For those that don't know Ken, it is necessary to include a brief introduction to this interview. He probably wouldn't appreciate an overboard intro, however he most certainly deserves one. I contacted him recently as I was personally fascinated to gain more of an insight in to his running background, experiences, treasured running moments, training and plans for the future. With the Grand Slam on the horizon for over a dozen runners in 2013, this will provide some food for thought. Most importantly however, it shows us all that age doesn't have to be a barrier to successful ultrarunning let alone running in general.
Ken is one of 5 runners who are looking to complete the Centurion Grand Slam in 2012. That is the 5 runners still in the running to complete all 4 of our 100 mile events within the same calendar year. In fact Ken's finish at the Winter 100 this coming November will leave him as the only person to have completed all 5 of our 100s to date.
Ken at the SDW100 Finish 2012. A new PB and an incredulous organiser.
I often say it in race previews and he would perhaps not thank me for it, but the most remarkable thing about Ken is the level at which he is running given his age. His finishes at our races include 3 top 10's in 4 attempts, all 5 at least 80 minutes under the 24hr mark. His times are below.
NDW100 2011: 22:31. 5th Place
TP100 2012: 20:33. 18th Place
SDW100 2012: 20:32. 9th Place
NDW100 2012: 22:39. 10th Place
At the moment he heads the Grand Slam standings by over 8 hrs going in to the final 100.
He competes over the complete range of distances, from 10km to 150 miles - and his results remain consistent irrespective of how far he is running, or what terrain he covers.
Truly, I believe Ken is one of the most inspirational runners on the UK circuit and at 62, is undoubtedly competing at a level nothing less than world class.
The few questions I asked him and his answers are scripted below.
- What age did you start running?
I started participating in walking challenge events in the Mid 1960's organised in the first instance by the YHA groups. Then, after having a time out in the 1970's and returning in the 1980's, by which time the LDWA had taken over as the principal supplier of challenge events, I gradually progressed to running them. In those days the standard minimum length was 30 miles so they were mostly all ultras as we now define them. In fact my first event, the Ridgeway Marathon was 40 miles.
- When did you run your first ultra and what event was it?
My first event was the Ridgeway in 1966 (not completed) and my first finish was also the Ridgeway in 1967. They were both walked in leather walking boots. By the 1980's I was experimenting in lightweight sports boots, finally making the transition to trainers, but I have no record of when. The first event I completed that was unambiguously a race may have been the South Downs Way Race in 1994. (Nominally 80 miles)
- How many 100 milers have you completed to date?
I've completed 15 in the UK, 2 in Europe, 11 in the USA. Add to that one 150 mile in the USA. Then, if you count 24 hr races, 7 on 400M track, one on 1KM circuit in a public park, and one on a quarter marathon circuit on farm tracks. That makes 38 in which 100 miles or more have been completed.
- What has been your proudest running achievement?
Its really difficult to say but getting the award for being the first family (Father & Son) on the Javelina Jundred was important to me, although most people would be dismissal of it as an achievement in conventional athletic terms, it being considered one of the easiest 100 mile races in the USA, notwithstanding the warmth of the Arizona desert. But such a moment is precious because it is unlikely to be repeated, and actually is not as easy as people imagine.
I'm also pleased with the time I ran a shade under 144 miles on the track at Tooting Bec, with a near constant 6 mph. Also, I suppose, running a sub 24 hour on the WSER.
I'm proud to have been selected to represent England, but didn't deliver on the day, so I don't talk too much about it.
- Which is your favourite race (100 miler but also shorter distance)?
I haven't run the same 100 mile race twice, unless you count the Centurion NDW Race, and even there it was only the first half that was the same. So I don't have a favourite, but every single one has left me with some very special memories..
Of shorter distances I like the Ridgeway because I suppose it was the first event that I did, and I've now walked or run 24 of them, and I find the pacing very easy, because I know where the hills are, and I don't have to navigate.
I also liked the no longer existent YHA Peak Marathon starting at Crowden In Longdendale, and finishing at Ilam Hall.
- Of the 3 events, the Thames Path, South Downs Way and North Downs Way, which have you found the most difficult?
I suppose the NDW race in its re-creation as a linear race.
- Which one section of all of those races have you found the most difficult?
The section on the NDW race from Detling to Hollingbourne I found very tough both physically and mentally. Although it got easier from Hollingbourne I never really recovered and other runners were overtaking me.
In a different sort of way I found the section up to Abingdon on the Thames race to be wearying with lots of gates that were fiddly to undo in the night with hands getting numb. I can't exactly say it was difficult, so much as I was getting low.
- In terms of fueling strategy (nutrition/ hydration) when it comes to the 100 mile distance what do you use/ rely on to get you through?
Ideally I would eat real food wherever possible with gels as a back up. When its warm it can be extremely difficult to swallow dry food, so anything like rice pudding that can slide down the throat easily is good.
As regards gels I find the SiS gels the most palatable but heavier than GU etc to carry around.
- When you are training for a 100 mile event what is the greatest weekly mileage you reach?
I probably run about 50-60 miles a week average, but the amount will depend on what racing I am doing, more than what I am training for. I did step it up to about 70-80 before the Cumbria Commonwealth championships, and in retrospect was probably a mistake and I didn't perform as well as I hoped.
- Do you do much shorter racing and do you find that it acts as speedwork/ a help towards running 100s?
My instinct is that speedwork must help with running a hundred, but it is only an instinct, and I don't claim to know more than anyone else. I run in quite a mixture of different lengths. The races or organised challenges that I have run so far this year (as of 15th October) are as follows:
100 x 4
50 x 2
40 x 3
30 x 2
26.2 x 10
25 x 1
20 x 1
18.67 x 1
15 x 1
13.1 x 3
10 x 1
7.5 x 1
6.21 x 2
It has been proposed that those who specialise in ultra running let their speed drop, and that the best ultra runners are not ultra runners. However, the argument is sustained by study of track times, and it is possible that it overlooks a shift in talent from track to trail. I keep an open mind.
- What's the hardest part about racing 4 x 100s (or more) in one year?
If the races are evenly spaced out, and the runner remains free from injury, I can't see that it's any harder than running them individually.
- What goals do you have for the future/ Is there a race out there you've always wanted to run but never had the chance to?
I'd really like to complete 100 x 100M but I'm not likely to live or remain fit long enough. I would also like to compete in more overseas races, but I don't feel the need to compete in a specific race simply because it is famous.
There are some interesting races that are practically difficult for me to compete because of logistical difficulties in making travel plans, but I'm inclined to focus on ones that I can easily compete. Moreover, it seems likely that a lot more races will be created in the near future both at home and overseas.
- In your opinion how much does age count for in ultra running and particularly 100 mile running?
I have it on good authority that as runners age they have less burst, become more aware of their hearts being stressed, and tend to adopt a less heroic approach to climbing hills. This may mean that they find it easier to pace themselves and are less likely to be suddenly overcome with exhaustion in the later stages of the race. At some point the advantages of age must be outweighed by the disadvantages though defining that point may not be easy. At one time the greatest 100 mile talent appeared to be in the 30-40 age group, and more recently that appears to have shifted to the 25-30 age group.
I think what is really important is to see people of all ages competing, and that age does not become a barrier that exists only in a persons mind.
Also, I personally don't think its necessary for older runners to have special concessions in terms of pacing. That appears to me to presuppose that a person in the defined age group isn't going to achieve a podium finish and which I regard as negative.
Our thanks to Ken for taking the time out to be interviewed.