I was recently interviewed about my passion for running and my training so I thought I would post my answers for anyone that is interested. In future posts I will follow this up with interviews of some of the runners that inspire and motivate me. So here are the questions I was asked and my responses:
Name: Matt Rees
Occupation: Customer Service Adviser
Favourite Distance: Marathon
Goals: Run for my country
How long have you been running?
I started running as a new year’s resolution in 2015 aged 27, so just over 2 years now. I have always been fit through playing sports and going to the gym, but I hated running. Building muscle with heavy weights was more important to me.
When you first started running what did your training look like?
I thought I had a fairly good knowledge of health and fitness when I started running but I soon realised that I didn’t. Despite spending many hours in the gym and playing football on the weekends my first run was hard. I went slow but it was tough. My first training plan didn’t have any intervals, or tempo runs, or hills, or any sessions. I didn’t run easy, and I didn’t run hard. I just went out and ran at an intermediate effort level 3 times a week. I was getting fitter but not making the gains that can be achieved through clever training.
Why didn’t this work?
It’s not that it didn’t work. I was improving, but there was so much more to running than I initially realised. The main reason my progress was restricted was because there was no variation in my plan. I was doing the same thing for every run. I had lots of enthusiasm but very little knowledge on how to train effectively.
How long did it take you to research your own regime?
I did lots of research and asked lots of questions. I tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible. I didn’t get it right straight away. Lots of my training was through trial and error. I didn’t even realise the importance of long runs until 7 months after I had taken up running. I now see the long run as the most important run of my week. You can improve even when you don’t get it right. That’s what was happening with me. I was getting faster despite the flaws in my training. However, the more I learnt, the better I became. You can always learn something about training and your own body.
How was your training once you started to implement different types of runs?
Initially I found intervals and tempo runs difficult, but I started to improve much faster than I had been from just running the same pace every time. When I started to implement long runs in to my routine, my improvements grew even faster. My training plan started to incorporate hard sessions followed by easy days. It takes some getting used to but the rewards are worth the effort. Additionally the variation keeps running fun.
Have you received much support from your clubs and family?
I joined Swansea Harriers after a few months of training on my own. I was initially apprehensive and unsure if I was good enough to join a club. However I soon realised that the club included runners of all different abilities and ages. The club were massively supportive and I had finally found a group of people who weren’t bored by my desire to chat about running. Joining a club really helped my running education and gave me lots of opportunities that I was unaware of.
My family have been supportive, but initially they didn’t really understand my desire to run. I wasn’t a runner and a few months later I was racing and a member of a club. It took people a while to realise that running was not a fad, it was a part of my life that was there to stay. They are much more supportive now but I think they still struggle to come to terms with my commitment to running and the ambitious goals I have set myself.
Which clubs do you currently run with?
I run for Swansea Harriers and have recently been selected as part of the UK ASICS FrontRunner Team. I also joined Loughborough University Athletics Club but I was never able to actually compete for the club, which is a shame. I still have the purple vest which has never been used.
What personal effects does running provide you? Does it relieve stress?
I have suffered badly with anxiety for many years. One of the main reasons I started running was to try and deal with some of the symptoms of anxiety. Running has helped enormously. It is not a cure but it is a great technique to help overcome some of the challenges of life. I could go on about the anxiety and periods of depression I have faced in the past, but I try to be a much more positive person now and look forward. I still suffer, but I have much better ways of handling it now, and running is major part of that. For years I cared way too much about what people thought of me in every aspect of my life. It would drive me crazy with worry. Now I focus on my most loved ones. They are the ones that matter.
Have you had any serious injuries?
I have picked up a few injuries but thankfully nothing too severe. Initially I picked up shin splints. I have also sprained my ankle; a bout of plantar fasciitis; a period of peroneal tendonitis and some calf trouble. At the time any injury feels like the end of the world. You feel like you are losing fitness. You don’t know how long you are going to be out and it drives you crazy. I try to rationalise it but running is a major part of my life which makes it difficult. I get grumpy when I am injured. I crave the endorphins that I get from heading outdoors. I have always been active so I substitute running for cross training when I am injured. However nothing can replace running for me.
