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Cambridge & Coleridge Athletic Club member Will Mycroft takes the long way round to Great Britain selection

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Cambridge & Coleridge AC member Will Mycroft in action at the Manchester Marathon. Picture: Paul Bannister (57805283)
Cambridge & Coleridge AC member Will Mycroft in action at the Manchester Marathon. Picture: Paul Bannister (57805283)

Why take the short route when you can go a long way round?

It is a question that could be asked of Will Mycroft, but the answer will probably be a simple one: to earn Great Britain selection.

At the age of 31, Mycroft has been called up to represent the country for the first time this October, in the inaugural International Association of Ultrarunners 50km European Championships.

It is a distance that is 8km longer than a marathon.

“To be honest, personally, I would prefer to focus on the marathon,” says Mycroft, “but I’m not going to turn down the opportunity to run in a GB vest given it’s my first one.”

It was a 10th-place finish at the Therme Manchester Marathon in April that put him in contention to head to Spain, and he is extremely modest about how it has all come about – perhaps too much so.

The pandemic has led to there being a host of athletic events this summer, with the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships, the European Championships and the 50km European Championships.

“It has meant that maybe in a normal year, someone like me who is ranked 16th in the country in the marathon probably wouldn’t have been able to get picked to run for GB, but because the top 10 are tied up with these other competitions, these additional sports fall down to someone like me,” says Mycroft.

“I’m jumping at the chance to be able to run in a GB vest, I think it will be great. But it’s these slightly strange circumstances that have led to me getting picked.

“I’ve dreamed since I started running of competing for GB. Obviously it’s not quite the same as the Olympic gold you dream of when you’re 11 or 12 but it’s a step in the right direction.

“I will keep working and hopefully use it as a springboard to better things.”

Mycroft has been a prominent athlete on the county scene for a long time.

The distance is capped at 1,500m up until around the age of 11 or 12, and like many up-and-coming athletes, the dream is to reach the Olympics, perhaps over that distance on the track.

But by around 16, Mycroft realised he was not fast enough so once the opportunity came to up the mileage, he was eager to take the chance.

He admits that 50km is “more of the extreme side”, with most settling for either 5km or 10km, but believes that, physiologically, his wiring was more suited to go further.

“I’m not the most talented runner in terms of running really fast over short distances but I think my main talent comes in the fact that I can do a lot of training and I very rarely get injured,” he explains.

“I can do long, big sessions and I very rarely break down and it kind of gives me an edge over quite a few people I train with.

“They are about my sort of level and much faster over the shorter distances, but they can’t do the high volume marathon training because they end up getting injured.

“In a weird kind of way, I think marathon training is actually easier than shorter distances because you don’t have to have those super high-intensity sessions where everything is really hard.

“You just have to go out for a long run and it’s a little bit hard for a long period of time.”

It begs the question whether there will have to be much of a difference in approach for the 50km from that already taken for the marathon.

That is with regards to both the training and in the race itself.

Cambridge & Coleridge AC member Will Mycroft in action at the Manchester Marathon. Picture: Paul Bannister (57805285)
Cambridge & Coleridge AC member Will Mycroft in action at the Manchester Marathon. Picture: Paul Bannister (57805285)

“It’s just under 8km longer so I think in terms of training it will be very similar,” he says. “Maybe I will just try to do slightly longer runs. So the marathon-specific sessions, run them a little bit slower but a bit more total volume.

“People at my sort of level, they slow it down to between five and 10 seconds per mile so it’s not a huge difference, but maybe a sizeable amount that if you want to get locking in that pace, then you need to make a little bit of a difference.”

When you are talking of such distances, it is intriguing to try to understand the appeal.

It is not just about the racing itself, it is about the length of the training runs.

You wonder how much of it is about ‘escapism’ from the day to day, that appeal of leaving the modern world behind for an hour or so just to hit the great outdoors.

For Mycroft, that would appear to be the case.

“I love the fact that it’s one of those sports that the more you put in, the more you get out,” he explains.

“It’s a bit of a cliché but most things in life, if you work hard at something it’s not really guaranteed you get better because there are a lot of factors involved.

“You are part of a team and maybe the team is underperforming, or maybe it’s not obvious where your results are coming from.

“In running you have a nice relationship as the more training you do and the more you focus on the sessions and the better quality of your sessions, you tend to get better.

“Some people do yoga, some meditate, some go for a walk – it’s nice to have a bit of time by yourself.

“You mull things over when you’re running, but you don’t think of anything too specifically.

“If I’m injured or have a bit of down time not running, then sometimes I will come home [from work] and not be quite as relaxed.”

To give an idea of a regular training week for Mycroft, he would often run just over 100 miles.

In the build-up to the Manchester marathon, it was a 16-week preparation period which involved running on average 101 miles – with the highest weekly total being 107 and the lowest 100.

It also means concentrating quite hard in order to try to hit race pace.

“I genuinely really enjoy the training,” he says, “it sounds a little bit weird but being able to go out for a marathon-specific session and doing 90 minutes to two hours running at a pretty fast pace; fast enough that you feel like you’re running quickly, so it’s a nice sensation to be running at that speed but it’s sufficiently slow that you’re not killing yourself.”

He adds: “It’s not really painful to hit that pace, which is certainly what I found when I was training for 800m or 1,500m.

“You were trying so hard – you were running quite quickly – and the sensations are not as satisfying as the longer distance.”

You could say that going the long way round has reaped its rewards for Mycroft, with all his labour fittingly set to bear GB fruit in October in Spain.

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