Today’s post is about the power of persistence and how nice guys can and do achieve great things.
But first, answer this question for me. Have you ever seen a top racehorse in full flight?
They eat the ground.
Anyone who’s seen Luke Traynor in action will appreciate the similarities.
I first met Luke around five years ago.
Even then he was the club star. But he was also coming back from a long-term injury and you could see the pain etched on his face when he talked about it.
That didn’t stop him taking an active role in the club we’re both members of, turning up rain, sun or shine to coach the junior athletes who, like my two sons now, idolised him.
Luke’s back in Glasgow now (sort of), after a few years on a sports scholarship at Tulsa in the US. Confident in his own abilities, barring injury, this year will see Luke breakthrough on the British and international athletics scene.
By the end of 2018 I predict Luke will have firmly bridged the gap between a good and great elite runner (widely recognised as going from 14 minutes to 13 minutes for a track 5k).
2018 will be Luke Traynor’s year.
He’s in the form of his life.
(Yes, that is Luke bossing a field full of world class Kenyans, including London Marathon 2017 winner Daniel Wanjiru, at a 15k race in Holland earlier this month).
Last year at my club’s annual Christmas Highland long run (eventful to say the least) I got the chance, over an hour or so running with him, to get to know Luke better.
So I settled for second best. I asked him if he wanted to do a q+a for the series of seven daily blogs I’m writing to explore some universal concepts through the medium of running (the first one was published on Boxing Day; this is the fifth.)
So here, in his first in-depth interview, Luke Traynor reveals what motivates an elite athlete, looks back on his running development, and forward to the year ahead. And gives a few tips we can all live our lives by, whatever field we choose to try and excel in.
But before I dive into the juicy bits, did you know that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was paid for by the Pope? And that it is absolutely unbelievable that one of the best athletes in Scotland has little funding and no sponsorship (imagine if he was a footballer).
If you’re a west of Scotland business looking to get in at the ground-level when a star’s just about to explode onto the international scene, just get in touch with Luke to enquire about sponsorship opportunities. His details are at the foot of this post.
He’s too nice to say any of this but if ever a guy deserved a leg-up, it’s Luke. As you’ll see below, all the connections are in place, he has a supportive employer, and the motivation is sky-high.
But like everything in life, a little more money would smooth things and accelerate his development.
And if you don’t have money or support to give, but want to see Luke do well, all you need to do is share this post with your networks, via email, chatting in the pub, social media, whatever. I’m sure Luke’d like that. Can you do that for me?
Lastly, before I exit stage left, if you’re a runner you’ll know this but if you’re not, you won’t. As a distance runner (5k+), with the right training, you can translate a time at one distance to another. Some runners are better at the short (5k) stuff, some at the long (marathons). But with the right training and mentality there’s nothing to stop a great 5k runner being a great marathoner and vice versa.
Glasgow and Mammoth Lakes, California.
Running assistant at Achilles Heel in Glasgow.
Since summer 2008.
It varies from week to week but usually involves around 85-100 miles with two big workouts and a long run of 16-20 miles.
My average easy pace is usually 6.15 to 6.45-minute miles. Typical sessions include 3×3 miles at about 4.30-4.45-minute miles, 10x1k at 10k race pace (2.50 per km). I do a very light core session as running is core work in itself, and I do quite a lot of flexibility work with resistance bands.
In addition, I get one 45-60 minute deep massage per week (certainly not a relaxing massage). This just helps to flush out muscle knots and keeps me healthy.
5k -14.00, 10k – 29.08, 15k – 43.44, HM – 64.07 (all soon to be slashed). I haven’t done a marathon…yet.
When I am home in Glasgow I train alone for nearly all of my runs and sessions. In Mammoth I have a really strong team that includes Olympians and guys to train with.
In Mammoth I would say 90 per cent is off road whereas when I am home it is the opposite. Unfortunately, Glasgow is not designed for the endurance runner.
As a junior I raced a lot; it is the most fun part about the sport and I enjoyed it. I now have to be far more strategic in order to peak at the right times and so only race about 10 times per year (this includes track, road and cross country).
Focusing on the 10k and up means I really cannot race too much; long hard efforts take weeks to recover from before you can start building up again.
My training plan is pretty flexible; you have to run based on how you feel. If you are forcing your body too much it will break, simple as that. My coach is incredibly good at telling me to back off a bit if I don’t look good in training.
My nutrition is getting better and better. I certainly used to treat myself frequently but now it all comes down to who can execute that final one per cent the best. I try to keep my diet balanced and stay away from fried/processed food.
I have actually noticed a huge improvement in my immune system and sleeping patterns just from increasing my fruit and vegetable intake at meal times.
