Andy Vernon is one of the UK’s leading distance runners with proven ability on road, track and cross-country. Like just about every British international runner, his achievements are a little overshadowed by mega-star Mo Farah. Earlier this year he emerged from relative anonymity when he engaged in a pretty heated Twitter spat with the double Olympic champion, which culminated in a bizarre fashion with Vernon being compared with US pop star Taylor Swift.
Vernon Building Towards Olympics
Both are swift. That’s true. But there is little else the two have in common. There isn’t much glamour in Vernon, who is a something of a throwback, both in style and spirit. The 29-year-old, who owns his own construction company, relies much more on sheer graft than pure talent. And he deserves to be better known for what he does with his feet than what he tweets.
Since breaking through to the international scene as a junior at the 2004 World Cross Country Championships, he has gradually worked his way through the ranks leading to 10,000m silver and 5000m bronze at last year’s European Championships in Zurich. Naturally, Farah triumphed in both events. But Vernon looks back with some satisfaction at his first medals on the track. Just a few days on from winning 10,000m silver, he found himself in contention again in the 5000m. He says: “I had ran the 10k just four days before.
“There was a point when I was running down the back straight when I was in third position and I just thought I am going to get swallowed up here and finish ninth. But actually I was the stronger and started pulling away from people, thinking ‘I don’t know how this is happening’.”
It is a long way from his beginnings, which came aged just four when he was already showing a willingness to run further than most. “It was in Victoria Park in Southampton. I think it was a kids’ race as part of a 10k.
“My dad called something out to me and I thought he said one more lap, so I did an extra lap to everyone else. I still finished fairly high up, even though I did an extra lap.”
He returned to running again aged 14 and with his dad’s assistance, rushed his morning paper round to take part in another junior fun run – this time he won it. He was spotted by local club Aldershot, Farnham & District and asked to join.
“It’s the starting point. If you want to be a footballer, join the local football club. If you want to be a runner, join the local running club. There’s much more on offer when you are with a club. You get access to the local leagues and club training nights. When you are starting out, there’s always someone just ahead or just behind you to push you.” He progressed quickly and was selected to represent GB at the 2004 World Cross Country Championships in Brussels. But on arrival, he felt a fear that even the most standard of runners have experienced pre-race.
“It was probably the most scared I have been. I remember going to the course on the day of the race and thinking to myself ‘I could actually finish last here.’ It was only a junior race, but it was the World Cross Country Championships and I was thinking ‘I’ve been thrown in at the deep end’. I did ok, I think I finished in the first half, so it wasn’t so bad.”
He has since won three medals at the European Cross Country Championships and established himself as a force on the international scene. But like any runner, he still has days when he struggles for motivation. “You have to block it out. You can come back thinking you are a lot more tired than you are. The hardest part of training is getting out of the door. Often you come back feeling better than when you went out.”
Now the Rio Olympic Games are a realistic possibility. “I am optimistic I can get to the World Championships (in Bejing this summer). The main outcome of this year is to get to Rio. I want to get to September ready to train for a year to get to Rio – that’s the most important thing.”
Beyond running, he set up a construction business with a partner in 2013. It is something he wants to pursue when his running career ends. “I have worked on sites and learnt a lot of things on the job. I wouldn’t call myself a builder - I don’t have a trade as such. My partner runs the day to day and I do more of the admin stuff like the accounts and try and save a bit of money. It’s just setting myself up with a job I can go into.”
But Vernon is already busy constructing - building a pathway towards Brazil. The runner is steadily, but surely putting the blocks in place to try and reach sport’s greatest event.