Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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Matt Shone and his impressive record (August 2020)

Matt Shone only found his true single sport of athletics, when he was 20 and then, took it up seriously, both with his training and racing. He is an M45 category runner, at the time of writing this. He enjoys running in the countryside and by the sea and still has hopes of making the National road relay team for his club Woodford Green & Essex ladies AC.

Matt Shone  was born at St Asaph. Clwyd, Wales, on the 10th of July 1975 and, his daughters Laura (6) and Bethan (4) already like walking a long way and, could very well turn out as athletes too. However if one understands that at the age off 15, Matt ran 2:29 for the 800 and yet would eventually run 1:46.08 for 800; 3:42.20 ; A mile in 3:58.09 which is a Woodford club record. 'He ran 14:40 on the track for 5k and on the road 14:28. He managed a 2 29.44 in the London of 2008 and in Mick McGeoh's, Ultra distance race on the track, in the Barry 40 miles Matt obtained his 13th Welsh life time title, in the cold winds of March 13th and ended up with a time of 4hrs 55.6.

I would like to point out also he was a Commonwealth Games Semi-finalist over 800 in 2002 in Manchester, and won several BMC and BAL middle distance races as well to boot.

You never always know who you are up against!
In the popular, Metropolitan league senior cross-country race in October 2001, at Claybury, I saw a Highgate friend being pipped by Matt for 7th at the finish. It was Glenn Saqui, who had been at the Canadian Olympic trials and, likes to always finish fast in the league races. He was very surprised this chap from Woodford outkicked him 'Who is this guy 'exclaimed' Glenn. However Matt went on to win the next Met league race at Wormwood Scrubs that December followed in by Orlando Edwards (SBH) and Henry Dodwell (Hgihgate). That was just another string to friendly Matt's bow.

Matt was educated at Fernood Comprehensive; then at Becket School Sixth form followed by the University of Birmingham, where he did a geography BSc. He went back into education later on at the BPP Law School for three years in Holborn and is now at Wiggin, as an associate in the film & TV group and advises a wide range of clients  mainly on finance transaction. He has a particular specialism for television broadcast financing, advising high profile banks and funds that are active, in the media sector.

In the City when I was doing Lloyd's insurance claims broking, at the same time as Ron Allison. We used to talk about athletics when we met and Ron talked about the charges he had and, they were all good runners. Ron also said that he had great regard for a certain Matt Shone and his performances.


In Matt's words ...

"I was rather late to the party of track and field having only started running seriously aged 20. I'd grown up adoring all sport, in every form, and tried so hard to become proficient at many disciplines (with varying degrees of failure) throughout my teens. I collected autographs of the good and great from as many major events as I could attend and dreamt of one day being a 'regional standard' sportsman at the very least.

Eventually, by the time I arrived at university I'd narrowed it down to possible, while highly unlikely, sporting fame & fortune coming by the way of either cycling, swimming or running. Still, having eliminated the obvious 'skill sports' from my repertoire, it wasn't clear which line of monotonous endurance would give the best chance of success. Having solemnly discounted football and cricket as future semi-pro occupations, I was ready to graft at 'something'. I joined several sports clubs during freshers' week at Birmingham University in 1993 and after brief thoughts of squash and a further dabble at cycling, I eventually settled on athletics, namely road & cross country. A plan quickly formed: become decent at the endurance side, adding strength and conditioning via mammoth amounts of training that could eliminate the need for skill that all those other, seemingly more interesting, sports required in abundance. Initially I couldn't keep up with fellow students on the purportedly 'steady' runs around the campus and gentrifying canals of mid 90s Brum and ended up walking back to the sports centre alone more than once using the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world as a handy visual aid to get home from 2-3 miles away after the pace had spat me out of the back of the peloton.

My best finish during student days was only 3rd or 4th B Team scorer for the (pretty good at the time; mighty Loughborough rivalling no less) Birmingham XC squad but I could see decent improvements and in my final year got my half marathon PB down from 1:28 to 1:17. I'd dabbled in the half distance in my then home town (having been born in North Wales) of Nottingham, running the Robin Hood on my debut aged 19 in 1:35 in full football kit during my 'experimenting with different sports' phase, little did I know that my rivals of later years were already running 4:05 for a Mile and winning English Schools titles at the same stages of their lives! My best school sports day efforts were 3rd place in an 800m in 2:29 and 2nd in a 1500m in 5:14 as a 15-year-old, endeavours which are obviously a lifetime away from the best age group times for those distances.

