A transcript from an interview with Jonny Mellor and coach Steve Vernon in the lead up to the Virgin Money London Marathon with OTE Sports Nutrition.
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HOW DID YOU BECOME A RUNNER?
JM “I think like most people, I did a lot of different sports at a young age. I played football, which gave me a good fitness base and foundation to build from. I got into running relatively late, really; it wasn’t until my late teens when I started taking it more seriously. I stopped playing football and realised I could be a good runner! I then went to Uni, and that’s when I started making the step up and won a few university titles. During my early 20s, I ran cross-country, road and track and ran reasonably well but wasn’t taking that next step up.
Running sub-63-minutes in the New York Half Marathon in 2012 gave me the confidence to have a future on the road. So from then on, I wanted to move up to the marathon. I moved across to Steve, and he wanted me to run a bit faster on the track first before moving to the marathon, getting a bit stronger and ready for the distance. So I ran my first marathon in Frankfurt in 2015. After that, I suffered a few injuries, which is all part of the sport, and it wasn’t until last spring I ran another marathon. So I am still relatively new to the marathon and still learning all the time.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME A PART OF TEAM NEW BALANCE MANCHESTER?
JM “I moved across to be coached by Steve Vernon (Team NB coach) about September 2014. I wanted to take that next step up in my running, and I recognised Steve as the person to help me do that. As well as this, Ross Millington moved over to represent the brand New Balance. I don’t think the team was mentioned at that point, and I think it was just an idea. I tried on the product, and I liked it. It wasn’t until January 2015 that Team New Balance Manchester was officially launched. They had put all this amazing structure in place. For me to move over to Manchester was a big move at the time, but I knew that was where I needed to be if I wanted to take the next step up and be part of that professional environment.”
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN YOUR CAREER?
JM “Qualifying for my first World champs is definitely a pivotal moment. We were (me & Steve) still early into our career working together, which was the catalyst of what more we could achieve together. Unfortunately, I got badly ill in Kenya, followed by a series of injuries from the medication; I look back. That was a pivotal moment in my career because you learn so much from that and come back with a different mindset. I would also say running London Marathon last year, again a negative, but still, a pivotal moment in my career because from that negative I learnt so much. I learnt the importance of fuelling; up until that point, I probably hadn’t given it enough respect. | Didn’t take enough fluid on board and paid the price. Then finally getting it right in Berlin last September showed me that I can be a marathon runner and I can run at the top level.”
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE EVENT?
JM “That’s such a tricky question because I have obviously been very fortunate to do so many good races over the years. I think having a good experience gives you a good memory of a race, so going back to New York, I have raced there twice, and I have had two good runs there. There is just something about running around Central Park and then going through Times Square; I loved the whole event. So probably New York is my favourite but in the UK, again London Marathon. Even with having a bad experience last year, I love the crowds of London. Afterwards, you still think, wow, that was amazing; your hairs do stand up on the back of your neck when you’re running around Cutty Sark and places like that.
I try to use the crowds to inspire and motivate me. There is nothing worse than in a race to be on your own, with no crowds cheering you on and in the middle of nowhere. So you’ve got to use the crowds to your advantage.”
WHAT ARE YOUR AIMS FOR THE FUTURE?
JM “I think for any athlete the Olympics is the pinnacle, that’s definitely my goal, and the plan in the next few years is to make sure I give myself the best possible chance of qualifying to run in Paris 2024.
But short term, I want to run PBs and run some good times. I want to enjoy the journey, be in control, and go to different places around the world as well. That’s something you look back on after your career and something you should make the most of while you can.”
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AS AN ATHLETE?
SV “My background is cross country, and I started as a schoolboy running cross country. I wasn’t a club member, I just ran a lap of the field, and the first four got picked for the school team. I love sport and love being outdoors, and I just took to XC straight away.
From there on, I joined an athletics club when I was 12 mainly because I fancied a girl around the corner that was going, and she asked me to come. I started at age eight, but from 12-13, I began with Stockport Harriers. And then from there, I was just lucky that I had a good coach, he was very enthusiastic, made us enjoy it but gave us discipline as well. But I was fortunate that I was talented as a youngster, and I was running for England by the time I was 15 as a schoolboy. Then my first time representing GB was as a junior boy at the XC in Belfast in 1999. I was just known as an XC runner, I wasn’t a great track runner, and I didn’t enjoy it. So I went mountain running in the summer, and someone got me into that in my early 20s. So I spent my winter doing XC and summers mountain running. I was particularly good at the uphill only races, which sounds like everyone’s worst nightmare running up a mountain for an hour, but my sick sense of humour found it painfully enjoyable.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME A COACH?
SV “So mountain running was my thing, but I suppose I was interested in coaching from my early 20’s as a student. I was into the sport and absorbed and read every bit of information I could. Dave (my coach) would tell us what we were doing, and I always asked questions to understand why. From then on, I studied it at university, and I did a masters degree in Physical Activity and Nutrition. I moved on to lecturing at a Uni which was partly sports science-based, and then I went on to work as a Performance Director at British Orienteering but all along, I knew I wanted to coach in elite running.
When my running was done, before I took on a professional coaching role, I coached Jonny Mellor, Ross Millington and Andy Davies. So I was coaching three athletes already towards the end of my running career who were at a high level. Then I retired, but I hate to use the word retired because I still run. I had a goal in mind: I wanted to win the most national XC or get the most national XC medals ever, and the record was seven, and I won 8 individual medals and 2 x gold, 3 x silver, 3 x bronze across a narrow nine-year period. And once I had done that, I knew I had done enough. I didn’t feel like I could coach at the top level while running at a high level myself.
My coaching journey has come from a love of the sport and a passion for helping people improve. I love helping people, and this is my way of assisting people to be the best they can be. I got so much from my coach, and I’m lucky that I get paid to do it, but I did it as a voluntary role anyway when I started. If I lost my job tomorrow, I would still coach because I love it so much.”
HOW DID TEAM NEW BALANCE MANCHESTER COME ABOUT?
SV “We started the professional team, me and a good friend Pete Riley. It was always a dream of mine to create a professional running team, but you need support, you need backing, and luckily New Balance put athletes at the forefront of what they do and here we are.
Pete and I did a lot of running together. We used to talk about if we won the lottery, we would buy a house, start this professional team, and everything else. I suppose you look at East Africa, some of the best distance runners in the world, they are all in groups, in teams and they work together. You look at the next best after Africa, and that’s the US. The US has a great collegiate system, and if you are then at the top of the pile, you move into a pro team. In Europe, there are very few, so we knew this would be a great way to help people carry on their running careers after university. We wanted to create a great environment that was totally about getting the best out of the athletes. A real performance environment.
So I suppose what we are trying to achieve at Team NB is this perfect environment or near perfect, for young athletes to invest their time and take away the stresses of full-time jobs. So our guys are supported by NB in the athlete house to take costs away. Some have small part-time jobs to pay for food etc., but we wanted to make it so people could train hard, recover and be pro athletes. This has proven successful globally, and we knew it would work if we got the right infrastructure there to create this.
Stockport is the place where I grew up. There are miles and miles of off-road trails. We’ve got a track got the support from a gym partner on our doorstep. We’ve got support from OTE, and in terms of technology, Garmin helps us, so we have created this environment for these guys to be the best they can be. And that’s what it is all about.”