Chris Thompson On Highgate, Coaching And Marathon Tips

Chris Thompson on Highgate, coaching and marathon tips

Double Olympian discusses evolution of Night of the 10,000m PBs, coaching with On and the strength of British running over 26.2 miles

Chris Thompson


Chris Thompson is no stranger to Night of the 10,000m PBs.

The 43-year-old has competed at the event on four occasions, the first being a decade ago. There are few better people to speak with about the evolution of Highgate’s annual celebration of the 25-lap event.

Thompson says one his favourite memories in the sport came at the Parliament Hill track in London, when less than a second separated himself, Alex Yee and Andy Vernon in the 2018 edition.

The trio finished fifth, sixth and seventh respectively, all running well under 28 minutes. That year also doubled up as the European Cup 10,000m, with Richard Ringer – 2022 European marathon champion – taking the overall victory.


In recent years, the Swiss-based brand On has thrown their support behind Night of the 10,000m PBs, which is now one fifth of the On Track Night series alongside Paris, Vienna, Tokyo and Melbourne. Thompson, an On athlete and now coach, believes the impact of the investment has been sizeable.

It’s not just 10,000m where the double Olympian can speak with some authority, though. Having competed in the marathon at the Tokyo Games, Thompson also gives his verdict on the current crop of British runners in the 26.2-mile event and his top tips for them ahead of Paris 2024.

Chris Thompson, Mo Farah and Emile Cairess (London Marathon Events)

How was commentating on last month’s London Marathon and how did it compare to competing?

Firstly, it gives me a great buzz. It’s a different type of buzz to competing. I think athletes in general have a passion to do things that are sometimes slightly out of the norm. I think coaching and commentary both offer that. Don’t get me wrong, both represent skills that people master. There are some phenomenal people in both disciplines and they work on their craft.

I’m still very much at the learning phase of both of those things and I’m not going to remotely say that that is my destiny. I’m enjoying the learning curve and I love being part of Verity Ockenden’s [coaching] team. I love seeing the buzz of helping her and seeing her happy.

It was quite eye-opening at the London Marathon to commentate with Hannah England, who is much further down the road than me in commentary. She’s very keen to make it a regular thing and she’s very professional. Just getting into the whole process of researching in the two weeks building up to London, getting into the nitty gritty, was a really good process for me to get into and understand.

I was stood up in the booth seeing Emile Cairess finish. If I was sat at home cheering, then being present there and calling it just drove an extra emotion, especially doing it with Hannah. For me, life is about keeping that passion and drive. Running has done that for me over the years and I now want to do that in other areas.


How did the journey of being British international Verity Ockenden’s coach begin and what’s it like being on the other side now?

So Verity is an On athlete and I’ve been with On since 2016. When I started out with On, one of the first things that was discussed, and it was something that we all chatted about, was being just more than an athlete for them. I’ve been involved in a lot of other things with On and working with them beyond running.

I wanted to open myself up to any other On athlete that was competing, as a source to reach out and talk to. That’s part of the On family, opening up doors that you sometimes wouldn’t get with other brands. So I opened up to Verity and at first she was asking for advice on injuries and other topics.

She then moved to Italy, she got married and then her husband started to take on the coaching. Over time our conversations ended up to a point where, last summer, Verity and her husband asked if I could take on a few sessions. It was very much a case of offering help and letting that organically grow. I then became part of her team more and helped her settle, as she’s had a lot of changes since 2021. It’s all been natural and I’m still very much in the learning phase of coaching.

I’ve been very fortunate to have been coached by, in particular, Mark Rowland and Alan Storey. When you’ve been coached by them and seeing how they do things, it’s amazing. They’ve had such a calibre of athletes – global medallists from 800m to the marathon – in their training groups and you understand how much skill there is in their success.

You’re going to be influenced by what you’re exposed to but am I trying to be like them? No. That’s not possible. You’re trying to learn in your own fashion. The big takeaway for me from being coached by Mark and Alan is that always put the athlete interest first. That sounds simple but it’s not. You have to care about them and put them first.

You can also look at someone else’s training programme but it’s how you flavour it in your own way and how you cater that to a specific athlete. That application is different. No one programme is the gold standard. I don’t know how far I can go with my coaching but I’m very aware that the likes of Mark and Alan don’t come around too often. The way they applied stuff was nothing I’ve seen before.


Verity Ockenden (On Running)

What’s are your thoughts on the evolution of Night of the 10,000m PBs?

