A Healthy Addiction

AUGUST 2015: I first met Gary McKivett when he was training with RunBrighton over the winter 13/14 in preparation for Brighton Marathon.

Reflecting back on that season, my feeling is that he blended in well – one of a large number of runners all going about getting themselves ready to complete the 26.2 mile course in April.

I don’t recall any notable declaration of intent to smash any particular time.

But the Gary McKivett we know today has very much turned a hobby into something far more serious.

What has emerged is an athlete with talent but, more importantly, an individual with drive, unstoppable determination and meticulous attention to detail.

I was aware that Gary’s lifestyle in his teenage years was quite contrary to that of an athlete, making his current form / goals / ambitions all the more intriguing. I was keen to find out more.

When did you start running, Gary, and how did it come about?

I’d done some amateur boxing in my mid twenties, so occasionally ran to help me get fit for bouts, and I also played a lot of football. Naturally I don’t consider myself a people person so, when I was playing football, I would get frustrated if anyone in the team didn’t give 100% or turn up. I fancied a change and wanted something where I wasn’t reliant on others. I took up running in 2013.

And before the boxing and football?

From my early teens through to my early twenties, my lifestyle was very different to what it is now. I got caught up in alcohol and drugs from a young age. I was thrown out of school for stealing a video camera; I’d done it to fund the drink and drugs. But, with all that behind me, I think the traits associated with addiction actually help what I do now, in both my work life and my running. With everything I do, I’m all or nothing, and very focussed!

Which athletes would you say inspire you?

I appreciate and admire many famous athletes, too many to mention. But, to be honest, I’m probably more inspired by people in my local running circle, such as Caroline Wood who took up running late and has now run for GB; and Paul Gasson who, at over 60 years of age, is knocking out 5ks in sub 20 minutes and 10ks in sub 40 minutes. Howard Bristow also got into running late and has made significant improvements each year from age 35 to 40, and I’ve just turned 35, so his journey gives me hope. And Kev Rojas who started out at a similar level to myself has progressed beyond all recognition!

When you set about training for your first marathon, what was on your agenda? Did you have any thoughts at that stage about what running you’d like to be doing after the marathon?

I wasn’t competitive at all. I felt it was important to first get my body used to running. At the end of 2013 I’d done a couple of half-marathons; so I thought “let’s sign up for Brighton Marathon 2014”! I figured I could gradually improve over the next 5, 6, 7 years or more, so why rush?! I approach my running very methodically.

How did that first one go?

I originally thought I might do just inside 3hrs15, but I actually did 3:05:14. Of course, I had no experience of marathons and went far too quickly in the first half; in fact, the first half in 1:27 was only circa 90 seconds outside my half-marathon PB. The second half was around 10 minutes slower.

I know you went on to run Amsterdam Marathon later in 2014 and cracked the 3hr barrier with a time of 2:58:18. The way your training had been going, I recall your running mates (myself included) trying to convince you that you were capable of running a fair bit quicker, and I’m sure you agreed with that sentiment. What was your thinking behind approaching Amsterdam somewhat conservatively?

I didn’t want to under-estimate what it takes to run a sub-3hr marathon. For me, racing is as much mental as physical. I have a very harsh inner critic; I’m a perfectionist with a fear of failure! If I’d have targeted say sub-2:55 but only run 2:56, I would have beaten myself up over it, whereas I was actually delighted to have broken 3hrs.

And you proved to us that you did indeed have the ability as you went on to run 2:46:34 in Manchester in April this year. What would you say has been the secret to your success so far?

I have always set myself realistic and achievable goals, and I never get distracted by what others are doing; I don’t have to prove anything trying to beat anyone. I have no interest in what position I get; it’s all about my own personal goals. I am fully aware of the risks of getting injured if I try and run at the pace of a faster runner rather than the pace I’ve prepared for. As regards injury-prevention, I always have regular physio, including acupuncture which, for me, is much better than massage.

And I should also say that most of my training, particularly the slower stuff, is heart-rate based.

You’re running Chicago Marathon in October. What’s your target time and what kind of training have you been doing to get in shape for it?

I’ve set myself a target of sub-2:45, and this would get me a championship place in London Marathon next year, which is my main objective for Chicago.

I’ve been rotating my program ever other week. So, one week I do 100 miles plus, running every day and including 4 double days; the next week I do 60 miles over just 6 days and include gym work for lots of strength and conditioning.

And longer term? What’s the ultimate objective?

For now, it’s all about what I feel is realistic.

As I mentioned, I plan to run London Marathon 2016. After that, I’m going to stay away from marathons for a little while as I want to focus on shorter distances. I want to run a 3k in low 9s, 5k in about 16 minutes, 10k in 33:30 ish, 10 miles in around 55 minutes, and a half-marathon in about 1:13. I’d like to run my next marathon in Berlin in September 2017. And my ultimate goal is to run a marathon in low 2:30s.

Gary, many congratulations, not just on the level you’ve reached so far with your running, but on the greater, far more significant journey which the running represents. Good luck in Chicago, and please continue to share the journey with us.

By Mike Bannister