Rafa Oliveira – 2:30:23

Portugese runner Rafael Oliveira interviewed immediately after the 2015 Virgin London Marathon on his quest to go sub-2:30

“I was on pace up until the 24th mile, but then I started cramping. I slowed up a lot in the 25th mile and I knew I probably wouldn’t make it. I just tried to keep running steady, to finish well. It was still a PR by 1:15 or 1:20 – I ran 2:31:52 in Berlin last year – so I improved, but not as much I would like.

“At the start of 2014, I set myself the goal of finishing the year by going under 2:30, and I thought I would do it in London last spring. It turned out not to be so simple – I ended up with 2:34:57 and I realised it wasn’t as easy a goal as I first thought. In Berlin I ran a relaxed race, not looking at the time, but I ended up going faster and getting closer. Then in Porto the next month, I ran 2:33, which I think was better than Berlin – it’s very up and down, very hard.

“In Berlin if you’re in the first pen, you’re with the elites, so you don’t get crowded at the start, you can run – for instance, today in London, my first km was 4:06. If I had a normal km, I would take 30 seconds less, and that’s the difference for me to go sub-2:30. But you can’t hang onto that.

“I come from Portugal – from Porto – but I’ve just moved to Spain with my girlfriend. We’re both graphic designers, but for the last three weeks, since moving, I’ve been voluntarily unemployed, dedicating myself to running and resting. It’s been nice, but I need to get back to reality next week – I need to pay my bills.

“I only started running seriously four years ago. Well, I thought I was running seriously from the get-go, three times per week, four times per week, five times – now I’m running every day. I have a plan and for me it’s not a question of balancing it with the real world, because I need it – I sit on a chair in front of a computer all day and at the end of the day, it’s essential to go outside and push my body to the limits. Some days anyway – some days I need to take it easy of course.

“When I was training by myself I built a plan from things I learnt online, going on feel and past results. I was adding miles and adding miles, and it was going ok, but then I got into a training group with a bit more structure, and I think they’re quite different with the way they approach things. They focus a lot on strength and core, getting your body to move in ways you don’t move when you’re running, and it’s made me a better runner as a whole. Maybe we don’t do as many miles as people would have done before, running 20 miles every Sunday, but we maybe do 13 and also some strength training twice per week, and it’s working for me.

“I run about 50 to 60 miles per week on average now, and at first, sure, I was a bit sceptical about doing such a low mileage, but the fact is I’m getting better with every race. It’s the same for the other guys and girls in the group – someone aims for 3:15, the next race they run 3:10, then 3:05, and all with low mileage, lots of strength training, a lot of fartleks and speed work. We don’t go much to the track, maybe once every two months – it’s all on the road.

“In all honesty, I don’t feel like I really missed out today because I gave it everything. But yeah, I think I’ll get there in Berlin in September and maybe I’ll approach it a little different, start a little slower and hope not to cramp. We have a saying in Portugal, ‘it’s stuck behind my ear’ and those 23-24 seconds, they’re stuck behind my ear.”

I first met Rafa at the 2014 London Mararthon which I shot for Strava


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