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Meet The Fastest 50-Year-Old in Scotland

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

There are (probably) more than two million over-50-year-olds living in Scotland today. Andy White’s (definitely) the fastest.

I’ve known Andy since I started running races aged 40. For a few years, we were always there or thereabouts, duking it out on the mud-contoured hillsides of Gourock, Falkirk and Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.

But I got injured and stuck to marathons, while Andy kicked on, and then some.

Excel Spreadsheets

I still keep an eye on things now from the comfort of my Lenovo laptop, indulging in the pastime well-known to running obsessives who don’t race often, the old soft-shoe download-Excel-spreadsheet-and-look-at-how-your-old-sparring-partners-got-on shuffle.

So a few Sundays ago I ignored my computer’s urging not to download a shonky Excel file from an obscure athletics website, opened it and scanned the results. And there he was, Andrew White, Greenock Glenpark Harriers, V50, 11th in the Renfrewshire AAAs in a time of 26:55. Let me repeat that, 26:55 over 5M out and back along Gourock’s seafront with a wee undulation and no-doubt a bit of wind thrown in for good measure.

Andy White Fastest 50-Year-Old Scotland

5:21

That’s 5:21 pace. (I know this is fast because I once did the same race in 28:09, four years back, aged 42. And I was extremely out of puff afterwards). Wow, that’s a stand-out time for a 50-year-old.

Having taken up running later in life, I have this thing about age. My long-term goal is to go sub-2:40 in a marathon and I’m tantalisingly close, running 2:40:36 in Berlin as I neared my 45th birthday. Age shall not limit you is an oft-repeated mantra of mine and you only have to look at people like the wolf man of Harrisburg to see what can be achieved as the years tick by. But I’m 46 now, and if I’m to keep my dream alive, I need inspiration, tangible belief that anything is still possible (especially as my next road mara’ll be when I’m 47, at the earliest).

George’s Airport Chat

Stories of wolf men are all very well, but when it comes to running, I’ve always looked up to people I know, and drawn inspiration from their achievements. George Taylor ran Berlin in 2:36:32 aged 46, and I’ve had plenty of time sitting in airports over the last five years to pick his brain.

George and me at Berlin last year, probably the marathon I’ve most enjoyed as George and I spent the first 20 miles catching up, having missed each other at the airport this year.

So seeing Andy’s time made me want to know more. How does he run that fast? What training does he do? How did he make the jump from good club runner to brilliant amateur athlete a couple of years ago? And is 2019 the year Andy gets the pay off from an unflinching approach to marathons that has seen steady downward progress in his times so sub-2:40 is now well within his grasp?

What Can You Learn?

Well, whatever level you’re at, and whatever distance you run, Andy’s is an inspirational story from which we can all learn. Perhaps you’re trying to go sub-2:40 in a marathon. Or do you want to break 20 minutes for a 5k? Maybe you’ve turned 50 and are wondering if it’s all downhill on the running front from hereon in.

Whatever’s holding you back as a runner, this post’ll give you an insight into what it takes to succeed (run fast, run long, run hard in Andy’s case). So grab a coffee, sit down and soak up my interview with the fastest over 50-year-old in Scotland (and the seventh fastest in the UK).

Name

Andrew (Andy) White.

Age

50.

Club

Greenock Glenpark Harriers (GGH).

Andy and one of his Greenock Glenpark clubmates running cross-country.

PBs @ 5k, 10k, 10m, HM, Mara, best ultra placing?

5k – 16:29.
10k – 34:25.
10m – 58:38 (that’s a soft one – I’ve gone thru 10 miles in a half in 58:00…should take a good two minutes off that at Tom Scott in a few weeks).
HM – 75:53.
Mara – 2:41:48.
Ultras – not really cracked the ultras, but was 5th at Dunoon and 10th at Glen Ogle.

Job

Consultant software developer.

When you think of me, what comes to mind?

When I think of you, I think of marathons, especially London and Berlin, and also your superb performance at Glen Ogle in your first ultra!

When did you start running?

I probably started running about 15 years ago, initially just 4–5 miles at lunch a few times a week to get fit. I joined GGH in late 2011, again just to keep fit during the winter when I wasn’t playing golf. I started racing in 2012 and got hooked. My first marathon was in 2014.

Did you run/do athletics at school?

No. Cricket, basketball, football, but no athletics.

What motivates you as a runner?

I guess my main motivation is just trying to keep improving my PBs across all distances – that’s my primary aim at the start of each year. I also just enjoy running, and I like the analytical aspect of marathon training – planning what sessions to do, etc.

Take me through a typical week’s training

During the week, I usually try and run at lunch from work. Easy runs Monday/Wednesday/Friday, usually 8–9 miles at around 6:30–6:45 pace. Hard days on Tuesday/Thursday – I do a lot of tempo runs, and sometimes Fartlek-style runs (one minute on/one minute off), and sometimes more structured intervals, eg, 6x1k. I also sometimes add some strides to my easy runs.

