News & Updates

21 May 2019 • General

Malcolm the marathon man

Malcolm Hicks is set to make his global championship bow at the World Championships in Doha at the age of 31. Steve Landells charts his successful journey into the marathon and why his best is yet to come. 

The Usain Bolts and Eliud Kipchoges may light up the sport, create the column inches and make the social media impressions.

But sometimes the inspiring stories come elsewhere. Take Malcolm Hicks. For more than a decade the Aucklander has enjoyed domestic success winning national titles on the road, track and cross country. He has appeared for New Zealand at the World University Games but he has always just fell short of featuring for his country at the very highest level.

However, after years of hard work, the 31-year-old’s patience has finally been rewarded after running a hugely impressive two-and-a-half minute PB in the Dusseldorf Marathon in 2:13:51 to earn selection for the World Championships in Doha (September 28-October 6).

It has been a long-time coming.

Malcolm’s journey to the marathon can be traced back to his move overseas to live and work in the Netherlands three years ago.

Coming off the back of a failed bid to make the Olympic team – he ran a 5000m PB of 13:38.51 in Melbourne but some way short of the nomination standard for the Rio Games – he slowly turned his gaze towards the marathon.

“After trying to get down into the 13:20s (for the 5000m) for several years, which was more in line with qualifying for major championships (for the 5000m), I was looking for a new challenge and the roads were the natural progression,” says Malcolm.

A stress fracture of a metatarsal in his right foot hampered his initial development in the Netherlands, but based in The Hague – he adapted quickly to life in the new environment.

Continuing to be coached by Paul Hamblyn, his New Zealand-based coach, Malcolm embraced the vibrant road running and club scene in the Netherlands and he was not short of great training routes.

“I had a forest two minutes jog away and trails through the dunes – it was probably the best running terrain I’ve experienced on my doorstep.”

After a fleeting final track campaign in 2017 – which included trimming 1.2 seconds from his 5000m PB in 13:37.31 in Heusden, Belgium – he stepped up his road assault recorded a half-marathon PB of 64:29 for third in Dronten – a performance which earned him a spot on the New Zealand team for the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia.

However, his hopes of appearing for his country in Spain were crushingly dashed by a tendon injury to the knee, which forced his withdrawal.

In May last year Malcolm took on a new engineering position and relocated to London with his wife, Alana.

It took a little time to settle but with his eye on making his marathon debut in Berlin last September, it was Malcolm’s good fortune he lived close by the vastly-experienced Kiwi marathoner Paul Martelletti in East London and the pair started training together.

Limiting his training to around 170km a week – “I have a track record of breaking down, if I push much over 100 miles” – Malcolm owes a big debt of gratitude to Paul – himself a 2:16 marathoner.

“I did my entire Berlin Marathon build up with him and that gave me some one to gauge from during workouts,” explains Malcolm. “As Paul is a seasoned marathoner, I’ve learned a phenomenal amount from him. He has been fantastic.”

Enjoying the process of training for a marathon and putting in a good block of training in beforehand, Malcolm was excited to make his debut over the 42.2km distance and then delivered by running an impressive 2:16:28.

It was performance to be proud of and one which he described as “the better end of my expectations.”

“I was thrilled (with my performance),” says Malcolm, who finished 18th behind Kenyan great Eliud Kipchoge, who set a world record mark of 2:01:39. “I loved the race. I felt in control and to run the second half a minute faster than the first half was, I think, the right way to run it. The fact that I came away having enjoyed the experience, made me more enthusiastic for the next marathon.”

Originally holding an elite entry for the London Marathon, Malcolm, on the advice of his management, astutely changed his plans to instead compete in April’s Dusseldorf Marathon.

With the race doubling up as the German Championships and with a crop of athletes targeting the 2:16:00 World Championships qualification standard, the Kiwi was eager to align himself with a race which was set up to run at the pace he desired.

Stepping up his training slightly to around 180-185km a week – some of which he completes on his commute to and from work in central London – he approached the race optimistic of a good showing.

“For me, the number one goal was the Doha World Championship qualification mark and I was confident I was capable of running that time based on my experience in Berlin and the key workouts I’d had,” he explains. “I thought if I had a great day, I could run 2:13.”

Running a negative split of around a minute, he pushed the pace in the final 10km. He frustratingly missed out on the victory by a two-second margin to German Tom Groschel but the engineer was rewarded with a 2:13:51 clocking – a huge new PB and most importantly the World Championships qualification mark. He had, indeed, experienced “a great day.”

“It was fantastic and I was thrilled to get in the 2:13 range,” he adds. “It was nice to be at the front of the pack as opposed to London when I would have been back in 18th or 20th place.”

Now turning his attention to Doha – where he will make his major championship debut for New Zealand – Malcolm knows with the marathon taking place at midnight, in what is expected to be significant heat, he will face some sizeable challenges.

However, he intends, with his coach, to put together a heat acclimatisation and heat strategy plan in preparation for the race and is looking forward to the challenge.

“Coping with the heat will make the preparation interesting and I’m excited by the prospect of getting into that,” he explains. “I enjoy the science behind running and my preparation will involve some heat training in Cyprus, a lot of sauna time and work on re-hydration. We’ll also tweak the training, as the focus will be primarily centred on managing performance in the heat, with the pace being slower than most major marathons.”

Firmly committed to the marathon, he says making predications for such an unorthodox marathon – which may also involve a change to his regular sleep cycle in preparation for the race – is hard to make.

Yet whatever Malcolm achieves in Doha he has even bigger goals for the future.

“Tokyo remains the Olympic dream,” he adds. “I may only have two marathons before Tokyo, so I need to take full advantage of them to qualify. That is definitely the target.”

After a lengthy and committed career in the sport nobody would begrudge him.