Irish Mountain
Running Association

Johnathon Wyatt: Interview


Interview with Jonathan Wyatt

Story by Matt Dravitski

Who won the World Mountain Running Championships in 1998?


My brother (who enjoys a beer or two and his sport) reckons you know you've made it when you've got your name underneath the cap of a Speights stubby. Jono Wyatt certainly has made it. In the year 2000 he repeated his World Mountain Running success. But Jono Wyatt is much more than a mountain goat who embarrasses those of us foolish enough to chase him over the Hutt Valley hills. He has PB's like 13.26 and 28.18. He has won the National Road and Cross titles. He has also had some fine international performances like 6th in the Commonwealth Games.


But Jono Wyatt is more than a top runner. He is a qualified architect who works in Wellington City. He is a fairly quiet, modest man who goes about his work in a determined fashion. Jono is also a thinker. Here are just a few of his thoughts (make sure you read the final Q&A number 10 where I think Jono has one of the best ideas for our sport that I have seen for a while).


1. What or who got you into running and why do you continue to run?


Running has very much been a part of life for me for about 17 years and so I really don’t know a time when I haven’t run!! I guess though it started off as a family thing with my father encouraging my two older siblings to run and me trying to keep up with them and then continuing on. Some may remember my brother Andrew who achieved success as a junior and who is now back running at national level.


I think running is a lifestyle and I get accused at work of being an addict out to get my fix, which of course is partly true! It is more the whole package that keeps me going though, of good people, good competition, fitness and the fact that in running there are always a myriad of different challenges and goals you can set yourself along the way.


2. Who was the runner or person who inspired you most as a youngster (or even now) and why?


I have never really been inspired by other runners - I guess I seek my inspiration from within myself although I certainly have a lot of respect for a lot of very talented and motivating athletes both here in NZ and abroad, I can’t really name names.


3. What has been the highlight(s) of your running career and why did it give you so much satisfaction?

Usually I might say a highlight was a particular race or event but really the highlight for me is just getting out running in a beautiful place and time out there just for the hell of it.


4. One or two people (myself included) were critical of your decision to focus on the Mountain Running this year at the expense of an Olympic bid. Tell us the reason(s) why you did this and whether you feel in hindsight you made the correct decision?


Yeah, really - some people (some administrators included) who tell you that you have made the wrong decision or who think that you should have certain goals say that just because it is what they aspire to themselves ­ and I did not make the decision lightly. At the end of the day you have to do what you know is right and gunning for the Olympics when you’re heart isn’t in it is a bit of a cop out I think.


The decision to run mountains was not as you might think: i.e. whether to run Sydney or whether to do mountain champs at all. The decision really came 2 years ago when I had to decide what I wanted out of the sport and what I was prepared to put into it and the conclusion was that I would not be running competitively at all today if I had not got into mountain running, it’s as simple as that. I had been disillusioned with what I was doing for some time and the freshness that mountain running provided me was the catalyst I needed to continue. The competitive side of running is not the main reason for me to run but it certainly is necessary for me to have goals for which I can gain focus and this provides the motivation to do the intensity of training required.


5. What are your major running goals in the future?


I don’t like to look too far ahead, sure it is important to have a focus but I have never had a goal more than 2 years out. I sit down at the end of each season / tour and decide where exactly I need to go with my running for the next twelve months or so. I am happy to say I have achieved most of my goals over the last 15 years or so. From taking out Wellington Junior Boys U14 grade races to the World Mountain Running Titles, Commonwealth Games 6th place and 16th Olympics. In the next two years there could well be a marathon on the horizon but other than that I don’t say too much


6. If there were one or two things that you change about the administration or organisation of the sport in NZ what would they be?


I think marketing is a key issue for the new board. Capitalise on the successes. How many times do we see controversy making the front page and a great result getting lost in the side columns of the paper. It really isn’t that difficult but new relationships need to be built with media and the public.


Support is always an issue and has been the subject where we have been critical of ANZ. How do we best manage our limited resources. I think that the biggest resource of ANZ is often overlooked and that is the considerable talent of athletes and coaches we have. Utilise and support our resource, help our talent grow and then they will be in a position to put something back in. How much benefit has ANZ derived from the success of Beatrice since her World Championship win? Not half as much as it should have I think.


