While domestic coverage has focused on the Cheshire Marathon actually going ahead at all, and the striking debut of the supposed pacer Jake Smith, who went on to win in his debut, there’s also a lively and inspiring narrative to the runner-up, another debutant…

Kiwi Callan Moody, 33, has been in London since December 2018, and his superb 2.11.38 puts him 11th on New Zealand’s All Time list (whilst also smashing Nick Torry’s Serpentine club record of 2.15.04.)

David Chalfen interviews the barrier-breaking athlete as he gets to grips with his achievement. Many thanks to Callan for going the extra mile in the level of his responses.

DC: Tell us a little about when you committed to the distance; to this particular race; and how it went on the day.

CM: Competing in a marathon has been something I have been considering for the last couple of years. My previous flatmate and training partner, Tony Payne, has been encouraging me towards the bigger distance for the past year or so. His theory was that my ultimate calling would be the marathon – yet I was always hesitant as I felt I was stronger over the 5km than I was over the 10km, so it took a bit of convincing.

In January 2021, training had not been great; I tested positive for Covid-19, and over 2020, like many runners, it was hard to justify putting my body under the stress of demanding workouts without any racing on the horizon.

It wasn’t long after my self-isolation – Tony messaged me about the announcement of the Wrexham Marathon (which eventually changed to the Cheshire marathon), this was one of the first races to be advertised again so I thought with no other racing in the near future, now was the time to give the marathon a crack.

At first, committing to a marathon during lockdown felt a bit risky. It was obviously a huge training commitment in a world where cancelations and postponements were frequent. Despite this, Reece (my training partner who was also competing) and I just treated the previous 6 – 7 weeks as if the race was inevitable.

Callan focuses on recovery

On the day of the race, you could not really have asked for better conditions. There was very little wind, and the temperature was perfect. As Tony, Reece and I made our way to the start line, we still really had no idea if there was pacing, who was pacing, or what time we were being paced for.

It was only at the start that I realised one of the pacers was Jake Smith, with a 65:45 half marathon label stuck to him – so it was at this point I knew I could be in for a good time.

We started off in the first wave along with several of the Half Marathon runners. It was nice to start off in a pack, and I just did my best to sit in the bunch and relax as much as I could. I was amazed how quickly the time went. All of a sudden, the half runners had finished, and I noticed we had gone through halfway in 65:30 – yikes. It was a little quicker than I expected. Everything was going great, but I knew at some point I was going to feel the pinch. It was not until about 10km to go I started to feel the pace a little in the legs. I still felt comfortable and I honestly thought I had the qualifying time in the bag.

Sadly, on the very last lap (last 7km) both of my calf muscles were starting to develop the dreaded cramps. Whenever I tried to speed up they would both contract and the pain was pretty immense, so I had to be content with the pace I could go at and hope that it was enough. Heading towards the home straight the cramps were getting worse.

The cramping was so bad I just couldn’t quite put in the final burst over the last 1km like I thought I could, and I watched the clock tick over 2:11.30 in front of me finishing in a time of 2:11.38. It was difficult to process at first. I remember standing at the finishing line staring at the race clock, trying to decide if I should be happy or annoyed. I think it was a little bit of both.

DC: When did you realise that Jake Smith was up for the full whack?!

CM: To be honest he had me chuckling a lot throughout the race – he was so full of energy and encouragement and he just seemed to love being involved. I think it was the start of the 2nd lap when he turned around and said “ok, I’ll just do one more lap.” And this basically repeated itself for the next 2 or 3 laps after.

I did mention to him “the longer you are in the race, the better it is for me.” And, finally, he turned around and casually announced something along the lines of “well, I may as well just finish and qualify for the Olympics”. It was incredible to watch, and I am grateful he stayed in race. Calling Jake talented is a huge understatement, such an amazing athlete.

DC: Your pacing and apparent control of effort in Cheshire looked great; had you practised drinks and gels in training?

CM: Funny you should mention that – I did practice taking on gels in training, and I’m glad I did as I had no idea how hard (and how sticky) it would be.

The very first practice session myself and Reece (both being novices to the distance) well and truly overestimated the correct amount of carbs we needed. Over this infamous 40-minute session, we had about 3 gels each + 500ml of the Maurten sports drink (which in total we discovered later equated to about 6-7 gels).

Understandably, we were both feeling rather unwell and suffered from awful cramps throughout the session. It wasn’t until afterward that we got a message from Tony telling us how insanely ridiculous that was. We decided to put it down to a decent stomach-cramp simulation session. It’s is safe to say we went a little bit easier on the carbs in the following sessions.

