WHEN it comes to earning a glowing reputation as a running coach, there is none better on the Isle of Wight than Geoff Watkin.

The 71 year old retired schoolteacher, of Ryde, has coached the likes of Matt Sharp, Dan Eckersley, Charlie Metcalfe and Henry McLuckie to great success at regional and international level — and continues to do so.

Isle of Wight County Press:  Geoff was part of the Ryde Secondary School team which won the Bagwell Shield in 1965. Geoff was part of the Ryde Secondary School team which won the Bagwell Shield in 1965.

Geoff, born in Hereford, moved to the Island with his family in 1963 and attended the former Ryde Secondary School — the year it opened.

He followed his father’s footsteps into teaching having studied PE and maths at Culham College, Oxford.

Isle of Wight County Press: Geoff Watkin taking part in the Harlow Marathon.Geoff Watkin taking part in the Harlow Marathon.

A member of the Ryde Harriers, Geoff was a decent amateur athlete in his own right, who has also worked for British Athletics, English Athletics and the Philippines national marathon squad.

Isle of Wight County Press: Geoff in the Harrow Half Marathon.Geoff in the Harrow Half Marathon.

In his spare time, he races pigeons and listens to the music of American guitarist and songwriter, Nils Lofgren, who he once met.

Isle of Wight County Press: Geoff Watkin relaxing at home with his racing pigeons.Geoff Watkin relaxing at home with his racing pigeons.

He also supports West Bromwich Albion and was at Wembley to see their FA Cup successes of 1954 and 1968 and saw all of England’s London matches in the 1966 World Cup, including the final against West Germany.

When did you first start playing your sport and what attracted you to it?

A: While in London, I became disillusioned with top amateur football due to racism, so I quit.

After a year of rock concerts and beer I decided to run to get fit again.

Outstanding youngsters at Twyford School, Acton, encouraged me to join the Thames Valley Harriers, and within a year I’d run my first marathon in 2hrs 58mins, after which I was hooked, at the age of 30.

What do you enjoy most about being with your current sports club?

A: Ryde Harriers are a fantastic club, able to support all levels of athletes by putting on many races — nationally, and at club level.

I am grateful for the support they have given me as a coach and, at present, I am assisting them to set up a coaching structure.

What have been the highlights of your sporting life so far?

A: Running a 2hrs 31mins marathon, winning masters marathon events at regional, national and international level, my Isle of Wight Marathon results and being part of the Ryde County Old Boys team that won the Isle of Wight Junior B Cup, then the 1973 Isle of Wight Challenge Cup, both played at Church Litten, Newport.

Who do you look up to in your sport and why?

A: Athletes like Ron Hill, Ian Thompson, Dave Moorcroft and Steve Jones, who were world class distance runners in the 1970s and 80s, yet they were amateurs.

At Isle of Wight level, Gary Smith, who came into running late after a great football career, won the Isle of Wight Marathon and went on to break 2hrs 30mins at the London Marathon. He’s the Isle of Wight’s best-ever marathon runner.

Isle of Wight County Press: One of Geoff's inspirations, British distance runner, Ron Hill.One of Geoff's inspirations, British distance runner, Ron Hill.

Who has had the most influence on you in your sport and in what way?

A: My wife of 40 years, Karen, who has supported me every step of the way during my running and coaching career, and my parents. 

What are your sporting aims in sport?

A: I will never be 100 per cent satisfied. I’m always thinking on how I can get an athlete to improve.

Share something nice about one of your teammates.

A: From my early days in teaching, I always got up early and ran five or six miles to school, accompanied by great friend, Idris Jones, who also ran for Ryde Harriers. We are still the closest of friends.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen in your sport?

A: At the poorly-organised and frustrating Island Games in Rhodes in 2007, frustration turned to laughter when the games’s mascot, Rhodelios, the prancing deer, caused havoc every time he appeared, knocking things over, falling over on the track. It was better than TV’s It’s a Knockout.

What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of participation in your sport?

A: The whole issue of drug cheats and there being far too mind games played on social media, where athletes and coaches analyse each others’ training and performance, to the point where it distracts them from what they are trying to achieve.

Who’s your sporting hero or heroes and why?

A: I believe sportsmen and women are entertainers, not heroes, such as footballers like Best, Marsh and Charlie Cook of Chelsea.

Isle of Wight County Press: George Best, the entertainer.George Best, the entertainer.

What are your best qualities in your sport?

A: I get great pleasure from planning ahead for an athlete, and being patient and understanding — that change takes time.

What other sports have you played and what were your achievements?

A: At school, in Hereford, I played for the county at soccer, athletics and swimming.

If you could change one rule in your sport what would it be and why?

A: To ban drug cheats for much longer than they are at the moment.

What’s been the most memorable events you’ve participated in and why were they so memorable?

A: Winning the Bagwell Shield with Ryde Secondary School, under inspirational PE teacher, Mick Hendy, and running the first London Marathon in 1981. From 7,000 runners. I managed 299th in 2hrs 36mins.

Do you have a set routine in terms of preparation for a competition?

A: Every athlete will be different, so it’s finding out what works for each individual.

What’s the worst part of training for you?

A: There is no worse part. I love to get out in whatever weather and run for an hour each day.

What would you say is the easiest part of your sport?

A: It is all part of training to use a running track and a gym from time to time, but for an endurance athlete, it’s so easy to step out of your door and go.

If you could choose to play your sport at any venue in the world, where would it be and why?

A: The holy grail of cross-country running is Parliament Hill Fields on Hampstead Heath, North London. It has an abundance of natural springs, so is always a quagmire. Every endurance athlete should run there at least once.

How much of your life does your sport take up?

A: A lot, but I am retired. I always want my athletes to perform as well as possible. Training is planned and then I speak to most of my athletes four or five times a week. There are times when I am away four weekends in a row in the UK and abroad when athletes are racing.

What or who motivates you ahead of a competition?

A: Its that inner feeling you have prepared well in the months prior to the event and knowing you couldn’t have done more.

Do you have a motto that you follow in your sport?

A: Not to over-train, otherwise you will perform poorly. It is better to be 100 per cent healthy and 95 per cent fit rather than the other way round.

What lessons for life have you learned through your sport?

A: Failure is part of life and in sport there will be plenty. Analyse why you failed and then make changes.

When the time comes to retire from coaching athletes, do you think you would like to take up a different role in your sport?

A: The plan is not to retire. Coaching is good for my brain and as long as there are athletes who would like me to help them, I will continue.

What have been the benefits to you by doing your sport?

A: Its kept me on the straight and narrow and his given me discipline and structure to my life.

What advice would you offer to a youngster starting out in your sport?

A: Have fun, make friends and don’t take it too seriously.