Special Feature

An Evening with Robbie Simpson and Fraser Clyne – by David Wilson

On Thursday 8th March, three Brechin Road Runners travelled to Aberdeen in order to attend an informal discussion with Robbie Simpson and Fraser Clyne. The event was hosted by Will Stewart who is the manager of the Aberdeen branch of Run 4 It.

The event was free, but with the option of donating to the charity SensationALL, which raises money to provide multi-sensory experiences for children and adults with disabilities and multiple support needs.

The evening was rescheduled from the previous week after the “Beast from the East” took hold of most of the UK.

We were lucky to be able to tap into the knowledge and experience of two truly great Scottish Athletes who were happy to both relive past glories (Fraser Clyne) and, in the case of Robbie Simpson, life at the top of the current mountain and distance running scene.

Fraser Clyne has represented both Great Britain and Scotland at various times during his running career, most notably at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1986. With Personal Best times of 29:23 for 10k, 63.52 half marathon and a marathon time of 2:11:50, his performances are something to aspire to. Even more impressively, these were times achieved while holding down a job.

Robbie Simson has also represented Great Britain, most notably on the Mountains where he is currently in possession of a Bronze medal from the World Mountain Running Championships. Other notable Personal Best times are 29:22 for 10k, 64:27 half marathon and a Marathon time of 2:15:04.

I expected a more formal talk rather the informal Q&A. However Fraser Clyne, who mostly handed the floor to Robbie Simpson, expertly kept the conversation flowing freely. Fortunately there were members in the audience who were not shy in coming forward with good questions.

The main notable thing from the talk was the change in attitude to diets. Fraser explained the trend in the nineteen eighties of starving the body of carbohydrates, then loading up in the days prior to the race. He also discussed the major change in the type of kit worn by the athletes. Technical gear has come a long way in the past 30 years. We were shown an old Scotland vest made up of 100% cotton, which must have made for an extremely warm and dehydrated marathon. Another aspect of kit improvements touched on was the latest technology in shoe design. Robbie had his Nike Zoom Vapourfly Elite Shoe on show which have a rigid carbon sole that will last only 100 miles. These are a snip at an approximate retail price of £160.

With less than two months to go until Stirling Marathon, and running over 70 miles a week at present, I attended the event partially with the hope of finding the holy grail of marathon training. Sadly, for me, Robbie Simpson has a very black and white view of how to run a marathon. He will run on average a mind boggling 128 miles per week. Easy enough if you have lottery funding or sponsorship. Not so easy when you have a full-time job and other responsibilities. The main lesson I took from his running practices was that a lot of these miles are done at a slow pace, and the day after a long run or a hard session should always be a recovery run. Robbie was asked on fuelling during his races. It’s easy to get taken in by the many gels available on the market, hoping they will prevent you from the dreaded collapse in energy that occurs in most people between 18 – 20 miles into a marathon. Robbie did not dismiss them but at the same time didn’t seem to think they were of much benefit to him on race day, He does put half a gel in his drinks, although he did say for all the water he takes in running at speed he’s unsure how much gel he’s actually taking in! Of course we mortal runners don’t have the luxury of personal water on route. Our own Brechin Road Runner Sandy asked about Robbie’s diet and his approach was (for me) very refreshing: “I eat till I’m full and eat the right things”.

On pacing, both Fraser and Robbie advise a common sense approach. They both agreed you will not run the second half of a marathon faster than the first. Robbie will run at a comfortable pace for the first half then begin to race from around thirteen miles in. This may sound like he speeds up, but as you progress through the miles it takes more and more effort to maintain a consistent pace, so racing will likely only keep you close to a pace that previously felt comfortable.

The main thing that I took from the evening was that distance running is not a difficult sport and simply requires sheer bloody mindedness, consistent miles and training while remembering to allow recovery days to aid your body’s recovery.

I found it reassuring that someone heading to the Gold Coast to represent Scotland would be happy to take time out of an obviously busy schedule to talk and educate us club and recreational runners. It was definitely worth making the trip to Aberdeen, and if you get the chance to attend a similar event I would highly recommend it.

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1 Comment

  1. paulineb says:

    Thank you for this fascinating report David. It’s good to know that all I need to succeed in distance running is sheer bloody mindedness 🙂 And finding the time to run 128 miles per week 🙁

    I’d love to know what Robbie meant by “the right things” in terms of food. I’d assume “clean eating”, but anyone could layer their own personal favourite nutritional advice onto it (clean eating, paleo, keto, high carb low fat,… or my grandparents “everything in moderation” philosophy which served them pretty well).

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