Powerlifter Turned Runner

DECEMBER 2016: Since I first met James Turner, two years ago, I have taken a keen interest in his progression as a runner.

Back in the days of there being a lead bike at parkrun in Hove Park, I regularly took on the role. And it was a great opportunity to spot up-and-coming talent at the front.

Christmas week, 2014, I got chatting with James after parkrun.

He was living in the Lake District, affiliated to Ambleside AC, but down visiting his family in Lewes. He explained how he had never been attached to a running club in Sussex and that he had always trained on his own on the Downs. He mentioned that he would periodically come back to visit, so I suggested he would fit in well with Allison Benton’s training group whenever he was in the vicinity.

Well, that was all history. James is now back living in Lewes, is a regular member of Allison’s group in Brighton and his running has gone from strength to strength.

But he hasn’t always been a runner; in his army days, he was mainly into CrossFit & power lifting and entered Strongman competitions.

Most recently, last Monday, James won the annual Boxing Day race in Preston Park.

James, I’m particularly intrigued by your pre-running days. What did you used to do to keep fit and what was your role in the army?

I had always been into rugby, playing for Lewes Rugby Club, originally as a junior but continued playing for them through all the age groups.

From age 16, I trained with Spartan Fitness in Hove; that mainly revolved around kettlebell work and functional movement. I did that through to age 19 when I joined the army.

In the army, I was in the Royal Logistic Corps and was a Physical Training Instructor. I mainly lived in Germany and did tours of Afghanistan and Oman.

And it was in the army that I also got into CrossFit and powerlifting.

What was it that prompted your move from Sussex to the Lake District?

I was leaving the army and found out they would pay the course fees for a university undergraduate degree, so I decided to move to Ambleside and study Outdoor Education. I had just run the Lakeland 50; I thought it looked like a good place to run and fell-running looked a good crack!

And what does your work involve now? Does your job allow you to easily fit your training around it?

I work at the Southdown’s YHA; it’s right on the Southdown’s Way, in Southease. So, I can run into work, from Lewes, over the Downs – not a bad commute! It’s shift work, including weekends, but I don’t miss races – sometimes I’ll organise my shifts around races. My managers are really good and try to make sure my shifts don’t clash with races or training sessions.

I understand you did your first marathon whilst in the army?

Yes, my regiment were running Berlin Marathon for The Army Benevolent Fund. I had broken my wrist playing rugby and couldn’t lift weights, so I thought I’d give the marathon a go. I couldn’t turn down a weekend in Berlin. Running a sub-3:15 marathon sounded good, so I went for that and ran 3:14:36. My arm was in a cast and it stunk afterwards. I didn’t even make it out that night to celebrate – I was in bits!

Wow, sounds like you paced Berlin to perfection! And in a cast – impressive stuff! And since then, how has your marathoning progressed?

After meeting with Allison, we decided to go for London Marathon. Having a great coach and training group made a big difference and I ran 2:32. Before getting coached by Allison, I had never trained on a track or done any sessions; I just used to run. Then learning from runners like Howard Bristow makes a big difference, telling me about the 6-stage road relays and cross-country at Parliament Hill. I didn’t know anything about the club scene; I just thought it was marathons and half marathons that people did.

Then, this year, I went for Manchester Marathon. We had a good Brighton & Hove team going up to run it. We ended up winning the team prize. Kev Rojas came 2nd, Dimos Evangelidis 4th, and me 12th in 2:29:34. It was awesome and I was just happy not to let down Kev and Dimos by running too slow. It was also my 26th birthday, so nice to celebrate it by running 26 miles! I love the team aspect of running and running well for my club.

Last April, you were one of the 3-hour pacers in Brighton Marathon. I think that was the first time you had taken on such a role. How was that experience? It was only one week after your Manchester Marathon, yet you seemed to cope with it just fine!

I loved it. I know what it’s like to go for a sub-3-hour time for the first time, so was very keen to help some runners achieve that. I had big Paul Navesey with me and that pace was basically his 100km race pace, so he kept me on a leash. I wanted to enjoy the day more, but I had to go straight back to work after the finish. I had some fish & chips afterwards, but had to skip the beer. In a few years when I’m faster, I’d love to have a good go at Brighton.

You would have gone through some significant changes in your body image, transitioning from powerlifter to runner. How have you found that?

I’ve gone from 90kg to 70kg, but I never trained for aesthetic reasons. It was all functional fitness; I hated bodybuilding. I just do what I enjoy so it’s never bothered me. I get more of a buzz pushing myself in races than I ever did in the gym.

I know you were involved in a road accident last year. What happened, and how did you retain your fitness whilst you couldn’t run?

I was running to Ringmer and got hit on Earwig Corner. I smashed the car windscreen with my head and their bonnet punched a hole behind my knee, but the car was in the garage longer than I was in hospital! I flew to the other side of the road. But, luckily, the car I flew in front of was a paramedic on his way to work!

To keep training, I got a turbo trainer in my room at home. I used to do sessions and long rides on that.

You’ve clearly always done strength work, which I guess follows a different format now as a runner. What would you say are the key differences between the gym work you used to do compared with what you do now to complement your running?

As I started lifting weights at such a young age, my flexibility is shocking, so that’s what I’m working on now. I’ve started yoga, but can barely sit cross-legged, so I’ve got a long way to go. I don’t need to lift any big weights now, so I just do bodyweight stuff and plyometrics.

And how many miles do you run now in a typical week?

At the moment, I’m running around 80 miles a week, but that will go up when I’m training for a marathon. I normally do three quality sessions each week and, on the days in between, I just do easy recovery runs and steady running.

What’s the next big race you’re focusing on? And do you have an ultimate running target?

It’s cross-country at the moment, but then I’ll start building up to London Marathon where I’d like to run a big PB! I just want to keep getting faster from 3000m to marathons, and hopefully in 5-10 years I’ll run some half-decent times. I’m in no rush!

James, well done on your latest win on Boxing Day, and on all you’ve achieved so far, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing you get a big PB in London!


By Mike Bannister