Marathon preview with British Paralympic gold medalist David Weir
10 April 2013
When it comes to medals, gongs and handling a nation’s expectation, David Weir is undoubtedly in a league of his own. After hunting down 4 gold medals at London 2012 and bagging a CBE to boot, the last few months have been a whirlwind for the Weirwolf. But as he prepares to mount yet another challenge on the Virgin London Marathon, he shares a similar frustration with all of us, especially those training for the VLM, and that is.......the weather.
“This has been the worst winter I have ever experienced,” he explained. “It’s been awful. The cold and the wind have been a massive factor for me in training. I normally start my speed work by March, but it has been hard to get any done at all because of the wind in Richmond Park. Doing 15-20 mile sessions has been really tough because you feel like you are resistance training all the time.
““But in general my training has been going well and I’m happy with it. Unlike previous years I haven’t been in the gym this time around. Double sessions (road and gym) are really hard and you need to get used to being sore from doing both at the same time. But I wanted to concentrate on my pushing this year and I knew something would have to give if I wanted to take a long break, which I did.
“I’m 34 this year and I don’t think my body would have coped if I’d started training again straight after London 2012. So I took some time off and now I feel like the pressure’s off. I’m just training and not having to think about it all too much”.
Indeed the 6-time Virgin London Marathon wheelchair champion only returned to training in January after enjoying a prolonged break following his heroics in London last summer. But having braved the worst that an Arctic British winter can throw at him, he says he is ready for an emotional return to the streets of London and a crack at a record-breaking 7th title.
“It’ll be great to race in London again. I know that they’ll be expectation that I will win again, but having said that I think people do realise that I have had time out since the Paralympics. But you just have to approach it as any other race and deal with the spotlight being on you. Dave Bedford and the team at the VLM always look after me very well, so I don’t feel the pressure around me too much, but I know they’ll be a focus on me.
“It’s going to be tough because I know everyone will be out to beat me. I was the only athlete to take that much time off, but it’s what I always do at the end of a 4 year cycle leading up to a Paralympic Games. I take a break afterwards because it just becomes relentless if you don’t.
“Competing at this level is so tough on the mind and body. The pressure I had to cope with last year was ridiculous. So much was expected of me that I needed to take a step back once it was all over.”
Weir stepped out of the limelight to gather his thoughts and spend quality time with his family and friends. Since those glorious nights of late summer last year, he has become a father for the third time, following the arrival of Tillia Grace London Weir. That’s meant two children under the age of 2 at home, which was another motivating factor in spending extra time with his girlfriend and family and as he puts it, not being so selfish. And the time away has also led a change of heart about his racing future for the next 12 months and beyond.
“I was going to retire after 2012, well that was the plan. But because I was winning races in London by chair lengths rather than millimetres, it convinced me that I could carry on.
“But that said I feel as if I need to be out of the high-powered atmosphere for a while. I don’t feel I have anything to prove on the track, so I’m going to concentrate on road-racing this year. I’ve got another marathon in June and a few other races planned, but in terms of the World Championships in Lyon this summer, I’m not sure.”
Weir admits he is also planning a long summer holiday with the family, to give himself another break, but for the longer term there is a 2-year plan in place to take him up to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next summer. And beyond that, well who knows?
“I am looking forward to representing England at the Commonwealths, because I haven’t done that before and as Glasgow isn’t too far away, it will be easy to get there. Rio in 2016 is a possibility, but I don’t know at the moment. We’ll see.”
There’s no doubt it’s hard to see how anything could truly match the magic of 2012 for an athlete who admits it took him to weeks to come to terms with the enormity of what he had achieved.
“It was all so surreal in London. Seeing 80,000 people turning up to every session to watch us was overwhelming. It was very emotional seeing so many people there and I found myself holding back the tears before the start of races. I just wanted to put in a performance to thank them all for coming.
“It took me about a month to realise what had happened to me, but when it did, it was overwhelming. I was so mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the games I just couldn’t take it all in. I remember being on the float for the parade afterwards with Mo and Jessica Ennis and the crowds were amazing. Jess came over to me and told me I was her mum’s second favourite athlete, after Jess of course! That just blew me away. But I was so tired I just didn’t appreciate it all until afterwards.”