Running Stories : Darren Smith

What made you get into running?

This is quite well documented on my blog. I suffered from terribly debilitating hypochondria. I was living in New York post 9/11 and my stressful job, expat lifestyle (drinking) and access to doctors 24/7 with wicked insurance ($5 copay for anything I needed) meant any ache and pain suddenly became something fatal. I was catastrophizing all the time. A headache was a brain tumour, stomach ache was stomach cancer, indigestion was a heart attack. I was hospitalised for such an incident when back in London after a decade away and decided to get some help. In CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) a breakthrough occurred and I realised I needed to challenge myself like I had not done before. But what could I do that would be a real challenge? A physical challenge would prove to myself that I am physically ok. Pushing myself would be exactly what the doctor ordered, literally. It was early Spring 2012 and my wife at the time (an ex US military academy row captain – don’t get me started) had signed up with her friend and my best friend to run both the Amsterdam and Dublin marathons that October. I had broken my knee cap in 1997 and fractured my ankle on the same side in 5 places in 1995 and it was still painful to walk too fast (I got shin splints). Surely running was beyond me. And that became my challenge. I signed up for the Amsterdam half that October, but before that I needed to learn to run and so started with C25K in March and ran my first race in preparation, the London 10K, in that May. The rest, as they say, is history.

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The London 10k

What has been your proudest/best running moment?

I am proud of my collective achievement rather than individual races. I have 138 medals spanning 3 racks in one of the spare bedrooms at the time of writing, and I am proud of them, the marathon medals, pushing myself. I probably have some false pride about some races, like finishing the very hard Portland Coastal marathon in last place, but still making the cut off. I milked that but would have preferred not to have come in with the tail runners. First 10K at London, first half at Royal Parks, first marathon at Berlin, 6 marathons this year already, 7 more to come, 2 marathons in 8 days. I used to be proud that I had never had a DNF. My ill-fated Comrades adventure was good but I screwed up and the DNF run for over 5 years came to an end. The experience was amazing, running for 5 hours, then 6 in the medi bus, but it was nothing to be proud of. Normally I have been injured going into some races but still finish. 8 marathons with PF, several with a dodgy knee, but meh!  Whatevs. 100KM in one go? Race to the Stones? Yeah, that was good. Didn’t do myself justice though. So I guess I don’t have one thing I am truly proud of, even if the photos suggest otherwise, but I am looking forward to it happening.

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What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?

I should probably say my leg breaks and ankle fracture, or my age, or weight issues, and these have impeded me somewhat in my 5 years of running. But really the biggest challenge I faced, and still do, is that I really don’t like training. I try to make excuses. I ran Berlin and trained my backside off. I didn’t train at all for Manchester using the excuse that I wanted to see how I would do without following a formal 15 week marathon training plan. I did better than Berlin, which was a relief as it allowed me no longer follow said plans. Running 12 in 12 means I can’t really follow a plan either and really just run maintenance runs. This is ok for me. For Fire and Ice I will need to train and train properly. I love race days, but hate training for them and that in itself is a challenge and a half.

Who is your inspiration, and why?

I know people have their idols. I know people who fawn over Jo Pavey, Paula, Mo and rightly so. Steve Prefontane, Kara Goucher, Bart Yasso, Dean Karnezes, Bruce Fordyce get notable mentions when I talk to people. I just don’t. I am inspired by the people around me who do amazing things, the Susie Chans and Shauns, Paul Addicott and Lee Kemp, Andrew Cooney, Tash and Spencer and Jeff Mitchell (when his feet are co-operating). These are the guys going out and running good marathons, centurion races, SDW, NDW, Transvulcania, Transgrancanaria, MDS, Spine, the Arctic Ultra, the races that I aspire to finish because I can actually attempt them. I am not a professional athlete, but nor are these guys and they set my bar.

What are your future goals?

I do want a sub 4 marathon or to take a least a chunk of my PB. I am a bit of a plodder, if I am being honest, I do not like to be in pain and destroyed after a race. I would much rather pootle my way around, and finish comfortable and relaxed. I know I will have to push myself to get a sub 4, but in the meantime I am happy to achieve my other goals. I ran my first marathon in 2015, 5 last year, 6 this year already, and aim to run 11 marathons and 2 ultras this year. I ran 2 in 8 days. I have never done that before. 4 in 7 weeks, that either. I will do the 12 in 12 thing, tick. I ran (at least in part) my life A race coming up in Comrades, 87K uphill in South Africa with a strict 12 hour gun cut off. Next year I have already signed up for Fire and Ice, 250K multi day race across Iceland, Rock n Roll Liverpool and Transgrancanaria. And I will train for my sub 4 then too. You read it here first folks, 2018 the year of my fastest marathon ever! Maybe.

What would be your advice to someone looking to start running? 

I will go for three instead of one. Get the right shoes, build up slowly and always have races to look forward to. It took me years to find the right shoes, and I think that did hold me back as was constantly finding issues with them, niggles would appear during races. But when I did discover the shoe for me, oh boy, it made one hell of a difference. Build up slowly. I think people complete the C25K and think “ahhhh, 10K, half, marathon” and they see those doubling up distances as almost unattainable. I would advise anyone to build up to it, increase your weekly distance slowly, no more than 10% a week, and if your race is 3 months away, bam! You are ready. And finally, races. They are the test. For me they are the reason I run now. I always have races booked way in advance, as it always gives you something to look forward to AND, and this is important, if you have a bad race, or have to pull out, you have plenty of other chances to do better next time and put those demons to bed.

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Keep that Race Calendar filled

What’s your favourite thing about running?

Moments, those exquisite moments of joy when you realise you are going to make it over the line at a tough race, or when you see family or friends in the crowd. The moments that you share with your fellow runners, people who have known for years, and those you have just met out on the trail or road. Those are the things I cherish, whether in the middle of a cow field at 2 in the morning of a trail race, or in the middle of 40,000 other runners with the world watching. Running is about you, but it is also about the people you meet on the run. Oh, and the bling. (obvs).

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You can follow Darren on Twitter HERE and Instagram HERE

You can read all about Darrens 12 marathons in 12 months challenge (& donate) HERE

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