Interview: Team England marathon runner Steve Way

Sports Mole talks to Team England marathon runner Steve Way about his remarkable journey to the Commonwealth Games and his hopes for Glasgow and beyond.
WARNING! This article contains strong language and/or content that some readers may prefer to avoid.

With thousands of athletes from 71 nations taking part in 261 events in 17 sports, the 2014 Commonwealth Games will provide as diverse a mixture of people as you could hope to see.

Perhaps none are as unlikely a competitor as Team England's Steve Way, however. Formerly a 16.5 stone smoker with a self-confessed unhealthy lifestyle, Way turned to running to lose weight.

Seven years later, at the grand old age of 40, he now finds himself in the squad for the Commonwealths as a marathon runner following a surprise showing in the 2014 London Marathon.

He finished 15th overall in London and was the third Brit home behind only Mo Farah and Chris Thompson despite beginning the race in the group behind those considered the elite runners.

He spoke to Sports Mole about his journey so far and what hopes he has for the Glasgow Games and beyond.

Team England marathon runner Steve Way© Getty Images

We're less than a week away from the start of the Games now. Are you fit and healthy for them?

"Yes, thankfully at the moment. It's part of the importance as a marathon runner – if you can get to the start line without injuries along the way then half the battle is won. So yeah, I'm feeling pretty good at the moment."

When you set out just to lose weight seven years ago, did you have any idea that things would go this far?

"No, I don't think the most optimistic of people would have thought 'I'll just have a pop at the Commonwealth Games'. I did have an inkling that I had some underlying running talent, but nothing to the significance of what has actually happened over the last seven years.

"I had previously, as an unfit person, overweight, smoker, actually entered the odd local race without any training and managed to get round half-marathons without having to stop or walk, so there was an inkling that I had some talent, but nothing to compare to what I've actually ended up with."

Having taken running up at a fairly late stage, your progress has all happened relatively quickly. Do you still view it as a hobby or do you consider yourself a serious athlete now?

"Up until this year, definitely still a hobby. It turned very quickly away from being a form of exercise to get healthy and lose weight to a competitive sport. Within six months of starting this journey I'd almost forgotten why I started running – to lose weight and give up smoking – and it turned into more of a competitive hobby.

"It's a bit life-consuming as hobbies go, but it is still a hobby. But then this year with the events at the London Marathon and then the national 100km championships just after that, it has perhaps upgraded a little bit more. But it still doesn't pay the bills!"

A multi-sport event like the Commonwealth Games will be a completely new experience for you. Is it one that you are excited by or is it a daunting prospect?

"My time in London gave me the opportunity to either go to the Commonwealths or the European Championships for the marathon cup, and it was a no-brainer in terms of a multi-sport event like the Commonwealth Games. I mean, it is the Olympics basically.

"The whole prospect of being in that kind of environment with professional athletes, superstars across all sports is just awesome. The thing with starting this very old is that I'm not a 20-year-old that hasn't been around a bit and is going to be scared shitless. Even though I'm very much a novice in terms of going to the Commonwealth Games, I think I'm old enough and ugly enough to enjoy it rather than be too scared to enjoy it.

"That part of it, the whole embracing the Games thing, I'm just super excited about. The race itself probably will be one of the most important races of my life, so I can't help but get a little bit nervous on that front, but the rest of it and the environment I will love."

It's safe to say that you shocked a lot of people with your performance in the London Marathon. As something of a surprise inclusion in the Commonwealths squad, what is your target for the Games?

"It's difficult to actually set myself any real goals at the moment because the start list isn't available yet. It would be nice to know first of all how many people are going to be in the race and also, in terms of PBs, where I'm officially ranked on the start line. Obviously there will be a number of athletes on the start line that have ridiculously faster PBs than me and, assuming they have a good day, then if I was to try and race them directly on the roads then it would be suicidal for me and I'd be ruining any chance I had of a good race.

"I already know a number of the home countries' guys that are running that are similar or a little bit faster than myself, and those are the guys that I'm going to be racing against basically and trying to hold my own. If I can produce a PB performance, maybe not a PB time because it obviously depends on the course and conditions, but I think I'm fit enough to perform at least as well as I did in London, relatively speaking in the race. So, I'll be looking to those people that are ranked above me in the start list to see if I can punch above my weight a bit.

"If I can keep a steady head on and put some risk in when required then I can really see if I can jump up the original rankings. A dream for me would be a top-10 finish maybe, but I'm not sure how realistic that is until I see the start list. I've got to be reasonably realistic but I'm certainly fit and healthy and I think I'm in at least as good shape as I was for London. I've put myself in the running for a good run."

So, if a top-10 finish is the dream, what is your minimum goal?

"I think the minimum goal would be not position-wise, it will be knowing that I've given my all. Because we don't know the course positions, I want to give at least the same performance I did in London, so that 2:16 – whatever that is worth on the Glasgow course on that day.

"I'll be very disappointed if I'm not giving at least that kind of a performance on the day because I really feel that my fitness levels and my training have gone well enough, but I won't do myself justice unless I perform just as well as I did in London."

How about the future? You're 40 now, but is the Olympics in 2016 a target for you?

"Never say never, but I have to find another four minutes over the marathon, which I don't think even the most optimistic of people would suggest is likely to happen. But if you asked me whether I was going to find three minutes this year on my previous PB then I probably would have said no chance. Realistically, probably not, but that's not to say I'm not going to train my arse off to give it a go.

"I have aspirations in the world of ultra-running as well, which I have potential to be competitive on a world level at rather than my marathon running which, a 2:16 marathon in the general scheme of things isn't going to scare too many people. My ultra-running, when you start moving up towards a 100km distance, that sort of area I think I've got some real potential there.

"And it's not impacted as much be crossing the 40 barrier as well. I want to do the Comrades South Africa ultra next year, which is pretty much known as the biggest world road ultra-race and has some really high quality ultra-runners. Being competitive in an event like that is one of my key goals for next year."

So the focus for you is very much on going up the distances, rather than following in the footsteps of Mo Farah, for example, who is competing in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games?

"Well, going up the distances is part of the reason why I've had this breakthrough in the marathon because it appears that training for ultras actually gave my body the necessary stimulus and kick-start to give me those few extra minutes over the marathon. So it turned out that in order for me to run a good marathon I actually had to do 50-mile training runs, which was a bit of a surprise to me.

"I think my ultra-races can work quite nicely over my marathon running, so if I combine the two then I'm hoping that a bit more ultra-training and ultra-racing might do my marathon a world of good. I want the best of both worlds really, I'll have a pop at both I think."

How does the game plan differ from a longer race like 100km to an event like the marathon?

"If you get your pace wrong at the start of a 100km then the consequences will be even more significant than in a marathon. I normally have a very good judgement of my current fitness and my current pace, and that goes for the marathon and 100km. I'm reasonably confident that there is always a limit either side of where you think you are with your marathon pace or your 100km pace, and that's where you introduce a slight element of risk.

"But I think even when I do that and I'm going a bit faster than my current fitness would allow, I still keep it within the boundaries that mean that I'm not going to be blowing up over marathon distances or 100km – he says this confidently now! I think that just comes from knowing your body, knowing your effort levels and through experience which, even though I started late, I have now got seven years experience of this."

The 2014 Commonwealth Games get underway in Glasgow on July 23, and you can follow coverage of them with Sports Mole.

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