Following on from my previous post on “The physical and mental health benefits of running” with the top running event organisers “Run Through“, I decided to have a Q&A with co-founder Matt Wood.
Have you always loved running or did something trigger your passion for it?
Matt Wood: I have running built into me. I started running as an 8- or 9-year-old with my local athletics club and I have never known any other way of taking exercise. I found I was naturally very talented as a child runner, so I was always winning races at school and later wining national titles at junior level. Then I went to Loughborough University on a sports scholarship, so I have always loved running. It’s part of me. There was never one thing that particularly triggered it. It’s just my life.
How did you come up with the name RunThrough?
Matt Wood: Good question! It was through the process of elimination of poor names really. My friend and Co-Founder Ben (Green) and I sat down and thought about how we could start the business and move it forward. We tried to come up with a name. Like most good ideas, it comes from a learning curve discovering what does work and what doesn’t work. I think it was actually Ben who came up with the notion of combining “Run” and “Through” together. We were looking for something that could describe running in different areas, running around different attractions, different parklands, to run through something made sense to us when we started it and we found it’s made sense for an events business.
I bet you go through lots of running shoes? The first marathon I ever went to was the London Marathon which my son was running and no sooner had we set off on our way to London when he suddenly realised he had left his shoes behind! I remember he went through a couple of pairs of running shoes during his training. What are the three top tips you would offer to a new runner?
Matt Wood: Tip #1, I would say that you should get yourself a nice pair of running shoes, rather than running in a pair of pumps you had from school or a pair of shoes you’d wear to go on a night out. Tip #2 would be I’d say you should take it easy when you go out of the door. Don’t do too much too soon. And Tip #3 is look for advice out there, in terms of consulting people who know what they’re talking about, and that can include our RunThrough website because we have lots of information about how to start running. There’s lots of good information on there from running coaches and running blogs where you can benefit from listening to the experts.
On the subject of choosing the best shoes and kit to run in, we are also very excited during the past year to have launched RunThrough Kit. It’s an exciting new running clothing brand offering kit for runners, that’s designed and made by runners. We have a sustainable range, a bamboo range, T-shirts, jackets, shorts, leggings, socks, everything you could think of, kit that every running club should have. The products world for us is a different kind of world but it’s a very exciting venture for us.
How long should you train before you embark on a marathon and how do you know if you are fit enough to run it?
Matt Wood: I’d say that anyone can do a marathon if they put their mind to it. It’s just a matter of time as to how long they take to get there. Building up over a period of time is the only way to do things. If you enter for a marathon in three months’ time and you have never run a marathon before, it probably won’t be much fun. But you could walk round it and you probably would feel happy with your achievement. But if you want to make the most out of it, take your time, build up slowly over 5k, then 10k, and half marathon races. RunThrough have plenty of those you can look at. I’d say build it up over a year.
What is it about running that you love most?
Matt Wood: I have always said that running is my form of meditation. So, for me personally, it’s all about making sure I can forget all my worries, formulate my plans for the future and enjoy getting out there in the fresh air and keeping fit. And the mental health benefits of running are well-established and always so important, particularly at this time as we all emerge from lockdown.
When my son ran a marathon, he raised funds for Back Care (supporting me) and my daughter raised funds for the British Heart Foundation (supporting her Grandad). How do you decide which charity to support?
Matt Wood: This year RunThrough have partnered with Macmillan Cancer Support, who are our chosen partner for the year. However, there are lots of ways you can support a charity with your running. We work closely with a company called Run For Charity and they have lots of different options for how you choose to run and who to support. They have many different races and ways you can raise many for a whole range of charities, so I recommend you check out their website to find out more information from them. (https://runforcharity.com/)
Were you able to run as much as you liked during lockdown?
Matt Wood: I actually ran more during lockdown because I had so much more time to do it really because we weren’t putting on all our events, for example at weekends. It meant I wasn’t up at 4am or 5am every single weekend so I had more time, I was more relaxed, and I managed to get some good training in. I was running five times a week during lockdown. Now, hopefully, I can keep on going and keep up the good work!
Do you run at all your events?
Matt Wood: I don’t usually tend to participate myself in races on the day itself, but I am always at the events and helping out with staging them. As Co-Founder of RunThrough, I will often be in overall charge of an event, so it’s a very busy day for me. I rarely have an opportunity to participate in races myself, but I will always take part if I possibly can. Recently we staged a day of events at Kempton Park racetrack. It was our first date back in action after the Government eased restrictions for organised outdoor sports events. I had hoped to run our RunThrough Marathon that day, but, as things turned out, BBC Television decided to pay us a visit. We were broadcast live on the BBC Breakfast programme, which has six million viewers. I was asked to do various TV interviews, along with other members of our RunThrough team. Others interviewed by the TV crew included some of our runners and Sir Mo Farah’s wife, Tania, who came to participate in our half marathon. Sadly, because of my media commitments on the day, it meant that I couldn’t take part in the RunThrough marathon organised race. So, instead, I ran my own marathon the day before, just picking a route in the countryside around where I live. I really enjoyed it.
Are you susceptible to any injuries?
