Shining the light on marathon runner, Jeff Wright

Jeff Wright is a valued client of Woodward Nhill and a source of inspiration to us all. At 60 years of age, Jeff has completed [and been invited to compete] some of the most prestigious marathon races around the world and, he shows no signs of slowing down! He’s completed his personal best time of 3:07:24 this year in London and he’s excited to see what he can achieve next. Thank you, Jeff, for sharing this extremely motivational story; we are right behind you! We encourage you all to read Jeff’s story.

1. When and why did you get into marathon running?

I’ve been a runner for most of my life. I’ve never been blessed with elite anything, but I do have good health and a curiosity of how far I can go before everything falls apart. Setting my personal best [PB] this year at age 60 has me wondering if there is still improvement in me. Can I possibly get closer to the magical 3-hour barrier? If Kipkosgei is after breaking 2, then I’m after breaking 3. If only I can get Nike on board!

2. How often do you train, and how do you prepare?

I train a reasonably consistent five days a week and do pilates on one non-running day. I couldn’t manage this without my wife Anne who looks after me and in return gets to see the world (without having to run). I average about 55 km per week, up to 80-90 km in weeks leading up to marathons and down to 20-30 in recovery times.  I have been mapping my runs over the last four years. By the end of this year, I will have run the equivalent of circumnavigating Australia.

3. What motivates you to keep running? Do you occasionally get a little bored? Do you listen to particular music?

Why run? It’s hard to say. It’s now just part of who I am. Small goals and small successes motivate me. Now I’m in a new age group (Over 60) I find I’m competitive with a whole new group of people. As we age the numbers drop off and so I’m now looking at being competitive in a world sense rather than local. I know I’m not the one you’ll see on the posters at the front of the field, but if I can compete with the other guys in my age group that’s motivation enough.

We run our Sunday recovery runs up in the Dandenong’s, and there are times when it is quite magic. As the sun comes through the mountain ash and the lyrebirds call, there’s enough to keep us coming back. I don’t listen to music because I prefer to listen to the birds. I’m also conscious of being able to hear traffic if I’m running around the streets.

4. You have been accepted and invited into 6 of the most prestigious marathon events around the world, London, New York, Chicago, Boston, Berlin and Tokyo. Congratulations. Which was your favourite, and why?

They’re all different, and that’s part of the fun. Boston is the purists run. One hundred years of tradition and the entire city is behind the marathon. I ran Boston in 2015, the year before the bombing. To see the response of the people of Boston in the “Boston Strong” message that came back tells you all about the people. The finish in Boston is about 800 metres along Boylston Street with stands and crowds on both sides. As my first major, it was awe-inspiring. It was also cold, about 7 degrees and wet.

London, the last of the six, was terrific in a different way. Chilly but clear, we had crowds all of the way through, but over Tower bridge, the noise was deafening. There was never a chance to ease off; there was always someone there to cheer you on.

The others all have great memories. Crossing the bridge from Brooklyn into Manhattan in the New York marathon was eerie. Supporters aren’t allowed on to the bridge, so you go from cheering crowd to the silence. Only the sounds of breathing and the slap of runners can be heard.

Chicago has a lovely after-party, sitting in the park listening to music. My niece also ran Chicago that year, so it was special for that as well.

In Berlin you finish running down through the Brandenburg gate and Tokyo finish is around near the Imperial Palace so all special.

5. Jeff, you are ranked 9th in the world for your age group by the primary marathon ranking system, how does that feel?

It’s nice. Abbott/ Wanda, the sponsors of the World Marathon Majors, are expanding their interest in marathon running to a World Age Group Championship. Like I said before I’m quite aware that I’m not going to frighten anyone at the front of the field, but the thought of competing in any event that has “world” in the title has my interest.

6. After a marathon, how do you recover?

Beer and chips. These days that might also include a short lie down before the beer and chips. Generally, from there it’s walking for a couple of days and start running again when I feel like running, typically 3-4 days.

7. Elite sportspeople like yourself Jeff often visit a Physiotherapist or someone of that nature. Do you ever need that type of assistance?

I’ve had a lot of luck over the years with lack of injury. A couple of injuries as a youngster when I was hurdling but generally very healthy. I can feel a bit of damage accumulating that I may need to get looked at, but as myself and others of my age will tell you, we’re only one serious injury away from retirement. We’ll put that one off as long as possible!

8. You have achieved your BP of 3 hours and 7 minutes [amazing!] at the London marathon. At what stage did you realise that, and did you do a little celebratory jump at the finish line?

At halfway, I was in front of the time I’d taken to that point in Paris two weeks beforehand (yes, I know. two marathons in two weeks, it’s not as bad as it sounds). I was feeling good and was rolling along. There was a big boost over Tower bridge with the crowd and then around Canary wharf seeing Kipchoge coming back the other way.

At 30 km I had some friends give me a cheer, and at 36 km I started to believe this was going to be a good time and if I could hold it together was going to be around or under my previous PB of 3.09. Turn right at the Houses of Parliament and head up towards Buckingham Palace, read the distance markers and hope there weren’t going to be any cramps to spoil the party.

Around the corner and there was the finish. No point looking at the watch now, it’s head down and go. 3.07.24. Six majors done. New PB. London Marathon over. A little fist pump but no jumping.

9.‘They’ say the halfway mark for a marathon is 32-kilometre [which mathematically doesn’t make sense!], why is that, what is happening to your mind and body at that stage and how do you push through?

Marathon running is a bit different to most races in that you can lose a lot of time very easily. Generally, you can be rolling along and not notice that you are skirting the dreaded “wall”. There seem two ways to find the wall.

First is catastrophic. Running along beautifully and then within the space of a minute or two, everything comes to a stop. Might have cramps, stitches or not. It is the classic, “a bear jumped on me”. The later this happens, the more likely that you will finish and the better will be the time.

The second is more insidious. At a point, you go from a nice consistent pace to a little bit slower, and then it takes a bit more effort, and then you find you’re going slower. Not an immediate effect it creeps up. Again, the later it happens, the better will be the finish time.

The common thread is that these occur somewhere, sometime after 32 km. Can happen before, but generally after. At that point, it’s still a long way home, but you can lose a minute, 2 minutes, maybe even more per kilometre.  So, all of a sudden, a great run becomes a good run and then a tough race.

How do we get through? My own method is to play games.  I break the distance up into smaller bits; every 5 kilometres is a park run, every 3 kilometres is a lap of Sandown racecourse, each kilometre done is over and didn’t hurt as much as it could. If I can run the last 5 km in under 5 min per kilometre, I only have 25 minutes of running to go; if it gets bad, I should be able to get through in 30.

Many marathons also have the crowds and landmarks near the end, Central Park, Buckingham Palace, St Marks Square in Venice the MCG and the Arts and Science precinct in Valencia are all examples. It easy to be carried through by the crowds

Finally, for anyone interested I’ll be pacing 3.40 in the Melbourne marathon this year so anyone looking to run anywhere near that time, get on board the bus. We’ll have a bit of fun and see Melbourne in a bit over 3 ½ hours.

We look forward to working with you to achieve your goals.