Sporting Heroes: Josh Griffiths

On his first marathon attempt, non-elite runner Josh Griffiths became the fastest Briton at this year’s London Marathon. Here he talks sporting heroes, sacrifice and his newfound stardom

I remember Josh Griffiths as a childhood friend. We grew up in the same ex-coal mining valley, we watched our first Wales rugby game together and he’d always win at games of Frustration. But that’s not how everyone else will know him. After finishing the 2017 London Marathon as the fastest Brit, ahead of elite level runners, he won national acclaim as an underdog no one can keep up with.

Can you tell me what initially attracted you to running?

I started running when I was about 14. I was still playing football at school and doing cross country. I love the challenge of it and being able to test yourself. I come from a sporty family. My mother is a runner and my Dad’s always been involved in sport. I’ve got that competitive edge that tells me to carry on even if my body tells me to stop. I started running competitively in 2011 when I achieved my first full Welsh vest.

Who were your sporting heroes growing up?

I loved Thierry Henry and Haile Gebrselassie, the Ethiopian long distance runner who won two gold medals at the Olympics in the 10,000 metres. I just thought he was pretty cool. I still love football but I was more talented at running. I was never going to play for Arsenal. Kennenisa Bekele was also a hero and I got to race him on Sunday. I definitely wasn’t the fastest runner in Year 7, but I started taking it more seriously, lost a bit of weight and started getting better results.

What have you had to sacrifice for running?

I don’t go out drinking that much. It’s more rare as I’ve gotten older. You realise you have to eat well and you can’t do the same things as your friends. There have been times where I’ve questioned the sacrifices I’ve made after a bad race and I’m not doing well, but you’ve got to keep believing. I don’t really get out of that mindset. I guess it’s down to your personality and if you can get back out there the next day and work even harder.

What is the best thing about your sport?

It’s about being able to push yourself. At the London Marathon there are 40,000 runners, and only one person can officially win. What I love about running is that no matter what your ability, everyone has a goal and they can achieve it. It’s not like football where one team wins and one loses. There are thousands of individual races going on all across the course. Everyone wants everyone else to do well. Everyone can end up a winner.

And the worst?

Training is hard, especially when you’ve been for a three hour run and the weather is terrible. But it’s got to be done. Luckily, touch wood, I haven’t had any injuries but I have had to bounce back from races where I haven’t run so well.

What inspired you to run the London Marathon this year?

I was hoping to qualify for the Wales team at the Commonwealth Games in March 2018. I wasn’t sure if I felt ready to run a full marathon. I felt like I needed to be older than 23 and have a few more miles in my legs. This year is my last year as a student. I’m studying for my Masters in Sports Coaching at Cardiff Metropolitan University. I knew I’d have more time to train. But my time studying is definitely over. Up until Sunday I was looking for my first full time job.

What were your expectations for the race given it was your first full marathon?

I wanted to run under 2 hours 16 minutes, not achieve a World Champ time of 2:14.49. That was a big ask, but I thought I’d give it a go. But as the race went on I felt better and better. I didn’t want to go too hard and die, but by mile 18 I’d caught up to an elite British runner. It was a surreal moment. We pushed and raced each other.

Being a non-elite runner, how did you train for the event?

I decided to run the marathon last September and I started running 100 miles every week, sometimes 120, and I raced in between. Some races were under two miles, and some were half marathons. I’m still going to race the other distances to keep things fresh, but I’ve definitely found my best event.

What would be your tips for amateur runners hoping to improve their performance?

Set a clear goal and stick to it, but don’t make it too comfortable. Believe in yourself.

How has your life changed since Sunday?

It’s all been a bit crazy. My Dad was staying in a Premier Inn the night before the race and afterwards we were staying in a fully paid hotel at The Tower. I had to attend a presentation, I’ve done radio shows and I’ve been interviewed on the TV. My phone’s almost exploded. It’s been a massive eye opener. I feel like I’m living someone else's life. I’ve gained 1,000 Twitter followers since Sunday.

What are your goals and ambitions for the future?

I’ve now got the World Champs in August which are in London. I’ll be one of only three Brits, so the crowds should be amazing. August was meant to be a quiet one. I’ll probably take on the advice of Welsh and British Athletics but I’m not thinking about getting a coach. I must be doing something right. There’s no secret, just hard work. 

Want to emulate Josh? How To Train For The London Marathon