Keith Bateman is one of the world’s best masters athletes when it comes to distance running, and holds personal bests that would put most younger runners to shame. He has broken the Australian 3000m record in the 50-55 age group six times, and is about to enter the 55-60 age group, where world records will be in danger every time he steps onto the track. Runner’s Tribe caught up with Keith after a string of superb runs on the road racing circuit.

You’ve been in amazing form recently – you ran 32:34 over the new Sydney 10 road race, and then 71:54 over the SMH Half Marathon two weeks later. What’s this current form due to, do you think?

Three things have changed recently: 1) I made a slight but effective change to my technique; 2) I lost nearly 3kgs to become 69kgs; and 3) I had a very favourable VO2Max test result (69.18) which gave me confidence that running faster was possible.

Talk us through the 10km road race, what time were you expecting, how did the race go?

I was confident enough to try a sub-33 run and, knowing that 3:20 per km was 33:20, my track PB, I mentally took 5 seconds off that pace and arrived (incorrectly) at a target time of 32:50. I was confident that wasn’t too much to try and just then my coach Sean Williams introduced me to Tara Palm and suggested we run together at 3:15 pace. That seemed like a good plan and after discussing the downhill start and a maximum speed of 3:05 for that km we set to work. We got to the 1km mark in 3:06, pushed down the next hill and then settled down arriving at 4km just a few seconds late. However, Tara was still suffering from the effects of a cold and was dropping back slightly, and I was being closely trailed by a pack of 4, including Jamie Harrison. They overtook me and I decided to go with them – I was feeling remarkably good, overtook them all and continued to gain ground until the final few hundred metres, when I lost only one place. All I could think about in the last few kilometres was whether I was on target for a sub-33 finish! I was shocked at a 32:32 and it wasn’t until later that I realised my calculation was wrong and I was on target for a 32:30 all the way! If I had know I might have let negative thoughts destroy the plan!

And then came the half marathon – after such a good run over 10km, what were you expecting going into the race?

I knew I was in great shape after the 10K and some excellent training sessions including my fastest ever 2km (2:52) during one session. I had suggested arriving at 10km in 35 minutes but Sean said ‘no, 34:30, and even faster if you are feeling good”. After some thought I decided I had nothing to lose and I would go for 3:25 per km (34:10 at 10km) and set my watch alarm to repeat at 3:25. However, it was difficult to assess my average speed because of the start but more especially because of the steep descent down Hunter Street where I very deliberately made sure I was not decelerating – so I arrived at 3km well before my watch alarm and it wasn’t until I reached the 10Km mark at 33:24 that I realised how fast I was running. I was shocked and on the verge of panic but with the Hunter Street hill coming again I had some relief – I was a little slower descending this lap – I had time to recover. Through The Rocks was a difficult section for me, but there was some great support up through The Cut and I had company from Hugh Williams along Hickson Road and back into The Rocks where I spotted Jan-Willem Schaar, someone to chase. Once up onto Macquarie Street I realised I was still on for a good time – my legs were still in remarkably good shape and I soon passed Jan-Willem which gave me a great boost – then it was the home stretch with massive support from other runners, and the leading lady plus police escort right on my tail.

Are you happy with how it went?

I was smiling for a week!

So what are your current PBs, and how do they compare to the Aussie and world records for the 50+ age group, and 55+ age group?

Keith Bateman’s NSW State and Australian records
11/4/2004 16:26.22 NSW 45+ state record
3/2/2005 15:49.92 NSW 45+ state record
28/1/2010 15:52.10 NSW 50+ state record (not PB)

15/1/2005 9:19.58 NSW 45+ state record
3/12/2005 9:32.56 NSW 50+ state record (not PB)
7/1/2006 9:14.02 NSW 50+ state record and Australian Record
11/3/2006 9:13.21 NSW 50+ state record and Australian Record
11/11/2006 9:10.03 NSW 50+ state record and Australian Record
10/11/2007 9:09.61 NSW 50+ state record and Australian Record
31/1/2009 8:59.62 NSW 50+ state record and Australian Record

