Kelly Sotherton is showing her support for the Man v Horse marathon, an iconic endurance event that see runners take on horses over twenty three gruelling miles.

Kelly Sotherton

Kelly Sotherton

We caught up with the former heptathlete to chat about the event, leaving athletics behind, and what she is working on now that she has retired.

- You are launching the Man v Horse marathon, so can you tell me a bit about the event?

The Man v Horse has quite legendary status amongst endurance runners because it is man v horse. It is run over twenty three miles and challenging terrain in mid-Wales; it has been going thirty-five years and has a lot of heritage.

The idea was conceived in a pub in Wales when a landlord overheard two men discussing that a man was equal to any horse over a long distance; obviously, over a short distance I imagine it is pretty much near impossible. However, over a greater distance and over rugged terrain it is harder. There has been a time when a man has beaten a horse - but I think it is only once or twice. It is a realistic opportunity for a man to beat a horse.

- This is an event that began back in 1980 and remains just as popular, so how can people get involved?

If people want to get more information about the event, they can go to the Wonder Fuel Hub at and they have a lot more information about the event. It will be held on June 13th.

- Fancy giving it a go yourself?

(Laughs) I have run a marathon but I don't think I fancy twenty-three miles on tough terrain, no chance. Running alongside a horse in a straight line today was hard enough (laughs). It is one of those challenges that is not an everyday occurrence. It is no like running a 10k and it is something that being part of is a challenge but also unique.

- Away from the marathon, you are best known for your athletics career and enjoying huge success with the Heptathlon. So how did you get into athletics in the first place? And what drew you to the heptathlon?

I was really fortunate in the fact that I had a really great P.E. teacher at school who helped me along my way. He introduced me to my first athletics club and after school training with other athletes at the school. I was really fortunate to have such a great teacher who loved athletics.

Now, I see the importance of how influential these teachers can be in someone's career. So my Mr Smith at Bishop Lovett Middle School on the Isle of Wight was a massive inspiration and one of the reasons why I became an athlete.

- You retired back in 2012, so what are you up to at the moment? And how much do you miss the sport?

I miss the sport terribly and I miss the competition side of it, that's for sure; however, I don't miss the training (laughs). I think it is really important that what you take out of something you put back and so I volunteer at my local athletics club where I am a coach, I am on the committee, and I am a team manager - that is at Birchfield Harriers. I thoroughly enjoy all of that.

One of my main ambitions is to ensure that sport is simple for the athlete, so I am working towards working within international sporting relations. I have just finished my Corporate Governance Certificate and I am aspiring to be the next Seb Coe.

I want to make sport great and I want to make it simpler an easier for the athlete to be successful. I found it challenging along the way and so I want to make it easier for the sports person. Seb Coe is my inspiration and if I could become the President of the IOC, that my ambition.

- For those who are thinking about getting into athletics what advice would you give them?

If you want to get into athletics, the best thing to do is to go to the website and find your local athletics club. Not all athletic clubs are based at a track; some are based in a park.

There are loads of different kinds of organisations that are set up running opportunities, whether it is track and field, cross country, or road running, for people who just want to try it out.

- How would you sum up your career when you look back on it now? Is there are particular moment that stands out above the rest?

I had some ups and I had some downs during my career. Both Olympics were really great competitions for me. I loved winning my Commonwealth Gold in Melbourne. Every competition that I did I took something from it. Of course, I do have some regrets and I wish I had been able to win the Olympic gold in Beijing and I wish I could have done a personal best and a bigger score; I knew I could have but I just couldn't get it right over those two days.

I do have some regrets, but the longer I am retired the more I see that I have had a great career and I should relish that and relish the achievements that I had. It is quite hard to get over; it is like a death. That part of your life is done and there is nothing that you can do to get it back. I can't just put on my spikes and compete, as I will never be at that level again. That is quite hard to take.

I have just started to enjoy watching athletics again and wanting people to be successful. It is exciting to see in the heptathlon that we have so much potential for someone winning a gold medal: to see Jess Ennis and Katarina Johnson Thompson is fantastic.

- That does lead me into my next question. Heptathlon has been a strong event for Britain for many years, so what do make of the exploits of Katarina Johnson Thompson and what could she achieve in the next few years?

The main thing that she needs to focus on is being healthy - and to eat lots of peanut butter (laughs). Only joking. She just needs to be healthy. She has had a couple of moments in her career - in what is a young career - where she has been injured and missed the season.

