Training for… An Interview with Dan Lawson
This article was originally published on iancorless.com (It is reprinted with agreement due to our sponsorship of the Training For… Series).
Dan Lawson is a respected runner who resides in Brighton, UK. For many, he became ‘known’ after his incredible run at the ‘Gran Union Canal Race’ in 2015 when he won with a new CR of 22-hours 15-minutes.
Later that same year, Dan went to the iconic ‘Spartathlon’ and placed 2nd in 23:53:32.
The stage was set, and Dan Lawson became the UK’s most prolific and respected long-distance runner. He has run in a GB vest and in 2016 he won the IAU 24hr race with an astounding 261.843km covered.
Dan’s Running CV (here) is incredible. Most recently, he set an FKT (Fastest Known Time) with Robbie Britton running ‘The Jordan Trail’ in 9-days 10-hours and 17-minutes.
Passionate about the environment, Dan has started a project called ReRun (here), which extends the life of running clothes…
“We looked at ideas on how we could reduce the waste in the running community. The idea of ReRun was born, to try and prolong the life of running clothes and equipment and save them from landfill. Extending the life of clothes by just nine months of active use would reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by around 20-30% each.”
In 2019, Dan will toe the line of the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa (here) participating in the 4-day event over 170-km.
“Running brings me peace. I feel so grateful to commune with nature each day and spend time in stillness. Being an Ultra Runner I am part of an adventurous and warm community with whom I can enjoy the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring places in the world.”
I caught up with Dan in Brighton at his ReRun office. Dan, as usual, was calm, relaxed and clad head to toe in ‘used’ apparel. Even his shoes had been pieced together to arguably produce something more aesthetically pleasing the original.
With the initial chat and banter over, I asked how the Jordan FKT had come about?
“Originally, it was like Robbie’s adventure… We were planning to go to Lake Baikal in Siberia, which is a frozen lake, the biggest bit of freshwater in the world. That was the plan. Robbie was going to go with another runner, and he asked me if I was willing to go with him, and I was like, “What? It sounds amazing. Yes, I really want to go and do that.” That was our plan to go and set the FKT running Lake Baikal, which was about 600-kilometers. We were working towards that until I got a call from Rob, maybe two months before we were supposed to go and he was like, “Dan, I think I’m going to pull the plug on it. I’m a little bit worried about our safety out there.” I think Robbie’s biggest concern was the fact that I don’t like the cold…”
“We spent a week or so searching for trails around the world and we found the one in Jordan. It was 600-km and Robbie said, “Well, let’s go there and let’s try and run this trail out there.” I was super happy because I much prefer the sunshine and now all of a sudden, we’d be running through a desert and the sun will be out. There wasn’t really any inspiration. It was kind of we just found that and let’s go and run out there.”
As it so happens, I was in Israel working on Mike Wardian’s FKT as he ran the length of Israel, south to north. So, Dan and Robbie, at times, were almost just a few miles away as we skirted on the Jordan border.
“We were never down at the Dead Sea, but when we were up on the mountains, we could look across and we could see the Dead Sea. When it got to night time, we could see the lights across the Dead Sea in Palestine or Israel. Yes, there were times when we were shouting out to Mike and yourself.”
I know only too well the challenges of an FKT, and I asked Dan about the undertaking.
“I think our biggest challenge was the route and the lack of marking. We were running the Jordan trail and when something is called ‘Jordan trail,’ you expect there to be trail, but they need to rename it the Jordan GPS track and I think that’s a better description of what it was. I think our biggest challenge was just, not even navigating but just navigating this rough ground just getting across it.”
I asked Dan if they were following a GR route or was it like the Israel National Trail, sometimes we had markers and sometimes we didn’t. Dan has a real sense of humour and his response, in many ways, was what I expected.
“It sounds like the same person that marked the Jordan trail came across and marked your trail, as well. It was loosely marked, I think. I think that you encountered the same thing, but on the bits where you’re on a road, markers were everywhere.”
A GPS and mapping are always a good back-up, but even on the Jordan Trail, this was not foolproof.
“We thought we could rely on a GPS, but it was never exact. It would mark a point here and then a point 500 meters away. You can’t see those little turns in between. When we were following his watch, we were just going straight, that was what the watch was telling us to do but of course, we had to encounter cliff edges and drops. It needed to be used in conjunction with mapping – lesson learned!”