I also really only drink water, certainly no fizzy sugary drinks. I’ll choose a beer over a full sugar coke for sure.
That said…moderation is key, I’m not a machine, I eat sweets and crisps and chocolate and Chinese takeaways too, just not too often!
I didn’t start running until relatively late for a junior, getting noticed at the 2008 Rouken Glen 10K by ex-Giffnock North A.C. star Rory Cartwright, and coach Dudley Walker.
I certainly was not much of a star in the junior ranks with an 800m PB slower than my current 10,000m pace at the end of my first year as an U17 athlete.
I’d say my development could be summed up with one word…persistence. I have always believed that this is the key to success in running, particularly if you are not the most naturally talented. By “putting miles in the bank” day after day, year after year, it is going to come to fruition at some point.
(A lot more calculated measures go into my training than mileage; see below).
My favourite distance is definitely the 5000m on the track. A distance that I believe I haven’t yet got near my potential: there’s a lot more to come from me in 2018.
I’m not really sure why I like this distance best. It’s far faster and less about conserving energy than the 10. I definitely enjoy pushing myself in speed workouts, which bodes well for the lactic-intense 5000m event.
Manchester was really quite a last-minute decision, mainly to get a bit of publicity before disappearing to the States for a six-week training camp.
I wanted to test myself over the longer distance as a way to measure how my training would be structured over the coming weeks.
I knew going in that I was in solid shape from the workouts I was managing while running high-mileage weeks.
I didn’t really have a plan for the race. It was a test so I wanted to go relatively hard until I felt I was getting close to my limits on that day.
I executed my plan well; I did start flagging in the last few miles, which was expected given my small build-up and newness to the distance.
The Montferland 15k (pictured towards top of this post) is probably in my top three races ever. I really did myself justice.
It was such a peculiar event: 3,000 mostly Dutch runners descended upon the tiny sleepy border town of ‘s-Heerenberg.
However, this field included some of the fastest endurance athletes on the planet, with Daniel Wanjiru of Kenya (London 2017 marathon winner) leading the entries.
I went into this race fuelled by a hugely disappointing showing at the European XC trials in Liverpool the week before; not making a GB team that myself and my coach knew I should have been part of.
Anyway, I was pleased with my performance of 43.44, 20 seconds behind the winner, and 10 behind Wanjiru, who was one place ahead.
Again, I raced aggressively here, taking the race on at 2K from a world class field and leading up until the 10K marker (29.15)…I wanted to run fast and prove my fitness, I wasn’t as interested in running tactically and trying to win.
Winning races is not really a driving factor for me.
That said, I absolutely hate losing races. Even though I was beaten by world class athletes in Holland and had arguably the race of my life, I didn’t win. So I was not completely satisfied afterwards.
I think just knowing I am not the best endurance runner in the world is enough to drive me on in training every day. I want to arrive at every start line knowing if I run my best race I can have a chance at winning.
I honestly think one of my biggest achievements to date is the fact I am still running and competing at a high level.
Looking back on my undergraduate life living in Glasgow, temptations were in abundance but somehow (guidance of people like Giffnock North A.C. coach Dudley Walker played a huge role here) I persevered and was then offered a US University (Tulsa) scholarship which to an extent “ignited the flame”.
Purely running achievement-wise I was proud of my fifth place at the British 5000m championships in the summer. I came off a very long American college season and still performed at a very high level.
The Montferland 15K gave me a huge sense of relief that Liverpool was just a blip and so I’d put that up there too.
I also remember the Great Scottish Run 10K win in 2011 feeling huge at the time, even though the winning time may be modest compared to my times today.
I think I have answered the inspiration question to an extent. I just believe that I can go far in this sport. I don’t know how far and won’t measure my success my medals, but rather if I am doing everything I can to better myself then I will be happy with where I end up.
To some degree I look at the recent success of guys like Callum Hawkins and Andrew Butchart and just think that if they can do it I’m sure I can too. It really is inspiring (forgive the cliches) to see Callum doing what he’s doing: knocking 90 seconds off the Scottish HM record shows the calibre of the guy.
Dudley’s (Luke’s coach at Giffnock North A.C.) role in my success really can’t be overstated. His commitment to Giffnock North A.C. is incredible. It really takes passion to stand at the side of the track in any weather dealing with kids of all abilities.
I believe Dudley stopped me from quitting the sport on a number of occasions.
I also want to mention my appreciation towards all of the coaches at the club that have helped me including Dudley’s trusty side-kick Croy Thomson (himself a 2:43 marathoner), and one of the hardest working women I have ever met: Clare Stevenson!
My parents also have to get a mention here, constantly driving me to training sessions over the years and to obscure remote British towns to stand in the rain and watch me run around. It’s probably not the ideal way to spend your time off work.
