100k if not the fastest?
Way: Second against the Russian, the young Russian [Vasily Larkin], who is a bit of a mystery. He did his 6:18 in 2013, I think it was. He subsequently got 11th place at Comrades. That’s pretty much all we know about him. I think he’s only about half my age. Yeah, apart from that, I think I’ve got the second fastest PB which was at the U.K. championships.
iRunFar: That’s got to be a nice confidence boost, but then it’s all about racing here. How do you temper—in the past you had these time-trial races—how do you switch that mindset to be like, I don’t need to run from the front?
Way: For me, it’s going to be a combination of two things, I think. One, even though I’m not time trialing, I know that to a certain degree the best way for me to get to the end the quickest is to run a sensible race on my own. So there’s no point… I’m racing, but there’s no point in me going off in a sub-six-minute mile.
iRunFar: Somebody is going to.
Way: Someone will possibly, yeah. I know that’s not the way to get a good finish time out of me. It’s going to be not worry about the clock, but I’m going to sort of have to weigh up what’s going on around me combined with my effort levels. I’m going to need to be, especially in these conditions, all about effort levels rather than time. I’ve got to try to weigh up whether I think I’m in the right effort-level zone and where that puts me in the field and is there a sensible sort of group that I should be running with?
iRunFar: It’s not a tactical race like the 800 meters or something. If you run the fastest time you can, you’re going to put yourself in the best position. Except right now, it’s kind of windy; so do you run five seconds per mile faster to stay in a group?
Way: What we’re feeling at the moment would definitely influence my decision about whether I’m running to my own effort levels on my own or whether I’m running in a group. This would be, I think, seriously sensible to do some group running.
iRunFar: Last night, it was dead calm.
Way: Yes, as you very kindly pointed out, it was actually worse running at sort of midnight than it does especially at the moment with the sun nearly set. Could we get everybody out there right now?
iRunFar: Chop, chop!
Way: 130 people—come on, let’s get it on now and see what happens.
iRunFar: You might be getting sick of this, but you were…
Way: You don’t even have to ask the question. I know where that’s going. I used to be fat!
iRunFar: And smoking.
Way: And smoking. As you’ve implied, it’s a common question, but it’s something that’s made me quite well known back home in England. I have this back story. Seven years ago, at 33 years old, I was about…
iRunFar: No stones. Kilos work.
Way: Well… to put it into proportion, right now I’m 10.5 stone, and I was almost 17 stone. So it was probably another 50% of my body weight at the moment. I don’t know what it is in kilograms. Yeah, I led a sedentary lifestyle with no real exercise up until the age of 33. I’m now 40, seven years later.
iRunFar: Why? What changed your life?
Way: Oddly enough, even though I was getting disappointed with the weight, it was the smoking actually. I’d gotten away with being quite a heavy smoker all my life and not really seeing the health effects of it. It wasn’t until my early thirties that I started to really see the impact of the smoking which was like waking up in the middle of the night coughing, not being able to sleep properly, and really starting to realize that obviously I was screwing up my lungs. I needed something that I could focus my attention on to take away from the smoking. The thing with running was it killed two birds with one stone. Obviously as everyone knows, it’s a great calorie burner. It would occupy my time while I was thinking about not smoking. It did the double whammy of getting me fit as well. It just turned from, initially, just a form of exercise to it’s now my life.
iRunFar: When did you start thinking about competing?
Way: I set myself a target. In September of 2007, I decided to start running and training sensibly and targeted the 2008 London Marathon which was just over six months away. Sort of as I progressed towards that, I realized I was going to exceed all my expectations on that front. Probably the first time I got a real buzz from a race that sort of made me think, Hey man, this is sort of turning into a competitive sport rather than just sort of a means to an end, was one of the build-up races to the full marathon. It was a half marathon I did and I think I had my target of 80 minutes and I did 72 minutes. Out of a field of—it was a big city, the Bath Half Marathon in the U.K., which is a big city marathon—it had maybe 12,000 people and I came in 30th or something. Oh, my goodness me.
iRunFar: How many months of running was this?