Matt Wood: I have had two knee operations and am always getting little niggles. I have hamstrings which tend to tear every time I go over a certain speed, so yes, I am always getting injuries. When I won a sports scholarship to Loughborough University, and when I was competing at high level internationally, I actually broke my femur and that meant I had to have an operation which meant I had to stop my career as an elite-level runner. Since then, I have had multiple injuries to add salt in the wound.
What is your favourite meal before a marathon?
Matt Wood: Because marathons are mostly done in the mornings, it’s very difficult to have anything hot. So, I would just go for some cereal and some toast, something basic like that. Personally, I like chocolate Shreddies but that’s probably not the best idea. Or maybe Weetabix to make sure there is nothing else in play. I like wholemeal bread and Lurpack butter, that’s my favourite. I’d eat three slices before a marathon. You should eat that early and give yourself at least four hours after eating before you start your marathon. In the hour before your race, in the build-up to it, if you are feeling like you’d like some extra food, then maybe eat a banana. At breakfast, I’d also drink a cup of tea. I don’t have coffee because coffee can cause incidents and you want to avoid needing a toilet half-way through your marathon!
I bet you were excited when Boris eased lockdown? Have you had a lot more runners signing up for some of your runs?
Matt Wood: We have found there has been a large increase in the numbers of people who haven’t run before. They are now entering races for the first time and it’s great to see lots of new faces coming to events and getting involved in the RunThrough community. Now, after people have been cooped up in lockdown for months, huge pent-up demand from runners has built up. We’ve seen a major surge in bookings for our 2021 events calendar and our website traffic has shot up by over 100%. The Government has fired the starting gun to boost the physical – and above all mental wellbeing benefits – available to everyone from running. This will affect millions of runners across the country and we warmly welcome this decision.
You have gone to a lot of trouble to make everything COVID-safe. Do you think runners will always be able to run at your events even if we got another lockdown?
Matt Wood: Obviously with lockdown it would be very difficult to do anything and we will always be sure to strictly follow the Government’s guidelines at the time. But if we were to engage the procedures we followed last year in lockown, I’d hope it might be possible for us to stage running events. After last year’s lockdown, between August and December, we put on around 25% of all races in the UK, with many Covid-awareness measures in place. We’ve gained more experience than any other UK events company in staging events in this safe way. Last year, we developed a blueprint for Covid-safe races. Before race day, to reduce contact, we send out race packs to runners early so participants can arrive ‘ready-to-race’. When people arrive at our race village, they are greeted by marshals, some wearing full-face visors and all wearing PPE.
In addition to face shields, our staff also wear gloves to reduce the risk of germ transmission. We have sanitiser stations with hand gels and runners are discouraged from bringing belongings so we can reduce contact with others in baggage areas.
As well as staging mass-participation races, we also organise some of the fastest road-closed events in the UK involving elite athletes and regional championships, so we have employed other Covid-safe measures including, for example:
* runners are encouraged to bring their own water bottles to eliminate the need for water stations;
* group pre-race warmups are conducted at a socially safe distance;
* our marshals are briefed to maintain distance from runners while keeping the same friendly relationship;
* queues for the toilet cabin facilities are distanced and cubicle hygiene;
* signs remind runners to observe a 2-metre social distance and no spitting is allowed;
* at support desks, waist-high plastic sheeting protects stewards and runners from getting too close and at the start runners line up at coloured cones are laid out at distances on the ground
* our starts are staggered and runners are guided to set off in waves of 4 to 6 to ease congestion and fast runners are asked to give slower participants space when overtaking, of around 2 metres
* at the end, our marshals direct runners to collect their own medals, rather than be handed one and to reduce congestion, and
* people are asked to keep moving past the finish line, then leave the village to avoid groups congregating.
Have you met some top celebrities at your events, and if so, who left the most lasting impression and why?
Matt Wood: We have had quite a few celebrities come to our events over the years to run themselves or support friends and relatives. We had the American movie star Will Ferrell who came and ran an event at Victoria Park in east London. He just entered without telling anyone. We didn’t make a fuss, just wished him well. We also had Gordon Ramsay who came down to support his children who were taking part in a race. He was an absolute pleasure to meet. He was smiling and cheering everybody. He was so polite to people and really got involved with the event. He’s someone who is very keen on keeping active and he does a lot of challenges himself. The actor Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, was also with us one day. He was actually filming a fictional event for a TV series where Rupert was the star of it. He filmed it on the day he came to us. In summary, of all the celebrities, I suppose, even though I’m a massive Will Ferrell fan, it would be Gordon Ramsay who stood out the most for me. I was so pleased he joined us. I am not an especially talented cook myself, but I much admire and appreciate Gordon Ramsay’s business sense and the way he goes about running his restaurant business and I like his personality on his TV shows. Plus, it’s brilliant that he’s so involved in the active world. I find him a fascinating person and I certainly admire him as an entrepreneur.
Matt Wood, a former International distance runner, is Co-Founder of RunThrough, the UK’s leading mass-participation running events and endurance sports organiser. RunThrough plans to help host 200 races during the next year and you can find details of all their forthcoming events on https://www.runthrough.co.uk/