Careers one-on-one: Interview with Matthew Vellacott, Partner in New York: A Marathon Project

29 April 2019

Matt Vellacott, Partner in Plural’s New York office, ran the London Marathon on behalf of CAFOD on Sunday. He tells us about preparation, persistence and the importance of having a plan

 

Q: It’s the day after the Marathon – how do you feel today?

Energised and uplifted. I ran the race in 3 hours 48 minutes, so I hit my sub-four-hour target. And it’s amazing to have all these people you’ve never met cheering you on – it restores your faith in the human race.

 

Q: What about when you crossed the line?

I just was relieved that nothing had gone wrong!

 

Q: Who did you raise money for and why?

My father died quite quickly from cancer a few years ago, and in an ideal world I’d fundraise for that. But I left it too late. I ran for CAFOD instead, a Catholic charity that fights poverty from all kinds of directions. Its Candlelight Fund meant I could run in memory of my dad, which made it quite personal.

 

Q: How did you fit the training in around your work and family life?
Training is like having a child (I’ve got a three-year-old) – you just have to find the time for it. I did my training in the early mornings because it was the least disruptive time.

 

Q: How did Plural support you and how does that reflect what it’s like as a firm?

Whenever anyone at Plural does something like this, the whole company gets behind it – there’s a real family feel. Colleagues got excited for me, wished me luck and sponsored me, as did the company. Some people came to support me and I received lots of text messages before and after – including one from Jim, our CEO, the night before. I even wore my T-shirt from last year’s company trip away (in Alicante, Spain) during the race.

 

Q: Did you have mentors to help you prepare?

No, but my brother and two of my friends were running too, so we all used the Map My Fitness app to clock our training times. It motivated and challenged us to keep up with each other.

 

Q: How did your work at Plural help?

There are definite parallels between leading a project at Plural and preparing for a marathon. First, you need a clear starting point, an idea of where you want to get to and a broad plan for how you’ll get there. (It can’t be too specific, though, because there are so many things you can’t predict.) Second, you need to raise your game to meet the challenge. And third, you need a positive approach to overcome hurdles along the way. Failure isn’t an option!

On race day, different people in my group took the lead at different times, to make sure we hit our minute-per-mile target. It’s the same on a project – you have interim goals, and it’s the leader’s job to make sure you achieve them. At the same time, everyone on the team motivates each other and is determined to succeed. In fact, determination is one of the main characteristics you find among Plural people.

 

Q: Speaking of which, were there any points when you felt like giving up, and if so, what kept you going?

My biggest challenge came during training, not the race itself. Old football and rugby injuries re-emerged, so I couldn’t train for most of April. But because I’d committed to doing the run, and in under four hours, I was determined to make it happen. I think that carried me through.

Determination was a factor on the day too. I felt the injury twinge at mile one, but after that it was fine. In fact, at mile 20, when you’re meant to hit a wall, I felt better than at mile seven! So I decided to challenge myself a bit more, and as a result, my last five miles were my fastest.

 

Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s about to give up on a goal?
You have to stay positive. It’s a bit like cricket – things can look really bad in one moment, but everything can change in a couple of overs. If you stick to your plan, and ignore the negative thoughts, you’ll fight through.

 

Q: What tips would you give to someone who wants to take on a similar challenge, but works long hours?

I’d suggest five things:

  1. Decide what you want to achieve, commit to it and draw up a rough plan for getting there.
  2. Re-think everything you do so it fits around your goal.
  3. Delegate. You can’t do everything yourself, especially if you’re in a more senior role.
  4. Enlist support from your company. Explain what you want to achieve and discuss how they can help you to achieve it. Be transparent about how you’ll meet your commitment to them as well as to your goal. Plural’s very accommodating about this.
  5. Manage your time throughout to make sure you fit everything in as planned.

 

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