A successful FKT comes down to planning and support crew, Dan was followed by a filmmaker and stills photographer. They doubled up as crew. That in itself can bring many complications.
“The tourist board was really cool. They provided us with a four by four and a driver. Then, we had Dave and James who were videoing and taking pictures and would meet, at the start, they were probably meeting us every 15, 20k or something like that. As the trail went on, it got more desolate and much harder to get into. They were probably leaving us, I think, for like 50k we’d meet then we’d run 50k and then we’d meet them and then we’d do a little bit longer.”
50km without support, that is a real long way. I wondered how they managed that?
“There was a couple of times when we ran out of water. There was one time we came up this hill, we were so lucky, we came up this hill and there was a road and I don’t know if it’s like you, but so many of the towns feel post-apocalyptic, they were like something out of a video game. Just like a mosque built out of breeze blocks and then a couple of camels and then just a few that just these just box houses, I don’t know, like weird places, but we came up this hill so thirsty and then all of a sudden there was just this, it was like a group of like 20 people on bikes from the lake district. They saved us! 50 k out there can be 10 hours or more. 10, 12 hours. Very difficult to plan for. I don’t eat much when running but one needs to be prepared.”
Knowing what Dan now knows about the Jordan Trail, the pros and cons, I wondered if he thought that it would be possible to go faster?
“Yes, I think we probably could. It was quite hard to move at night because you really had to look at the navigation and the ground was so rough that as soon as you looked at the navigation, you’d just be falling over. We could take a day off. Some nights we were stopping and literally we were driving like an hour and a half, two hours to get to the hotel where we were staying, it would be so much easier to wild camp.”
Ultimately though, it was easy to see that the FKT had been a hugely memorable and enjoyable experience.
“Amazing. Amazing. It was so nice to spend time with Robbie, Dave and James. I mean 10-days close knit in this kind of environment… You’d think that there might be moments when people got a bit stressed, but it was just a really nice experience. I was talking to my wife and she said, don’t call it a holiday because then it sounds like it wasn’t hard, but it does feel a bit like it’s such a great way to spend 10-days doing something you love and in some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever been in. I’ve been lucky to run in some amazing places around the world, but some of the places just blew me away. I really like it. I think I do prefer that sort of thing to racing, it has a different feel to it.”
In a way, that segues nicely to the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa. Dan, later in 2019 will take on the 170km 4-stage race that in many ways manages to combine some of the Jordan multi-day running experience and combines it into a race format.
ULTRA TOUR MONTE ROSA
“To be brutally honest, I would have preferred to run the 100-mile race, but it is too close to 24-hour championships. It will be quite enjoyable doing the stage race because it gives me a chance to try and move a little bit quicker over that terrain, and then have a little bit of a rest and then go again.”
Dan, in 2018 attempted to set an FKT for the ‘JOGLE’ in the UK, running John O’Groats to Lands end as quickly as possible. He was running 100-miles a day. Ultra Tour Monte Rosa is a technical mountain race in an absolutely stunning part of the world. It’s going to be a different type of experience to say, running around the track for 24 hours or running along a road. It’s probably going to be more like the Jordan trail. It requires a different type of approach. Living in Brighton I wondered how Dan trained?
“Firstly, I’ve got one more race coming up, a six-day race in Hungary, which will be running around and around a kilometre loop for six days. I suppose that’s my first A race of the year. Once that’s done then I start a big training block for UTMR and for the 24-hour. I’m hoping that it will they’ll compliment themselves quite well because the 24-hour training is mind-numbing. I spend a lot of time on Brighton Seafront running around a loop, it is maybe like two and a half km loop, so, I might spend seven, eight hours just running around that loop. There are not many hills around here, so, I’ll be on the South Downs a little bit but they’re not mountains, they’re not even hills, they just slightly undulating.”
I wondered if that lack of specific terrain that directly relates to the challenges of UTMR worried him?
“No, it doesn’t worry me that much. I’ll go up and down steps a bit. The only thing that worries me is I’m not too fast going down. I need to smash my quads before the race, the is key. Downhill does more damage than going up! I can kind of ride that pain with my quads. I can get to the end of a hundred miler with smashed quads, but in a stage race, I mean it’s going be a bit different because it’s four days.”
“Will you use poles?”
