Mastering Marathons With Dom Harvey

When you think of Marathon running, you might instantly think of skinny people that need a good meal pounding the streets at insanely high pace for around 2 hours. You might also think that running 42.2 Kilometres is something only the insane would do.

But, everyone’s favourite radio DJ Dom Harvey has proven, firstly to himself and then to the world, that marathon running can be for anyone, not just the elite athletes. It’s more about whether you are mentally tough enough to battle through 42.2 km’s of pain, suffering and nipple chaffing.

We caught up with Dom to discuss the lifestyle that is running, the mental and physical preparation it takes to run a sub 3 hour marathon as he has done, as well as the potential humans have for running sub 2 hours.

How do you start your day?

I wake up at about 4.45am and get straight in the shower and get ready for work. There’s no time to mess around. Every last minute in bed I’ll take. I’ve tried different things; I do some transcendental meditation so that’s 20 minutes, twice a day. With that, I’ve tried getting up at 4am to settle the mind before work but after a while I was like ‘Nah, I can’t be f**ked.’ I just want an extra 45 minutes in bed.

I’ve even tried getting up in the morning and running to try and start the day but when you’re getting up that early, you just want a bit of extra time in bed.

So when do you fit training in during the day?

I’m done with work about midday most days which leaves most of the afternoon. If I have to go for a straight jog, I’ll just get it done straight after work. But if I need to do something specific, like speed work, then I’ll probably go home, have some lunch, have a sleep, then get up and do it.

How do you balance work and training?

The thing about running is the simplicity; you just need to put your shoes on and leave from home. If you’re a swimmer, you’ve got to make your way to a pool. Or if you’re a kayaker, you’ve got to make your way to a lake.

But with running, if I’m away I can just take my shoes with me. Or if I’ve got a long day at work, I can just take my gear in with me. So that’s part of the appeal for me is that you can just fit it into whatever your lifestyle is.

Where is your favourite place to go running?

Probably the Auckland waterfront because it’s flat, there’s no interruptions in terms of traffic lights or things like that, there’s a couple of water fountains along the way and the scenery is nice.

What are your main motivating factors in wanting to do marathons?

There are so many benefits. I found with running, the mental health aspect of it is just phenomenal. There’s been days where the last thing I feel like doing is going for a run and I’m someone who has written a whole book about running.

But when you go out and do it, you never feel worse after a run than beforehand. It always just elevates your state of mind and your mood. The physical benefits as well are just incredible. It’s just amazing. It’s almost been like a wonder drug, really, I just love it.

On the flipside of that, what do you least like about it?

Unfortunately, you have to go faster to make yourself go as fast as you can and that takes hard work, which f**king hurts. So I suppose that has sucked some of the joy out of it in a way. But if you want to run faster, that’s what you have to do.

That made some aspects a bit of a chore, rather than just going out for a slow training run to enjoy the scenery. But that’s the only downside I can think of, really. Oh, and chaffed nipples! I found with nipple chaffing, it doesn’t happen to me as badly as other people but generally happens if you’re out running and it’s cold. You can put band aids on them and it generally works but every now and then you forget to do it and it’s been unpleasant.

What’s been you favourite marathon that you’ve done?

There’s six that make up a series call the World Marathon Majors. So that’s Boston, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, London and Berlin and I’m lucky enough to have done all of them. My favourite one? They’re like children, they’re all special in their own way. Tokyo’s probably my favourite because I managed to break 3 hours there for the first time ever. Boston, I love Boston as well because it’s the oldest marathon in the world and there is so much history steeped in it. New York and London are just beasts in their own way. If you talk to anyone, even a non-runner, they know all know about London and New York. Chicago’s got nice architecture. And then Berlin is where all the world records are set.

There’s not many sports in the world where you get to play with the best. If you’re a golfer, you’re probably not going to get to play with Rory McIlroy. If you’re a tennis player, you’re not going to get to play on the same court as Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. But when you’re a runner, even if you’re really slow, you can still be starting the same race at the same time as the world record holder. So that’s probably what I like about Berlin.

Any at home that are special to you?

I got to run the Christchurch Marathon just the year before the big earthquake on the old course. So that was quite special, getting to run that one and then the earthquake destroying the city and changing it completely.

But otherwise, I’ve been so spoilt and so lucky to run all these big ones in the world so after doing that, it’s quite hard to come back and run a small New Zealand one because the crowd support is just not the same.

You do the Auckland Marathon and they shut one lane of the Harbour Bridge for like two hours and you feel like you’re being an inconvenience to people. And then you’ve got all these major cities like New York who just completely shut down for the day because of the marathon. You’ve got everyone in the city, even those that don’t give a s**t about running embrace it and get into it.

Oh, Queenstown [Marathon] is really nice! It’s beautiful.

You just mentioned Berlin where the world record was just broken by Eluid Kipchoge, what do you think about that? What are your thoughts about humans going sub 2 hours?

I’ve always been in the mindset that it wouldn’t necessarily happen in my lifetime, but Kipchoge has awoken the possibility that it could happen, that guy is just a beast. But you find what happens with records, like with the 4 minute mile, people had come close but no one had done it. Then as soon as this guy Roger Bannister had done it, suddenly lots of other people did it.

So I’m thinking now that Kipchoge has got the record down to, I think 2:01:39, now other people are going to realise that time is possible and may do it. But then on the other hand, maybe he’s just an absolute freak. That was just epic.

