When British runner and Nedbank Running Club (NRC) athlete Steve Way crossed the finish line of this year’s Comrades Marathon in third place, many spectators saw him as another exceptional elite athlete with superb genes. There’s no denying that. But what very few people know about this 43-year-old runner is that not too long ago he weighed over 100kg and smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day. And he definitely did not run…
Steve Way is an exceptional man, in more ways than one. To lose weight and change your whole lifestyle is one thing, but to then go from no running at all to a 9th place finish at the gruelling Comrades Marathon last year and eventually a top finish this year, takes someone exceptional.
Way describes this year’s Comrades Marathon as one of the best days of his life. “Since last year’s race all I have thought about was coming back to race again and it more than lived up to expectations. I was really happy to be toeing the start line in great shape - both physically and mentally - so it was a great position to be in.”
His initial race plan was to try and stay with the front-runners, but after around 30km he realised that he was pushing too hard and it would prove costly in the latter stages if he continued at that effort level. “From that point on I just ran my own race and managed to maintain a really consistent pace all the way until the end, which meant that I was able to pick quite a few people off in the last 20km and make my way through the field.”
What many don’t know is that Way was under the impression he was finishing in 5th position. “It wasn’t until Nedbank National Manager Nick Bester told me I was actually 3rd that I realised I’d made the podium! A very special moment for me.”
Last year was Way’s first attempt at Comrades. Finishing 9th and winning a gold medal for coming in the top 10 and being the first novice over the line, Way became the first male British runner since Mick Orton, who won the race in 1972, to win a Comrades gold medal.
“Though I ran Comrades last year, this year was my first Down Run attempt. Although run on the same course, the two races (the Up and Down Run) are so different as you need so much more leg speed on the Down Run if you are going to make it into the top 10. My two results would suggest that I’m better on the Down Run, but I was definitely fitter this year so it’s hard to say how much of my improvement came from that, and how much from me being better suited to the Down Run course. I guess we will find out next year when I have my second attempt at the Up Run! I’m looking forward to being a little more aggressive on my approach to the Up Run, I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Way’s rise into the sport of running has been nothing short of remarkable. Up until the age of 33 he took part in no sport at all. “I was very overweight (over 100kg compared to the 65kg I am now) and was very unhealthy being a smoker and drinker as well.”
Running was the sport that he turned to when he realised that he needed to sort his life out at age 33. “My blood pressure was very high and I needed to start doing something that would help me to quit smoking and also assist me in losing weight. I was very lucky as when I started running - even as an overweight smoker - I found I could jog for a decent amount of time without having to stop. (Obviously a lot slower than I do now though) This meant that I was able to improve quickly and also burn a lot of calories with my new favourite activity, which led to very quick weight loss. Within around 9 months I had managed to lose around 25kg in weight and also run a 2:35 marathon at London.”
He admits to still being very careful with what he eats as he seems to have a low metabolism and puts on weight very easily, even when running 200km a week! “I still crave all the unhealthy food I used to eat but I try and be good when I’m in the 3-4 months before my target race.” He tries to eat a balanced, healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat. “I’m very much of the opinion that people can overcomplicate their diet looking for the secret answer to running faster, where as really we just need to make sure we are sensibly fuelled and keep the processed foods to a minimum. That’s not to say I still don’t treat myself to the odd Magnum ice cream even when I’m in serious training! Once I’ve done my race I normally allow myself a week or two of unhealthy food where I enjoy take-away foods and also have sweets and ice-cream. I’ve always had a very sweet tooth!”
Training and Family Life
Way runs twice a day and averages around 200km weekly when in his peak phase of training in the build up to Comrades. “This year between January 1st and race day I ran just under 3900km, which was a very consistent phase of training for me. Quite a few of those kilometres are run on a treadmill though as I find it easier to simulate the hills and heat of Comrades on it rather than the cold streets of South England!”
He also does a lot of Pilates, which he finds great for keeping his core strong and lowering the risk of injuries. “As I don’t have any children and my wife works quite long hours, I tend to have all my running done and the dinner on the table by the time she gets in from work, so it works really well.”
Way works part-time for UK Athletics, processing race results for all UK road and trail races and uploading them into a central database. “It’s a perfect job for a runner as I get to work from home and I can also choose what time of day I do my hours. That proves to be very useful when you want to go out for a 4 hour run in the afternoon!”
He has been self-coached since starting running, but reads a lot of running books and takes ideas and advice from others. “I always like to have the final say in how my training is structured.”
A Changed Man
Way describes himself as a completely different person to the man he was 10 years ago. “I have passion, drive and I get up each day excited about what it will bring. This is all thanks to running which has not only made me a physically healthier person, but it has also made me a happier more confident man as well. The only thing that has not changed in this time is my relationship with my wife. It appears that she still loves me no matter what I look like or do, and I will forever be thankful for her support and companionship.”
His advice to aspiring runners is simple: consistency and a bit of patience. “It’s taken me 70 000km and 10 years to make me the runner I am today.”
South African Experience
He describes the Comrades Marathon as the best race on the planet by a long way. “There is no better way to experience South Africa than on race day, as the whole country appears to get behind the race and there is a fantastic atmosphere of goodwill and support everywhere you go. I was so impressed with South Africa last year that I brought my wife with me to this years race and we enjoyed a further weeks holiday after the race to enjoy your countries hospitality. We had a fantastic time so thank you all.”
His next goal? The World 100km Champs in Croatia in September. It still gives him plenty of time to recover from that, and then start his Comrades training at the end of the year.