“Probably not. The only time I’ve ever used was when I raced in the UTMB, that was a 100-miler, and that was just before the world championships. Well, maybe two months before the world championships last year, the 24-hour World Championships, and my training was just flat. I hadn’t run up a hill or even a slight gradient for, I don’t know, four months or something and then I went to run the UTMB. But I used the poles to come down, not to go up. My legs were trashed. I don’t think I have time to learn to use them correctly, so, I will go without!”
UTMR will give Dan new challenges, he is going to have to have a pack. He is going to need waterproof trousers, waterproof jacket, thermal layer, a tracker, mobile phone. I wondered, does that play with his head, after all, running around a track for 24-hours requires none of this?
“For me, the best run is when the sun’s out and you just have a pair of trainers and a pair of shorts on, and you can just go mad. I love that. A lot of my training is commuting training, running is my form of transport. I maybe clock up 40/45km a day but most of it’s done running to work, running around, so I always have a backpack. Once a week or twice a week I’ll run without a backpack like a longer run and it feels like a real treat.”
Finding that balance between pace and time is interesting in any event. With something like UTMR, Dan has got a specific distance each day to complete, over 4-days and he will be racing. It’s a completely different dynamic because Dan will not only be racing himself, but he will be racing the other competitors. He will need to balance recovery, sleep time how to get back up the next day and race. What type of approach will Dan have at UTMR?
“I’m going to try and run pretty hard each of the four days because I will have recovery time. I mean each one’s like 40K, each of the stages, so you’d like to think you will finish that under seven hours? I don’t know… I want to try and run each one as hard as I can. There’s no excuse really if you’re only running 40km in a day, you’ve really got to push it. Well, I have!”
Dan is an elite athlete, I wondered, what sort of generic advice could he give to people who are going to toe the line.
Should they respect the distance?
Should they listen to the body?
Should they hold back and save something?
“For me, it’s about what you do in that recovery time and it’s how well you recover in those hours that is really important in a multi-day. How well you eat. How well you rest. Whatever things you do to look after your legs and the pain in your legs. How well you can get yourself feeling fresh and bouncy for the next morning. The most important thing is those hours of recovery rather than the hours of running.”
Multi-day races always rely on equipment and a list of mandatory kit is essential. At UTMR Dan is going to have a completely different thought process to equipment because he has created RERUN which is recycling run clothing.
“I made a pledge almost a year ago to not buy anything new including running equipment, trainers and clothes. Everything I have at UTMR will be recycled or secondhand and that includes all the mandatory kit. We run a second-hand online running shop so I’m able to purchase stuff that comes through that if required. I can make do on other things; I’ll just borrow if need be. I feel there’s no need to buy new stuff that I might use once, and you might not even use at all because some of the stuff for the mandatory kit list is there for emergencies.”
I stressed the need for the correct equipment and how mandatory equipment is there for safety…
“I don’t like the cold and that it’s really important for me to be warm. I would prefer to be sweating loads than have the chance of being cold. I’ve seen some of the pictures of UTMR and it’s amazing that in one day, how different the weather can be. So yes, I agree. I may recycle but I will have the correct equipment.”
I was looking at racks of T-shirts, tights, run shoes and many of the elements that one sees in a runner’s kit bag. How did ReRun come about?
“It’s our way of trying to create awareness around the kind of waste that we do produce as runners. You don’t need that much to run. You just need a pair of shoes and some shorts. We spend so much time running in beautiful places it easy to see how running and the environment go hand-in-hand. It’s crazy the amount of pollution, the amount of waste that’s created from fashion. In all the running community it’s amazing the amount of clothes and stuff that we go through on a yearly basis. Our idea was to create an online second-hand running shop. Where we could use it to spread awareness of practices that would help and enhance running as environmentally friendly. When I run across the Downs and I spend two hours away from all of that kind of consumerism and society it makes me realise how lucky I am and how I do not need new apparel to enjoy the freedom of running. Running is our escape, I was guilty, I was a sponsored athlete because of my success. I was sucked into consumerism. I became an advert… I find it so sad sometimes. Hawking this consumerism and saying, look at all this free kit I’ve got, and now you need to go out and buy this kit because I use it. A year ago, no, maybe two years ago, and we were speaking my wife, we decided not to seek any sponsorship anymore and to try and promote something that we really wanted to promote. Something that felt good to promote. That’s where ReRun came from.”
