Published on May 18, 2015
Dan Lawson Interview
Dan Lawson is the quiet man of ultra running, a natural talent – he’s been called ‘a force of nature’ – with a passion for endurance that has seen him bag innumerable records and tear up trail and road alike. Having already scored big in 2015 with a win at the inaugural Run the Rann and an epic performance at the World 24 Hour Championships, RunningMonkey spoke to him ahead of both the Grand Union Canal Race and Spartathlon…
RunningMonkey: To begin at the beginning, how long have you been running?
Dan Lawson: I always ran when I was younger, from the age of around ten I would compete in ‘fun runs’ each weekend and I remember running a half marathon when I was 12! But then football took over and I played for over 25 years; I finally went back to running around six years ago.
RunningMonkey: It took quite a long time to actually run a marathon distance, right?
Dan Lawson: As a young lad it was always my dream to run a marathon, I wanted to run the London Marathon when I was 18, but that didn’t happen. So pretty soon after I took up running again I took myself up to the South Downs and ran for 26miles. Dream achieved!
RunningMonkey: And how about moving up to ultra-distances? Just a natural progression?
Dan Lawson: I would always argue with people that anyone could run a marathon with little or no training. I entered the London to Brighton off-road race to prove my point that with very little training I could run 56miles. I did and came second. I became hooked, wanting to run further and further each time.
RunningMonkey: Tell us about some of your records and other incredible achievements…
Dan Lawson: When I first started running ultras it was always to raise money for the charities I was part of in India. So rather than races they were more challenges, I ran from Mumbai to Goa (700km), I ran the Brighton Marathon four times in a row nonstop and then the next year eight times nonstop (that’s 208ish miles.) With each challenge I had to ramp it up in order to attract more sponsorship.
In 2013 we decided to try and break a world record to attract more publicity and hence more donations. I spent a week running on a treadmill and beating the world record of 520 miles. After that I took a break from asking people for money and ran in organised races winning a few here in England. One of those was the Gloucester 24 Hour Race, which also qualified me for a place on the GB Ultra Team.
This year I ran a number of ultras in India setting a few records for ultra distances on Indian soil, before racing with Team GB in the World Championships and being part of the Gold medal winning team as well as finishing 22nd in the world individually.
RunningMonkey: You split your time between the UK and India, very different ‘running scenes’ – can you tell us about that?
Dan Lawson: It is always a shock coming back to England and seeing the sheer number of people who are out at all times of the day and night jogging. In India most of the time it seems like it is just me! In fact I get quite a few odd looks, lots of people stop to ask me ‘what’s wrong?’ or offer me a lift on the back of their scooter.
In the big Indian cities, where people have more leisure time, the scene is growing however, especially the ultra-scene, which is bubbling up with a core of real enthusiasts who are helping to spread the ultra word. But they run or race so much, most of the Indian runners I meet are running a race every weekend – a marathon here, a 100k next week, then another marathon and they travel all over the vast country to get there. Dedicated definitely.
RunningMonkey: Is there such a thing as a typical day’s training? And does that vary depending whether you’re in the UK or Goa?
Dan Lawson: More like a typical week. I like to do three speedier sessions a week reps, tempo, etc. and then one longish run – anything above a marathon distance. I run every day, sometimes twice a day, so the rest of the runs are at a nice steady pace, where I can really enjoy them – get in communion with nature and all that. I also try and get four or five yoga sessions in a week, swim every other day (which is much more pleasant in Goa!) and do a 30minute core workout each day.
My training routine is the same in India and England – the only difference is the amount of layers I have to put on when I’m back home.
RunningMonkey: Do you consider it ‘training’ or just what you do?
Dan Lawson: Not just what I do, but what I love. Running is my bliss. Since making the GB team however I can now call it ‘training’ and that gets me out of doing some things I would rather not. ‘Sorry, I have to go training’, works better than ‘I am just off for a run.’
RunningMonkey: How about stepping that up for a specific event?
Dan Lawson: My training is pretty much the same all year round. However this summer, to get ready for the Spartathlon, I’m going to work more on the speed training so I can up my cruising speed.
RunningMonkey: When we met you it was at Run the Rann out in India, which of course you won – tell us about your experience of the event…
Dan Lawson: A brilliant location for a race with some beautiful landscapes, but no one told me about the thorns! We spent almost the first 45km bushwhacking through dense thorn bushes – it was brutal. However it made the next 90km all the more enjoyable flying across the desert salt flats in the middle of the night, finally able to open up your legs – until another 20-odd kilometres of those bloody bushes.
