Last updated: 10-May-19
By Luke Jarmey & Dan Stinton
Radio sport presenter and Chris Evans co-host, Vassos Alexander is a self-confessed running addict with some very impressive ultras on his resume. We reviewed his book “Running up that Hill” recently that not only covers the highs and lows of his own races, but also recalls discussions and interviews with many of the top names in ultra running and is a fantastic introduction to many of the big races for anyone new to the scene. We catch up with Vassos to ask a few more questions about his background, his love for running and what comes next.
Q1. For those of us living in a radio black hole, who is Vassos Alexander?
A. I’m the sports bloke off the radio. BBC 5live, Radio 2, currently with Chris Evans on Virgin Radio and loving it… Very lucky to talk about sport for a living.
Q2. Kicking it back to those early days, where did you grow up and how did you first get into running?
A. I grew up in south London and northern Greece. I was always inspired by the great messengers of ancient times, most notably of course Pheidippides whose run back to Athens to announce victory in battle gave birth to what we now call the marathon. But I only started running in my thirties when I noticed I was starting to pile on the pounds. I ran for fitness, and soon for fun. I fell in love with this gloriously simple sport from the moment I laced up my trainers, and I’m still intrigued to find out where they’ll take me..
Q3. What inspired you to enter the world of radio and TV presenting?
A. Like I say, I love what I do. And I feel very privileged if I’m able to nudge people towards watching a sport or, even better, taking part.
Q4. How do you juggle training for races and work?
A. Simple, I run my commute. And since we started on Virgin radio next door to the Shard by London Bridge, that’s increased my journey home to around 10 miles along the Thames westwards. It would take around the same time in the car or on the train, but I feel I’m using that time much better. Then Holly our gloriously loony Labrador will need a run too, before school pickup. Trust me there’s always time to squeeze a run into your day.
Q5. A lot of runners struggle with training for ultras and living in a major urban area. Have you got any tips you’d like to share?
A. Yes it’s definitely a challenge! I’m currently training for the notorious Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race, five days of wild running from the top to the bottom of Wales over every magnificent mountain peak – and the biggest incline on my run home is Hammersmith Bridge. What I do is head to the nearest decent hill in Richmond Park , and spend an hour or more running up and down it… it’s Holly the dog’s least favourite run.
Q6. Spartathlon is clearly a special race for you and features prominently in “Running Up That Hill”. Is completing it your favourite moment to date in ultra running? Will it get better than that?
A. Completing Spartathlon was so special, particularly because of the race’s history and my own Greek heritage. For those who don’t know, the 153-mile route follows in the footsteps of Pheidippides who, a few days before his more famous journey from Marathon, ran from Athens over the Peloponnese mountains to ask for Spartan help in the battle. The locals (rightly) feel you’re honouring their history and culture simply by taking part, and they make a huge fuss of you. But they also make it tough, with vicious time limits early on. Completing the race by kissing the giant statue of the warrior king Leonidas is a moment I’ll never forget. In fact the race was so important to me, I got the Spartathlon logo tattooed on my ankle. I just wish it didn’t look so much like the interflora logo!
I kissed a foot (and I liked it)… Completing the epic Spartathlon. Photo credit: Spartathlon Photo Club
Q7. You discuss the importance of volunteering in the ultra running scene, and volunteer yourself. Any top tips for being a great ultra running supporter?
A. Volunteering is ace. Almost better than running. Just remember to keep smiling…
Q8. With a sub-3 marathon under the belt and so many long runs ticked off, where do you go to now – will you try to go faster or longer?
A. I’m not going to get much quicker over the marathon, and I’m thrilled to have run sub-3. So I think my running future is more of the long stuff. I’d love to experience some of the iconic American 100-milers (Western States, Leadville, Hardrock…) as well many closer to home (Arc of Attrition, Lakeland 100, Spine Race…)
Q9. What keeps you going during any particularly low points during any race?
A. I never let the possibility of not finishing enter my head. It’s quite liberating really.
Crossing the notorious Crib Goch on day one of the 2017 Berghaus Dragons Back Race. Photo credit: Neil Talbot
Q10. Looking forward, what does the rest of this year hold for you running wise?
A. I’m massively excited about the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race in May. After that I have a couple of lower-key ultras lined up and a few interesting marathons, ending up back in Greece for the Athens Classic marathon in November.
Many thanks Vassos!