Chandima Kulathilake (aka Chand) is one of the most familiar and popular members of Wellington Scottish and of the broader Wellington running community. He is known for his energy and enthusiasm, his love of running, and his uncanny habit of looking happy while running fast. He makes big contributions to the club through his coaching, race organising, and tech know-how. And he is talking with On the Run.
What is your background in running? When did you join Scottish, and what led you to the club?
When I was in secondary school in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990, I used to run 400m and 800m events. I wasn't really that good. My best time for a 400m was at a regional meet relay, running the last lap in our 4 x 400m team. I remember getting the baton and we were fourth. I chased and got our team into third, which got us a bronze medal – much to the surprise of my coach and team. “How the hell did he pull that one off?” everybody wondered at that time.
I joined Scottish (officially) in 2012, although I’d been shadowing the legendary P Team as a honorary member on some of their weekend outings, as well as the Three Peaks events, prior to that. What led me to the club was mainly the P teamers: Bruce Lake, Ed Massey et al.
We've seen you running for Scottish on the track, and in cross-country, road, and trail races. What is your favorite race of the year?
Ha – I don’t think I am really any good at any of that, although I do enjoy all of the races I take part in. If there was a favourite I'd say the Wellington 10k champs in Reservoir Road in Wainuiomata. Huh? Yeah, I know I’m that weird guy who likes that course.
What has been your greatest race in the yellow singlet?
I think if I had to pick one race, I'd pick the 10k road race I did in A Coruna (Galicia, Spain) in October 2014. I’d come off doing the Berlin Marathon a week before and was a bit tired coming into this event. I was officially in holiday mode. I only signed up because I was there at the time. It was one of the most popular events in that city. The start was very congested. As I managed to get out of the crowds and onto the main boulevard I was in a group of about twenty runners. I managed to break away at around 6kms and didn't let any of them overtake me till the finish. No, I didn't win the race outright but beating those who were in that group felt like winning the race. This was also my 10k PB.
You're one of our most active and sought-after coaches. What kinds of runners do you coach, and what principles and practices do you apply in your coaching?
Really? I didn't actually think that I was that sought after (ha ha). [Editor’s note: Please.]
At this point I have a mix of runners who are at various levels, from beginners keen to tackle their first 5k, 10k and half marathon to experienced ultra-marathoners who have been on the podium at key races.
My approach to coaching is based on doing the small fundamental things consistently and adding some variety whilst focusing on gradual build-up and event-specific workouts. In practice I put a lot of emphasis on good communication and feedback. My firm belief is that as a coach you need to listen and adapt to your athlete as opposed to the other way around. I am not a fan of fancy workouts or new fads that come and go. The coaching guidance I give each individual is based on learning and observing what works best for each of them.
What has been your proudest moment as a coach?
I don’t think I have a single moment that I can call out, however I do enjoy knowing that the athletes that I coach have achieved their goals. At the end of the day, they do all the hard work and I can’t really take credit.
You've shown a big interest in ultra and trail running. How does your long distance running fit in with the traditional shorter club races, and how do you see ultra and trail running fitting into the club's future?
Actually, I am not a big fan of Ultras. They are popular among a lot of people now and I see newer runners jumping into the trail running scene which is great. I prefer all surfaces for running so whether I am on a trail or a paved road doesn’t make it any different in terms of enjoyment.
With the likes of Sam, Fiona and Ruby being prominent ultra champions, I think it's great that we are such a diverse club.
You and Andy Ford are making plans for the Three Peaks series for 2018. Can you tell us about the Three Peaks races, and what we can expect for this season?
Three Peaks was partly what drove me to join Scottish since I’d done these even before I joined the club. Last year when Andy asked me if I could help organise the series I was delighted.
With Three Peaks being in winter, is not the most popular event to find volunteers for, as they need to stand on the top of a peak to marshal through a winter southerly or northerly. We changed the format last year by asking runners to find a clue and answer a question as they went to each peak (kind of like what they do at regaining races), thus we didn’t need to have a marshal posted at each peak. It proved to be a popular format. We also engaged via a dedicated Facebook event page and encouraged participants to share photos on their run.
This year we are going to try an honesty system mixed with finding clues. We are also aiming to start each event from a different location. That's the plan anyway! You can learn about the upcoming events via our Three Peaks Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Wellington3Peaks/
Another big contribution you've made to the club has been through the overhaul of our website and our social media presence. What improvements have you made? And do you have plans for further improvements in the future?
Yes, that involved a lot of tidy up work behind the scenes between myself and Amanda Broughton, who helped a lot in cleaning up the existing content and writing new content that was current and topical. Initially it was hard for anyone to actually find our site via Google, and we had no presence on Facebook or Instagram. Between the two of us we created new pages, overhauled the imagery and started sharing running stories from old On the Run magazines. With a 100-year history we have a ton of interesting content and we got some great feedback from members as well as the public. We created a content model and some guidelines for our management committee to use when using our web site and social media channels. These are now the guiding principles on how, what, why, when for publishing content. Nowadays Stephen Day does most of the content creation and publishing and we help where we can.
We have some future plans to use Instagram and Facebook to promote not only our club events but also other local events.
If you could make one change to Wellington Scottish, what would it be?
That’s a tough one – as a club I think we offer a great value proposition to runners of all abilities. Sometimes though I think we leave some of our newer members out because we tend to focus on the more seemingly active competitive runners. So perhaps an event or a program at the start of the season for the newbie running members to get involved in club events would be good.
And finally - what is your next big running challenge? Where can we expect to see you racing this season?
This year I’ve signed up for the Gold Coast Marathon in July after repeatedly saying I would never do a marathon again! In terms of marathons so far, I’ve completed six, with Wellington my first in 2013, Rotorua and Berlin in 2014, Vienna and Budapest in 2015 followed by Buller Gorge in 2017. So this would be my seventh marathon attempt. Then I will probably aim for some of the shorter local club races.