Saturday is usually a race, or parkrun, or another session/tempo run, and Sunday is usually a long run with some of my club mates – I try to keep them at 18–20 miles all year round and build up to longer during a marathon block (my last three have been 23 miles).

I usually run around 70–80 miles/week, maybe a bit less away from marathon training.

Do you use physios/masseurs?

I’ve only ever seen a physio once, but I go for a sports massage quite regularly, especially during marathon training.

So, to the crux. I’m going to leave this question open, so you can ramble. I’ve been out of the scene really for the last couple of years but there were three years when we were running together in races. In my mind sometimes I’d beat you, sometimes you me. Haven’t checked Powerof10, I may be wrong. Anyway, we’re mates on Facebook, or I saw it somewhere, an interchange between you and a female mate. Now, it looked to me that a few years ago you were considering ditching running, but then something happened and you kicked on. You kicked on (on everything bar maras) to become a much better runner than me. Sub-35 10k, sub-17 5k, and you were most generous with your advice once or twice. Sadly injury, lack of application and a book meant I never acted on it on the shorter distances. Not yet anyway. So, my open question to you is what happened? How did you do it, and not only stay there, but if anything improve? And you’re four years older than me. What’s the secret?

It wasn’t that I was considering ditching running, but I concentrated on triathlon for a couple of years and was probably a better cyclist than runner. However, I found it hard to fit in training for swim, bike, and run, plus I wasn’t a very good swimmer.

I was concentrating on running during the winter anyway and one year felt I was running well, and felt cycling was impacting my running, so I gave up on cycling. I’ve made pretty steady progress, year on year, and I think the secret is just consistency and avoiding injury.

For years you had a mara time that wasn’t commensurate with your ability. Why was that?

A couple of reasons – one was that I think my long runs were too slow, and for a couple of years, things just went wrong (eg, getting stitches) when I was in good shape. One of the hard things about marathons is that you probably only get a couple of chances each year, whereas you can run 5/10ks every week.

And your mates, too (I always admired your camaraderie and excellent standard at Greenock; you seemed to run as a pack), they maybe didn’t perform to their ability when it came to marathons until a couple of years back? Do you think this had a part to play in your under-performance? (When I say under-performance you know what I mean. Many people would die for your pre-2:41 times, but not you.)

Yes, probably – it varies, but I think it might have been treating the long runs on a Sunday as a social run and not pushing the pace. Paul Monaghan [V45, GGH runner] has run 2:39, and he and I now usually try and pick the pace up on our long runs.

Name your top-three lifetime running performances. The things you’re most proud of. Why?

  1. My 2:41 at Manchester last year, because it was such a well-executed race – very even splits and a strong finish, which was a first for me in a marathon.
  2. My recent 26:55 at the Renfrewshire Road Race, because I beat quite a few guys who had been beating me recently, and finished not just 1st v50, but also ahead of all the V40s.
  3. Running for Scotland at the British & Irish Masters cross-country (XC) in Swansea, because I’d narrowly missed out a few times and it was great to finally pull on that Scotland vest!
andrew white greenock glenpark

Andy representing his country.

What made you start running?

To keep fit.

You’re 50? Are you the top V50 in Scotland? I see you’re 17th for your age group in the UK. Is that a motivator for you?

Yes, I think I’ll actually be in the top 10 in the UK once they update the rankings following my time in the five-miler [Andy is now 7th in the UK].

I am the highest ranked in Scotland at the moment, but I’ve not won any national titles yet, so that is one ambition – unfortunately I’ll miss the Scottish marathon and half-marathon champs this year, as they conflict with my two target races: the London and Berlin marathons.

Those 6:15 13-mile runs you do along the front in Greenock/Gourock, what’s that all about?

I’m a big fan of long tempo runs, especially for the marathon: 13–18 miles at marathon pace. I also tend to avoid hills (probably the one thing my training lacks) – hence, lots of runs along the front of Greenock/Gourock, where it’s flat.

You do a lot of fast running in your training. Again, why?

You’ve got to run fast in training to run fast in races!

How do you not get injured?!?!

Just lucky, I guess?

Do you do weights? Strength and conditioning?

Not anymore, but I used to do a lot of weights before I started running, so maybe that has given me a strong foundation.

Do you have any pre-race superstitions?

No.

What’s your favourite distance and why?

That’s a tough one – I love the challenge of the marathon, but also like blasting out a fast 5k or parkrun.  Maybe the half marathon as it’s a great test of both speed and endurance.

Do you prefer training alone or with people? Do you listen to podcasts/music? If so, what?

I mostly train alone, although that’s due to circumstances, rather than preference. I do like training in a group when I can. I don’t listen to music when I run.

Nutrition. How seriously do you take this and what do you eat?

I try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, but I’m not obsessive about it.

What’s next?

Balloch to Clydebank half marathon, 50k in Perth, Tom Scott, then London!

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in a race?