I think the way that the event has evolved and its credibility has grown massively. We are seeing more and more athletes from around the globe wanting to come and race at Highgate. They’ve fixed their winter preparation for this date. Highgate is becoming something which athletes take incredibly seriously but also by fans who just love sport and want to watch.

Steph Bruce, who is staying with me and running it for the first time tomorrow, was watching previous clips of the event on YouTube. I was talking her through it and it’s cool for me for someone to experience it for the first time.

What about that incredible race in 2018, where just one second separated yourself, Alex Yee and Andy Vernon?

One of my fondest things about this was – and this is nothing against them – that this race was pre-super shoes. One of the things that has changed a lot since then is that we’re becoming very focused on times and standards, instead of just watching a good race at times. I was actually thinking about it last night, 2018 was just a phenomenal race. Due to the Highgate buzz, it was the first time that a lot of my friends came to watch. They have busy lives and are not athletes but they came on Saturday night, even though they had families and kids.

It’s kind of an end of an era in a sense as Alex went to triathlon and won Olympic medals, Andy’s now retired and I’m on my way out. I think Richard Ringer won it that night and he won the European marathon in 2022. Everything about 2018 was about the race and that’s why I love it.


Alex Yee (Mark Shearman)

How impactful is On putting their support behind Night of the 10,000m PBs and their wider On Track Night series?

I think the sport is going through a big change right now. There’s a lot of restructuring taking place and you’re seeing that from the top down. The standard/traditional season an athlete goes through is now becoming different. Now we’re seeing a lot of events on the track and road that are offering really exciting points of the season to run quickly but also get an amazing atmosphere.

Some athletes will now even be thinking that even if they don’t make the Olympics or World Championships, there are still other things that can be equally awesome to be at. Seb Coe’s talked about streamlining the sport and Michael Johnson has also got this new track league coming. It feels like athletes can get opportunities to market themselves.

The On Track Night series – especially Night of the 10,000m PBs – is a prime opportunity for athletes to shine and run quickly. You could argue that the winners in Highgate could potentially get as much publicity as an athlete who is in the Olympic final. When I sit down with Verity right now, there’s a lot more opportunity and noise on the circuit with these types of events.

From my point of view, brands are embracing these type of events and federations generally aren’t. They are trying to help athletes and it’s certainly and interesting period.

Night of the 10,000m PBs (Getty)

What are your thoughts on the strength in depth of British marathon running right now?

One of the things that makes Emile Cairess exceptional is that he takes everything so seriously and wants to master that event. The team around him are all on the same page as him and they’re thinking of the long-term. He’s a nice guy, everyone wants to will him on and I think we’re still a long way from seeing his full potential.

You’ve now got Mahamed Mahamed and Phil Sesemann as part of the Team GB men’s marathon team for Paris. The fact we have three guys who have automatically qualified is exciting. I think there are six women who have all gone under the standard for Paris as well. It’s amazing.

The only thing that concerns me is that no Brit will qualify for the Olympics via the ranking points as they have all run the time. Hence there’s now a discussion that they may reduce that again in the future. Could the men’s qualifying standard end up as 2:05 for future global championships? It might mean that athletes choose other events as some of the standards are so tricky to get.

How quickly do you think Emile Cairess can actually go in the marathon?

It’s not a question of if he can break 2:05 but by how much. We have to be careful, and I think Emile is good with this, because as a nation we are quick to put expectation on people who have talent.

I think Emile in London held back those expectations and he put his Olympic place on the line by going out as hard as he did. I love that. He could’ve played it safe but he chose to ignore selection and do what was right for him. I admire him so much. Those are things I look at and think his head is so switched on. Hopefully he doesn’t worry about those talking about him.

He’s got one of the best marathon coaches in Renato Canova and he’ll know that listening to him is the most important thing. Emile is an impressive individual and you don’t often find an athlete like him.

Emile Cairess (LM Events)

Having raced in two Olympics, what advice would you give the Team GB marathon team in Paris?

People often ask me about the Olympics and the first top tip I’d give them is that, given the pressure cooker is that high, don’t put expectations on yourself like you would in a normal race. It’s just a completely different environment. To kick it off, there are no pacemakers. It’s just a huge unknown, especially at your first Games.

You also have to normalise the village as it’s not a normal place to live at all. You can’t get rid of the feeling of “this is different”. Don’t ignore it but just normalise your training, warm-ups and preparation.

I go back to a chat I had with Greg Rutherford at London 2012. We were sat having lunch and Greg went off to a Barista course the day before his long jump final. I thought “you’ve got an Olympic final tomorrow” but he told me that he’d had it booked in for weeks. He normalised his preparation and he of course won gold.


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