RW Interviews: James Cracknell

From double gold Olympic rower to professional adventurer, James Cracknell has had an extraordinary sporting career. The competitive athlete has shown guts and determination in racing across every terrain - he crossed the Atlantic, the South Pole and even the Sahara, with a 12th place finish in the Marathon des Sables in 2010.

Then disaster struck. Cracknell suffered a serious brain injury during the Race Across America last year when the mirror of a truck travelling at 75mph struck him from behind. His life was on a knife-edge and it took months before he could even leave hospital. Beginning a slow climb back to fitness, Cracknell also faced the difficulty of dealing with a brain injury.

So when he lined up once again to take on the Virgin London Marathon this year, the admiration was universal. We caught up with the inspirational athlete after he led runners at the Bupa Flash Run last week. 

Has running helped you to cope since your brain injury less year?

Definitely. If you log all your training, at whatever intensity or level, you're able to notice improvements over a monthly or even weekly basis. After the accident many of the things I was able to do for an hour, I could only do for ten minutes. Clawing my way back to full fitness was great for my confidence and an incredibly positive experience. Whereas with a brain injury there's no scale you can work to, you just have to hope the brain will recover.  

This year you produced another impressive Virgin London Marathon performance in 3:03:56. What did it mean finishing this time around?

It showed I was back to health. It wasn't my best marathon time but with running more than anything, if you don't put the hours in, you can't scrape off those last few minutes. Running the London Marathon this year was more about completing rather than competing. It was a very special day and the crowds were incredibly supportive, not just for me but for all the thousands of runners taking part.

Did it feel different mentally or physically running the marathon this year?

Mentally it did. A lot of things have shifted in importance to me since last year's accident. Things that I thought were really important are now much less so, which means you can enjoy things in a different way. I had more of a head up, run hard and enjoy the day attitude, rather than keeping my head down and being obsessed by times. I would have liked to run it a little quicker, but as I said, you don't get anything for free in running.

How much did you train in the build up to this year's marathon?

I couldn't run that much because I was recovering from a broken foot, so I did more sessions on the bike and in the pool. I didn't manage many long runs or speedwork sessions, so targets had to be adjusted slightly. Admittedly I didn't really do that in the first half, I thought I could push as hard as I used to but then you suddenly realise you can't.

You took part in the Bupa Flash Run today. What did the event mean to you?

It was great to see people taking time out of their lunch hour to run, as it's all too easy to just stay at your desk. Runners of all abilities and speeds were getting stuck in, which was great to see and the organisation was faultless.  

Why should more people take up running?

It's very easy to get stuck in a rut and not to do enough exercise but the long-term consequences can be severe. If you make it a habit to move a little more and eat healthily it'll benefit you in so many ways - you'll have more energy, you'll get ill less often and you'll have a positive attitude to take on the world.

Back in 2010 you finished the Marathon des Sables in 12th place, taking the trophy of the highest placed Briton in the race's 25-year-history. What were your mental strategies for a event dubbed 'the toughest footrace on earth'?

I think the most important thing was to view the race positively and to realise that no matter how hard it was, you were just lucky to be there. If you let the situation get on top of you, it's only going to take longer and you're going to be frustrated by it. One of the things I've learnt from competing in various events is not to look too far ahead and to keep a positive view on the situation - that makes it much easier whether it's the London Marathon or the Marathon des Sables.

What has been your proudest running achievement?

The Marathon des Sables was definitely a big moment. I was also really proud when I ran a marathon in 2:53.  Realistically I know I'm never going to win a marathon, so the most important thing is just to do my best and enjoy the day.

Have you got any more races or events lined up for this year?

Not yet, but I definitely want to do a few. I'm considering the Great North Run, the Great South Run or another marathon.

How is your recovery going in general?

It's all good. Some things will take longer than you first think, but it's all progressing the right way.

James Cracknell joined members of the general public for the Bupa Flash Run. The lunchtime run took place in Regents Park and was announced via the "Bupa Running" Twitter and Facebook pages. "Like" Bupa Running on Facebook and follow @buparunning on Twitter to keep in touch with Bupa's team of running experts.