If she is sensible with her choices of competition and training, I think the work is her oyster. I won't say she will be unbeatable but I think she is going to be the one to beat. I think people will find it very difficult to beat has because she is such a tough cookie. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a bit of dominance from Katarina in the next four to six years.

- Jessica Ennis Hill is also making her way back after having her first baby - it potentially makes for a very exciting summer.

Definitely. This year is just about coming back and competing, if is next year when the big one comes along for her; she will be focusing on Rio more than anything. All she needs to do is get through the season, be healthy, compete well - if she goes to the World Championships and medals and performs well that's great - but her eyes and her plans will be on Rio.

It is going to be interesting to see how she copes with Katarina. But Jess is very tough mentally; anyone who can go to a home Olympics where they are the poster girl and bring back the gold - in my opinion - is one tough person mentally, as it takes a lot to cope with that stress. One interesting thing is, she hasn't done a heptathlon since 2012.

I know from experience how hard it is when you have been away from the sport - through injury or having a child. I know how tough it is going to be for her to compete. Like I said, her goal will be next year.

- The world championships are looming and we are just over a year away from the Rio Olympics, so what do you think of the state of British athletics at the moment? Who are you most excited about this year?

I am excited about the women in our sport as they made a major jump up last year - especially our sprinters. They are starting to come through and they really are a young crop of girls. I am exciting to see the 200m runners, the 100m runners and the relay girls as they have all performed so well indoor - Dina Asher-Smith just missed out on the gold at the European Indoors.

It is the young sprinting talent that has come through and it is something that we have craved for such a long time. We have produced many good juniors over the years but they have never really made it through to the seniors at a world level. I am really looking forward to watching them. The girls are in a strong position this summer and will show the boys what they need to do.

- We are always hearing about how tough it is to get girls into sport and keep them in sport. With athletics at the moment, it doesn't look to be having that problem?

I am not sure. I coach girls and they are very committed and they want to do it. One of the challenges in any sport is the amount of sport that is available to people; there are so many different sports and clubs that people can do. Sports obviously loose out to other sports.

When I was growing up, it was netball, hockey, athletics, or gymnastics - now there are thirty, forty, fifty different sports that they can go and try. The girls I coach are all very motivated. What is important is the determination and willpower of current girls in sport as they realise what they need to do and how professional they need to be to be successful.

London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 has inspired a lot of people that are already in the sport to be motivated even further to represent their country. I am not sure about girls who want to take part in sport for health or fun reasons, but at competition level, I can see a different attitude, which is good for me because I am a coach. They are very determined and very willing to be more professional.

- We are only in April and we have already had a number of doping stories that seem to continue to blight the sport. As an athlete and now a coach, what further steps do you think need to be taken to help stop cheating altogether?

First of all, I don't think that we will ever eradicate it because it is human nature to want to check - people cheat in any and every aspect of life. It is just about encouraging people to be smart about the choices that they make.

Generally, the people that don't have the most talent cheat, as they can't win without taking drugs. This is not an athletics problem, it is a sport problem. That is one thing that I would like to get across; it isn't just our sport it the whole of sport. It is getting there but it will take time. Cheating will never be eradicated as cheating will always occur. It is really about minimising the effect that it has on others.

- Do you think the punishment for doping offences are tough enough? If you have taken performance-enhancing drugs - a practice that does nothing but ruin the reputation of the sport - shouldn't that be an automatic life ban?

Every case should be judged on its own merit - merit is not the right word. I sit on an anti-doping panel and I see people who... there are people who do this unintentionally and then there are those who do it intentionally. There is a difference between someone like Justin Gatlin taking drugs and a sixteen or seventeen year old taking a supplement who has some kind of stimulant in that they weren't aware of and hadn't done their thorough checks. There is a massive difference and they have to be judged on each of their merits.

You wouldn't ban a sixteen or seventeen-year-old person who had made a genuine error as opposed to someone who has systematically taken drugs and it has been proved. There is a massive difference and that is important when you are determining a penalty.

- Finally, what's next for you going through this year?

First of all, I am doing a lot of governance and leadership course because I really want to work in sport - especially at an international level. I am doing a lot of different courses and talks to help work my way up to those kind of positions. It is not the media road for me, but maybe in ten years I will be doing something like Seb Coe. It is just working really really hard towards that goal.

Olympian Kelly Sotherton is mentoring Team Whole Earth ahead of this year's Whole Earth Man v Horse marathon in June. To find out more about the challenge or about Team Whole Earth, please visit the Wonder Fuel Hub at

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