Hard to Crack

Having retired from rowing with two Olympic gold medals, six world championship gold medals and an OBE, you’d forgive James Cracknell for taking it easy, but this is a man who’s up for a challenge. Whether it be rowing the Atlantic, racing to the South Pole or becoming the highest placed Briton the gruelling Marathon des Sables has ever seen, Cracknell enters each with the same determination and hard work. Last weekend the Olympian completed another London Marathon so who better to ask for advice?

You’ve done a fair few marathons already, you must have specific time you’re targeting this year?I’d like to run sub 2:50 at London and believe I have it in me but talk is cheap beforehand. If I can arrive at the start injury-free then I believe I can tough it out during the race, but that’s the trouble balancing training and niggles – especially when you’re not the most graceful runner!

What advice would you give to those doing a marathon for the first time?

Don’t neglect interval training, set yourself an achievable yet challenging target, don’t change that target in the week or day of the race and trust your training, and yourself, at the start.

How do you go about choosing challenges/events – is there a list you’re ticking off?

I’ve got no list, I just enter events where there is a timed or performance element that I can aim for when training. Either that or I have to learn a new skill, and I find both of those motivate me during training.

Are there any races/challenges that you’ve researched and decided are too difficult?

I find learning a new skill incredibly motivating but realise that requires extra time and with three kids and not being a full time athlete anymore it’s a case of choosing events where I can fit the training and racing in around family and work.

Cracknell training ahead of marathon

Cracknell training ahead of marathon

Do you prefer competing on your own to being in a team?

At the Olympics being part of team was, I believe, easier because there were other people literally in the same boat as you. They’d go through the same sacrifices, experiences and would be hurting as much as you in the racing so if you fail to deliver your 100% on the day then that matters. You’re not only ruining your own dreams but also theirs, and that is something none of us were prepared to do, which possibly makes the pressure of an Olympic final ‘easier’ to cope with. That said, I wouldn’t want to do a three legged marathon with one of the fellas either!

It’s one thing working with other team members, how was it working with camels in the Arabian desert?

Hmm, camels are grumpy but they are also fairly predictable so once I got to understand their habits they weren’t too bad. All in all, basically not that dissimilar to teammates!

Are you someone who enjoys your own company, given what you do can be pretty isolated?

I find training gives me freedom from the societal demands of instant response; email, mobile etc. but having been put into a coma in 2010 when I was hit by a truck I appreciate and don’t want to miss a day with the family unless I have to. So I wouldn’t row the Atlantic again, mind you it wasn’t top of my list!

What do you think about while competing long-distance challenges – is it all purely about the race itself?

For me it’s about the long-term preparation, which having trained for the Olympics, I’m pretty good at. Then on the day the challenge you empty everything you have in the tank, and think about performing and proving to yourself that all that training wasn’t wasted.

How much of what you do is for mental well-being, as opposed to the physical benefits?

I enjoy the mental release and freedom that training for an event gives me and the physical benefits are huge. For me it’s not about being fit and healthy for a specific event, you do it to get the most out of your life, your kid’s lives and ultimately their kid’s lives, which you can’t do if you neglect your own health.

When was the last time you were in rowing boat? Do you miss it at all?

About six months ago. There’s nothing better than the feeling of a boat slicing through virgin water early in the morning and sharing that experience with a crew. Sadly though, the skills aren’t quite what they used to be and I’m now in the camp that a lot of ex-sportsmen seem to live in namely “the older I am the better I was.” Plus some bugger is always late.

If your children wanted to follow a similar career path as you, what advice would you give them?

Do a sport that you enjoy and one that people understand. Friends, family and girlfriends could understand why I’d want to race at the Olympics which made accepting the sacrifices that athletes make understandable, the same can’t be said for rowing the Atlantic or going to the South Pole.

What does the rest of 2015 hold for you?

Our eldest lad has just done his 11+ so the rest of the year should be a lot less stressful – here’s hoping anyway!