• Helen Phillips

How to go from a chain smoking, heavy drinking “WTF I hate running” couchie to a sub 1:50 half runne


Marathon training is top of mind this week with the VLM 2018 ballot results being announced. I met up with Simon Martin, one of the Runner’s World VLM pacers to find out about his running journey.

Simon has run countless marathons, paced the 3:45 group to the finish line for four VLM marathons and taken on some of the most inhospitable ultra challenges, finishing 5th in this years Fire and Ice Ultra in Iceland.

So Simon, when did you start running?

Back in 2006 I was a 20+ a day smoker, a keen drinker and lived life to the full. That year I tentatively thought about giving up and getting a bit healthier. But it was two years later, in 2008, I was on a drunken night out with uni friends and someone suggested we do a duathlon. My immediate thoughts were “WTF, I hate running and don’t own a bike!” But I’m a bit impulsive so agreed, why not!

So I bought a bike and started riding and taking myself off to jog 4k, which was two laps of Richmond Old Deer Park. I was running 4k at about 10kph pace and after a while I built my distance up to running 6k.

Then one day I was on the tube coming home from work and saw an advert for the Royal Parks Half, which was being held one month later in October 2008. Just like that I decided to enter.

By then I was cycling and running a total of 21k, which included only 6k of running. But I thought if I could cycle : run 21k then I could run the half distance.

The duathlon was planned for September, so I did that ok, then realised I had to increase my running distance from 6k. I only had two weeks so no time to train properly or gradually increase my distance. The next day I ran to Richmond Old Deer Park, ran 7 laps and then ran home. It was a hot summers day. I didn’t prepare and didn’t take any water with me. When I got home I drank 6 pints of water. But after that I felt ready to race.

I ran the Royal Parks Half. Immediately crossing the finish line I said never again. I weighed 90kg, wasn’t built for running and that race was tough. But I crossed the line in 1:47, which wasn’t too bad!

As happens after “never again” races, that evening I signed up for few other local races, 10k’s and a few halves that were taking place over the next year.

In 2009 I gave up cycling. I wanted to be mediocre at one sport rather than being shit at two. So that’s when running became my sport.

Don’t think you’re a runner? Simon didn’t too!

But he went from a 20+ silk cut a day heavy drinker to entering a half after seeing an advert on the tube.

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