Running – it’s just not tennis!

DECEMBER 2014: Graham Godden, at 46, is a man on a mission. Until June 2013, his name was unfamiliar to everyone on the Brighton & Hove running scene. Just 18 months on and with 21 Brighton and Hove parkrun wins under his belt, people now start asking questions if he doesn’t show up on a Saturday morning!

Not only that, having waited until his mid-forties to take up any kind of structured running training, he has now been invited to run for his country!

His first parkrun in June last year was completed in 17 minutes 51 seconds. His PB is now down to 16 minutes 13 seconds.

So, what motivates Graham? And how has he progressed at such a pace?

We caught up for a chat.

Graham, firstly, congratulations on being selected to represent England in the British & Irish Cross-Country International at Nottingham. What an honour! How did it go? I guess it must have been quite different to the many races you’ve done at a local level. What was the standard of the competition like?

The standard was very high. It was amazing to see so many veterans just tearing the course up. What surprised me though was that I didn’t actually get to meet the rest of the V45 team. I’d met other members of the England squad in the hotel the night before, but as the V45 team were all Midland based apart from myself, they must have gone straight to the race in the morning and left as soon as it finished!

I loved the course – just one short, sharp hill, with the rest of it downhill and flat. I got quite excited by it all when I first arrived. I’d been carrying a calf injury before the race, so unfortunately was unable to perform as well as I’d have liked, but I know the next one will be so much better.

It was a great experience though, and something which was noticeably different was hearing shouts of “Come on England” rather than “Graham” or “Brighton”!

I know you were a tennis coach for many years. How did that come about? Had you previously played at a high level yourself?

I enjoyed playing in my mid-teens, would love to have taken it to a higher level but it soon became clear that, to take it further, would have required throwing a lot of money at it, which my family simply didn’t have. And so I decided on coaching instead. I qualified as a coach when I was about 18, then spent 3 or 4 years doing summer-coaching for foreign students at the EF Language School before becoming self-employed.

Did you do much running during your days as a coach?

No, not at all, just the obvious bit of running around the court when coaching.

What prompted you to take up running seriously?

A mate was about to start training for the 2014 Brighton Half Marathon, and he asked me if I wanted to join him on some of his training runs. After a couple of weeks, he told me about parkrun and suggested I give it a go. My first impression when I got there was how fit everyone looked. I decided to start in the middle of the pack but went off like a rocket, found myself overtaking loads of people and ended up coming 3rd. The following week I started at the front, and won!

You’ve clearly worked your way up to a very high level in the context of your age group. For example, you currently have the 4th fastest parkrun in the UK this year for a V45 runner, and 3rd fastest V45 for 10,000m on the track. What do you put this down to? What are the secrets to your success? Do you think natural talent plays a big part, or would you say there is something different or extra you do compared with other runners of your age?

I’d say I’m very competitive and stubborn. I always believe I can be the best at whatever I do. I don’t think anything is impossible, and age is just a number. I’m not prepared to conform to what people think you should be doing for someone of your age. Every race I do, I want to win.

I’ve not undergone any physiological testing, but I don’t get out of breath easily. I’m not sure exactly what that means – maybe I have good efficient lungs?

As regards my training, I do tend to run how I feel rather than stick to a rigid schedule. If I feel like running 10 miles, I’ll run 10 miles. Everything’s a bit random, but I prefer it that way, keeping it flexible. And if I can’t run because of injury, I’ll do what I can to keep fit – pull-ups, cycling, whatever!

Something that has possibly had a big impact on me is the fact that I was bullied as a kid; I hated school. Maybe, without realising it, that has made me the determined person I am, creating the desire to prove myself and show people what I’m capable of.

Other than England selection, what has been the greatest highlight of your (so far) relatively short running career? What has been your best race to date?

Two highlights come to mind. One was getting V45 Gold at the BMAF multi-terrain 15-mile championship race at Bewl, probably because at the time it was my longest ever run and I had gone into it with no expectations. The other has to be breaking the V45 course record at Brighton & Hove parkrun.

Considering you are relatively new to running, it seems to have become quite an addiction. What is it that drives you?

As I mentioned earlier, I want to be the best I can. Someone has to be the best; why not me?! And I love exercising!

Would you say there are any transferable skills from your tennis coach role which you can apply to your running?

As a coach, I always strongly disagreed with the principle of one-size-fits-all.  I found it important to find out what was best for each individual, and I apply this to my running, always keen to experiment with different training methods and running technique.

Also some of the techniques I developed on the tennis court seem to be useful as a runner, for example the initial burst of speed, good balance, and a lot of time spent up on my toes.

So, tell us a bit about yourself / your family / what you do when you’re not running.

I’m married with 3 children – daughter aged 14, and sons 10 and 6. We home educate my daughter and youngest son. It works well as my wife works from home, and I’m a house-husband! My mum has arthritis, as well as cataracts, and she lives with us so a fair bit of time is spent looking after her. To be honest, there’s not much time for anything else. My main focus is running now, and when I’m not running I’m thinking about running!

Are they supportive of your running? Do they recognise the significance of where you’ve got to and understand how much it means to you?

Yes, I think they’re just happy that I’m happy. And I know they’re immensely proud of me getting selected for England. In fact they’re more proud of me than I am of myself!

What’s next?  And what are your long term goals and aspirations?

I want to get my parkrun time down to under 16 minutes and, shortly after turning 50, I want to run a sub-2hr30 marathon.

Going forward, I really want to be no.1 overall in the V50 runbritain rankings.

Graham, once again, very well done with what you’ve achieved so far, particularly as regards England selection! I wish you every success in the races that lie ahead and I shall look forward to witnessing more PBs over the next few months. Good luck!

By Mike Bannister