Half marathon
13/3/2005 1:17.03 NSW NSW 45+State record
11/9/2005 1:17.25 NSW 50+ State record (not PB)
18/5/2008 1:14.32 NSW 50+ State record
5/7/2009 1:12.13 NSW 50+ State record
16/5/2010 1:11.54 NSW 50+ State record

27/02/2005 4:14.19 NSW 45+ State record
13/01/2006 4:17.30 NSW 50+ State record (not PB)
25/02/2006 4:15.25 NSW 50+ State record (not PB)
24/01/2008 4:11.04 NSW 50+ State record – fastest in the world 2008

1/10/2005 33:20.30 NSW 50+ State record

10Km Road
3/5/08 33:23 NSW 50+ State record
1/5/10 32:32 NSW 50+ State record

What do you think will be the first world record to fall?

Well if any, the most likely would be 5,000m or 10000m – those are my best distances where I feel I haven’t performed to my full potential in races. But none of them are easy. However, I will be attempting everything from 1500m to half marathon as soon as possible and if I have some success there I will try 800m and I might even have a go at the Australian marathon record which I think is a possibility – but the World record at 2:25 is ridiculously fast! But I have to stay fit, healthy, and in form – a big ask!

What’s the secret to being able to run so well, and getting better every year, despite being at an age where most people are slowing down?

This something I think about all the time but at the same time I am always looking for ways to improve; that possibly answers some of your question. Undoubtedly, I would have been a good young runner had I competed then. But the improvements; they have come in many stages and in a number of ways:

• Throughout the last 7 years (since I jointed Sean Williams’ ‘elite’ squad) I have been blessed with good health and few injuries
• I have consulted a dietician to make sure my diet is tuned to distance running
• I constantly check my food intake to make sure the good diet is maintained
• I run with a youthful squad of excellent runners of many ages
• I have consulted a bio-mechanic and improved my technique
• A recent favourable VO2Max test has given me renewed confidence to go faster
• My body has changed shape, becoming more efficient
• I have reduced my weight: 87kg in 2000; 79kg in 2003; 74kg in 2006;72kg until Feb 2009; now 69kg
• I have a great coach!

Do you find yourself training differently to when you first started running? Are you doing other things differently?

Absolutely! I never understood what I was doing or why and had little guidance – I would do one speed session per week and one long run – the rest was guesswork. Now I have a daily program tailoured to my needs depending on the time of year and my goals. This program includes 2 hard speed sessions, one long run and tempo session or race; plus runs on the remaining three days. All this is varied by Sean according to my performance and fitness. It’s a great deal!

What do you say to the people who claim that running causes lots of problems for your body as you get older, and that it leaves you susceptible to arthritis and deterioration of the joints – which all good runners know is a complete myth! – what are your views?

Poor technique and equipment will lead to injury in many sports and running is no different. I believe the vast majority of shoes encourage bad technique. As you know, about half my training is barefoot and the rest is in shoes which are as flexible as possible and with no so-called support. But after years of wearing shoes with stiff soles, ‘support’ and raised heels it has taken years to re-strengthen my legs, re-stretch my calf muscles and make my feet more supple again. I believe once you are running naturally, efficiently and lightly the running action will actually help the joints. Since I improved my technique my knees have stopped hurting (as they used to)!

I know you set time goals for yourself over a variety of distances each year – what are yours for this year, and how have you fared so far?

I have to discuss times and tactics with my coach before each race, depending on my training which at the moment is going exceptionally well – 2 weeks ago I even broke my 5km track PB during a 6km training session and the week before ran a 2:52 2km – this week I did my fastest ever 8km run too so if I can stay fit I have a good chance of some more improvements.

What is going to be your focus for the rest of the year? I know you’re heading to the Gold Coast, what will you be running there? What about the next track season?

I am attempting a very ambitious time in the half-marathon – it was be an all-or-nothing start to the 55+ age group – it could easily go horribly wrong but there’s always a learning process and always another race. After that it’s the City to Surf and then to the track as soon as possible for all distances between 1500m and 10,000m.

Good luck Keith!