British miler finishes runner-up to Hobbs Kessler at World Road Running Champs as Faith Kipyegon suffers shock defeat at the hands of Diribe Welteji in women’s mile
Callum Elson is not your typical athlete. While most competitors at the World Road Running Championships were fine-tuning their preparations in races or training at altitude, he spent a week in early September lying on a sunbed for several hours a day in Greece.
Outside of holidays, he enjoys chronicling his athletics exploits on social media under the moniker “The Distance Project” where he describes himself as “pretending to be a pro runner” and he believes coming to races with a videographer to produce post-event online coverage has helped him get a lane in races that he might otherwise have struggled to get into.
He will definitely have great footage to have fun editing in coming days, too, after winning a surprise silver medal behind Hobbs Kessler in the men’s mile on the roads of Riga on Sunday (Oct 1).
As the American blasted through the finish line near the city’s Freedom Monument in 3:56.13 to set an official world record for the distance, Elson clocked a European record of 3:56.41 as Sam Prakel of the United States finished third in 3:56.43 but at least had the consolation of being inside his own world record of 4:01.21.
As well as being busy on social media, Elson works full time in digital marketing. He does not have a main shoe sponsor either but has uniquely attracted mini-deals from a number of companies.
His holiday in Greece was supposed to be an end-of-season break with his girlfriend after a summer where he got his 1500m best down to 3:35.39, but he carried on training during the period. “It’s not hard to go for a run every day when you’ve spent six hours on a sunbed,” he says.
Elson only began running seriously during the pandemic after having played football mainly at Durham University. He ran as a youngster – finishing 16th in the English Schools Cross Country Champs in 2017, for example – but stepped it up during Covid lockdowns and has seen rapid improvements.
“I’ve never been to altitude,” says Elson, who looks a little like a boxer when he runs with wide arm carriage and muscular shoulders. “I just rock up on a Tuesday night with the (Cambridge & Coleridge) boys with whatever kit I can scramble for free, smash out some reps, go home and have my tea.”
Elson is an Alf Tupper of the digital age, but…