How many events have you won and which was your favourite?
I have won a number of races now. It seems crazy saying that. When I first started running I never thought I would be winning races, and yet 7 months later I won my first event, The Wales 10K in Tenby, on my birthday. That was a special day. After receiving my award on the red carpet surrounded by a big crowd, we traveled home to enjoy a barbecue and a beer.
However my favourite races are usually the races I don’t win. Don’t get me wrong I love winning, but I push myself more when there are faster competitors in the race. I get more satisfaction from really pushing my limits than winning a race. So I really love the big events. Thousands of runners, a big build up and lots of the best runners. That’s how I like it.
My favourite race that I won was probably my most recent victory which came in the Hoka One One Half Marathon Winter Trail Race. What I loved about this race was the amazing scenery, the technical terrain and the brilliant organisation. The awesome prizes didn’t hurt either.
What’s your most memorable moment – running and in general life?
I think in running it has to be crossing the finish line in my debut marathon in London. It was just such a huge moment of relief and satisfaction as I knew the suffering was over and all my hard work had come to fruition. I was really proud when I looked down at my watch and saw that I had run 2:29 on my first attempt. Not many people believed I would get near that time, but I knew how much preparation I had put in during the months before. I had huge amounts of self-belief going in to that race. It was an emotional moment.
My most memorable moment in general life is too difficult to choose. I have had some great moments with my girlfriend; I have also travelled to some incredible places; and I was at the World Cup Final in Brazil. There is no specific moment, just a collection of good memories. All my favourite moments have been ones shared with others. That’s one of the things I miss about team sports, sharing in success and failure. You can still do that to some extent in running but it’s not quite the same as winning the Cup as a team.
Which training gels/aids do you use for nutrition?
I use and have used a number of different brands. Gels I tend to take caffeinated ones during a marathon. I also use protein recovery drinks after long runs and hard sessions to help my muscles recover. I use a number of supplements including multivitamins, omega 3 fish oils, vitamin D3, Iron, ginger and turmeric supplements. I also use beetroot shots before some big races. Some things work and others don’t, but it is hard to know when you are training well and taking lots of supplements what is doing the trick. I suppose there is no harm in taking on some extra vitamins, but I think a balanced diet is the real key.
What’s the one item of running gear you couldn’t live without?
Trainers obviously. Also my Garmin watch. I love data. I love analysing my run afterwards and tracking progression, so my watch really helps with that. I have recently started using heart rate data too. I love watching my fitness progress, as my heart rate for a certain pace drops as I improve.
What couldn’t you live without in general life?
In today’s society I couldn’t live without my mobile phone. It keeps me connected. I use social media a lot and my mobile is vital for this. It’s pretty sad really, but that is the world we now live in. I can live without my car, and didn’t learn to drive until late. I used to cycle and walk everywhere, and get the odd lift. But my phone connects to me thousands of people across the world. I love interacting with the running community on social media. Everyone shares their progress, and we all support each other through good times and bad.
What’s your favourite song to listen to running?
I don’t have a favourite running song, but I do love the Rocky theme tune when it randomly comes on during a shuffled playlist. You can’t help running a bit faster. Although I tend to end up throwing air jabs too. I love boxing so I can’t help it.
I also listen to lots of audiobooks when I run easy. Mostly from inspirational athletes. I am currently listening to a book about mental strength in sport. I love that sort of thing.
What’s the hardest part of your run/one you least enjoy?
I think the hardest bit is getting out of the door on horrible windy, rainy nights when you are tired. Maintaining motivation to run every day, and twice most days is difficult. However, when you get back home you feel much better that you got it done. I don’t always love running and some runs are a nightmare, but I do them anyway. I know that a good run is around the corner. As soon as I get a niggle or injured, I immediately regret any missed run.
