FEBRUARY 2016: I can’t think of any other runner who has progressed at such a phenomenal rate as Howard Bristow of Brighton & Hove AC.
Albeit already pretty fit from a background of mountain biking, Howard only started running 8 years ago at the age of 33.
He completed the Brighton 10k in 37:25.
Howard’s 10k time is now down to 30:55.
That means he’s somehow knocked a minute off for every year older. Unbelievable!
And that’s just his 10k!
To give you an idea of how he now ranks amongst his peers over 3000m: in 2015, the best recorded GB time was by double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah; the best time in the over-40 category was Howard’s… 8:38:71.
In the vet category of this winter’s Sussex cross-country league, even before the last race of the season at Hickstead this month, Howard had done enough to secure gold.
And although it’s only February, he’s also so far run the fastest V40 10k in the UK this year!
I met up with Howard.
Howard, what do you have for breakfast?!
Ha ha, Weetabix usually. I only ever have something light before my morning run. Then more when I get back. My diet is pretty good, and I’ve reduced my beer intake a fair bit!
To come into running at such a good level, you must have been doing a fair bit of cycling to be as fit as you were. Were you competing or just cycling for fun?
Actually, I was cycling maybe once a week, mainly for leisure with just the occasional race. But even though it was mostly for fun, I’d always get quite competitive with my mates. For example, we used to go on mountain bike trips to Wales where we would all race each other to the top of a 30-minute climb. I also kept myself fairly fit playing squash and badminton.
What attracted you to taking up running?
It was around the time of a relationship break-up in my early 30s. I was drinking quite a lot at the time and it became clear that something had to change. A friend at work suggested doing the Cancer Research 10k. It was a low key race; I started about half way down the field, but worked my way through and I think I finished in the top five.
Also, my brother Matt was a good runner. He mentioned the Brighton 10k, and said I should try the track sessions he was doing at Withdean. A mate said I wouldn’t break 40 minutes, but I did 37:25.
Can you identify your key strengths, and what’s your favourite distance?
I think my strengths vary from event to event. I know how to dig in and stick with it when the going gets tough. When you’re really hurting and struggling, you’ve got to enjoy the pain. One of my favourite events is 3000m; in a sick kind of way, you know before the start you’re going to hurt yourself! And if ever I have to take some time out with injury, I think I’m driven by a fear of being left behind.
And what would you say has been the highlight of your running career so far?
I would say it was when I broke 31 minutes in the Eastleigh 10k, age 40. I never thought I was capable of that. It puts you into a more elite category, with people like Kev Rojas and Neil Boniface. Several other of my training partners had done 31-something, like Matt, and David Benton.
What sort of weekly mileage do you normally do? And can you give an example of a couple of typical training sessions?
In the winter, I usually run 70-80 miles a week. I’d say the key sessions are the long reps, eg 1k or 1 mile reps, or say 3 x 10 minutes. These are geared towards 10k and half-marathon races. In the summer, when I’m focusing on 3000m and 5000m, I do less mileage as there isn’t the need for such high volume.
And what really helps is having some great training partners, as you know, in Allison Benton’s group. Usually, on four out of my six training days each week, there are other runners at a similar level who I can run with. Having competitive company on the long reps really can drive out that extra few percent a mile against doing them on my own.
I know you still do a fair bit of cycling. Do you think the cross-training is an important factor in your running achievements? Would you say this is a key component of your success?
Cycling, yes, definitely. In fact, I was just off running for three weeks over Christmas because of an Achilles problem. I did heaps of work in the gym – rowing, cycling and on the cross-trainer. I always try and replicate the running sessions I would otherwise be doing. For example, if I was scheduled to run 8 x 3 minutes, I would do 8 x 3 minutes on the rowing machine.
When I’m not injured but need a day off running, I’ll cross-train. And I always do strength and conditioning work twice a week.
After those three weeks off over Christmas, it then took me just a week to find my running legs and, since then, I’ve been training back at the front of the group again.
How long do you think you can keep on improving? Are there more PBs to come? And what’s your ultimate running goal?
For how long, I don’t know. But there are definitely more PBs to come.
I’m doing Reading Half Marathon, 3rd April. My half-marathon PB is 68:59, but I’ll be going for sub-68.
And I still have unfinished business at 3k, 5k and 10k. Hopefully I’ll get another 10k PB at Eastleigh, 20th March.
I’ve not done a 10-mile race in a long time; my PB is around 63 minutes, from about 2009, so I could probably knock over 10 minutes off that.
As I progress, it’s like I’m always entering into the unknown. I’ll keep going for as long as I’m enjoying it. I don’t have long term goals as I only ever tend to look ahead three or four months.
Your 2:55 marathon is clearly out of sync with your times over other distances. Is this something you’d like to rectify?
I’m actually deliberating over possibly running a marathon next year. I did Brighton Marathon in 2010 when I was fairly new to running and only trained about 30 miles a week. I realised then the need to train hard! I’ll be on my honeymoon at the end of this year and might not get to run very much. I’m thinking it through as it could be a good spring board to kick start some decent training in 2017. We’ll see!
Ah yes, you’re getting married in a couple of months. Is the wedding going to take some focus away from your running?
To be honest, I’ll still run on the morning of my wedding. But I might miss three days of running when I’m away on my stag do!
Howard, congratulations on your forthcoming wedding; I hope all goes well. Well done on all your incredible running achievements so far, and good luck with all those PBs in the next few months.
By Mike Bannister