John, who represented Team GB and England in competitions including The Commonwealth Games and European Cross-Country Championships, talked through his background, his business and gave his advice to the students over video call.
The running coach, based in Retford, talked about his journey from his first race, to a scholarship at the University of Tulsa in the USA via a law degree at the University of Southampton, and sponsorships with Adidas and living the life of a professional athlete, to struggling to find a job.
John said: “Growing up I was incredibly sporty, I played football, cricket, tennis, rugby, golf, pretty much all sports; but I had a younger brother who was so talented and better at them than me.
“I got into running by chance and to find something that got me out from my brother’s shadow. I decided to enter a 10-mile run in Portsmouth when I was 16 and set myself a goal of finishing in under 60 minutes. As I crossed the line in 59 minutes 30 seconds, with the big crowd and a big finish, I felt amazing. I learned I’d come 75th out of 10,000 competitors. That was what started my journey into running, and I had successes along the way.
“Then, back in 2016, I missed out on the Olympic team to go to Rio. So I decided it was time to find a job, but I didn’t have much luck. Despite having a law degree and an MBA I just couldn’t find a job; I’d had quite an unconventional 20s!”
It was this lack of success in the job market that led John to establish his company Move Better Run Better, and help coach runners all over the world to improve their times in disciplines from 5ks through to marathons.
John continued: “I set up, initially online, but I really had to have the mentality of ‘go and get it’. That’s my advice to anyone that’s thinking of setting up as self-employed – back yourself, because if you aren’t good, you won’t get paid.
“I often get asked, ‘Did you not feel the pressure?’ The answer is yes, but I backed myself and had to do it.
“When I went to America it became clear that they have a very different culture, more direct, a mentality around going out and getting it. We lack that a bit in the UK, it’s the British reserve. But, ultimately, to be successful you have to back yourself.”
RNN Group’s Careers, Education, Information, Advice and Guidance Leader, Lindsey Ascough, arranged the talk for the students.
Lindsey said: “Our students really enjoyed hearing from John. I think his messages about working hard, being dedicated and importantly having self-belief were absolutely key; as well as not being scared to create your own opportunities.
“We try to provide as many opportunities for our students to hear from local businesses, as it really helps bring alive how important some of the softer employability skills are.”