Chris Rainsford speaks to Andy Ward
Looking at the results from three of the best domestic 10k races towards the back end of 2013 and one name sits impressively among the leading athletes at each one.
Consistently inside and around the thirty minute mark, the fact that name also has a V40 next to it and the times have come after a twelve year break away from the sport is perhaps even more remarkable.
But Andy Ward continues to prove that age is no barrier to running success.
The forty-four year old, who lives in Bolsover, Derbyshire, went inside thirty minutes and ran a personal best of 29:57 at the Leeds Abbey Dash in November before equalling that time just four weeks later in Telford.
Even though he ended the year five seconds outside his PB at the Ribble Valley 10k, Ward is enjoying the most fruitful days of his running career and puts the breakthrough down to the expertise of long-time friend and former GB international long distance runner Dave Tune.
“The big difference has come since linking up with Dave Tune. I used to run with and against Dave in the ‘90′s (and I have to say he always used to beat me)! I started working with Dave in 2012. I was desperate to see if I could get under 30 minutes for 10k and, working together, we have now done that a few times.”
A former international athlete, Dave Tune now runs a physiotherapy clinic in Doncaster with his partner and fellow international runner Jenny Blizard.
Andy’s confidence in the lactate threshold training and scientific approach they have adopted has led to him running faster now than ever before but the results have still come as a bit of a surprise to Ward, if not to Tune.
“The clinic runs the testing service and they have been hugely successful in their results. Dave is a big believer in lactate threshold training and training of heart rate zones to ensure you don’t over- or under-train. He was more confident than I ever was the first time I went inside thirty minutes as he could tell from the tests that I was in shape to do it – the statistics just don’t lie!”
The statistics haven’t lied and Ward finished 2013 ranked 27th overall in the UK over 10k, number one V40 and number four on the UK all-time list in his age category.
The twelve years away from competitive action don’t appear to have done him any harm either.
After running his first race at the age of ten and winning a couple of county medals as a teenager, like a good proportion of club athletes, Andy continued to chip away at his personal bests without running anything too extraordinary.
At twenty two, he started to take advantage of the then thriving local Peak District fell running scene, believing the regular competition did him the power of good, and lowered his 10k best to 30:20 – a mark that would remain next to his name for the next nineteen years.
“At the age of twenty five, we started our family and so running took a back seat. I gave up work, became a house husband and brought up my two daughters. I just used running to keep fit and raced only very occasionally.”
So what gave him the urge to get back into running?
“I felt I’d got the time and energy to get back into proper training and still felt I could be competitive. During 2009 and 2010 I got my 10k time down to about 31 minutes, which I was really pleased with, and just kept things going, sticking to a distance that I knew I could cope with.”
Since his racing comeback in 2008, Andy has been gradually chipping away once more but admits to finding it tricky at times to balance training around married life, being a father to two daughters and his job as a gardener.
Working alongside Tune, however, and Andy notes that, whilst the volume has remained the same, the majority of his training is now done at a quicker pace and specific speed sessions are a less frequent part of the programme.
“The majority of my training is done at my lactate threshold; my training was generally too slow and very inconsistent before. We don’t tend to do much speed work – speed sessions and tempo runs are done about once a fortnight – and in terms of volume it has stayed very similar. But the speed at which I do each run at night is now very different.”
With the best year of his running career now behind him, Andy is looking ahead to continued consistency as he attempts to further establish himself in the upper-echelons of the sport, especially among the veteran standings.
The Alsager 5 and English National Cross Country at Wollaton Park are on the February horizon and the idea is to use the summer to work on his speed, with track races over 3k, 5k and 10k planned.
Further revisions of his 10k road best are in the pipeline, as is a shot at the half marathon and some V45 records when he turns forty five later this year.
But, whilst targeting improvement, Andy isn’t getting too far ahead of himself and is very much enjoying the moment.
“My running means more to me now than at any other time. I love it. But I’m aware that time stands still for no one so looking too much further ahead than that seems to make little sense.”
Image from Flaming Photography