Do you miss the gym and doing heavy weights?
There are certain parts of the gym that I miss. I get so much more out of running than I ever did out of the gym. However, I did enjoy feeling strong. I liked doing weights but I didn’t get the same levels of endorphins as I do from running. I used to love the bench press. I have no need to bench heavy weights anymore. My bulk had no functional purpose. I have the utmost respect for people training hard in the gym, but for me those days have passed. I much prefer the freedom I feel when running.
Have you noticed any financial gains from stopping your gym membership (if you have)?
No. I still have a gym membership for cross training and the odd strength session. I re-joined when I got injured so I could cross train. My gym is only a tenner a month, it’s very cheap, so it wouldn’t save me much anyway. Also it provides me the option of using a treadmill on days when it is really icy or when I just can’t face the elements.
Are there any moments you’ve considered giving up?
There are moments I have felt awful, and really disillusioned. However the moment I give up is the moment I no longer have a dream. I don’t want to live life without dreams. I love chasing my goals, and will continue to pursue my passion. You won’t see me giving up anytime soon.
What’s your one aspiration?
To reach my potential and know that I did everything in my power to become the best runner I could. I don’t want to look back and think that I could have trained harder or more effectively.
Hopefully if I can continue improving I will one day represent Wales. That would be a huge dream come true for me. Once I have reached that goal, I will look forward to the next one.
How would your family describe you?
With regards to running they would probably describe me as obsessive, but I see that as another term for dedicated.
Were you extremely sporty as a kid?
Yes. I have always loved sports. I would plead with my Dad to play football with me in the garden. I played everything. There isn’t a sport that I have tried that I haven’t enjoyed. I love it. My friends and I would play football every break and after school. We would also play cricket and tennis in the summer. I would even take up sports on holiday. On a trip to Australia, I got addicted to Aussie Rules. I would play in the day and then watch it in the evenings. West Coast Eagles ’till I die.
What’s your most famous saying?
I use lots of motivational sayings that I have heard but my favourite quote is from Bart Yasso of Runner’s World:
“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We’re all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner”– Bart Yasso.
For me this encapsulates running. Lots of people think they are not fast enough, but I think we are a community. We all go through the same things, no matter what pace you are running.
Another one I like is:
“I already know what giving up feels like. I want to see what happens if I don’t”
This one is a great mantra in a race when it hurts and your head is pleading with you to slow down.
Who is your ultimate hero?
I don’t have one. As a kid I idolised Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. As an athlete I used to love Lance Armstrong, and found his books inspiring. After he admitted to doping I felt betrayed and also pretty stupid for defending him for years. Now I have grown up I have seen that everyone has flaws. I respect a lot of athletes and runners but none of them are my heroes. I suppose I should say my Dad is my hero, but he isn’t, he is my best mate.
What would your running partner say about your running and yourself as a person?
They would probably say that I love the miles. Hopefully they would also say that I am dedicated and ambitious. As a person, I am not sure. Honest perhaps.
Where in the world would you go if you had unlimited money?
I am lucky that I have seen a lot of the world but if I had unlimited money I would probably constantly travel training and racing in different countries. I would love to run the 6 Marathon Majors. I have fascinated by Japan, and would love to run Tokyo Marathon.
If you had one superpower, what would it be?
This one is easy. It would have to be a Bernard’s watch type power. For those of you unfamiliar with Bernard and his gem of a watch, it allowed him to pause time. He could carry on getting on with stuff whilst everything else was paused. Pausing time would be great. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do.
Have you experienced any life changing events?
Yes. Unfortunately the life changing events I have experienced have been negative, but I would like to think they have made me a stronger, more moral person. I think you can learn from all experiences good or bad.
Can you tell the readers your top tips for:
Speed – My running is aimed at 5K and over so when I talk about speed I am talking about long distance running speed. The obvious answer is to do speed workouts. Get out and do hard efforts between 1 minutes and 3 minutes. Take a recovery of between 1 and 2 minutes and repeat.