The incredible thing is he set off with a pace group and he burned off all of his pace makers really quickly. The fact that he managed to hold that pace without blowing up is just incredible, just steaming along.

What do you think it took to take you from a sub four hour marathon to a sub three?

All the marathons that I’ve done have been sub four, so when I first started running marathons again as an adult, it was something like 03:54:00. Then, with a bit more training and knowledge, just finding programs online and doing my own thing, I started running 03:20:00 to 03:25:00.

So for me personally, I think that’s my natural range of running. Everyone has their own range of running. But when I got a coach with specialist advice, that got the time down. But then to get the final push, it just came down to f**king hard work, really. Hard work and lots of long miles and long runs.

Did you find it came down to the day that you did the marathon? Or did you go over to Tokyo knowing it was going to be it?

I never had that much self-belief or confidence; I was never certain. My coach was certain. He was like ‘We’ve done all the training, we’ve got all the scientific reports from your blood tests, you definitely can do it.’

So in the back of my mind, I had all this self-enforced pressure. I was thinking my body should be able to do it so if I can’t do it, it’s all just in my head. So I had self-doubt even on that day.

My plan was I was going to go out, run at 3 hour pace, which is 4 mins 10 secs per km, which is quite a quick pace. I knew from the training that I could keep it up for 25 or 30km’s but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen after that. But everything went to plan. It just came down to doing the hard work, really.

How did you deal with the mental side and how was your mental strength towards the end of the marathon?

The Tokyo one is the first time that I haven’t hit the wall. I trained pretty well for Berlin where I ran 3 hours and 5 mins. But after 30km, I was just dead on my feet. I got to the point where I just stopped even giving a s**t about the time because I was just buggered.

But [in Tokyo] I kept looking at the watch and thinking, ‘Right, we’re still on track, even if I slow down a little bit now, I can still do this.’ But the wheels just never came off and it just comes down to the extra training that I did.

So I was kind of hoping there’d be some kind of epiphany where I’d realise how to do it, but it was just hard work that went into it in terms of training.

In your book, you talk about going from a fat radio DJ to a marathon runner, what was the turning point for you?

The reason I started running was just to lose weight, really. I sort of thought running would be like a magic bullet; if I run, I’m going to lose weight. But I didn’t realise how far and how fast I would need to run in order to lose that weight so I had to make a dietary changes as well.

Then I got into the shape that I was happy with where I felt a bit more comfortable in my own skin and by then I’d just fallen in love with running. So I ran a couple of marathons.

When you’ve run a couple of them without any time goal, then I suppose it’s the natural progression to think ‘I might as well try and run as fast as I can.’ Then the time started coming down a bit.

With the 3 hour thing, I wasn’t sure if that was going to even be possible for me but there was no harm in giving it a crack.

What would you say to people who are maybe in that position where they are looking to get fitter and healthier?

Do it and don’t delay! Running has just given me so much. As I said, the mental benefits and the physical benefits as well. There’s just so much enjoyment as well.

Every now and then, my knee plays up a bit and I just couldn’t imagine my life without running. If I had to stop running and become a cyclist instead or something, I just couldn’t imagine myself in lycra.

You had some medical issues a few years ago when a tumour was discovered in your abdomen, what life lessons did you learn from this?

This was a while ago now, about 10 years. I had to pull out of the Auckland Marathon, it’s the only time I didn’t finish a race. I was taken to hospital in an ambulance and they found this tumour.

After that was taken out, part of you was reluctant to run again because it could’ve killed me. But once I started running again, it was amazing the difference with just how much this thing was holding me back. I was really f**ked up.

There were a lot of warning signs and I probably should’ve got it looked at sooner and I still to this day don’t know why I didn’t. I was feeling really sick on runs; I’d run up a hill and get to the top and I’d vomit. I just put it down to being old and I was only 30-ish at the time.

So I suppose the lesson in that is that you’ve just got to listen to your body. If anything, I’m probably super cautious now. If anything doesn’t feel right, I just won’t ignore it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Someone gave me a fridge magnet years ago, it’s a quote from Winston Churchill and it just says ‘Never, ever, ever give up’. And it’s true, just never give up. Just stick at what you’re doing. I think it’s quite a good quote.

So what’s your next goal?

I had this massive, massive goal to break 3 hours, which I wasn’t sure if I was going to achieve or not and I ended up doing it. Maybe I’m a little unfocused, I’m still running a lot but if you don’t have a goal you’re aiming for, it is kind of hard to stay focused and stay on track.

Part of me is eyeing up some ultra marathons but then part of me is also s**t scared too. There’s a bit of intrigue there so I’ve been reading a bit about that. Maybe that’s the next step but it’s a step that I’m almost too scared to take.

A friend of mine that I met in Christchurch a few weeks ago, he’s just done this one called the Leadville Trail 100, which is a 100 mile race in Colorado. He got a gold belt buckle because he did it in under 24 hours. There’s photos of this guys in the middle of the night when he’s getting his feet dressed and he’s crying.

So there’s definitely a bit of mystery or intrigue there but I’m not sure if it’s for me or not. I’ve never got to the end of a marathon and thought, ‘Oh, that was fun. I could keep going.’ I’m always ready to stop when I get to the finish. So nothing is set in stone right now. I think I’ll definitely pin something down shortly because you have to have a goal otherwise you start wandering a bit, don’t you? You lose a bit of focus.