Being overtaken in our club 10k by the club champion, wondering how he was behind me after being so far ahead after 5k – it turned out he had popped into the local cinema to use their toilet, and still won the race!

Favourite running book?

Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger and Douglas.

Favourite running quote?

It’s at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys.

Emil Zatopek

What are your running aims for the year?

PBs across all distances 5k to marathon. Sub-2:40 marathon, sub-75 half, sub-34 10k.

You’re on your first champs start in London this year? Looking forward to it?

Yes, I previously ran on the GFA start and found it a bit chaotic, and I decided I wouldn’t go back until I could get on the champs start!

What do you think it’ll feel like when you break 2:40 for the first time this year?

Very satisfying!

Do you have any tips for great runners who have decided marathoning just isn’t for them?

You’ve got to embrace the challenge, not dread it.

Have to say I am blown away by your marathon persistence. I know so many good runners whose shorter-distance times haven’t translated into the right marathon times and have given it up as a bad job. How come you kept going at it (and were rewarded with that jump to 2:41 last year)?

I never considered stopping! Just train harder each year, and the times keep coming down. Also, I always believed I had a good marathon performance in me.

Name the three most important things to take your marathon time down from 2:50 to 2:40. What’s made the difference for you?

  • Running the long runs with a bit of purpose – sections of marathon pace (MP) near the end of a long run, eg, last week I ran 23 miles, with miles 15–20 at MP.
  • Getting faster across all distances, so MP feels easier.
  • Full distance or even over-distance runs, so you’re comfortable running 26.2.

What is something you believe that others think is a bit weird?

Maybe not weird, but a lot of runners like to make their easy runs really easy, but I like to run them as fast as I can as long as I’m not impacting my hard days, and not turning them into tempo runs.

What percentage of your running do you do on- and off-road?

Pretty much all on-road, apart from XC races.

How do you run five miles at 5:21 pace along a seafront, probably in the wind, with those nippy little hills, aged 50?

Got to be honest, I even surprised myself that day! I knew I was in good shape as I’d done a 4-mile tempo run during the week at 5:34/mile, and on the Saturday [the day before the race] I ran a pretty comfortable 16:55 parkrun. I didn’t look at my watch until 7k during the race – just ran hard, got in a good group and stayed there!

What will your two key training runs pre-London and what shape will they take?

Not sure about key sessions, but I’m going to run the 50k at Perth in late March, which should be good training for London, and will gradually increase the distance and pace of my long runs. Also, I have a half marathon and a couple of 10-mile races in the buildup.

And is the strategy give London a bash, believe you can do it, but if you don’t, there’s always Berlin, around two minutes faster course at your speed (albeit the London crowd is worth two minutes so it kinda evens out).

That’s the idea…I’m pretty confident now for London, as long as conditions are decent – don’t want a heatwave, like last year! If I get 2:39 at London, I’ll try and go a bit faster at Berlin. If I miss out at London, then I’ll give it another go at Berlin.

At 50 (or 46 in my case) many competitive runners begin to think their best times are behind them? What do you say to them?

I PB’d at every distance, from 3k to marathon last year, and given my recent five-mile time, I’m hoping to do the same again this year. I realise that eventually age will catch up with me and I can’t keep getting faster, but I’ll keep trying!

Thanks, Andy, I’ve learnt loads from this interview. I’ll be rooting for you wholeheartedly in April and September as you take on London and Berlin, and feel certain you’ll meet your goal.

You can check out Andy’s Powerof10 here. You can follow Andy on Strava here.

And Finally…

Quick update on my running, this being my first post for the best part of 14 months. Last year was a washout due mainly to injury and writing a book. I did manage to come seventh in the Tweed Valley Ultra in November 2018 on a one-long-run-a-week-injury-curtailed block, and was getting back to some semblance of normal training for the first time in 12 months by the end of January this year. Unfortunately, I then broke my toe and tweaked a longstanding knee injury so schlepping 26.2 miles with 5,000 feet of ascent this Sunday is not the best idea. Albeit running on one of the world’s best MTB trails is going to be an absolute privilege and the weather’s set fair.

Aside from this Sunday (the Glentress Trail Marathon), I have two running goals for the year: the Cateran Trail Ultra in May and the Ochil Ultra in September. Both are around 50 miles. I am enjoying the challenge of ultra-running, and the predominantly off-road training is better suited to my body. I may return/dip in to racing and road-marathoning, but for the moment, I’m relishing doing something new.

If you’re interested in interviews I’ve done in the past with other west of Scotland runners, here are three I wrote earlier.

Persistence: Luke Traynor’s Year

The Del Young Files

The Bruce Carmichael Files

Until next time, Dave.

Last, if you want to find out more about running, rifle through my back catalogue at Running Begins at 40, my running blog. If you’re interested in self-improvement, personal finance, financial independence, or running (the foreword’s by London Marathon-winner Charlie Spedding), check out my bestselling (on both sides of the pond) new book.