Way: That was probably about five months.
iRunFar: So five months after being well overweight and a smoker, you run a 72-minute half?
iRunFar: Okay. So there may be some kind of an innate talent you uncovered.
Way: Definitely. Underneath the fat suit there was an endurance runner desperate to get out or something. Yeah, then I went onto do the full marathon in 2:35 which wasn’t in my maximum effort levels that day because I was sort of going into the unknown having originally set myself a target of sub-three hours. I was really scared to go for something like 2:35. So I probably had something more like a 2:30 in me that day because looking back into my heart-rate stats, now I know what I’m capable of in terms of effort levels in a marathon. I think I was enjoying myself too much that day, and I probably had a bit more in me. Then it’s just been… from there I joined the local club in the U.K., and it’s just sort of taken over from there. I had this sort of… it’s interesting because after some initial gains in the first couple years where I progressed to sub-2:20 just with 2:19 marathons, I then sort of stuck for about three years. I kept doing 2:19 marathons and couldn’t progress any further. I thought I might have reached my potential there. Then 2014 has been a real breakthrough year where I’ve just suddenly gone from 2:19 to 2:16 and then 2:15.
iRunFar: Was your 2:15 when you were already a Masters runner?
Way: My 2:15 was my first marathon as a Master which was two weeks after my birthday and was the British Masters record.
iRunFar: I was going to say, that’s quite an impressive Masters time.
Way: Which had lasted since 1979 by quite a famous runner in the U.K. who makes running gear called Ron Hill. It was Ron’s record from 1979 which was 2:15:40, and I did 2:15:16. If you’re going to break that record two weeks after your 40th birthday at probably the biggest event you’re probably ever going to be in in your life, the Commonwealth Games which is pretty big for us in the U.K., that was the place to do it.
iRunFar: I assume your training since then has gone well?
Way: It has although I then perhaps not that sensibly went straight out of the Commonwealth Games to tackle Jonas Buud in Sweden in UltraVasan 90k; whereas I probably should have been chilling and having a bit of down time because I’d had quite a big year up until then with London Marathon, U.K. 100k champs, and the Commonwealths. I’d already agreed to do UltraVasan before I got selected for the Commonwealths, and I really wanted to do the race. I sort of held onto my fitness as long as I could and did that. Jonas very confidently beat me by a significant margin, so he was most definitely the better man on the day. I then had a couple of weeks off which was necessary before I got back in my training for this. I have to admit, the training has been a lot harder. I think my body is telling me that 2014 has been significant. Whereas all my other training build-ups have gone absolutely perfect, this one has had a few bumps in the road, as it were. I’ve gotten myself here, and I’m in good-enough shape that I’m certainly looking forward to the race. I’m not quite where I want to be.
iRunFar: You’ve conservatively set some race targets for yourself in the past. What’s your target on Friday night?
Way: Well, before I saw the entry list and the iRunFar review, my target was to win. Subsequently, I’ve thought actually it would be still pretty significant just to podium based on that start list. To podium would be fantastic, I think. Looking at the quality of the field, you can’t be disrespectful to who’s there. So, obviously there’s the team event as well. We’ve only got four guys on the G.B. team, but we’ve got some strong runners there. We’ve got, significantly, one of my teammates, Paul Martelletti. He’s only got a 100k PB of 6:55, but he specifically ran that to qualify to make sure he got under the time. He’s never actually raced 100k. He’s a very similar runner as me. He’s got roughly the same marathon PB as me. I’ve got high hopes that he’s of significant high caliber that he’s going to make a real difference in the team event for us. Even though we’ve only got four, there’s three to score. The other guys, Craig [Holgate] and Paul [Giblin], are in good shape as well.
iRunFar: It’s small but…
Way: Small but, yeah, in the review we weren’t really sort of considered for the teams, but hopefully we might be able to surprise a few people on the team side of things.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you and your team out there.
Way: Thank you. Excellent. Cheers, mate.