Richard Whitehead ready for marathon challenge

Retaining his world title is the next job on the list, but then it’s back to marathons for Richard Whitehead – 40 of them in 40 days to be exact

Richard Whitehead (Mark Shearman)

His sights might currently be set on retaining his 200m world title at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon in a few weeks’ time, but that’s by no means the only goal for Richard Whitehead this year.

Following competition in France and then London for the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 28, the versatile athlete – world record-holder over T42 200m, 400m, half-marathon and marathon – is set to take on his biggest challenge yet in running a marathon a day from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

It’s going to be a busy few months for the 36-year-old Paralympic champion. Good job we got in there quick for a chat before he gets stuck in.

You’ve had a strong start to your track season and despite being disqualified for a false start at Saturday’s Sainsbury’s IPC Athletics Grand Prix Final should head out to France feeling confident?

I opened up with my best opening 200m this year so it proves that even though I’ve been doing marathon work it’s not affecting my speed stuff on the track. Switching between the distances is a tough ask but I’ve got a dynamic team around me that support that process.

The false start was just one of those things really. It’s better for it to happen at that level of event rather than at a World Championships or European Championships or Paralympic Games. It was a learning curve for me and I’m not the type of person that gets weighed down by performances like that. I’ve raced three times this season with some great performances so I know I’m going into Lyon with some positive races.

You’re by far the one to beat in Lyon but who is your strongest competition?

Personally I won’t be looking for anybody else, it’s all about me putting down a marker for other people to beat. Scott Reardon from Australia is world number two and Frenchman Clavel Kayitaré is world number three so those two guys are probably the two that I’ll be competing against for the medals.

“The gold medal in London was the highlight of my career but that was just one race and one aspect of me… Marathon running is what I’m all about”

I know that I’m in good shape and I just need to deliver that performance. It’s about a process of success as well. Delivering a medal-winning performance is about how you act before, during and after the actual performance itself. Hence why I was so pleased with London because I was able to deliver that, not just the gold medal but the world record that I wanted, and I was the only athlete in the Olympics and Paralympics that was able to do that.

But retaining your world title isn’t the only challenge you’ve set yourself this year?

It’s great that athletes talk about themselves and their own performances but I feel that every athlete should give something back to the sport – pass on encouragement and enthusiasm. Hence this massive challenge of running from John o’Groats to Lands End, it’s really about legacy. Hopefully I can engage with a lot of people and show them what the power of sport is all about.

People can come and run with me, whether it’s 5km, 10km, half a marathon or a marathon, or make a donation on my website. You don’t need to be a world record holder or a world champion to run with me – it will be a nice way to meet people and just running three miles with me might make a difference in giving someone a bit more positive thought in what they want to do in their life.

You represented Great Britain in sledge hockey at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin before turning your attention to running both sprint and long distances. Do marathons remain your passion?

Marathon running is the key. For me the gold medal in London was the highlight of my career but that was just one race and one aspect of me. Marathon running is what I’m all about.

There’s pictures of me running with some of the African teams when I was in Tanzania and running through the streets of London and New York and you see the impact I have as an athlete, as a runner. I hope that when looking back at my career when I finish people see me as an athlete and not a gold medal Paralympic athlete. Everybody wants to be seen as an athlete and not just a Paralympic one.

With your Run Britain challenge starting on August 13, you’re not straying from the track for good?

No, I see myself competing all the way up to the World Championships in London in 2017 and then that will probably be my last competitive Games. It would be great to finish in the Olympic Stadium.

» Find out more about Richard’s marathon challenge here.

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