The aid stations were not always open or stocked with food or water but I kind of liked that as it makes it a bit tougher, the race becomes a bit more unpredictable. The hardest thing was trying to take a shower post-race with a body full of thorn scratches and cuts, being in the middle of the desert the only water was salt – argggghhhhhhhh…
RunningMonkey: After the Rann you were off to the World 24 Hour Championships – which also went incredibly well for both you and GB – That’s a very different kind of event. Your thoughts?
Dan Lawson: Yes, it was great that our team won both European and World Gold. Your right it’s very different, much harder in my opinion. Physically there is not much in it but mentally it is much tougher. In a race like Run the Rann it has a flow to it, you are moving from one place to another and the course is nicely broken down into the gaps between the check points, the scenery changes and you feel like you are making progress. In the 24 race is doesn’t flow as well. The support you have is brilliant every lap (2km in the World Championships) – you run past your team and pick up some food or drink, this is great at the start of the race but towards the end when mentally your mind is crying ‘stop, stop’, each time you pass your support tent that is all you want to do.
In trail races it’s quite common to spend a couple of minutes rest at the checkpoints if you did that in the 24 run you would spend 12 hours there! So the trick is to try and never stop, just keep moving…
RunningMonkey: Endurance running is as much about mental stamina as physical. What’s your approach to ‘pushing through’ when things get tough on the really long runs?
Dan Lawson: When it gets tough I think that’s the time you need to ‘bring it back’ rather than ‘push through.’ Come back to focusing on each step, live the race in that moment rather than thinking about how much further there is to go. Everything is always alright in that moment; you are okay, still standing and still moving. Celebrate that and each step you make.
RunningMonkey: How’s your diet? You don’t seem to eat much and we understand you generally avoid heavy carbs?
Dan Lawson: That’s right, in fact I have just started to follow a Paleo diet now, so no grain or traditional carbs at all, no dairy, no processed food or refined sugar. It’s great, I feel great on it – fresh from the inside. So as well as changing my training a bit I’m experimenting also with my diet. I’m really lucky to have the help of Reflex Nutrition now who are looking at supplements that will enhance my recovery and so enable me to train harder.
RunningMonkey: How do you fuel on a race?
Dan Lawson: I don’t think I have quite got this right in any race yet. Does anyone? Basically I try to eat well – proper food in the first half of a race, make sure I have a good base, then in the second half I kind of listen to my body. I will be using my summer races this year to experiment a bit more with nutrition.
RunningMonkey: What about hydration, again when we met in India the water – or lack of it – didn’t seem to phase you…
Dan Lawson: I don’t really like running carrying a bottle (or anything for that matter) so my body has learnt to drink post-race rather than during. I can easily run 30-40 miles without a drink, although in the longer races you pay the price for this later on!
RunningMonkey: You seem to run pretty stripped back in terms of kit, but any particular brands or apparel you rate or run in?
Dan Lawson: I’m happiest running shirtless without anything to carry, no watch, no phone. I like it, I feel much freer.
Sometimes you do the need the right kit though; in most trail races it’s a prerequisite, I met Benoit the director of Raidlight at the race in India and was impressed with his passion for creating the perfect kit for trail runners. Recently I was asked to join the UK Raidlight running team and now have the pleasure of running in their kit. My first delivery arrives this week and I am very excited to start training and racing in it. The attention to detail is second-to-none; everything has pockets everywhere!
RunningMonkey: How about shoes? Any preferences?
Dan Lawson: For the past four years I have only run in shoes from the Brooks Pure Project, they seem to work for me. They’re pretty minimalist, but with a ‘bounce’ to them. My favourites at the moment are the new Pure Connects; they make me feel speedy.
RunningMonkey: You’re a Trustee for Oscar India can you tell us something about that?
Dan Lawson: I work for Oscar and another charity called Skillshare when in India, both of the charities use sport to try and bring about social change. My job is to create curriculums and train coaches to use sport, in particularly football, to teach social messages to young people. We teach about HIV/Aids, malaria, child abuse, gender equality to name a few.
RunningMonkey: What advice would you give anyone thinking of stepping up to ultra?
Dan Lawson: Forget about the distance. If you are a runner already then the ultra will come easy, it’s just a chance to spend more time doing what we love: running. Practice mindful running and being in the moment, then any distance doesn’t matter – all that’s important is putting one foot in front of the other.