Runner Profile: Matthew Saunders

Firstly, thanks for the nomination Ozzy.  It was great to read the journey you’ve been on and I remember that crazy hot Halstead marathon in 2016 well (more on that later).  I also remember just about keeping you in my sights at the Hadleigh 10 later that year, although these days you leave me for dust! 

How I Got Started 

I didn’t really do sports as a child other than a kick-around over the park and that’s pretty much how it stayed in to adulthood.  I joined various gym’s over the years, invariably starting off with the best intentions but inevitably losing enthusiasm and always, always, avoiding the treadmill, because running wasn’t my thing.  However, in 2013, with another effort to lose a few of those extra pounds and get fit, I got wind of something called SRC – Sweatshop Running Community (a precursor to what is now Rushmere Community Runners).  Based at the Sweatshop sports shop in the David Lloyd sports club, they offered free weekly running sessions for people of any ability.  Attracted by the fact that all I needed was a pair of trainers I figured I’d give it a go.  I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the first session I went to (I think I may have arrived late and missed the main group), but I do remember I ended up doing a run-walk lap of the Ransomes industrial estate with Ali and Justin Ostler.  They were incredibly patient and supportive and gave me enough encouragement that I went back and things built from there.  I started going regularly, with the sessions often led by a certain Simon Wiggins, and I remember in those early days my aim was simply to get fit enough to run a 5K without stopping, something I achieved at the Perkins Great Eastern Run in Peterborough in October 2013.

2014 saw my first 10K (a freezing cold mud bath in January at the Hadleigh 2012 Legacy event) and half marathon (Ipswich) races, and in 2015 I decided to take the plunge and join a running club.  With several of the people I already knew being members of FRR it seemed like the logical choice.  Even though I’d been running for a while I was still nervous about being around so many “proper” runners, but I was welcomed in and haven’t really looked back! 

Memorable Moments 

Great North Run 2015.  My first official race for FRR, which makes it memorable, even if the race itself was distinctly average.  I know a lot of people rave about this event, but for a number of reasons I just didn’t enjoy it. 

Halstead marathon 2016.  I’d decided to make the step up to marathon distance but wanted it to be something relatively local, which limited the choices somewhat.  With Bungay ruled out due to a diary clash I turned to the Halstead & Essex Marathon.  With a bit of basic maths and a little bit of bravado I figured a sub-4 hour marathon was achievable, so I downloaded a myAsics training plan and off I went.  Training went really well and as the weeks ticked by I was starting to feel confident that I might actually be able to do it.  That all evaporated in the week leading up to the race!  I was in Liverpool at a conference for the week beforehand, and every day it just seemed to be getting hotter and hotter.  By the time I was back at home and race day arrived, the news was full of stories about how it was the hottest weekend of the year, and hotter than Ibiza.  This was not what I had trained for!  The race itself was long and arduous, my Garmin packed up after 21 miles and I eventually crossed the line in 05hr 41min. 

Bury Friday Five 2016.  The race where I got given the full Solly treatment.  The opening race of the series at Framlingham had been my first at the five mile distance.  As we all gathered on the start line at Bury Dave was enquiring what people’s target times were, looking for a victim somebody to help pace as he was carrying an injury and thus wouldn’t be going full bore.  Having crept in to the 39’s at Framlingham, I mentioned that I was aiming for a time in the 38’s, and we were set.  I knew what kind of race I was in for as soon as the gun went… “Stop looking at your watch, just keep up with me…” Dave said “…we need to bank some time for later in the race”.  And that we did, I finished in 36min 47sec, landing a huge PB and learning a big lesson about backing yourself (as Dave would say).  Thanks Dave! 

Brighton Marathon 2017.  Another crack at the sub-4 hour marathon.  Another good training block in the lead up to race day.  Another brutally hot race where all the training went out of the window.  4hr 41min.  Nowhere near target, but an hour quicker than Halstead the year before, so technically a sizeable PB. 

Martlesham 2017.  Supporting my wife as she completed her first ever 5KM race.  Running was never really her thing (and hasn’t been since) and this is the only time we’ve done a race together.  I was incredibly proud of her when she finished and this is one of my favourite running memories. 

