Q&A: Noel Thatcher

We talked to the Gold medal winning Paralympian about why he loves running so much and how he plans to run forever.



by Annie Rice

How did you get into running?

It was a punishment for getting caught smoking at school, I went to a boarding school for the visually impaired where we had to go running as part of the regime and I hated it and used to do everything I could to get out of it. I must have been about twelve and I went off with my mates for a two mile run and we didn’t come back for about 90 minutes, then the teacher smelt our breath and the result of that was that we had to go running for five miles every night for a month – (this was pre Childline sort of days). So from having no identity within the school – and boarding school is about having some sort of reputation to uphold, a hierarchy - literally within a year or so I was winning races and out on the track, doing cross country. We won the Warwickshire cross country competition at school as four visually impaired lads running in football boots, which these days would have been a massive story, you know a positive story for disability, but then it was ‘ah brilliant we get pie and chips’. Then when I was 16 I went down to the nationals and I won the 400m there. John Anderson spotted me, he was coaching Dave Morecroft at the time and asked me to join the group. So from running around the school field on my own I was training with the world’s best. I’d always enjoyed being outside, it’s always been a big part of it to be outdoors.

Have you done any treadmill running then?

No, god almighty. Until last year when we broke the Guinness World Record for the furthest distance run on the treadmill in 24 hours. [477.7KM between 12 people]. We did about a marathon each broken down into chunks at 18.2KPH, a minute on a minute off, so we broke down into three teams of four, but one of our four actually got injured so we did a little bit more each.

What are your running plans for the future?

My ultimate dream is actually the Ultra-Trail Mt-Fuji, which is 100 miles so part of the treadmill challenge was see how I feel at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning as that will give me an idea. I felt brilliant at 3 or 4 am but terrible at 9 o’clock in the morning. It’s about managing your energy levels and emotions, that’s the whole thing about the ultra, it’s not really about how fast you’re running a mile. I need to do a 70K race to qualify so that’s the plan at the minute.

How much distance running have you done?

I’ve done 2:34 for the marathon back in the day. Ran London Marathon last year, just jogged round in 3:25, I had a one year old so that took a lot of my energy but I’ve done a lot of over distance training so I’m kind of aware of what it involves. The idea of this is the sort of event that really motivates me to stay involved in running. I had no experience of mass participation events until the Standard Charter Great City Race and running around with Richard Holmes [SC Europe CEO] and I kind of got it, just seeing this mass of people running through this amazingly iconic city and the cheering with everyone striving for the same thing – you don’t get that on the track. So it was great taking a step back and enjoying it. I really appreciate how running changes lives and tonight is all about that.

5K is also a great distance because for people who don’t do any running at all have a good chance of achieving it; it’s not a marathon where you have to put the graft in.

You’re also a Physiotherapist, do you specialise in running?

I have a special interest in running related injuries and we have a 3D gait lab where we are at the moment so I deal with a lot of running injury reduction strategies, rather than injury prevention - because I don’t think you can prevent running injuries. But it also helps with my roll here so whichever way you look at it, running is very important to me professionally and personally with those initiatives. I’ve kind of grown with running and running’s grown with me and the emphasis has definitely shifted more to running as a vehicle to help raise awareness and self growth, they’re very much linked.

What kind of impact has running had on your life?

Running’s always been positive, it has a huge impact. I’ve got absolutely no interest at all in setting any personal bests, it’s not about that. It’s a journey, so I lost my watch many years ago. It opens up the whole idea about the more in tune with your body you are, the more responsive it is. I wish id known this years ago. For me at the moment I just make things up as I go along. When I did the marathon of course I did a long run at the weekend and did a bit of tempo running, but for a half marathon you don’t need such a strategy.

It becomes work, you wake up on a Tuesday morning and look at your schedule and see 15 times 400 meters with 60 seconds in between and ultimately I’d get to the point where I was physically feeling sick at the thought of it. Running is not just about getting a time, there’s a far more to it, it’s immediate, it’s totally natural and it should be that way. You might just want to run once this week, a few times next week, etc, what is the big deal in that. You just need to get out there and enjoy it there are no rules. It’s a journey tonight for some people who’ve never done 5K before and 100 miles is a journey for me. There’s not a single day that goes by without me thinking about or reading about, learning about running. Its about the journey. I want to run till I die.

How do you feel about being an ambassador for runners with disabilities? 

Being an ambassador is always an honour. With Seeing is Believing I am able to personally give a perspective on how sight loss impacts on your day to day life.  The negative impact is a hundred times greater for those with no access to medical care in developing countries. With disabled athletes, I want to use my running life to empower, energise and inspire. There really are no barriers that are insurmountable.

How much has the industry changed since you started out and what would you like to see in the future in terms of opportunities for runner's with disabilities? 

Paralympic Sport has changed beyond recognition since I started competing. To see TV coverage of IPC events and to see how Jonnie Peacock and teammates have been accepted by the nation and media feels like all our hard work in raising profile was worth it

What have been the high of your running journey so far?

The high point would be winning 5k in Sydney gun to tape in a World Record. Never felt so at one with my body.

And the lows? 

Only when injured, but even then you learn.  Also looking back, the highs always came on the back of a low.

What motivates and inspires your to keep going when things get tough?

I think I have a problem with giving up, I was born a rule bender.  When it gets tough, it gets interesting.

Noel Thatcher was taking part in the Standard Chartered Great City Race on 11 July in support of Seeing is Believing, a global initiative to tackle avoidable blindness: www.cityrace.co.uk


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