England Rugby Sevens star Chris Cracknell on having every step he runs watched like a hawk, and ambitions to run a marathon once his egg-chasing days are done.
Chris, how’s the jet-set lifestyle of a Sevens specialist treating you?
Well, we’ve just had a nightmare flight back from Adelaide that went to Melbourne then Singapore. At 6ft 4in in economy class it was a bit uncomfortable and I didn’t get much sleep.
Ah, the glamour. Still, London is the next event on the IRB World Circuit, so not too far to travel this time.
Yeah we’ve got London on May 21 and we’re in with a shout of winning the series for the first time ever. We mucked up the last two tournaments, so we need to win London then find a way of beating New Zealand and winning Edinburgh, but this is the best we’ve ever done.
Now then, you need to be as fit as a butcher’s dog to play Sevens. Where does running fit in?
I do a lot of hill running and speed work and a lot of interval training on the treadmill or track. I do sessions that involve running flat out for 15 to 20secs with 15secs’ recovery in three sets of 10, so that’s quite a strenuous interval session. I’m a back row forward in 15-a-side, so crossing over to Sevens I still have to have those traits but be able to run around like a back.
And in training and games you must be running non-stop around the field.
All of our training sessions are done wearing GPS tracking device systems, so in rugby sessions, like the captain’s run the day before a tournament, we’ll run 4km, then a normal training session is between seven and 8km.
We average speeds around 26 to 27km per hour, but some of the quicker guys are running up to 37km per hour. We have to cover so much ground, and we’ve got a cut off point where everyone has to be able to run over 30km flat out so there really is no stone left unturned in terms of how fit we have to be.
Where’s the best place on the circuit for a nice, gentle recovery run?
Wellington in New Zealand, although the players do more recovery swimming and the back-up staff do the running. We do a recovery swim every morning in the harbour during the tournament, but our physiotherapist and masseuse run quite a bit. They run round the harbour and up into the hills. There’s a big trail there that takes you to the top and can overlook the whole of Wellington, then they meet us for a swim in the harbour. It’s not a bad perk of the job to do that in the morning. Beautiful spot.
Who is the quickest player in the England squad?
Dan Norton. He is electric and he’s got this fantastic running style, so relaxed. To watch him run is outstanding, he just seems to be able to run round whoever he chooses. I’d say he is the quickest on the circuit, by far, but there are other guys like Declan O’Donnell who is doing well for New Zealand. Each squad has a gas man, it gives you that edge having that player with that extra bit of pace to burn.
What has Olympic inclusion done for Sevens?
It’s grown Sevens massively and it will get bigger and bigger because it’s now got that carrot that comes with playing international sport on the biggest stage. It has improved our fitness as well.
Two years ago we’d run 2.5km to 3km in a session and that would be deemed a tough workout. Now we run four to 5km in a session without needing to think about it. It’s now part and parcel of the game being able to run at those kind of distances at high speeds without even considering it a tough session.
It’s not going to be an Olympic sport until 2016 though – will you be there?
Well I’m 26 now so I’d be 32. I’d love more than anything to go and play in 2016 but I think I’m more likely to be there in a coaching capacity! It might be one of the curtain-raiser sports in 2012 and if that’s the case I’d love to play in that.
Did you have any athletics heroes when you were growing up?
Linford Christie and Kriss Akabusi were the big names when I used to watch athletics as a kid. Akabusi’s flair shone through and Christie was the front man of athletics back then.
Do you do much recreational running yourself?
I used to when I was a kid, I loved cross-country at school, but my recreational running is my hill and interval training and all my other speed stuff. I live near woodland so I get to train in that kind of environment. I can’t go out for a long run though. At 17st my knees and my back don’t lend themselves to that!
So running a marathon isn’t on the cards any time soon?
My dad has run London and I had four friends running this year for charity. Me, my dad and my brother have all said once I’ve finished playing rugby and I can have the time to train with them we’re all going to run the London Marathon.
You’ve been to a Commonwealth Games - how was it rubbing shoulders with athletes from other sports?
I was fortunate in Delhi to meet Tom Daley. It was a bit surreal to chat to this normal 15-year old kid with the nation’s hopes pinned on him - he was just there to compete like the rest of us. But being part of a multisport games is good, we spend most of the time in hotels with other rugby players, so the chance to learn things from other athletes in terms of nutrition and preparation was an eye-opener.
Speaking of rugby players holed up in hotels, there must be some practical joke stories you can tell?
There’s an old expression in rugby - ‘What goes on tour stays on tour’. I’m sure you’ve heard it loads of times.
Indeed we have. Best of luck in May.