By the end of university something clicked. I joined my first proper track session, then series of repeated Tuesday/Thursday sessions, with a footballing friend who'd been on my Geography degree course. Such sessions occurred in earnest at Hadley Stadium at the Bearwood end of Smethwick where many of the Tipton runners toiled away. In sheer trepidation I joined for a few weeks and gave it my all. Bud Baldaro was the coach there and clearly knew his stuff, at the time he was the GB Marathon Coach I believe. There seemed a slight disconnect between Bud and the official Birm Uni supremos that year, we had Andy "Bernie" Farnworth, our Uni team captain from Blackburn who ran close to a 14 min 5k as a junior and Matt Smith (there are 78 x Matt Smiths on Power of 10 though I'd wager he's the best) who eventually ran a 2:14 marathon amongst many other achievements, the best runners of this class of '96 joined Tipton despite being university students. I was, relatively speaking, a bystander while Farnworth, Smith and other plied their trades with painful lap after painful lap, though I did try to complete 66.66% of their sessions, in distance at least, that was my aim in those early days. Bud occasionally brought in Africans who'd been staying with him and/or he'd been helping in Europe, and they bolstered the Smethwick sessions with gusto. I remember in my final week watching Hendrick Ramaala (27:29 for 10k and 60:24 Half) churning out endless 1 Mile reps, not lightning fast, just lots of them! It was all such an eye-opener, realising just how hard and long people trained for 1500/5k/10k. This was different from my previous approach of a) leave one's front door, b) start the watch, c) run as hard as you can for a set course (eg 5 or 6 miles), and d) repeat a) to c) the next day. Bud marshalled several of the endurance sessions I joined and declared that I'd be a "decent 5k runner one day", kind words, but it never happened. I was excited though, I learnt to love the endurance sessions and I (oddly) loved the suffering, I also loved the camaraderie, there were 3 mile warm ups, 3 mile warm downs and endless reps in the middle, on the track or sometimes road, which all seemed to add up to about 12 miles of running every Tuesday and every Thursday, In addition to 16+ mile Sunday runs I could see how these folk would easily hit 80 miles a week minimum, which blew my novice mind.

I returned to Nottingham for 2 years and ramped up training under the watchful gaze of Trevor Muxlow of Notts AC. As at university, I'd look around at my comrades in session battle and feel like I was the slowest, certainly the heaviest, and nowhere near the strongest. I sensed I was reasonably quick over 400m against these gazelle-like mudlarks (Simon Burton and James Bowskill of Notts were both GB Juniors over XC and fantastic, if slightly demoralising(!) to train with over distance) but that sort of kick counts for little if you're 45 seconds behind the leaders with a lap of a 5000m to go. The answer was to concentrate on what I was getting better at, speed endurance. I recall two big winters of endurance and long, grassy reps in Wollaton Park but it was the springtime hammering out of 25 x 200s (off 90 seconds) in endless 28s that started to shape my future in the sport. My first ever track race was a 3000m Midland League fixture for Notts but I started to find that the lactic hell of 800/1500 pace suited me even better. Aged 22, I ran an 800m in 1:51 then, after dozens more speed endurance sessions with Trevor at Harvey Hadden Stadium, managed to crack the 1:50 barrier. Having partaken in a full season of British League action and several PB-lowering BMC Grand Prix races around the country, this was the year I also received a call up to run for Wales. It seemed a relatively weak period for Welsh 800/1500 running to be fair with no Cymro near the UK Top 10 in either 800m or 1500m during 1997 and 1998 but even so this was one of the greatest days of my life, receiving a Welsh vest!

