13 Apr In the Spotlight – Simon ‘Cyrill’ Grant
Firstly, I would like to say well done to Abyd on such a well-written account of his running memoirs last week. I appreciate his nomination and hope I can produce something even half as informative and interesting to read.
When did running begin for you?
First started running at around the age of twenty, in my final year at university. I had never been sporty as a child and grew up as a bit of a “fatty”.
My first real taste for participating in sport was when I started playing rugby (badly) from age 15. I continued to play and then from 18 also took up martial arts.
I had always played as a tight head prop and had lived up to the stereotypes of a prop through my playing time by running as little as possible during the game (and drinking plenty of beer after). I captained the rugby team in my third year at Uni. I was given the honour of selecting the next captain to take over from me the following year. Stupidly, I selected someone who played in the same position as me and then was immediately out of position for the following season. The reason for starting running was that I wanted to get fitter to adapt into a different playing position and ensure I was picked to play each week.
My running started by doing short loops around the local playing fields close to where I lived in Gloucester. I would do between 2-4 miles very slowly, but began to do this daily. This was the very start of what has been a major part of my life since.
Why do you run?
Running started for me purely as a means to improving my fitness and managing weight rather than through enjoyment, but as I continued to run the benefits for me seemed to keep coming:
Fitness – The most obvious benefit is the one that initially drew me to start running. Keeping my gut at bay as well, as I do enjoy me food and the occasional tipple.
Challenge – I am extremely competitive with myself and am a big advocate for continuous improvement in my approaches to many thing in my life; including work, knowledge, and definitely running. Having new goals to aim at, trying to beat my own times and distances; this gives me focus and satisfies my need to push myself.
Mental – Having something positive to do and focus on where I can get away from stresses of life and work and allow my mind to digest or assess things more rationally. I do a lot of my thinking for major decisions while out on runs.
Flexibility – Age 16 or 17 I injured my back whilst playing rugby. At the time it was not diagnosed and I was told it was ‘growing pains’. About three years later it was discovered that I had fractured a vertebrae and was advised not to play rugby again. I continued to play rugby of course! Over the years I have used running and yoga as tools for me to strengthen my back and to increase and maintain my flexibility around my back and legs. Without this running/yoga combo, I stiffen up to a point where I am of no use to anyone.
Travel – I don’t sign up for a huge amount of races as the only competition or challenge that I really care about is against myself. Over the years I have tried to sign up to some races further afield to incorporate my enjoyment of travel and exploring new places (as well as their food) with my love of running. This approach has enabled me to take part in marathons all over the UK and some further afield such as Kiev, Ukraine and Marathon Du Medoc in the South of France. A long weekend trip away, including a marathon tour of the location at the same time, is my approach to most of the races I now enter.
How did you come to join P&D?
Returning to Cardiff after University, I continued my short runs daily. I used to run on my own to my personal training ‘plans’ and goals, mainly for the reasons I mention above and with no interest in ‘racing’. The distances I could manage slowly increased and my weight and average pace both got lower. As this happened I set myself the challenge of completing the Cardiff Half Marathon, something I was doubtful that my body could handle and even if it did, thinking that I would embarrass myself in the process.
I dedicated 6+ months to my daily runs, healthy eating and lots of stretching and my running seemed to improve. By the summer I had got to a point of running 8 miles minimum daily and doing a 15 mile run every Tuesday. I peaked too soon, but by now was really enjoying running and it had become part of my life and daily routine.
Alongside my running at this time I also used to do some circuits and spin classes at Cardiff Athletics Stadium. One of the classes I attended weekly was Lisa Cleary’s Spin Session. Even though Lisa had some terrible taste in music for these sessions, she more than made up for that with her infectious enthusiasm and encouragement to everyone in the class and the challenging workouts that she would provide, which I thrived on.
Lisa dropped hints and would persistently invite me to Club sessions and encourage me to come and join the club. I resisted for many years as I had no interest in running against or racing anyone but myself.
Once hitting my time goals for the Cardiff Half and not having any further challenge lined up, I went for a complete change of challenge at had a year hiatus from running as I attempted getting into body building. I failed miserably and so with the desire to run again building, but with the realisation that a bit more structure would be beneficial to me, I gave in to Lisa’s pestering and turned up to a Club session.
