Brit marathon man Steve Edwards just can’t stop running. The 54 year old from the Cotswolds via Coventry has already completed 789 marathons in an incredible average time of 3:17 – by the time you read this the chances are that figure has gone up towards his world record target of 1,000 in under 3:20.
He already holds six world records, most recently for running 700 marathons in the fastest average time, and previously held four more. Edwards, who also holds down a full-time job in IT, didn’t start running until he made a snap decision to enter the Coventry Marathon – five weeks before it took place – in 1981. As he releases his new book, The Man Inside The Machine, RISING caught up with him to ask about his running career, and what marathons have taught him about life…
RISING How did your first ever marathon go?
STEVE EDWARDS ‘I did everything wrong because I didn’t know any better. I was 18 and thought it seemed like a good idea, even though I hated cross country at school. I managed it in 3:38, and the next day I swore never again! But I did do it again the following year and it was always the marathon that held that challenge.’
RISING At what point did you realise you could achieve something historic?
SE ‘Back in 1988 Great Ormond Street Hospital was raising money and I wanted to help, so I decided to run 12 marathons in a year. People sponsored me per marathon so were probably a bit miffed when I ended up running 20! I was hungry to run more, and faster. My aim each time was to run as fast as I possibly could. Also in 1988 I met members of the 100 Marathon Club, which inspired me. I ended up being the youngest full member, aged 28, in 1990 – my first world record.’
RISING What inspired you to continue breaking records?
SE ‘In the Guinness World Records at that time there was a record for running 500 marathons averaging just over 3:30. That really fired me up to try to break it, and as I got nearer I realised I could do it averaging under 3:15. I achieved that in 2012. People said it was impossible, that my knees would go. But I got there and I didn’t actually feel too bad, so it seemed logical to go on.’
RISING What drives you on now? Is it purely numbers?
SE ‘Definitely not. In 1991/92 I ran a then-record 87 marathons in a year, averaging 3:14 and setting my PB of 2:51. That record of 87 has been bettered many times since, but it’s just about quantity for the people doing it. For me it’s always been about quality – the times – as well. The two go hand-in-hand.’
‘I realised I’d learned a hell of a lot – not just about running but about life’
RISING What’s changed as you’ve got further towards your ultimate goal?
SE ‘As I get older I have to deal with the frustration of working harder than ever to run the times I want to. I’m still hitting 3:15 to 3:20 but I’m having to train smarter rather than ridiculously stupidly. The other thing is that some of the younger runners who I used to beat are now beating me. I guess I’ve become a bit of a target. It may sound funny but I’m more nervous now before a race, probably because the expectations are higher.’
RISING What happens when things go wrong – how do you react?
SE ‘I don’t want to look back with any regrets. If I’m having a bad race I could stop and walk, but I force myself through every bad moment – get through it and you’ll feel better. I treat every marathon as if it was my last, and I certainly wouldn’t want to give up and walk in my last marathon. Self-belief comes from experience. If you have one or two bad runs out of every 100 it doesn’t knock your confidence, whereas if you have a bad run in your second or third marathon it might put you off.’
RISING Lots of people take up running and then get injured or ill – what would be your advice to noobs?
SE ‘I do lots of core strength and conditioning to make me stronger and more efficient. You can’t simply run to keep match fit. And don’t overtrain. I have enough experience to know when my body starts to creak that it’s time to back off. When I was younger I’d keep going, even if that meant running through injury. I had a lot of negative thoughts about stopping.’
RISING Has running been a journey of self-discovery? If so, what have you learned?
SE ‘I didn’t see it as a journey but when I started writing my book and drawing on memories I realised I’d learned a hell of a lot. Not just about running but about life – skills like planning, communication and attention to detail, and virtues such as patience. I’m very stubborn, and even as a child I kept trying at things, even if my way wasn’t the best way. I learned a lot from my dad as well – he was a window cleaner and was out every day, whatever the weather, year after year, until he retired at 70. I saw that discipline and it stuck with me. Whether it’s nature or nurture I don’t know. It’s probably both.’
‘I had to be mentally strong from a young age – I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t been bullied’
RISING What advice would you give to people who are afraid of aiming high?
SE ‘When I was starting out, if I’d looked years and years ahead I could never have imagined where I’d be in 2017. Now I look back and wonder where the time has gone. Life goes by quickly and you only get one chance, so grab something while you can. I’m also very honest with myself. If I’ve cocked up it’s for a reason. Once in the New Forest I just wore a vest on a cold, wet and windy day and I ended up with hypothermia. It was about 15 miles in when I realised my legs were shot. I struggled to the end, just inside 3:30, but I felt a right idiot. I gave myself a good telling off and learned a valuable lesson. Never stop learning.’
RISING How long can you keep going for?
SE ‘I visualise running into old age. I don’t envisage not running. I have a secret goal to run 50 London Marathons. That will take me up to my 80s. I can only hope!’
RISING Looking back, have you had to overcome adversity along the way?
SE ‘A lot of painful memories came back when I wrote my story down. I was bullied as a child because I have a deformed hand, and I had to learn to block it out. I had to be mentally strong from a young age, and I took up martial arts to help me. That experience has helped me as I’ve got older – I guess I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t been bullied. It helped define the person I am today, and I’m amazed at the number of people who have got in touch and said, “I understand – I’ve been through it.” I’ve also been surprised at how many people have got into running as a result of things that happened in their childhood. You never really know what drives people but to be an inspiration to others is really humbling.’
WHAT NEXT? Want to get into running but don’t know where to start? Join a club, says Edwards: ‘There’s the training side, working with coaches, and a social side, and you can enjoy both as much or as little as you like. Training with a group is more enjoyable and productive than trying to do it on your own. Plus there’s the potential to make new friends, share experiences, learn from others and enjoy the camaraderie.’