So, quite simply, in a world of altruism, sponsorship and the age of the ‘influencer,’ Dan turns his back on sponsorship and in his words, ‘Tries to do the right thing!’
“We’ve never really gone out there and promoted ourselves. We’ve never said to people, come and bring your kit here. People have come to us and people like Rebeca at myRaceKit have got in contact with us and said that they like what we are doing, and they want to help. For example, myRaceKit has become a drop-off point for ReRun.”
I wondered what the long-term objective was for Dan? Did he have a dream, an ambition to expand so that one can go into any town and find a ReRun shop?
“That would be the opposite of our dream and our ambition. Our dream and ambition is to not have any second-hand running clothes, because if there’s no second-hand running clothes it means that everybody has what they need and are not over consuming. As you can see, we’re here in our little workshop, and most of the clothes we get are in really good condition because running clothes, and especially the running clothes that cost a bit more are built to last. Out ultimate success is that we put ourselves out of business…”
It really makes one think. Just think of all the races that provide a t-shirt in the goody bag. Often, they are cheap, poorly designed and a waste of time. Who wants them?
“It is a great example. They’re cheap technical T-shirts and, usually, they’re really ugly. They’re plastered in sponsor’s names. I would say 70% of the stuff we’ve got are race T-shirts. We cut them up and make them into half/half T-shirts to give them a new identity. We also started working with local businesses to try to re-brand them for their business but it’s still an issue.”
No goodie bag seems a simple and great way to start. I suggest to Dan; it would be a considerably better option when entering a race to have a set of options. For example:
- Do you want a T-shirt? Yes? £20
- Do you want a medal? £5 yes/NO and so
It becomes much more consumer-led rather than everybody gets a T-shirt.
“We’re happy to see T-shirts. But we want people to actually want them. I still wear and I’m really happy to wear some race T’s because they mean a lot to me. I’d be happy to pay for those T-shirts, but we are just get given them and most throw them away…”
By asking questions on an entry form, one makes a conscious decision. Maybe even race entries can be a little cheaper as there will be no need to subsidize the ‘free’ goodies?
“Ordering a finishers T-shirt takes a bit of time if you really want it, you’ll do it, if you don’t, you won’t do it. Quite simple and immediately we start to reduce waste. Taking plastics and making them into bags or T’s is brilliant but all we are doing is just prolonging the life of that plastic for another two or three years. Taking nets out of the sea and making them into trainers is great, sounds great but all you’re doing is taking that stuff out of the sea for another what? How long do trainers last for? How long are they supposed to last for? Another six months then eventually it’s going to go back into the sea. At ReRun, we’re giving clothing another life but it’s still going to be out there as a waste product eventually.”
Brands want us to consume, trainers, for example, have a ‘life’ that typically is quantified in miles, around 400/500 miles. But Dan is wearing shoes that are pieced together. Are we being manipulated I ask him?
“I haven’t bought into the marketing BS! Running is such a natural, simple movement, why do we need to add technology into it? I know some people say, yes, but we’re running on roads now and impact is greater… I think sometimes we get a little bit too precious with our feet and what we’re supposed to be putting on them. When I was in India, there’s a lot of runners in flip flops. Maybe an extreme point, but you see what I mean!”
ReRun really does make one ask questions. Firstly, better to recycle than throw away. But when purchasing, one should ask, ‘Do I really need it or am I consuming because I want it?’ So how does one purchase from ReRun?
“Firstly, you have to ask the question, do I really need it? We never ever promote or advertise and try to sell this stuff because we want to make sure that people actually need it. If you really need something, then come have a look at our website.”
And my chat concludes. For the first time in my history, I speak to the businessman who is trying to put himself and wife, out of business.
As a footnote, in the words of Dan, consider –
“A T-shirt is nine plastic bottles. It’s made from oil, it’s made from fossil fuel, it’s just exactly the same. Once we win the battle with supermarkets and their plastic then we start [to] focus and the emphasis will come on to clothing. We start to realise that it’s an essential thing. In five years, hopefully, Rerun won’t be around. The onus is on this, the clothing, the sports companies, and the clothing companies to really find solutions. How difficult can it be, they can take nets out of [the] water, they can turn them into a material they can use in a trainer but then they’re saying they can’t then recycle it back into that raw material so that they can use again?”