Walker, the runner
As appeared in Red & White supplement January 2020 edition
by Eyleen Gomez
He went from being out of breath running from Varyl Begg to McDonalds in 2017 to representing Gibraltar in the Island Games in 2019.
Steven Walker should really change his surname to Runner because he is definitely notching up the kilometres (kms) in his trainers.
Right now he is training intensely for the Seville marathon, a distance of 42.2km, which he aims to run in under three hours.
Mr Walker told the Chronicle about his journey from his couch to the London Marathon in six months and beyond two years later.
“The first race I ever did was a marathon,” he said.
“I had taken part in a relay, but I didn’t have the idea of getting into running fully at that stage. But, that is what kick started everything.”
On the marathon he admits he hadn’t trained properly for it.
“The longest I had run beforehand for it was 20km [a usual pre marathon training plan includes at least one 30km] and when I got to that distance in the marathon I did not know how I was going to finish it,” he said.
“When I realised I still had 21km to go I thought what am I going to do now.”
“So I don’t really count it as having done it,” he said having completed the distance in over five hours.
“Then that was an achievement, but I have never really counted it as I had not prepared properly for it. I walked a lot. So now I want to train and redeem myself,” he said.
He aims to do exactly that in Seville on February 23 this year. He will run this marathon for the charity Help Me Learn Africa and he would like to volunteer with them for a month.
As he prepares for the Seville full marathon he has already started the long runs and has ran the distance of 25km at a 4.30 minute pace, feeling confident when he did so.
Mr Walker has ran a number of half marathons, a distance of 21.1km, most recently he ran the Malaga half marathon in a time of 1.21.56 making him the 57th runner out of over 2,500 across the finish line.
While his time of 1.21.56 was better than when he ran the same course in 2018 it was just short of his personal best of 1.20.48 which he achieved in the Seville half marathon in 2019.
“Half marathon distance is the one that I like the most,” he admits.
“I don’t know why but that is the one I feel the strongest at.”
“I am intrigued to see what I can do with a full marathon. I feel that the longer I go in the races the stronger I get.”
“In the shorter ones I do not have the speed you need to compete.”
“In the longer distances I can see that the gap between me and the local elite is a lot shorter than the gap in the shorter races,” he added.
This month on the 26th he aims to smash his personal best once more in this year’s Seville half marathon.
“I am using the Malaga half to see where my fitness is for Seville, I did that last season and it really helped a lot,” he said.
“I was changing my ways of living and I was starting to get bored so I needed something to keep my mind straight. So I decided to get a pair of shoes and run which is the cheapest thing you can do,” he said.
Admitting that running is cheap is a not true, eventually you spend a lot of money on a variety of items including better trainers, gym membership, race entries, a new bicycle to help running and the list goes on as any runner would agree.
“I also thought at the time it was the easiest,” he said.
“At the time it was to lose weight as I used to be 96 kilograms. The target was to get into something to help me lose weight because I felt uncomfortable and I couldn’t walk upstairs without being out of breath. So I chose running.”
“I just went out running one day. I went from Varyl Begg to just outside McDonalds and I had to stop.”
“I felt so embarrassed and weak that I said to myself I really have to stick to this now and to never have that moment again,” he added.
As people take up running the usual training programme involves running for a certain period of time, as little as a minute, and then walking before running again. This helps builds up stamina and the ability to run.
Mr Walker admits that when it came to the walking part of that training he used to hide from people he knew behind parked cars.
“I started off doing that and then just before the full marathon I said to myself ‘I think I can become a runner’,” he said.
“The marathon was meant to happen. I applied through the wrong ballot, the UK resident ballot, and I thought they were never going to pick me and that this is never going to happen.”
“I was training but I was going one day yes, one day no, I wasn’t consistent and then I got the letter to say you have been selected and I thought ‘blimey what have I done’ I couldn’t say no now.”
It took him six months from that day running to McDonalds to the start line of the London Marathon.
He has been running seriously for two years now.
“The jump I have made I would never believe it. I have never done sports in my life. I used to try when I was younger but my discipline was not there,” he said.
“I always wanted to represent Gibraltar. I used to see my brother compete in dancing for Gibraltar and he is like my hero and I always wanted to do that but I could never find anything that was a good fit for me,” he added.
