Four years ago, a Spanish student living in Sheffield decided that while he was there, he wanted to try out a new sport and made the switch from swimming to athletics.
In 2018, under coach John Wood, Spain international Iraitz Arrospide grabbed a team silver medal in the marathon at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin.
But at the weekend, the 31-year-old topped it all by becoming the world 50km champion in Romania, beyond what either he or John thought was possible when they first met.
Settling into a new country, studying, finding a job and having a child have been challenging enough on their own. But this only adds to the surrealism of how far both athlete and coach have come in a short space of time.
“It’s all just seemed to come at once,” says John, “we were never aiming for the Europeans until he ran 2 hours 16 minutes in Seville, that was when we started thinking he could be able to do it.”
Arrospide’s achievement is out of the ordinary and suggests a high level of talent. But he and John know all too well how much work has been involved in getting the best out of it.
“I do think you need to have some talent,” says Arrospide, “but I personally I wouldn’t say I’m really that talented, so it’s more to do with the hard work that comes from the talent. But me and John can both agree that a major factor over the last few years has been that I haven’t had any injuries despite running almost non-stop. So a mixture of hard work as well as luck have been very important for my progression.”
However, it is not just in athletics that Arrospide has been fortunate. All the commitments he has faced outside of the sport could quite easily have taken its toll on the most thick-skinned of athletes. His new-found family life if Sheffield has run smoother than expected, largely thanks his supportive wife and surprisingly quiet young son.
“I think we’ve been extremely lucky with our boy,” says Arrospide, “after a month or so he started sleeping all night which means I could still get a full rest when I get home so it’s been great.
“One of the hardest parts of all my training is that I don’t have as much family time as I would like. But my wife’s been very supportive of me and if it wasn’t for her helping then I think it would all just be too much. I’ve had a lot of luck with everything so it’s been good.”
A considerable part of Arrospide’s focus has therefore remained on his athletics career which has taken off so rapidly. But understanding how to mix it with the best in the world, has meant acknowledging when to take a rest.
“It wasn’t too long ago he did a really hard session with me,” said coach John “then for the first time he actually turned and said to me and said ‘I think I need the Monday off after that’.
“I just said ‘well now you’re learning’.” Arrospide adds: “When you feel good and motivated then you want to do session after session and not stop. But then you realise that your body gets tired and you feel that it isn’t responding well so it needs a rest. But I didn’t start doing that until last year.
“I remember I did a couple of sessions that weren’t that good, so then I had some rest and then my first session back was one of the best I’ve ever done, so rest can be just as important as training for anyone.”
They say kearning never truly stops for anyone no matter how long they have spent in the sport. And when the chance to represent his country arose at the European Championships in Berlin, Arrospide faced a slightly mixed start to his career as an international runner.
While he did finish the race with a silver medal around his neck when Spain came second in the team prize, his own personal race at the time certainly didn’t go to plan, with the hot conditions tough to contend with.
“I actually felt really good before the race,” says Arropside, “which maybe was the reason why it didn’t turn out so good. Sometimes when you feel confident you start to think you can run faster than you actually can.”
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WORLD CHAMPION!!! La ciudad de Brasov, en Rumanía quedará para siempre en mi corazón, después de que me haya convertido en campeón del mundo de 50km y me haya dado un Récord de Europa. Hablaré sobre la carrera en otro/s post, pero hoy me gustaría dar las gracias y acordarme de la gente. Al gran equipo que hemos formado para afrontar este campeonato, juntando experiencia y juventud a partes iguales y en especial acordandome de @korrikolari85 y @mireiarunner que se lesionaron y no pudieron participar en el campeonato. Asier Cuevas, con el que he podido compartir uno de sus últimos grandes campeonatos, @fotosdecorredor que ha hecho un gran campeonato y @alicia_perez_felez con la que carrera que coincido, podium que conseguimos (ya van 4 seguidos). Y los jefes de equipo, con Juan Carlos y Santi comandando la expedición con @raulvaleroo cuidando nuestras piernas. Un equipo de grandes personas que han hecho posible que yo estuviese en el lugar y momento adecuado y con grandes compañeros a mi lado. Cómo no, @leirealonsomunoz que me sigue permitiendo día tras día dedicar mucho tiempo a este deporte aunque nuestra vida haya cambiado con nuestro pequeño Unax, mis padres, mi familia y mis amigos que siempre están ahí para animarme y desearme lo mejor. Os agradezco a todos vosotros que me seguís y os interesais por mí, que me mandais vuestros mejores deseos y que me felicitais en momentos como este o me apoyais cuando las cosas no salen como espero. Por último, quiero acordarme de mis clubes (@realsociedadatl y @cityofsheffieldathleticsclub ), mi entrenador John Wood y mis compañeros de entrenamiento así como mis sponsors y colaboradores, @nike @dapalategui @suuntoesp @226ers @oxyhood @rudyproject @compressport_es @sasoituz @ioana_arbillaga_podologia Gracias a todos vosotros, hoy he conseguido ser campeón del mundo, y me gustaría que cada uno de vosotros sienta una parte de este logro como suyo por ayudar en el camino. #worldchampion #50km #brasov #adreamcometrue #happy #welldone #ametsakegibihurtuz
“When he crossed the line I don’t think the silver medal was on his mind,” adds John, “because it definitely wasn’t the greatest of conditions there for him. But Berlin was an experience and we’ve learned from it. If I’m being honest I’ve probably learnt more from it that Iraitz has.”
Since then Arrospide has kicked on superbly, with a trip to his home country in December resulting in a huge PB, running 2.13.23 at the Valencia Marathon to smash his previous best by over three minutes.
The crowning glory is now his world 50km title, which came in a European record time of 2 hours 47 minutes 42 seconds. He afterwards wrote on Instagram “The city of Brasov, in Romania will remain forever in my heart…I would like to thank and remember people. To the great team that we have formed to face this championship, combining experience and youth in equal parts.”
Reflecting on his growth within the sport, Arrospide says: “I’d say over the last three years I’ve been more focused on what I do. I think the time of going out and doing other things is in the past for me. Now I’m more focused because I have a family, I work and I study, so now I know what I have to do to keep improving.”