DC: What sort of training adaptations did you make from the 10k background you had?

CM: The most notable change in my training was the greater emphasis on recovery, longer mid week easy runs and the long Sunday tempo run. Ordinarily, I would do 2 sessions a week plus a long run on Sunday which were usually a leisurely 1.5 – 2 hours jog. Sunday runs were extended out to a 30 – 35km tempo with a gradual increase in pace.

I believe I got the best adaptation from this change in training, and towards the peak of my build up I was starting to average 3:35/km for a 35km run. It wasn’t the nice easy Sunday runs I was accustomed to, but it certainly was effective!

My other session was consistent of a long session around Battersea park (usually up to 40 minutes of workout), then the rest of the week would be building up the easy runs, usually as part of my commute.

DC: What were the longest runs and what indicated that 2.11 was on (current HM PB shown as 65.13!?)

CM: The longest run I did was no more than 36km. It was decided early on that I wouldn’t need to do any more than that, as the quality was there. This was probably my biggest concern going into the race because this meant that my debut marathon would be the longest distance I had ever run! My hope was that with a good taper and the adrenaline of the race would take my legs through the extra 6 kms my legs hadn’t experienced before.

3 weeks prior to the race, I still had no idea what sort of pace I would be realistically aiming for. Up until this point running for the Olympic qualifying time still seemed unrealistic. It was not until I ran a race simulation round Battersea park (9 laps – about 25.30km) where I averaged about 3:07 per km – that I realised going for this Olympic Qualifying time wasn’t as much as a pipe dream as I had originally thought.

DC: What was typical volume since January 2021 and how did this measure against previous norm?

CM: Throughout February I was still trying to get a proper grasp on the transition into marathon training. Up until the last week of February I was still only doing around 80 – 110km per week. Despite doing marathon sessions + the faster Sunday runs, I found I really needed to add in double days and extend the easy runs to start getting the mileage up. In the final week of February I did just that, and added about 50km+ to my training load.

I certainly would not be an advocate of this to others, as the likelihood of getting injured with this sort of abrupt mileage increase is obviously very high. Luckily however, my body appeared to adapt well to it. For the next 5-6 weeks I was doing between 140 – 155km per week, which was by far the most mileage I had ever ran.

DC: Can you tell us about your work. Have you been full time throughout? What’s your employment and residential status in UK? How does it feel knowing your homeland is about the only covid free nation on earth?

CM: I am currently working as a Cardiac Physiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital. My days are usually spent in the Cardiac Cath Lab, working with a team of doctors, nurses and radiographers to diagnose and ablate heart rhythm problems. I also work with pacemakers and ICDs, helping to optimise them to fit the individual patent.

I am currently bound by a Tier 2 Sponsorship Visa, so working here keeps me in the country. I enjoy what I do and it is very rewarding, although it can be demanding, and the hours can be long. The best way I have learnt to balance training and work is to keep my training program flexible. I often change my training program daily to fit around my work. If I finish work late, I’m usually happy to claim that day as an easy day or postpone a session to the next day.

New Zealand has coped really well throughout the pandemic. It certainly helps that the country is extremely isolated in the South Pacific Ocean, but they also did all the correct things. I think the hardest moment of the pandemic was the announcement from the NZ government calling for those that were abroad to “come home now” or else it’ll be difficult to get back. It was a strange realisation that I might not be able to go home if needed. But in saying that there was a lot of work to do here, and it certainly wasn’t the right time to leave. I was lucky that I didn’t have to worry about covid impacting my family.

DC: Being so tantalisingly close to the Tokyo QT looks like a gamechanger so have you thought yet on what may come next on road and or track? PB suggests unfinished business at 10,000m? What do you think this result may bring regarding World Champs and Commonwealth Games?

CM: It sounds crazy, but I was looking at running a marathon in Austria on the 22nd of May. It has been set-up to get as many athletes as possible to qualify for the Olympics. Cheshire was obviously only a few weeks ago, but I have recovered well, and I thought if there is a chance then I may as well have a go! However sadly, this idea has recently hit a bit of a snag.

After contacting the NZ Olympic Committee, I was informed of the existence of a shortlisted selection of athletes who were to be considered for Olympic qualifiers. To be on this list, I had to fill out a form last year, and sadly because I never did – I wouldn’t be able to be accepted for the team regardless if I run and hit the qualifying time or not.