It is Lisa that you all have to blame for me joining P&D (Editor’s comment…no surprise there, then!)
I attended my first session and everyone was really welcoming and all willing to offer guidance and share experience. I decided straight away that I wanted to join.
(Photo courtesy of Robert Gale)
What race or moment in your running career holds the most significance and why?
Cardiff Half Marathon 2011 as this was my first ever race and something that I never thought that I would be able to do. Completing this first race gave me the confidence to challenge myself to achieve more in running.
I had spent around 6 months training for this run and was really excited to test myself and put all of my hard work to the test.
Unfortunately the organisers of the 2011 Rugby world Cup hadn’t taken my running calendar into consideration when organising the Semi–Final of Wales Vs France for early morning of the day prior to the race.
This resulted in an early start of drinking beer and watching the game in the (then) Millennium stadium. With the disappointing outcome after Sam Warburton received that Red card, and a beautiful sunny day; a few more beers followed.
After a 12 hour session and a curry on the way home, the hangover I had on the morning of the race wasn’t the best prep for my first-ever race. I was very surprised and happy to post a time of 1:36:28 and from that day the confidence began to grow to complete a Marathon in the future.
Who is your running inspiration?
My good friend Kevin Blake. I can’t remember if it was during the ’96 Atlanta or 2000 Sydney Olympics, but while working with Kevin at my first Job as a teenager at the Athletics Stadium in Cardiff, I remember the marathon being on TV. I asked Kevin “if I was to run a marathon, how long do you think it might take me? Kevin told me – “you’re not built for marathons so not worth answering that”. I didn’t disagree at the time, but once I started to run later in life and started to believe that maybe I could complete a marathon; my inspiration was to prove Kevin wrong. I recently reminded Kevin of this over our weekly catch up and we both had a good chuckle about it!
What event, past or present, would you like to take part in and why?
There are many marathons that I would like to take part in all over the World; Tokyo really appeals. Also some smaller, lesser known ones in some far-flung countries (though I need to research and find these).
I am adamant that I want to do Marathon Du Medoc again, as well. That marathon stands out for me more than any other I have done. The atmosphere, company, fancy dress, scenery, weather, decorations, music; not to mention food, beer and world renowned red wine all the way along the route.
Having ticked many more challenges off the list than I ever thought possible, the next achievement and major challenge for me will likely be an ultra race. I currently have a few other races and challenges to improve on in other areas before I’ll be able to switch to the relevant training for an ultra.
When I do make that swap, I will probably look for a really tough one, to see what I am made of!
What golden piece of advice would you give to other runners?
The best advice that I think I could give would be aimed at someone who is new to running.
I would say that time and distance are not important, but regular training is. Do short runs regularly and let your body, especially your legs, get used to the activity.
I used to get to 5KM in a run and my legs would stiffen to the point I’d have to stop. I’d do that distance daily and gradually after time, my legs adapted and allowed me to add an extra km or so before they would tighten up. This kept increasing gradually until I was completing a much greater distance.
Your body will adapt as long as you start with small and regular, then build sensibly. It’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself or to aim too high, too soon. Running should be enjoyable and a pleasure to do. Once you’re enjoying running, the extra distance, speed, strength, confidence etc… will all come naturally. You will want to go out for your regular run and those benefits will come automatically as a result.
Enjoy your running and you will stick to doing it. Stick to doing it and all of the benefits and aims that draw most people to take up running will follow naturally.
Any running superstitions?
I have to have some cycling shorts, tight under t-shirt and double socks when I run. More so for rubbing prevention!
Many of my races and plans for the year have been postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation. My main focus this year was planned to take in Ironman Wales for the second time and to improve my time. Although unlikely to take place and unable to get the full training spectrum in due to pool closures and lockdown restrictions, I am adapting my training to build back up in preparation. If it goes ahead, I will be taking part!
The next race that could likely go ahead might be the Snowdonia Marathon. This race is a highlight of the running calendar for me and this year will be my fifth time on the start line. If it goes ahead and Lisa Cleary is serious about it, maybe Liverpool Marathon the following day????
Who would you like to nominate?
The one and only……. Jon Lewis