A debut and a finale may be taking the headlines, but there are plenty more stories ahead of Sunday’s London Marathon. One of those belongs to Luke Caldwell. James Rhodes spoke to Luke about his goals for the race and life either side of it.

Luke Caldwell is no stranger to the streets of London. His racing shoes have taken to the place he calls his home city multiple times, from a youngster in the Mini London Marathon to a podium position in the London 10,000. Sunday, however, presents a different type of challenge as he takes to his first London Marathon.

New Beginnings

COVID was life-changing for many people, and one could say the same for Luke. In the midst of lockdown in 2020, he moved to Colorado with his wife. Its altitude may see it favoured by many as a training venue, but it was work rather than running that saw the pair relocate to Bolder. However, the running opportunities it provides were not going to slip by. It took close to a year, but he joined current coach Richey Hansen and the Roots Running Project in early 2021.

I was definitely going to run, but I wasn’t quite sure how seriously I was going to be taking it. It’s such a great place to run and there are so many other runners out there that it seemed like a shame to not join up with someone. So, I joined up with the Roots Running Club. I’ve been coached by Richey for coming up to two years, it’s going well”.

As well as change in home country, there was a change in running focus. At the time of moving, it had been a while since a PB over shorter distances. It had been a couple of years since a 10k PB, whilst bests over 5k on the roads and track dated back to 2015 and 2013 respectively. A step-up to the marathon was a natural progression.

When I joined up with Roots, I felt like if I was going to take running seriously again, I wanted a new challenge. I had a lot of years of beating my head against the 5k and 10k, and not really getting anywhere. I wanted a clean slate to try something new. The Roots group has a really nice group of marathon guys, so it fits nicely”.

Houston, We Have Lift Off

The first test over 26.2 miles came at last January’s Houston Marathon. To say it was a success might be an understatement; Luke finished seventh in 2:11:33. That time places him inside the top forty on the UK all-time list, and left him the third fastest Brit in 2022.

He finished just one second behind his training partner, American Frank Lara, also making his marathon debut. Initial targets had been more conservative, but training suggested something faster may be possible:

When I spoke to Richey initially, I said I thought it would be fun to try a marathon. There were so many champs last year; the Europeans standard was 2:14, and the Commonwealth Games for Scotland was a little bit slower than that. This seemed potentially doable, so I was really shooting for those times until a few weeks before the marathon. I had been keeping up with Frank [training partner, American Frank Lara, also making his marathon debut] in most of our sessions, and everyone was talking about him going for 2:10 or 2:09.

I think I went through halfway in 66 or so. I felt good, so I pushed on. It was a really nice surprise and I felt like it was the first time I’d run a race that I was really proud of for four or so years. It was a good moment”.

Surrey Cross Country Championships 2019. Photo: Nigel Bramley

Bumpy Journey

That performance led to a spot at the European Championships and a first Great Britain vest in six years. However, as many can attest to, the marathon can provide unexpected challenges. Sadly, such challenges arose in Munich where Luke was forced to stop after 15 miles. What happened remains a mystery:

My preparation went really well, training wise. I decided to stay in Colorado until the last minute, I think I flew out on the Thursday to the UK and then flew to Germany on the Friday. I raced on the Monday and I felt not great from the beginning.

By 15 miles, I couldn’t really run in a straight line. I got put in the back of an ambulance and had two IV drips. So, one way or another, I was very dehydrated. I took all my drinks on and thought I had drunk pretty sensibly before the race.

My only guess is it was something to do with the travel, or the humidity. It was August and in Europe, and I’d done all my training back in Bolder”.

Whilst not the performance desired or deserved, it provided lessons for the future, including for Sunday. Luke has taken a different approach to this race, having travelled to the UK ten days in advance.

Big Goals

He may be a relative novice of the distance, but Caldwell goes into Sunday’s race with the fourth fastest personal best of the seventeen-strong British line-up. An achilles problem following the Europeans limited running-based training until the start of the year; however, with a good training block behind him since, he is looking to improve further. Not shy in sharing his goals for the race, eyes are set on August’s World Championships qualifying standard (2:09:40):

I’d like to shoot for the World Champs standard. I’ll see how that plays out in terms of what groups are going at what pace, whether we go out slightly faster or slightly slower and then push on. I think there’s no excuses, my build up has gone as well as it could have. For the last six or eight weeks, it’s been as good as I could have hoped for”.

As well as having friends and family providing plentiful support on the course, the race comes with an element of familiarity through his training partner Frank Lara, also making his first London Marathon appearance. Having finished within a second of each other in Houston, a city that Frank calls home, it is exciting to see how the pair will fare in Luke’s hometown.

Houston is Frank’s home city, so he was showing me around. I feel like London is my home city, so it’s nice to have him here, and to have a friendly face. We’ve done pretty much every step of our training runs together, so I think it will be good fun!”.

“It’s Fun to be Back”

The closing miles of the London Marathon will be familiar for Caldwell, as he is one of many in the field to have taken part in the Mini London Marathon as a junior. The three mile route from Old Billingsgate to The Mall has hosted the likes of Emile Cairess, Ben Connor, Phil Sesemann and Alice Wright, who all start on Sunday. He spoke fondly of those races (“they were super exciting, the biggest thing I’d ever done at the time”), not imagining at the time he would one day be back in the elite field for the full distance.

Luke noted that, looking at the mini marathon, it’s fun to be back. That statement is twofold; with his research job coming to a close in the summer, he will be returning to live in the UK.

Some things have been missed during Colorado life, including the multitude of racing opportunities within an easy travel distance. These will soon be available once more. Having won three consecutive fixtures in the 2019/20 season, perhaps Division 3/4 of the Surrey League will regain a particularly fast athlete. As Luke said, “I do kind of miss the cross-country, maybe I’ll do some more next year!”. This time, however, it would be as one of the fastest marathon runners of recent years.