Naturally, last year during the peak of the pandemic, filling in a form to qualify for the Olympics was certainly not on my agenda. There doesn’t seem to be much flexibility for the exceptional circumstances, so as frustrating as it may be, going to the Tokyo Olympics seems very unlikely at this stage. If I had actually hit the standard in Cheshire, I probably wouldn’t have been accepted for the team anyway, so perhaps the extra 8 seconds were a blessing in disguise… Either way, I can only control what I can control, and for now I am just looking at possible options for the future.

DC: Have you tried altitude before and, pandemic permitting, is it something you’d go for? What strength/resistance training do you do, and how does that slot in to everything else?

CM: I have never trained at altitude before and it is something I would love to try! My visa constraints make it difficult to take any lengthy time away from work, but I am starting to look at other visa options now, so hopefully in the near future I could go somewhere high and give it a good crack!

Most people are quite surprised to hear that I don’t do any strength resistance training at all.. although looking at my worm-like arms, some may not be the least bit surprised. To be completely honest I can barely do a 60 second plank…I’m all about specific training exercise but it’s not to say strength training doesn’t have a place and it’s certainly something that I should develop into my training. In saying that, I wear a lead vest and skirt in the cath lab – which can weight up to 5kg – so potentially that might have some benefit?

DC: I believe you train with the Cottage on Tuesdays, and do you have company on other key runs? Where does Tony Payne fit in?

CM: That’s right, I train with the Cottage group every Tuesday night in Battersea park. It’s such a great group and the sessions are always well planned out. The nice thing about it is, if you’re feeling up to it you can have a solid go at the pace or else if you aren’t feeling the best you can sit back in the pack. Cottage has had a huge positive impact on my running since coming to the UK.

Tony and I go way back. He’s been a training partner/mate of mine since high school. I also lived with both Tony Payne and Ben Anderson (a talented 800m runner) in Battersea. We had a solid training flat over the last 3 and a half years. Sadly, Tony has moved up north and Ben has moved out to east London. Tony is a regular voice of reason with my training and has been a huge help when preparing for Cheshire.

These days I do a lot of training with Reece Edwards, an Australian runner based down the road. We are both fairly easy-going with our training programmes, so I do the majority of my training with him.

DC: You seem to have come through middle distance (1.52 800, 3.47 1500) and top club and Uni level back in NZ. Did you do a medicine degree? Have you been coached along the way? And currently?

CM: In my younger years I had always considered myself a middle-distance runner. I ran 1.52 for 800m and 3.51 for 1500m as an 18-year-old and I never thought I’d ever even consider myself a marathon runner.

I grew up in Dunedin and went to Otago University there. I did a degree in Sports Science and then went on to a post graduate diploma in Medical Technology. I was coached by Richard Barker (who is now the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University) who was a huge influence in involving me in the sport from a young age.

When I finished University I moved north to Christchurch, where I met my current coach, Matt Ingram. Matt is still my coach to this day. Matt is very supportive and has been a huge help over the last few years. I’m really grateful that he still sends me a program every week and is happy for me to change it up to fit with things like, work, Cottage sessions or other training groups. We have a really good dynamic.

DC: Whilst in London you secured World Cross selection in 2019; how did that come about?

CMM: I had taken a bit of time off racing between 2016 – 2018. I had moved to the UK on a holiday visa for a couple of years at the end of 2015. I worked over the winter and took large chunks of holiday over the summer to travel Europe. I was 27 going on 28 at the time and I had never been to Europe, so I had an incredible time. I still kept fit, but I would take 2 or 3 months off running completely when I was traveling. As my holiday visa expired, I returned home to NZ for 11 months and started to properly train again.

I arrived back in the country in 2018, joined the Cottage group and ran my first race for a long time – the Telford 10km. I surprised myself by winning it and going under 30minutes for the very first time. It also just happened to be a qualifying time recognised by Athletics NZ for the World XC so I thought why not? Unfortunately, I was not as prepared for the hills as I should have been on race day, and had a tough time. It was a great experience though!

DC: You made your racing presence known very swiftly after arriving in the UK. What do you think of the set up here for your level, when in a non-Covid setting?

CM: The set-up here is amazing. The sheer amount of runners compared to back home is incredible, and the club racing scene is brilliant. I think the biggest stand-out compared to home is the brutal cross countries’ courses. I have never fallen over so many times in a race before, and the 1 or 2 hour journey home covered in mud on a packed out train is quite the experience.

David Chalfen coaches Serpentine Running Club and is the owner of is the owner of Run Coach 1-2-1.