The middle-distance man talks to Emily Moss about how he beats runners half his age
Olympian Anthony Whiteman is a familiar name on both the domestic middle-distance circuit and world masters scene. During his senior career he ran 3:32.34 over 1500m in 1997 for sixth on the UK all-time list and nowadays he continually manages to upstage athletes half his age in BMC races.
He boasts a CV that includes appearances in two Olympic Games, a European indoor silver in 1996, Commonwealth bronze in 1998 and a World Universities title in 1997. Not only does he have the knack at successful championship racing, Whiteman runs fast too, setting an M40 800m world record of 1:48.05 in 2014, together with a British M40 mark for 1500m and the mile, the latter two only ever bettered globally within the age group by Bernard Lagat in Diamond League races.
Therefore it is of little surprise that many envy Whiteman’s longevity. Indeed, Raul Aragon Ortega, runner-up to Whiteman in the World Masters last year, claimed the Brit is “not from this world” and Mizuno has recognised Whiteman’s positive impact on the sport by providing him with kit – a rare example of sponsorship for a masters runner – which Whiteman is very grateful for.
Within minutes of speaking to the Shaftesbury team captain, it is clear that the secret to his success is having a good rest at the end of the season, knowing his body and enjoying a full life outside of running.
“I have learned over the years that everything has a reason. I have a good knowledge of the sport, I know my body and how I react to training,” says Whiteman.
Living on the coast in North East Lincolnshire, Whiteman often runs along the beach or across the Humber Bridge as he commutes to work in the Humber Runner Running Shop he manages in Hessle.
He explains that since he has turned 40, the structure of his life and training programme within that has become very different. “I respect the impact on my body through doing a track season, so I really overcompensate with rest,” he says.
“I have learned over the years that everything has a reason. I have a good knowledge of the sport, I know my body and how I react to training”
What will perhaps surprise many is that Whiteman does not do any running between September and December, preferring to take time away from the sport, spend time with his family and keep his competitive nature ticking over by playing badminton three or four times a week.
“I like to recharge naturally,” he explains. “It is something I learned from the Kenyans. When I first start back running it is hard, but every week it gets easier. I just trust it will come back to me and know that my talent won’t have evaporated. In 2013, I made the senior British Championships 800 metres final, having only started running on March 1 that year.”
Usually when he starts running in the new year, the club stalwart’s focus initially shifts to the road relays in March and April, where he has on several occasions been part of a medal-winning Shaftesbury team. He finds this forms a useful springboard to the track season.
Whiteman works practically full-time at the Humber Runner and with two boys, George and Joshua (JJ), aged nine and ten respectively, adopts the traditional approach to training, often combining his training with transportation to work so it does not consume more of his day and family time than it needs to. He run-commutes across the Humber Bridge about three times a week and his hills session on Thursdays are done on a bridge over the A63 dual carriageway near where he works.
On the weekends he does what he can, but he emphasises that he rarely runs over five miles due to limited time and the fact he feels he responds better to running fast, so usually runs at sub-six-minute-mile pace.
He sometimes goes to Lincoln to train with other athletes for sessions, but usually he runs on his own. “I like to run fast on my longer runs, so tend to blow people away. Also, I have my own life outside of athletics, so I don’t want it to impact on my day more than it has to,” he says.
“I like to recharge naturally. It is something I learned from the Kenyans”
When he goes around the country racing, Whiteman tends to take his family with him. “The boys are very much part of the Shaftesbury team,” he says. “They go with the team and enjoy it. That way we get good family time mixed in with racing. I’m always conscious to do things with them when I’m not racing and they tell me if it is too much focused on me.”
The boys do a bit of running too. Whiteman’s mum, Ann Gray has done nearly 200 parkruns and after having run 2:59:54 for the marathon as a W40 she is now among the UK’s top W70s. Whenever the family stay with Gray, Whiteman and his sons join her in the Worcester parkrun.
“I’m a big supporter of the ethos of parkrun,” says Whiteman. “It is a really good event that promotes family running. I tend to run as fast as I can and, when I finish, I keep going and catch the boys up on their second lap.”
Having been involved with the On Camp with Kelly initiative as a mentor, now that it has ended Whiteman prefers to keep his own focus, away from coaching. But he gives plenty of advice to customers when they come into his shop, often giving them a training programme.
“People come into the shop and don’t realise who I am,” he says. “They ask questions and I pass on my knowledge. This filters through and they come back.”