Through job and personal circumstance, I left Nottingham and took up residence in the capital the following year. I met Matt Davies, a 3:44 1500m runner of Woodford Green (and Wales), at a Welsh Squad training weekend and battled out my first Welsh title against him in Cwmbran during 1998. A few weeks later he'd become my friend, housemate in Blackheath, and training partner at Sutcliffe Park, Eltham. Ron Allison of Cambridge Harriers became my coach, this was to be my training track of choice for the next decade. Ron's group must have exhibited the best depth of 800m ability in the UK when I joined, perhaps on a par with Norman Poole's group at Wythenshawe, with a mosaic of clubs represented in the assembled company. Amongst the 8 (or so) sub 1:50 runners you had Matt Davies from Woodford (my new club), Andy Knight of Cambridge Harriers, Clive Gilby of Belgrave, Rupert Waters of Sale, Jason Dupuy of Shaftesbury Barnet and Des English of Havering. All extremely decent people. There were AAAs finalists in every distance from 400m to 10000m including steeplechase. Throw in recently crowned AAAs indoor champion at 1500m Joe Mills of Blackheath & Bromley, Southern XC at Parliament Hill winner (and National XC bronze medallist) Nick Francis, and City of Edinburgh speed merchant Andy Brown who soon joined us too, and you had an absolutely fantastic group. Ron didn't particularly care which club we all respectively represented in races away from Sutcliffe Park, he took an interest in each individual as a person and as an athlete. There was quality throughout the group with everyone eager to lead out reps which seemed to become more voluminous and faster by the week with healthy, cooperative competition prevailing. I'd never been amongst such middle-distance talent before and revelled in the environment, you could be dragged around the infamous road 'lappers' of 10 x 1km (off 30 secs) an 8 week programme of which heralded the start of each winter then mix it with a summer 800m pre-race special of 6 x 300s (off 3 mins) in 38/39s. There were always several national standard athletes there to help out and do their bit as we covered all the aerobic and anaerobic bases that 800m runners need to over the course of a year – you could latch on to a 29:30 10k runner (for a bit) before Christmas then be screaming behind a 47 second 400m speedster come June. There's not a huge social scene for most athletes given time pressures of working and training, alongside the need for sleep and general health, but it didn't hurt that we often socialised together too whether it be over unfeasibly large plates of noodles in Greenwich or the occasional pint of Doom Bar at the Railway in Blackheath. It's not a universally shared view but I'm a great believer that rivals can be friends, in track and field at least, and I always found it easy to flick the switch on a start line where naturally everyone's trying to beat everyone else, go for it, hell for leather and do everything for a ruthless win, yet shake hands and be mates again 2 minutes (or less) later when you've crossed the line, it's a tiny time period to put friendship on hold! The beauty of Ron's training group was that there was such bonhomie and respect, even while people were exhausted (nay on the floor) between reps and at the end of a session.

Four years of simply repeating session after session after session in this very special training group (with personnel naturally coming and going to some extent) in our corner of south east London had got my PBs down to 1:46 for 800m and 3:42 for 1500m. I was fortunate to never really get injured (either thanks to big comfy trainers, doing most steady runs on grass, or pure luck) bar the odd bout of plantar fasciitis and, while now actively compromising life and career off track, thanks to 70-80 miles per week in autumn/winter with (more importantly) 4 or so hard sessions per week (including weekend hills) had picked up several more British League wins, BMC GP wins, Welsh titles and, finally, a GB vest. In 2002, I made the Welsh squad for the Commonwealth Games and raced both the 800m and 1500m in Manchester. Alas, I'd peaked too soon that year (back in April/May at warm weather training!) and rather ran out of gas by August so had to settle for just pipping a returning Curtis Robb to a fastest loser spot in the 800 semis while missing out, with poetic justice, by a single fastest loser spot on making the 1500 final. It was an experience I couldn't really enjoy given I posted an 800 time over 2 seconds slower than my PB despite being on a pretty big stage. Still, I'd bumped elbows with the eventual Commonwealth champion and future World Champion, the late Mbulaeni Mulaudzi in a year where I'd already raced a 1:42 South African athlete in Olympic silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng, not to mention the (at the time) 800m world record holder, Wilson Kipketer. I was initially quite pleased to have finished within 1.5 secs of a legend such as Kipketer only to then read that he'd been suffering from malaria some weeks earlier which rather took the shine off my own performance. Nevertheless, given that I'd grown up watching so many different international sports stars day in day out to then be competing myself, often on live TV, against the best in the world (even sharing a lane with some of them!) seemed incredible. It was topped off by a chat I had post-race with the previous year's world champion, the incredibly approachable André Bucher of Switzerland, yet another 1:42 man who'd just beaten me, where I shared part of my warm-down jog swapping training tips in a really jovial setting, all very surreal when compared with my pretty mediocre origins and performances in the B Team at Birmingham University 7 years and circa 20,000 miles of training earlier.

