English National XC champ Ben Connor is another. BUCS XC champ and Inter-Counties XC silver medallist, Alex Teuten, another. That’s without even mentioning Scottish half marathon record holder Callum Hawkins.
While not yet in the same bracket as some of those loftier contemporaries, the 23-year-old from Poole has quietly gone about his business to consistent career-high effect.
Strident and intelligent in running style, victory at the Home Countries International last month came on his first appearance in the white and red England vest.
His debut victory in Wales added to a heady list of impressive results ratcheted up over the winter months.
From finishing fifth over 15k at the South of England XC in January to a top-10 finish at the National a month later and big personal bests on the road at the Trafford 10k (29.27) and Reading Half Marathon (65.37), there are numerous results Richard could choose as his highlight from a breakthrough winter. But it’s his perfectly executed fifth-place finish – and team silver medal – at BUCS that takes the gong.
‘I was dead chuffed with the selection [for the Home Countries International], so to win in my first England vest was great,’ says Richard. ‘But my highlight would probably be BUCS XC simply due to the way I executed my strategy the way I had intended.
‘I coach with Team Triumph and the Loughborough Students Triathlon Club. I often harp on about pacing strategies and how it is so important to get it right.
‘I firmly believe in building through the race as going out too quickly can wreak havoc with your biomechanics. You can’t hold good form for a hilly 10km cross country if you’ve basically run the first 3k in a PB!’
Sticking to his ethos and running to a comfortably hard heart rate for the first half of the race ensured there was enough left in the tank to work through the field on the testing Graves Park course.
This marriage of technology, science and psychology worked a treat.
‘Catching and passing people really lifts you psychologically and allows you to really push all the way to line,’ recalls the Loughborough University undergraduate. ‘I practiced what I preached and went from outside the top-20 at halfway to 5th at the finish.’
With distance running opportunities as competitive as they are, it’s understandable why talented all-rounders chance their arm at the multi-discipline event. Take the example of Beth Potter, who recently switched focus from running to triathlon to better enhance her Tokyo 2020 prospects – and thus far, to excellent effect.
But isn’t distance running missing a trick by not tapping into potential like Richard’s? Talented youngsters like Ben Dijkstra and Alex Yee are taking English Schools titles as well as international triathlon honours. The challenge is how to retain such talent and make distance running a more attractive proposition than the multi-discipline event.
(Richard says he would have run in Kampala if there was a specified selection race and he was afforded the opportunity, just out of interest).
A former World and European Duathlon champion, Richard’s excellent winter came after a summer that failed to deliver the promised fruits of his triathlon endeavours.
The talented triathlete suffered an ill-timed bike crash just a couple of weeks prior to the World Duathlon Championships last June. It cost Richard dearly and prevented him doing any running in the lead up to the race.
While still able to compete, the exertion over a combined 55k of running and cycling ended in disappointment and calf damage that wrote off his entire summer season.
Stuck in a rut and feeling decidedly underwhelmed with his running, the temptation to make up for lost time and train more than ever certainly appealed.
But thankfully that’s not how it panned out – and who would argue that decision hasn’t worked a treat? Hooking up with Team Triumph coach, Aaron Harris, last November has proved to be something of a saving grace.
‘Aaron broke down what I needed from my training week rather than looking at how much I can I cram into a training week,’ says Richard. ‘So many people are obsessed with volume – but I’m a firm believer in the ‘volume of quality’ as opposed to outright time spent training.
‘Three fundamentals of my week are a speed session, a strength-endurance session and a long run. We structure the rest of the week around that. Until I hit a plateau, I don’t intend to increase the volume.
‘I should probably add that I do swim 20k and ride 150k each week too, so I get a good amount of aerobic work from that.’
Richard’s weekly running volume of just 30 miles – or ‘50k in triathlete speak’ – pales in comparison to the scores of miles covered by contemporaries on the cross country and triathlon scene.
But by addressing his own limitations instead of blindly following the same methods as everybody else, the rapid rate of improvement is astounding. With such strides made in running this winter, isn’t Richard tempted to focus solely on his running?
‘I have often been asked, ‘why don’t you just be a runner?’ but I truly feel that, in the long-term, I will be a faster runner as a triathlete than I would as a runner,’ says Richard. ‘I have a slightly temperamental Achilles too, so if I upped the running to 80+ miles I think it would be in a permanent mardy!
‘I also love the variety you get from mixing up the training. I’ve really pushed my swimming on over the winter and it seems to be paying dividends, not only in terms of swim speed but run speed too!’
With triathlon remaining at the top of his priority list, the proof of the pudding will be apparent when the former European junior champion hits the multi-sport event this summer.
If the change in training tack over the winter doesn’t quite work out, though, there’s always a promising running career to fall back on.
Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Richard Horton