12 in 12 – 2018.  Wanting to push myself further, and disappointed with the results I had got when investing months of training for single marathons, I decided to tackle twelve of them in a calendar year.  I approached Mark Goodwin, one of the club coaches at the time, and after telling me I was mad he helped me pull together a training plan.  I had tentatively marked out two “A” events; The Boston (UK) marathon in April (pancake flat so PB potential), and Race to the Tower in June (double marathon along the Cotswold Way).  These two races couldn’t have gone more differently.  By the time I got to the start line in Boston I knew I wasn’t in PB form, but that didn’t stop me going out at PB pace anyway.  What followed was the inevitable blow-up, a lot of choice language, and probably the most mentally draining race I’ve ever done.  The course may be pancake flat, but when you’re in a dark spot the last thing you want to see in front of you is miles of open countryside and a steady stream of runners.  But the thing with doing multiple marathons is, another one soon comes along to take your mind off it!  Another couple of marathons later and It was Race to the Tower.  Although doable as a single 53 mile ultra, I’d taken the double marathon option, split over the Saturday and Sunday.  The most amount of elevation gain I’d ever attempted, and the first time I’d done back-to-back marathons, I went in to this simply aiming to enjoy it and to finish.  The organisation was second-to-none, the scenery was beautiful, and I loved it.   

Not knowing how my body would feel afterwards I had purposefully left a gap to the next marathon to ensure there was plenty of time for recovery.  The next marathon was at the end of August and with no “A” race left on the cards I found it hard to get back into marathon training.  The rest of the marathons were basically just grinding them out, ticking them off one at a time, and after running the twelfth and final marathon at the end of November, I took pretty much the whole of December off.  Looking back, I learnt a lot of valuable lessons in those twelve races, about what kit and nutrition works for me and how to prepare for race day, and completing twelve marathons in twelve months is definitely one of my proudest moments. 

Martlesham 2019.  My first race as race director.  Early on in the organising process somebody told me that once you’ve been a race director you never look at a race in the same way, and it’s true.  There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes to make race day run smoothly and it’s fair to say I had no idea what I was letting myself in for!  The months and months of hard work paid off, and even biblical amounts of rain on race day couldn’t put a dampener on things.

Favourite Races 

This is actually quite an easy one – Heritage Coast.  If ever there was a race that epitomised the phrase tinpot classic, it’s this one (although don’t let them hear you say that!), and I love it.  Beautiful countryside, on the day entry (yes, really!), aid stations with orange squash and digestives manned by old boys on deckchairs, and the first year I did it they were still timing using stopwatches.  If I could only do one race a year, it would be this one. 

I also have a real soft spot for the Round Norfolk Relay.  There is something both surreal and slightly bonkers about this event.  On the face of it, getting up at silly-o-clock to spend a couple of hours driving in to deepest Norfolk just to run a 10K doesn’t sound that appealing, but the team spirit and camaraderie is what makes this event so special.  It’s as much a logistical challenge as it is a running one, trying to make sure all the runners are in the right place at the right time over the two days, and I tip my hat to Richard Smith who has done a fine job of organising the FRR team for the last few years.  Jimmy Russell is organising our team this year, and it’s an event I would highly recommend taking part in. 

What’s Next 

Who knows!?!  After a subdued 2019 this year was supposed to be about having another crack at the sub-4 hour marathon and then pushing on for some big miles with my first ever 100KM ultra in the summer in Derbyshire, but the coronavirus pandemic has put paid to all that.  No one knows when we’ll be back racing again, although with my race director hat on I hope it’s before September so that both Coastal 10 and Martlesham can go ahead! 

All is not lost this year though.  I’ve decided to carry on following my ultra training plan and I’ll be raising money for #MilesForMind during May by aiming to hit by biggest monthly total ever, and I’ve got my eye on a couple of local home-made ultra’s for the summer. 

Next Up 

For the next runner profile I’d like to nominate somebody who was there right at the very start of my journey, over to you Ali Ostler.

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