Finding out your best friend is actually a rock and that celebrities are not in fact cheering you on, hasn't deterred fell runner, trail lover and road racer Rob Allen from laying down some serious miles in some serious races (UTMB, The Spine, Lakeland 100 to name a few). A racer at heart, he puts his impressive sub 3 hours for this year's Berlin marathon, down to long, easy runs on trail, plenty of recovery and working with coaches to fine tune his running economy. Over strong coffee and Rob's favourite, carrot cake, we chatted all things trail.
What3words (like the location app) describe you right here, right now?
- Racing, saturday, excited
Who / what got you into running off road and what is it about trail that does it for you?
- A really good friend of mine, Alan Dorrington took me running and it’s pretty hard to describe. I just love being out in amongst nature; the solitude of it, the variety of it, the beauty of it. And all of those things.
What kind of runner are you? Are you a lone wolf, an explorer, racer, chatter, groupie?
- Definitely a racer. I really enjoy racing. It is a really big part of why I run. Definitely that.
What does a typical run look, smell, feel like in your house?
- Two thirds of my runs are recovery. That’s 7- 8 miles very easy, on rolling road or on the trail very early in the morning at 4am or 5am before work. I probably only ‘train’ hard or long twice a week and everything else is easy.
You have taken on some big challenges in the past, what has stood out in terms of personal achievement?
- I wouldn’t say any of the races. But I would say just the continual commitment to showing up six days a week, getting out of the door and running and the consistency of that is as important as anything else. It is the discipline and that’s the wider life take away of running for me. And I run for the sake of running. I run because it makes me better at everything else I do. I think the consistency and commitment to training, rather than the racing, is what I get excited about.
You recently went sub 3 hours for a road marathon, how did it feel to be on the road and to break that time?
- My overwhelming feeling of that, was that it felt very busy. There were a lot of people around. You can never really move in a road marathon without thinking about the people around you and that is so different from the trails where you have so much space. I definitely feel like I have got more speed to come in the marathon. It’s great training for trail running because it gets your leg speed up. I would like to go back and do another one and ultimately I think I can go sub 2:45 or 2:40, that sort of area. I would like to do that and to finish all the other world marathon majors I haven’t done. So Boston, Tokyo and Chicago in the next couple of years.
What is the most important thing for you to focus on when it comes to preparing for a long distance off road race like The Spine?
- I would say a number of things. Number 1 would be mental prep and psychology. Number 2 would be consistency of training. Rather than any massive massive weeks, just constant weeks. An average week for me is probably around 60 -70 miles and so just doing those back to back in a sustainable way. I would also say lots of rest and recovery, really good sleep, good nutrition and making sure if there is a choice of being 5% overdone or 5% under, I am always 5% under so that I’ve got the reserves to actually get through the race.
What is the thing which has changed the most about your own running?
- Being coached. This goes back to the point about the amount of sessions that I work and the amount that are recovery. That’s one of the outcomes of being coached. There are lots of others. I am very fortunate to be coached by Ian Sharman. He has really moved my running on and probably the biggest outcome of that is my running economy, the efficiency of my stride has really improved. That is partly through working with Ian and partly through working with Shane Benzie, who is the leading movement coach working with trail and ultra runners at Running Reborn. Between the two of them that has really improved my economy. Ian likes to include speedwork pretty much all the way through the year, even if it is just strides. That definitely helps and of course if you improve your running economy everything else gets easier.
If you could run chat with anyone in the world, who would it be (they don’t need to be a runner) and why?
- Joss Naylor. I had the fortune of meeting Joss (legendary English fellrunner) again at the Bob Graham dinner a couple of weeks ago. He is just an inspiration. He is in his 80’s. He has seen an awful lot of life and he has never moved from the Wasdale Valley. He is very much of that landscape. I am a huge fan of Joss’ and to go for a walk or run with Joss around Wasdale would be my choice. He is an absolute legend.
What is the funniest /weirdest thing you have seen/happened to you whilst out on the trail?
- The weirdest thing would be my first go round the UTMB where I got into a pretty rough place and had crazy hallucinations. On the rock garden beneath La Flégère, I was just seeing all kinds of things. I was convinced that the rocks were people, people that I knew and famous people. Then I would get up to them and realise it was just a rock, covered with moss and it looked weird. I was just all over the place and I lost several hours and I am really not sure what happened. But I did manage to make it to La Flégère in the end and down to the finish and managed to go back the next year and execute that race a lot better but that was a very odd, very odd time.
What is your top tip for people starting to run trail?
- At this time of year, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes! (And, in the mountains, possibly the wrong route - if its’s really rough consider staying lower).