However I think if you truly want to run fast you need to put the background work in first. Too many runners ignore the need to build a big aerobic base. Run lots of easy and steady miles to improve your aerobic efficiency. This makes running at all speeds easier. The speed sessions are like the cherry on top once you have put the foundations in place.
Recovery – Where to start? My first tip would be to eat. After a hard session or race you need to refuel. Your body needs protein to repair the muscles and carbohydrates/sugar to replenish the muscles’ glycogen stores. Other key aspects to recovery are stretching, warming up and down, easy runs between hard sessions, massage, foam rolling, eating nutritious foods, and drinking plenty of water.
Strength – I don’t do as much strength work as I should. I do make sure to do some core every other day or so though. It doesn’t take long. A few planks. Some crunches and leg raises and whatever good core exercises you know. I do a quick circuit with some press ups thrown in too. In the gym, I will try to throw in some squats and lunges too. I also find plyometrics (jumping) great but haven’t done them in a while.
Nutrition – Most people know what is good for you and what isn’t. It’s a case of keeping it balanced. I do have treats, and I don’t live like a monk. However I do try and eat nutritious foods the best I can. I feel better when I eat well, and run better too. Don’t over compensate by eating way too much just because you are running. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. I like to have carbs, proteins, and fats in all of my meals if possible. Another thing I would say is try and eat even healthier on your rest/recovery days where you are doing less. The best carbs to eat are usually slow releasing carbs. Look up low GI foods, these keep your insulin levels steady.
Thanks for reading. I have some really interesting and inspiring runners lined up for future interviews. So please check back to see how they train and what challenges they face.
Great read again Matt. I watched you come in first at the hoka race and you were flying.
I am training for London and it has been going well but this past week an old injury has resurfaced in my left ankle (tendinopathy). I ran 18miles yesterday but know I need a few days rest as it’s sore. I really hope it settles down soon. The long runs have really helped my fitness as I was doing too much of the same thing and it’s given me a lot of confidence just gutted about the injury but hope to manage it with cross training & rest
Thanks again Tony. Is tendinopathy similar to tendinitis? I had trouble with peroneal tendinitis of my ankle. Rest really helped. I’m glad the long runs are improving your fitness and confidence. For me, the long run is the most important run of the week if you are training for a marathon. Hopefully your ankle will recover quickly and you’ll be back soon. Take care mate, and let me know how your recovery goes.
Thanks for the mention. I regard you as my second best mate. Rach just edges you out on the finishing line, but you’re on the podium!
Great blog, as are all the others. Your dedication and commitment is inspiring. Only recently (last 3 months) has my training developed into a more effective regime. I find stories like yours to be of great help in my day to day training. Not only have I changed my training, but I have changed my goals and in part it is down to reading blogs like this! It has given me self belief. I have even started a blog of my own (sorry if the name seems so similar, but as a fellow Welshman, I’m sure you’ll understand). So anyway, I would just like to say thanks for sharing your story and I really look forward to following you through your journey. See you out there!! 👍
Enjoyed the article hope you reach all your goals
Started following you on IG only a few days ago then saw you on the London marathon helping that chap. Restores my faith in human kindness. You are a national hero. Your blog and your questions and answers are an inspiration. I want to get a course PB for the great North Run so I am always looking for ways to improve my training and speed.
Amazing guy 😀
You were my families hero today Mathew. You epitomised what makes us human, your desperation to see him over that line was palpable. Thankyou, don’t stop being you.
Well done – you are an inspiration!
As a Swansea Jack living in the USA, I was beaming with pride as we watched you help a fellow runner finish. Great to see Swansea put on the map and for positive reasons!
Any advice on plantar fasciitis? I ran 4 halfs but then got PF and even with rest it keeps coming back. I miss those long runs.
Take care and best wishes from Vermont!