A problem with starting athletics so late and taking so long to become competitive was that time was running out, I was closing in on my 30s and, try as I might (and I was trying every day, every run, every session, honest), I couldn't quite make it to Olympic standard. I claimed another GB vest in 2004 running in the Europa Cup (indoors) this time over 1500m where I managed to take advantage of a rather pedestrian opening 800m of 2:14 to pick off various metric milers with my solid kick last 400m in under 53 seconds that garnered 2nd place, a few diving hundredths behind a French Olympian who ran 3:32 for 1500m that season. On paper my PB was 7th out of 8 and the BBC had predicted me '2 points' for the GBR team so to take 7, so nearly the full 8(!), ahead of a decent German, Russian and Marko Koers (former European medallist) of The Netherlands was reasonably satisfying. In spite of all the gruelling mileage and countless track sessions, waking up aching then going again every Monday night, Tuesday night, Thursday night and Saturday morning, I was beginning to feel like I wasn't quite quick enough to be world class at 800m yet not quite strong enough to be likewise at 1500m. I discussed this at length with Ron and, notwithstanding my aversion to gyms and embarrassing lack of flexibility, we decided on a programme of strengthening to increase power, dynamism & acceleration and reduce my 400 time so a fast opening 800m lap wouldn't always feel like I was dying, close to my 400 PB which often caused an apprehensive reliance on wobbling strength to hang on throughout the second lap. Many months of such training had a positive effect and a marginal one lap PB but didn't improve my 800m, perhaps there's only so much one can do to improve natural, genetic sprinting speed and affect fast-twitch fibres from birth (in hindsight I believe this to be untrue!). I then tried to focus on 1500m pace and see if my love of piling on the winter endurance, as well as my favoured lactic-drowning speed endurance, would improve my prospects at that distance but I shamefully slightly struggled to embrace the pain of 1500m race pace and the longer track reps required despite enjoying a season of (mainly) racing 1500s and getting some decent wins at national level. One thing that the stronger track sessions gave me was a crack at a sub 4-minute mile. I'd read an early edition of 'First Four Minutes' by Roger Bannister from a second hand book shop in Llandudno as a child and ever since had become rather obsessed with the story and the history of the barrier. After the teenage sports day runs and university failures I never imagined I'd get that close to 4:00 and several 4:02s, 4:03s and 4:04s (including winning the Inter-Counties Title for my adopted Kent over a Mile) reinforced the view that perhaps it wasn't meant to be. I chased manufactured end of season opportunities at places such as Colchester, Cardiff, Finsbury Park, Oxford, Bedford and back at Notts, to no avail thanks to a habitual final lap slump in 64 secs where mind and pumping arms were willing but legs got confused with the extra distance. Until, another balmy BMC evening gave the perfect chance in August 2005 with Kenyan pacemakers and a quality field. I chatted to Mo Farah during the warm up at Crystal Palace, incredibly Mo (then aged 22) had endured many close-calls with the magical milestone himself without breaching 4:00, I'd pipped him over a few 800s but always lost at anything further. Thankfully I managed to smoothly run a series of laps in 59, 60, 60, 59 for 3:58, Mo won in 3:56 and, in all, 7 Brits and Irish nudged sub 4, it was a fantastic race to have been in, especially with Ron cheering on from the sidelines. Afterwards, a seasoned looking American chap in the stands told me that he'd calculated me to officially be the world's 999th sub 4-minute miler, which was then reported in a couple of publications, one of being Athletics International.