In terms of distance running and hopefully athletics as well I hope we are turning the corner. There is certainly more discussion thanks to things such as this email group which is good healthy stuff. The regular contact between our overseas athletes on scholarships and the willingness of former elite athletes such as John Walker and Marty Johns who still have the fire and want to give something back to the sport in a managerial type of role is positive too.


7. When are you going to build-up for a marathon and run that sub-2.10 we know you are capable of?


Sounds like a leading question to me! (laughs) But it is something I have been considering for some time and I will no doubt try this out soon, although it is not easy for me just now devoting the amount of time necessary to a good marathon build-up working around 50 hours per week. I am sure you will know Matty that the marathon will quickly highlight any lack of preparation so I do want to make it a good one if I am going for a fast time. This will most likely be an overseas one, although I may also try out the distance in New Zealand first.


8. Tell us about the type of strength/cross-country training you have done over the Hutt hills and how much you feel it has benefited your running.


This is really the only training I have done and I guess I don’t know of any other way to train. I work best off a high strength / endurance base where the speed work sits on top of this. For this reason it generally doesn’t take me long to get good track speed off minimal track workouts (of course when I say ‘good’ track speed, that is all relative I guess). This is also the type of running I most like to do, out over the hills and farmland (chasing sheep ­ just kidding) instead of on the road or track, so it isn’t too hard to motivate myself for this type of training.


9. It has always surprised me that for such a good Cross runner you've probably only run the World Cross once or twice in the last five or six years. Buncey etc. are pushing for us to send a full team to next years World Cross over 12km. Do you support this initiative and are we likely to see you there?


Any move to restore the prestige of World Cross is a good one, and even with the advent of the long and short course it is still very much the toughest foot race in the world. It is therefore a pity that it attracts such little public interest over here.


It is also difficult to get people there in shape for the long course race when they tack it on to the end of a busy track season. This really doesn’t work (believe me I’ve tried it). You need to devote 6-8 weeks to it without too much track interference and although it is such a fast race, track speed is no substitute for a good cross-country base. For this reason I have found it difficult to get there when I have given priority to doing our track season.


10. I believe that we have gone too far (especially for distance runners) in terms of athletes having to prove their fitness close to major championships. Do you think we would be better off making final selection decisions three months or so before these championships and showing confidence in athletes to focus and prepare as they see fit? (Rather than athletes still trying to qualify or prove their fitness in the weeks leading up to these championships). In line with this tell us about your Atlanta experience in '96 and what you learnt from this looking back?


Firstly there is no way of guaranteeing that all our athletes are going to perform personal bests at major championships. Surely that is sport, and it is what makes it exciting ­ that element of risk and the unknown. After that, it is all really a case of risk management. What are the threats and opportunities our athletes face as they prepare for a particular event?


Before Atlanta, having been selected, I was able to prepare as I imagined it would be necessary for this, and left alone to do this with my coach. We didn’t have a lot of help or feedback on whether it was the right or wrong way but minimising unknown elements by doing the bulk of the build-up at home minimised my risks. A period of pre-competition acclimatisation followed before embarking on a short sharpening and racing period. I also feel that too often athletes wrongly assume that the climax to their season should come at the end. I have had my best results at major events when I have embarked on a short intense pre-competition racing phase and often the tour has lasted a month or more after the big competition event. Trying to regain a peak after a long period of racing is nearly an almost impossible task.


This worked ok for me in Atlanta but I do think it is necessary to have the selectors & NZOC in regular contact with the athlete.


What works best for them? Tailor a package for each individual athlete, with performance goals along the way arranged in conjunction with coach, athlete and selectors (and NZOC where necessary) in training and competition. This is the idea of avoiding the adversarial role of selection we have at present, call it partnering if you like, chasing repeated qualifiers is doomed to fail our athletes. Selectors and ANZ must help athletes get starts in meets by working with overseas agents. Objectives and strategy can be talked through to avoid over racing and racing in the wrong types of races or places.


Partnering means the athletes will select themselves. Any athlete who falls short of their own goals consistently in the lead-up to a major competition will know pretty soon that they shouldn’t be there and nine times out of ten would pull the pin. But you get the situation at present that athletes and their coaches think they can pull one last big one out of the bag despite falling off their peak in the final period (maybe due to chasing qualifiers, but not all the time) but not willing to admit it until after ­ with the subsequent crucifixion by all and sundry.


Sorry to so long winded but at the end of the day there is still no way of guaranteeing a top result ­ that is sport.