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How Callum Elson went from amateur runner to professional athlete

ByGrace Dawson

Oct 12, 2023
photograph of runners legs

Most only dream of success in elite running, whilst for a precious few that success is a vivid reality. Callum Elson, one of Great Britain’s representatives at the inaugural World Road Running Championships in Riga on 1 October, has now experienced this glory.

Coming second in the men’s mile race – setting a personal best of 3:56.41 in the process – has rocketed him to the forefront of the British middle distance scene. This result does beg the question: what does it take to perform consistently and successfully on the world stage, and how do you get there?

Likened to a boxer with his shorter stature and high arm carriage, Elson packs the punch of a heavyweight, known for his ability to deliver a devastating blow in the last 200m of a race. Following this tactic in Riga paid off, despite the mad dash for the finish where the first nine men crossed the line in a two second window.

Elson’s world championship silver has been labelled “surprising” by World Athletics reporter Jon Mulkeen, although if anyone has paid attention to the Leeds-born runner this year they would have had every reason to be optimistic.

On the track, a 1500m personal best of three minutes and thirty-five seconds at the iconic Tooting Bec British Milers meet ranked him sixth in the UK, behind the likes of Josh Kerr, Elliot Giles, and Ben Pattison. Although Elson had a road mile PB of just four minutes and seven seconds before Riga, it was clear from the trajectory of his training that he was on track for an outstanding performance. However, the USA’s Hobbs Kessler was victorious with a men’s mile world record of 3:56:13; tiny margins separated the podium places, and consequently the prize money.

Perhaps a taboo, slightly uncomfortable subject in British running, the reward for all this effort is rarely discussed publicly. Nevertheless, professional athletes are essentially employed to run and have to market themselves as such, a task at which Elson could be considered extremely skilled.

Known on social media as ‘The Distance Project’, the 24 year old has amassed a large following through an expertly crafted Youtube channel and Instagram profile. His ‘no nonsense’ approach to coaching advice and running philosophy resonates with many budding sportspeople, regardless of their sport. A collaboration with 1609 Studios’ Charlie McCarthy produced what can only be described as cinematic masterpieces, crucial for effective self-promotion, whilst sponsorship by Soar Running has enabled access to fast races stacked with world class athletes and some travel abroad.

What is truly astounding about Elson’s rise though, is the sheer level of self-led initiative: budgeting, planning, and executing his race calendar with a straightforward honesty and transparency never before seen in the running world.

Taking a leap (or stride) of faith into the frankly perilous and unpredictable arena that is professional running demands strong nerves and a true self-belief. Elson has pushed the boundaries of possibility for an amateur runner looking to become a professional athlete.

Keep running – Nike Women’s Half Marathon DC” by theqspeaks is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.