That was a scary injury. It was a rare bone (navicular) to be so swollen without a clean fracture. There was no definite amount of time I’d be out and it really did start to feel like I was finished with running. Again, Dudley played a huge role in keeping my focus. I targeted shorter distance events the following year to sort of start anew. I also stayed involved with the club by taking a coaching role with the U11 athletes, which I also think helped to keep me in the sport.
I have big goals for 2018.
I am in the process of moving my training base more permanently to the small ski town Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
Mammoth sits at 8000ft altitude and so it is the perfect location for an endurance athlete.
Living and training at this height makes it far harder to breathe and strengthens your lungs, heart, and increases your body’s red blood cells, moving oxygen to muscles more efficiently.
Most of the world’s best endurance runners come from the Rift Valley in Eastern Africa, which has towns at very similar heights: living at altitude is one of the main reasons Kenyans and Ethiopians are so dominant in the sport.
I will now be under the guidance of Andrew Kastor, husband of Athens Olympics Marathon bronze medalist and now teammate of mine, Deena Kastor.
Andrew really has an incredible depth of knowledge and passion for the sport and I really believe in his training philosophy.
(Note from the editor: the day before every marathon I watch an inspirational film called Spirit of the Marathon. If you want an insight into the Kastors you should watch this film).
I don’t want to put any limits on my goals and so do not have time targets etc. I’ll run as fast as I run on whatever day.
My day to day living and training is where I will constantly be trying to better myself.
My short-term goals include the Barcelona half marathon in early February in order to achieve selection to the world half marathon champions in Valencia this March.
There are no world championships or Olympics this year so longer-term goals may be more focussed on reducing track times as much as possible in the summer.
However, Andrew (Luke’s coach) will analyse one race at a time in order to tailor training specifically to my weaknesses and therefore plans can easily change!
I am still an unsponsored athlete, I currently work part-time for a running store in Glasgow called Achilles Heel.
I have worked here on and off for the last six years as the absolutely fantastic owner allows me to work around my ridiculous schedules, something I definitely would not get in most jobs.
Obviously, having a sponsor would be the ideal scenario for me so that I could be 100 per cent focussed on my training.
However, I understand what it takes to garner financial interest and I know I haven’t quite done enough yet.
I don’t expect handouts and have been used to working hard on and off the track to fund my own training. However, I also understand that if I want to make my ideal situation in the US more permanent I have to draw in some funding from somewhere.
I hope this can be done in the near future by increasing my public profile with more high profile performances.
I am realising more and more that the marathon is probably my calling.
I have a huge engine that allows me to run at a fairly decent pace for a long time. I certainly haven’t given up on the track and I’m confident with my speed but I do think I will see my greatest success in the marathon in perhaps the not too distant future.
To give perspective to the pace I was running in Holland, it would have put me through the half marathon in 61.30, just off world record marathon pace. Granted it was only 9.4 miles compared to the 26.2 of the marathon, but I still have so much more developing to do as an athlete.
I remember one race vividly, the East Renfrewshire schools cross country in 2009. It was supposed to be a local rivalry between myself and Grant Muir who was at Williamwood high school but the same club as me (we still are).
I remember being excited for the race for weeks in the lead up as you didn’t often get to show off your endurance running abilities in high school.
Anyway, half an hour before the race start I was away warming up and as I got back to put my spikes on I remember one of the PE teachers asking me what I was doing.
Simultaneous to this conversation a loud bang of a gun went off. I responded that I still had 10 minutes before the race started. She looked over to the start line and told me that my race was already halfway up the first hill!
They had moved it forward 10 minutes apparently, or maybe I just remember that as my excuse for missing the start…I can’t actually remember who was wrong here.
Anyway, I was the only person that missed the race and never lived it down.
I now check the start times around 15 times before I go to warm up!
I’m a fan of Adharanand Finn and his work. However, Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is probably my favourite. Seb Coe’s autobiography is very interesting too.
I don’t really live by any quotes or sets of rules. I always try to be as fair and realistic with myself as possible. That usually means no bad excuses, not feeling like running isn’t good enough, whereas if I am Ill or injured I won’t force myself out the door.
Be smart is the best advice for running. People get obsessed by the numbers when in reality running is not about the numbers at all.
It’s about maximising your potential and this can change day to day.
You have to listen to your body. If you feel pain it is your body telling you to back off, not some rest of your determination to push your own pain threshold.
I think the idea of being an endurance runner is pretty lost on most non-endurance running folk.
Running for around 90 minutes every day is probably not what most consider a passion, but it just feels part of who I am.
Credit: my seven and nine-year-old sons Jude and Zak contributed five of the questions I asked Luke.