In the summer of 2019 Mr Walker represented Gibraltar in a few races including in the Island Games. He had achieved his goal.
But the journey to wearing the red and white tracksuit under the castle and key flag was not an easy one. Immediately after the London Marathon he had given up the hopes and ambitions of becoming a runner, the pain of what that distance can do to a body and the dent in his confidence the length of time it had taken him to run the distance had removed the shine off running.
However, two months later Mr Walker stepped back into his trainers and started running once more.
He returned to the race season with a Round the Rock race.
“I remember clearly doing the Round the Rock and all the good runners weren’t there that day and I got second or third in my category and that gave me a little boost as I hadn’t trained,” he said.
“But then the next race all the good ones were there and I came last I was thinking what has happened here,” he added laughing.
His approach to running and his training changed when he met his now good friend Karyn Barnett. A personal trainer and well achieved running medallist.
“She introduced me to a lot of different training sessions, like running uphill and that changed my running completely and I really started to enjoy it as it wasn’t just running around the Rock everyday,” he said.
“It’s very challenging and you do not have to do the same thing everyday.”
“It wasn’t until I met her that I really didn’t start progressing.”
“It was crazy the jump that I did. I went from running 1.36 half marathon to 1.23,” he added.
The new training regime and the fact that Ms Barnett was in the same running pace as him helped him attain all the goals he has reached since.
To this day she still sets up his training programme for him and pushes him if need be. He finds her support and knowledge invaluable. In addition, he sometimes tries to do too much and she reels him back in from over doing it and risking injury.
Another person that has helped his running is Carpe Diem Running Club athlete Louis Hook.
“My hero in running is the person who got me into running, Louis Hook. Luckily I have been able to run with him,” he said.
Looking further afield and into the celebrity running circle he would like to run with Mo Farah one day.
“He is my hero in the celebrity world but in reality Louis is my hero. He is the one that I saw and admired because he changed his life around with running and I thought I want to be like him. I thought I will try whatever worked for him and see if it works for me and it definitely works,” he said.
“I am blessed that I am able to run with my hero,” he added.
On average his training week looks like this.
Running six days a week with a rest day on Saturday where he will do no exercise. He reserves his weekly long run for Sunday, the day after his rest day, at present he is running longer distances than a half marathon.
On a Monday he will run 10km at an easy pace given the fact he ran a long run the day before.
On a Tuesday he will do a speed session where he could run up to 20km in total. This breaks down to a 2km warm up, run for 1mile (1.60km), recover for 400metres and repeat this eight time, before finishing with a 2km cool down.
On a Wednesday he will run 12km a low heart rate of 130 beats per minute.
On a Thursday he will do another speed session but it is different to Tuesday’s and is half the distance. This one consists of 1km warm up, running 500metres at a pace of 3.20 five times and running 500metres at a pace of 4.15 five times. He aims to run these on the flat.
He might not run on a Friday, it depends if he has a race on the Sunday. He likes to have two days rest before a race. If he is not racing on the Sunday then on the Friday he will run either 12 or 14kms at a comfortable pace of 4.30 minutes.
On occasion he switches up his speed sessions for some hill work.
While he might have his legs set on the half and full marathon in the beginning of this year Mr Walker has many plans beyond this too.
He aims to one day do a full Ironman.
He recently took up cycling and has really taken with it. He enjoys spending three to four hours on the bike while when he runs it is usually for half that length of time.
The swimming element of the Ironman will be a lot harder he admits as it is more technical, and this is a skill he needs to develop further. At present the furthest and his first swim in open water was 1,500metres.
“I go all in,” he said.
“When I train it is because I want to train for a competition.”
“I am never satisfied, I keep pushing myself,” he added.
He also does not rule out ultra marathons in the future and aims to try trial running.
However, his focus at the moment is on half marathons.
“My aim is to get a sub 1.20 half marathon and hopefully by the next Island Games I can try and really lower that and try and get selected for that,” he said.
“Half marathon is the distance that I love and it is going to be very hard but you never know if I have reached my limit or not but my target is to try and get selected for the half marathon distance in the Island Games,” he added.
He would like to one day run the Valencia half marathon and the Chicago full marathon.