MR: You’re arguably most famous for your three successive victories at the West Highland Way. What is it about this race that you find so appealing?
PG: The longer courses suit me. I’d rather run the 100-milers, and the WHW has just about everything in terms of terrain and surroundings. It’s also in my backyard and it became a bit of an obsession. A couple of years before my first win, I made up my mind that I wanted to be part of its history by taking the course record and seeing my name on a trophy that has a number of my heroes on it.
MR: Do you do a lot of speed work or is your training all about mileage?
PG: Mileage is important for any long-distance runner, but it’s not everything. Training volume, intensities and recovery are just as important, so my week will almost always contains some kind of speed sessions. Too many people do all their training at the same pace, so they end up hitting a plateau. They often run too hard in all sessions and I suspect it’s the cause of many common injuries and the popular term “overtraining”.
MR: You follow a vegan diet. Do you think this gives you an advantage over your meat-eating opponents?
PG: I think it does. Not everyone will agree but there’s more to eating for performance than the basic mix of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat). For me, a wholefood, plant-based diet is a long-term health and performance choice unlike many of the nutrition fads that we see. And, let’s face it, sport attracts almost as many food fads as the diet industry. In short, I recover more quickly, I can train harder, I have more energy and have a much more varied, wholesome and rewarding diet. And, for the record, I have absolutely no issues with consuming enough protein, even without a six-egg omelette for breakfast.
MR: When you’re out on the trails, are you obsessing about times and pace, or do you take a more relaxed approach to training and racing?
PG: I like to be on top of planning and monitoring my training. It’s become a habit, and with writing a lot of plans for clients you have to live by what you’re asking others to do too. That said, the pace isn’t particularly important in all sessions. Racing is different. Most races I’m totally dialled into pace and times. You need to have a plan if you’re setting out to do something special.
MR: What do you think trail running has over its road-based equivalent?
PG: How long have you got? I think it has a greater sense of adventure, and that’s important to me. It always feels more like a journey, whereas the road training often feels like you’re just ticking off the miles. I love the wilderness and the solitude of trail running – there are entire days sometimes when you’ll not see another soul; it’s just you and the elements.
MR: What do you think your greatest strength is as a runner?
PG: I’m very committed. If I decide on something I want to achieve and I’m able to train for it properly, then I can get myself in the right shape physically and mentally. Last year was tough with work, and I wasn’t able to prepare well for all races. This year is much better now that I’m a full-time athlete thanks to some sponsorship with Nathan in the UK and support from the US.
MR: What’s the best piece of advice you could give to anyone thinking about tackling an ultra?
PG: Do it for the right reasons. Do it because you love running and you want to find out more about yourself. Don’t just stick it on some bucket list because you’ve heard it’s “the new marathon”. And, if you make the decision to do it, then learn as much as you can – read, speak to people and listen to advice.
MR: What’s your attitude to footwear? Are you in favour of minimalist shoes or something more supportive?
PG: Minimal, minimal, minimal. Like the diet, it’s the long-term solution for sustained and efficient running. But it’s not straightforward and it takes a long time to transition without injury and problems. I guess it’s all about what you’re hoping to get out of your running. If you’re planning on running a long time and in longer races, then I’m a firm believer in reviewing your running style and perhaps thinking about some changes. But it’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every race.