I knew my running career needed to take a change of direction when I went to Loughborough University in the early 1980's as an aspiring sub-2minute 800m runner, and met Seb Coe and Jack Buckner (former European 5000m champion) on my first day. Along with a smattering of other county champions and school boy internationals, it was clear that my status as Devon Schools 1500m champion meant next to nothing. Keen to make an impact at my new university, my life was changed when one of the post-graduate students, Steve Wootton came into a lecture and asked for volunteers to act as subjects for his PhD experiments in the sports science laboratories.As a result the next 3 years were spent giving sweat, blood and muscle samples to help various research projects, and at the end of my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to be offered a place as a research student by the legendary Professor Clyde Williams, who has done more to develop sports science in the UK than anyone else.
My research was funded by Mars - the confectionery company, not the planet - who, at the same time, were sponsoring the London Marathon. During the early 1980's running was experiencing a massive boom, and it seemed as if every town or city had its own marathon or half marathon.My Mars funded research focussed on the impact of carbohydrate consumption on running performance, at a time when the carbs-message that we now all know was still being developed and refined.However my most vivid memory of my time in the sports science labs at Loughborough was being asked by Clyde to undertake a series of physiological tests on Seb Coe, who by this time was a multi record holder and double Olympic Champion.To be honest, whilst the speeds that the treadmill was reaching were daunting, I was more concerned about the ever present gaze and probing questions from Seb's father, the late Peter Coe, who was forensically examining every piece of data that we collected.
As my time as a post grad came to an end, the second Loughborough-life changer was when the great Sir Bobby Robson came to the labs looking for a sports scientist to come and work for the Football Association at the newly established FA National Soccer School at Lilleshall in Shropshire.I got the job, and as well as working with young players such as Michael Owen and Sol Campbell, found myself as the official 'fitness trainer' for the England team at the 1990 World Cup Finals in Italy - including the likes of Gazza, Gary Lineker and Bryan Robson. In the quest to find a simple fitness test that I could conduct on footballers, my former boss Clyde Williams pointed me in the direction of an obscure paper published in Canada where some researchers were working on a shuttle run test where the running speed was controlled by an audio signal - and 12 months later I had produced the now infamous 'bleep test', which is still one of the most 'popular' fitness tests used in schools and sports clubs around the country.
A couple of years later the FA were considering a pull-out from Lilleshall, so Phil Newton, the head physio, and I, established the independent Lilleshall Sports Injury and Human Performance Centre. For many years we were able to work with a number of the top sports and athletes in the country, and for 14 seasons I was also responsible for the pre-season fitness testing of every Premier and Football League referee and linesman (but we didn't test their eyesight!).
In 1992 I found myself flying to Australia with the England Cricket team for their World Cup as the team's sports scientist, working with legends such as Sir Ian Botham, Graham Gooch and Allan Lamb.
In 2002 I was asked by Flora, by then the sponsors of the London Marathon, to help them prepare Charlie Dimmock for the race, and as a result my more recent involvement with the race started again since they offered me an entry as part of the 'package'. Further work for Flora in 2003 and 2004 meant further starts, then in 2004 our Lilleshall business was sold, and I was offered the chance to become Director of Sports Science for GlaxoSmithKline, working closely with their Lucozade Sport brand. Along with my wife and two daughters, we moved to the Chesham in the Chilterns, and my involvement with the London Marathon increased as I found myself on stage each year at the Marathon Expo, delivering talks on nutrition and hydration for the runners before the race - and of course further entries followed!
In 2009 I was unexpectedly given the chance to become a Professor at the University of Bedfordshire, and it was too good a chance to turn down. The only down side was that in 2010, it appeared that my association with the London Marathon had ended, since Lucozade understandably wanted one of their own team to work at the Expo. So I missed my first marathon in 9 years in 2010, but found myself back on the Expo stage and start line in 2011, and then in 2012 got a call from Dave Bedford asking if I would help establish and run a pre-race help desk at the Expo, which I have now been doing for the last 2 years.
I was lucky enough to meet the BBC's Sophie Raworth at the 2012 Expo, and we subsequently ran most of the race together.This year, her BBC colleague Susanna Reid asked if I would mind running with her to try to help her break the 5 hour barrier - I was delighted to accept, and despite recording my slowest ever time (4:43) to help her smash her target, I also had the best of all my 15 London Marathon experiences.
Outside of running, I am lucky enough to be on the Board of UK Anti-Doping, the body responsible to drug free sport in the UK, which is an exciting and enjoyable role to have. In 2009 I became Chair of British Handball - a sport I had never played, but which needed some help in the build up to the London 2012 Olympics.I was proud that we were able to enter two GB teams for the first time, and whilst we did not win a game, I am sure we have laid the foundations for the development of the sport in the future. I was hoping to step down and have a rest at the end of 2012, but was asked if I would follow Lord Colin Moynihan as Chair of British Ski and Snowboard - outside of running, skiing is another passion that I (and the rest of our family) have, so I was delighted to accept and am now looking forward to another Olympic Games in less than 12 months time!
On reflection, I think I have been very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time on a number of occasions throughout my career, but with some determination I have usually managed to maximise whatever opportunities have come along. As my experience in the 2013 Virgin London Marathon proved, enjoying what you do is critical, and whilst PBs and good times are great to achieve, memories of great experiences are even more important!