Andy Ward - Bolsover's record-breaking runner
PUBLISHED: 09:00 16 July 2014 | UPDATED: 17:16 16 July 2014
When Andy Ward lines up in an elite 10k race the chances are that the leading competitors will be half his age - but the Derbyshire runner is still likely to beat them
Andy, from Bolsover, was ranked 27th at 10k in the country last year which is pretty good going for any runner but quite remarkable when you are 44. Andy is now officially a veteran but is still posting the best times of his life and still getting quicker.
He’s now consistently running under 30 minutes for 10k races, competing with the elite runners who are mostly in their 20s and defying his age every time he runs.
Andy’s not claiming it but others believe there isn’t anyone of his age anywhere in the world who is running better times. Certainly he has posted some of the fastest 10k times by someone of his age in the world... ever. Which just shows how remarkable his recent form has been.
He says: ‘When I stand on the starting line I don’t think “they are 24 and I’m 44 but I’m going to beat them”. I just try to do my very best.’
When Derbyshire Life caught up with him he had just posted a time of 29 mins 38 secs which was the fourth fastest by anybody of any age this year.
Not that Andy is sitting back and simply resting on his laurels
‘There are not many top sports people who enjoy what they are doing when they are actually doing it,’ he says. ‘They are not running around with a cheesy smile on their faces. They are uncomfortable and under a lot of pressure.
‘Running at my level is no different to that. It hurts. But doing something as well as you can to a high level gives you a deep sense of satisfaction. I make no money out of the sport, it costs me money to compete, but that’s not why I do it. Even the medals aren’t what it is about. It’s the experience of running in that race on that day.
Andy leading the Alsager 5-mile road race
Andy competing in the Trafford 10k
2014 National Cross Country race
Andy competing in the National Cross Country race
Andy in the 2012 Derbyshire Cross County Championships at Wollaton Park
Andy receiving his life membership of Clowne Road Runners from Brian Banton
In the Salford 10k 2012
Andy with Clowne Road Runners
‘When I moved from the fourth to the third best time ever in the UK for my age group that was a buzz – moving up that ladder. You are breaking personal barriers and going down in history. My name is on the record books, they can’t take that away from you. That’s absolutely brilliant.’
Andy ran an 800m track race when he was aged 10 but wasn’t necessarily bitten by the running bug. He tried other sports during his teenage years and only drifted back to running at the age of 18. But from then until he was 25, he took it seriously, training daily and racing competitively.
‘That was on roads, cross country and I did a lot of fell running,’ says Andy. ‘When I reached 25 I was running 10k in about 30 minutes 20 seconds. I never broke the 30-minute barrier back then – so it makes what I have done recently a bigger deal for me.’
When Andy hit 25, he began to have priorities that put running into the background. He became a father and then a house husband looking after his two young daughters.
Andy didn’t give up running completely but did stop competing and took more than a decade out from racing.
‘There is a huge difference in running for the good of your health and training to be an athlete,’ he says. ‘What I’m doing now I’m sure isn’t good for me, that’s the side people don’t see. I spend three quarters of the week feeling knackered.’
The break did mean, however, that Andy avoided the injuries and niggles that have slowed down other runners as they have aged.
‘I’m sure that if I had carried on running seriously from the age of 25 I would have stopped by now because it would have been forced on me by injury. Very few athletes go through elite level running for more than a decade without injury.
‘So it was a real blessing. I kept myself fit so when I came back I wasn’t starting from scratch. Pretty soon, at 36, I was running 10k road races in 32 minutes.’
Andy is a gardener by trade, a physical job which can be draining before he even starts his training.
Mixing work, family life and running is a balancing act and requires the support of wife Jo, a head teacher, and daughters Ellie, 18, and Mollie, 15.
Andy says: ‘They firmly follow what I do and are living it with me. You hear any top sportsman when they have won something and the first thing they do is thank their family because they are a massive part of what you do. Your coach is important but your family are involved emotionally. They have seen it when I have done well and done badly. My wife has to put up with yet more training and me being too tired when she needs something doing around the house. There are big sacrifices.’
But Andy wants to make the best of his running while he still can – because he feels he is on borrowed time.
‘If you are 25 and get a major injury you have time to get over it,’ he says. ‘If it happens to me at my age it will be very difficult to get back to this level.
‘What I have got now isn’t going to last forever and sooner rather than later I am going to slow up, I’m not going to keep getting faster.’
So is there any regret that Andy didn’t push himself to these limits when he was in his 20s rather than in his 40s?
‘I do wonder if I had applied the sports science when I was 25 what level I would have got to,’ he says. ‘But there are no regrets. I look across the room and see my wife and two children. It’s give and take in a family. At that point in my life I wanted to give up running and concentrate on the children growing up.
‘A lot of runners have work, family and training and are always playing catch up. It wasn’t for me. Now I can enjoy the running – it’s more satisfying now than it ever was before.’
How has Andy Ward managed to post the best times of his life at the age of 44?
Well his training methods have certainly had a lot to do with it. Andy has linked up with former international athlete Dave Tune, who now runs a training centre in Doncaster, and has taken a scientific approach to the sport.
Andy says: ‘Dave has a totally running based business which includes physiotherapy and lactate threshold training, which is the form I’m using now. It means you train off heart rates rather than times.
‘Dave is a huge reason why I have got to where I am now. It is since teaming up with him that the huge improvements have come.
‘In professional sport these days, it doesn’t matter what it is, everyone is fit. When you get tired you lose concentration and mistakes are made. When you are racing at a high level the first thing that goes when you get tired is your concentration.
‘Dave has shown me where I am strong and weak and then we have looked at diet, lifestyle, sleep, everything. He found I wasn’t eating enough and even though it’s hard to force more calories down that’s what you have to do sometimes. How much you sleep is a massive factor in an athlete’s performance as well.
‘You have to look at everything. It’s about the things that make a one per cent difference.’
Personal best times are important to Andy but sometimes it’s more about winning the race.
He says: ‘It depends on the race. My coach says to me that if you are competitive in a big field the time will look after itself. When I’m training I’m using a heart rate monitor with the zones set at the level I train at. But when I’m racing I don’t even use a stop watch, I simply run the race. I know if I’m keeping up with the country’s best the time is going to be fine.
‘If you do look at a watch you can get anxious, your composure goes and then your concentration. When I got my best time I didn’t know how fast I was running until right near the finish and I’m glad I didn’t know as it would have affected me. These methods won’t be for everybody but they work for me.’