Profile: Neal Hardwick

Runner Origin Story
It all started at a family BBQ in summer 2016 when I was joking with my brother about the fact he was doing all this healthy running while I was happy growing fat on too much chocolate and wine. He had entered the Ipswich Twilight 5k sub-20 wave following some good performances, and told me he was coming to visit to run the race, and as revenge for the teasing would make me do Kesgrave parkrun the next morning.

I was pretty confident I’d run 30 minutes without any training, prove it was easy and then never run again, but on the day found it somewhat harder, and finished in 33:35 with lots of walking! The next week I tried again, and despite a small improvement was still not close to 30 minutes, so I began to add midweek runs to improve my chances, and before I knew it, found that I actually enjoyed running myself.

My parkrun times began to tumble as I added more running, up to 4 or 5 times per week. By the end of the year I’d knocked 10 minutes off my debut parkrun time, and also raced the Martlesham 10k and a Half Marathon! Since then I’ve run over 10,000 miles, met many new friends and had lots of great times and running adventures.

Greatest Running Achievement
Qualifying for the London Marathon with a Good For Age time.

Favourite Run Related Moment
Not a single moment – but rather a series of moments in late 2017 and early 2018 when trying to break 20 minutes at parkrun. Each week was a similar group with the same goal, and I would trade finishing positions with Ollie Watson, Mark Bulstrode and Simon Stafford in particular. Really great fun to have some friendly competition to help inspire good performances.

Favourite Distance
I think distances like 5 mile or 10 km, where you are bumping up against your limit and need to pay attention and manage your effort levels during the race to hit your best times.

Favourite Race
Two events really stick out for me, due to the combined fun of both racing and supporting.

Ipswich Twilight 5k with the multiple waves taking place so you can cheer people on, plus the super fast course.

Ipswich Ekiden the team based marathon relay. Really good fun to race as part of a team, as I think it brings out your maximum potential. Was super happy to be part of the team that set the unaffiliated course record in 2019!

Favourite Shoe
Having tried 34 pairs over 6 years of running, I think my favourite is probably the Nike Tempo Next% with the annoying squeaky air pods. Despite the noise they are consistently fun to run in, and for me have worked well on road and trails from 5k up to marathon. I think the squeak is worse as a forefoot runner, which makes me hesitate from buying more of them, so will often end up using them for solo runs to avoid distracting too many other people!

Favourite Local Route
Probably has to be my Rudolph route which started as a digital Christmas card in 2018 and then grew massively in popularity, with people even running it at random times of the year. Think the record was 52 people running it at once, which was amazing!

Favourite Gels
I use High5 for training and Maurten for racing. If I’m chasing a PB then I will use their caffeine gels, either just before the start for shorter distances, or switching to caffeine during the second half for longer races.

Favourite Warm-up Drill
Skipping! Gotta start and resume every run with a nice gentle skip – try it!

Best Coaching Advice
Obviously everyone has different goals, and running just to maintain weight or fitness is just as valid as chasing personal bests. Assuming a desire to get faster or run further then I think the best advice is to run as frequently (5+ times per week) and consistently (week after week) as possible, with most of it at an easy/recovery pace (slower than normal). With consistent easy running, and building a strong aerobic base, it is possible to train positive adaptations without getting too exhausted.

One technique that helped me was to ask myself during a training run or workout whether I would be able to do the same run at the same effort the next day. If the answer was NO then I would slow down. This is particularly relevant to consider on longer runs or harder training sessions. Don’t push yourself to a point where it impacts your future training.

Oh, and get lots of sleep!

Favourite Running Websites
CityStrides keeps a track of every road you’ve ever run, and creates leaderboards for different cities/regions. Good for discovering new areas and routes to run. I’m currently leading on East Suffolk roads, so come get me!

RunBritainRankings is a great site for keeping track of all your race and parkrun results. They keep a history of nearly all race events, and you can link performances to your profile, and compare your race history with other runners too.

Favourite Music/Podcast
My favourite podcast for running is No Such Thing As A Fish which is a weekly collection of facts and humour from some of the researchers behind the QI TV programme.

For music I like a range of stuff, but prefer tracks I can match to my cadence strides per minute, so I try to find music at 180 beats per minute. Nothing better than bouncing along in time to the beat.

Like About Running
I like the buzz you get when a run surprises you, fills you with confidence and makes you reassess your potential. It might be a long run that wasn’t as tiring as expected, or a race that was faster than expected. One that sticks out for me was the Hastings Half Marathon in 2018; I set a 7 minute PB over the race distance, but also smashed all my shorter distance records at the same time – Strava loved it!

Hate About Running
Plantar Fasciitis, which kept me company for most of 2021…

Must Read Running Book
I’ve really enjoyed all 3 books by Adharanand Finn – especially “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” while I was preparing for my first Ultra.

Gear Can’t Run Without
Two items I never run without:

Garmin Fenix 6 Pro is an easy pick, and love the full colour detailed maps when doing things like CityStrides or Strava art.

Also got to recommend the Polar Verity Sense arm heart rate monitor, as despite the Garmin being great, I always suffer from it confusing my cadence for my heart rate, which then impacts any stats calculated based on heart rate.

Future Goals
I was due to try a 100km event in 2020 until Covid happened, and this is hopefully still something for the future. For the moment am just thankful that races are back and can participate and have fun again.