Interview: Richard Gardiner

Richard Gardner is a Welsh running legend. He’s been competing in races since the age of 9 and running since the age of 8!

Richard has competed for Great Britain at Half Marathon and Marathon distance. He is also Wales’ most successful marathoner of all time.

Last year he took the Commonwealth Ultra Trail Running Championship on home soil completing the 55km course in a very impressive 3:29:55. Not bad for a 37 year old with 30 years of running in his legs, I think you’ll agree!

When did you start running and did you have any particular reasons for starting?

My father was a rugby & football player whilst smoking! He was Player/Coach of the village football senior team and I remember running with the men’s football team at 8 years of age, this is when I realised I could beat the men! For an 8 year old to have such an ability caught my father’s attention which felt great. When he was 30 he had a nasty injury that required surgery, he had to retire from these sports and part of his rehabilitation included running.

This was right at the start of the 80’s running boom, a short time after he quit smoking, he lost 4 stone and entered London Marathon, he was a flanker in rugby but he ran a 2:36 marathon within a matter of years! I was my father’s shadow so I followed him and before long I ran a few children’s races. By the time I was in my final year of primary I had joined Aberdare AC and had several wins under my belt, Coe & Ovett were top of the sporting tree and I was SOLD…

If you could race anyone, anywhere who would it be and where? Over what distance and on which surface?

Usain Bolt, Snowdon Marathon! Always ambitious, taking on one of the greatest but of course it would be on my terms! I don’t think he would like it, but this is my question to answer and I feel it would assist him in understanding what the distance runner goes through, because of course all distance runners know the pain & frustration of trying to sprint! Would it matter that it would be a no contest? I think people would just see it as Gardiner beating Bolt and it wouldn’t be the first lightning Bolt I’ve seen whilst running on Snowdon!

Running wise, who do you look up to and who has inspired you?

Firstly my father, that’s why I started as an 8 year old and then Coe, Ovett, Cram, Elliot and of course the great Steve Jones! That said being in this sport your inspirations will change as you grow up – your wife/partner, children, training partners, coaches, challenges and friends –  these are all areas that have inspired me to various achievements in the sport, to compete as long as I have this is a constantly changing process.

What are your favourite training conditions and are they the same as your favourite racing conditions?

I love training in the spring, when the sun is out, cool but not cold, the nights are getting longer – the evening is where I do most of my running. You also cannot beat running those first cross country races of the year in that warm October autumn sunshine!

What is your fondest memory of running and, conversely, your worst?

This is a tough one; the years racing do not help! I have so, so many fond memories and I’ve made so many friends! I’ve had a blessed career in terms of health, allowing for a very slow but progressive career of PBs and 1st’s! So, which races stand out? I’d have to give you a list as there are so many, but, in no particular order I’d say:

Finishing 13th at the London Marathon 2007, my 2011 Commonwealth Ultra Distance Title, the first time I put on a Welsh vest aged 13 and the 6 stage National Road Relays held in Cardiff. I’m also very proud that I hold a record amount of Marathon titles for a Welshman and I will never forget my weekend at the Kosice Marathon with Mr. Ron Hill in October 2005 (where I finished 12th). To add to the ever growing list I’d also like to give mention to my GB vests at Half Marathon and Marathon! Whilst running for GB against Team USA we beat their runners who were coached by Mr Steve Jones himself – result!

Another highlight would be my first elite place at the London Marathon, Steve Jones was putting my number on my vest and Steve Brace was sorting my drinks, I’m there thinking, “Guys, I’m still not good enough to tie your laces!!!!” – an amazing moment!

One of the worst moments probably has to be missing out on a major games, especially the 2010 Commonwealth Games. I was training and running through injury for two years leading up to those games and I ran just seven seconds outside the qualifying time and narrowly missed out on selection!

Where do you see yourself in six years?

Unfortunately slower!!!  Runners who come into the sport later in life say to me how they envy the fact I was in the sport in my prime, but it is now me that actually envies them! They are the ones who will have those years of improvement despite the fact they are aging, as they experiment and learn. As for me there is now only one way – slower! I really do not know how to face this, I am totally institutionalised, and I cannot remember a time when I was not running.

However, going back to those friends you meet, that is one of the real benefits of this unique and beautiful sport. There are many who are willing to help you come to terms and set new challenges, it does not matter how old, how fast or how long you have been in the sport you learn from everyone. Mick (a 2:17 Marathoner) has been preparing me for the last 5 years and has got me from thinking ‘leave me alone Mick, it is the end of the world’ to maybe, just maybe, I’ll still be running. I mean, what else do I know…

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