I qualified for the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne only to then receive news that the Sports Council of Wales hadn't 'rubber-stamped' the team sheet funding-wise and most of the track athletes ended up being omitted from the squad! We all appealed, having hit the required criteria, but were told that the majority of us were not 'medal hopefuls' so the much slimmed down track and field squad competed without us, a tiny contingent compared with Manchester 4 years earlier. This was hugely disheartening, I'd run a Mile in a time that would've beaten the world record barely 50 years earlier yet such time wasn't deemed good enough to even qualify for the Commonwealth Games. I was into my thirties and it was probably time to hang up the spikes. It'd been a great ride, especially from the starting point of relative uselessness and such an unpromising first few years. There was still time, though, for a dart at another event, at least once, the mighty marathon. I'd not raced beyond 5 miles on the road since my Robin Hood Half days at the start of the journey but fancied a go at the famous 26.2. Lots of slow ploddy mileage over the course of four big months, coupled with a cross country race pretty much every weekend, got me into reasonable shape. I missed Ron's 'stretch target' of 2:25 having not properly engaged with the necessary long tempos and marathon pace runs, instead I was secretly patting myself on the back for getting over 100 miles per week a few times which got me in pretty lean shape but slightly missed the point of loading lots of 5:30 minute miles into the legs. I'd somewhat pooh-poohed marathons as a middle-distance runner, mainly because it was on the list of perennial questions from non-runners, "have you ever done a marathon?" "what's the world record for your event?" "if I said 'go' now, how far could you run without stopping?"…. however the experience was amazing and I quickly developed a new found admiration for marathon runners. Never before have I felt hungry approaching the end of a race, whilst dealing with shoulder cramp, a twitching buttock, lower back shivers, everything was slowly falling apart. At one point I'm sure I saw TVs Lionel Blair on the Embankment shouting 'come on boyo!' at me (I had a small Welsh flag sewn onto my Woodford Green vest) though I may have been hallucinating by then. On the big day in London, I kicked out a last mile in 5:15 agony and sneaked a 2:29.44 before whispering a 'never again', and 'hats off to the marathon community' through my last vestiges of saliva. The build-up to the marathon had at least notched me a Met League cross country victory after a decade of trying (on the lovely pancake-flat playing fields of Wormwood Scrubs, not one for the purists) a new 5k PB of 14:28 alongside a Welsh title for the distance, and a share of Woodford Green's coveted Ken Bray Clubman of the Winter Season Trophy. I was also made an honorary life member of WGEL in due course which was a huge privilege. While my 'never again' held for the marathon, I couldn't quite shake off the endurance running bug and competed in the Barry 40 Mile track race in 2012 posting 4hrs 55 mins for the 161 laps of Jenner Park Stadium to scoop another Welsh title, this time at an 'ultra' distance.

After over 50,000 miles trained and nearly 3,000 sessions completed from university onwards, it was time to dive back properly into the real world. I continued to work by day for a friend's dot-com startup online retailer but the lack of endless track sessions freed up time by night (and weekend) so I signed up for Law School part-time and, seven years later, finally qualified as a solicitor. I'm now a media lawyer specialising in film & TV, working for the UK's largest (and dare I say, I do dare, best) firm in this area from their Cheltenham office. The graft of endless running sessions and miles did transfer quite well to promote some character-building years of exams and late nights (including some 'all nights') as a trainee and there are certainly comparisons between the dedication and discipline needed in what appear to be pretty contrasting spheres. The main difference though is that, as a twentysomething runner, I had the luxury of 9-10hrs sleep every night and wouldn't attempt each mammoth track session without that sort of preparation, obviously in the world of international commerce, advising Hollywood Studios and the like, there's rarely such comfort, choice or control!

I still run every other day or so when time permits and recently trotted out 54 miles of the Cotswolds, in around 8 hours, from Oxford back to Cheltenham, a slightly circuitous route home after a meeting. I'll also still try to get in good enough shape to make the Woodford Green road relay squad for the Sutton Park 6 stage and 12 stage events each year, a day out that I've always loved if never quite excelled at. A timely reminder of the athletics world appeared at my daughter's first day at school here, dropping her off I glanced around to see if there were any obvious lean n' mean rivals for a potential school sports day "Dads' Race" and there, with his young son, was none other than Highgate's international 800m stalwart Dominic Hall. What are the chances in this quiet corner of Cheltenham? I'm not sure I'm up for the contest, I'm a V45 now after all…"

Alastair Aitken

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