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How to run well by a pro marathon runner

Need some work-out motivation? You’re in the right place. Muddy talks to endurance athlete Nick Butter about how to motivate yourself out the door and onto an exercise regime.

Nick Butter Running the World

Just in case you’re wondering, yes it is quite unusual to interview someone while they’re exercising. But if Muddy wants any time with Nick Butter, athlete, motivational speaker, and now, author, this is how it’s going to happen because, right now, he’s running the length of Italy in marathon-sized chunks. EVERY DAY. However, his last endurance project – running a marathon in every one of the world’s 196 countries to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK – is the theme of his just-published book Running the World.

Is there anyone more qualified to discuss motivation and endurance? I think not. And that’s why we’re on the phone – to discuss running – and I’m listening to someone who can talk, eloquently, in real sentences while pacing the pavement. Mind. Blown.

At what point did you become a marathon god?

I’m not a marathon god! I wouldn’t even class myself as a marathon runner, really. I would suggest I am a jogger: I like to jog. But I started running when I was young; I did long distances about the age of 11. My knees were always causing me problems when I started to run and then I slowly got into it and pushed through and did a little bit of learning and stretching, and flexibility and balance work; all of those things that make you a well-rounded, stronger athlete. I was about 17 when I started doing some proper running and 20 years old when I made the decision that I wanted to do something big with it.

So, how do you get motivated to go out and run when it’s horrid outside and you’re all warm in bed? 

Well, if you stay in bed, the feeling you get when you finally get out of bed and you’ve lost half of the day is pretty rubbish. And, to be honest, the biggest reason for me getting out of bed early when it’s wet and rainy is that it is a hard thing to do and that means it’s going to be much more rewarding. For instance, if you go on a run very slowly in the sunlight chatting to your friends, you’re less likely to have a sense of accomplishment than if you get out of bed at 6am in the rain knowing that you are doing the miles that very few other people are doing. 

For motivation, I would definitely suggest a running partner of some kind. So whether that’s a journal for yourself or an actual person that you can rely on to make you accountable for what you’re doing.

And once you’re out running in the rain and you’re sweaty and grubby, when you get back home, you feel like you’re earned it. And you’ve done all of that before most people have got out of bed. It’s such an amazing way to start the day. So, just remember when you’ve hit snooze – and believe me, snooze is a very good friend of mine – it’s much more rewarding when you don’t.

Any technical tips for us amateurs?

Generally, in running, you need to think about your arms, breathing and posture. If you’re running not for speed, but for endurance, keep your arms low. If you’re sprinting, there’s a saying about your arms – “pocket to socket” – that’s from your pocket in your leggings to your eye sockets. Raising your arms pumps your blood, raises your heart beat and gets your body moving and propels it forward. For endurance, I like to keep my arms “pocket to pocket” – so not moving away from the pocket at all and keeping them low. I don’t need to propel myself forward but I do need to keep my back straight. So I run like I have a string at the top of my head pulling me up. I’m not hunching,  I’m not damaging any other areas of my spine and I’m allowing all my inner organs to work as they should. 

What about your breathing – tips other than ‘keep doing it’ please

Generally, whether you’re running or doing other sports, there’s a lot of science that says breathing with your nose rather than your mouth is better for you so I always run with my mouth closed. I use a device called Airofit – I partner with them but I actually use the device a lot. It’s the like those machines in the gym that work different muscles; this is a machine that develops the strength and capacity of your lungs. You need to commit to a 4-6 week programme but you can train your lungs very well. 

What’s the deal with which bit of your foot strikes the floor first? I always get confused

It’s very easy – and I suffer for it all the time – to strike the floor with your heel first. It’s also very easy to land on your heels when you feel like you’re not landing with your heels first. Heel striking is not great for your shins, your posture, knees, or hips. You want to run on your forefoot, so not up on your toes like a ballerina, but where your toes meet your feet – the place where that flex is. And you want a gentle bounce with a very short stride. You should be aiming to do 180 steps per minute. So you’re striding quite a lot and it will feel very weird when you’re doing it for the first time but it improves your strength and your running.

How should we harness our mind and go the extra mile when we honestly think we might die?

OK – No. 1:  When you think you’re going to keel over and die, you will stop and think, “Right, I really couldn’t have done any more.” Next time you get to that state, push through even if it’s for an extra four or five seconds and then see how it feels. And then next time you run, do it again and push through for a little bit longer. You’ll find – and it’s everyone’s autobiographies, books, stories, documentaries and poems – every bit of history tells us that we can go further than our mind allows us to. Whether you believe in yourself or not, you can. You just need to realise that yourself. 

No 2: Once you’ve experienced some injuries and pain and have pushed on anyway, then you’ll be at a different baseline. It’s like doing a high jump; you think I can’t possibly do that but then you go and do it, and forever in your future, you will know that you can do that because you have. So there’s a lot of building upon your last achievement in training. A lot of people refer to training as the physical side of stuff but you also train your mind.

Running the World: My World-Record Breaking Adventure to Run a Marathon in Every Country on Earth by Nick Butter is out now. (£14.99, Bantam Press)

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