By Sam Millne

Matthew Crehan recalled his father’s eulogy.

“Life is like a race. It’s not a race to the finish line, but it’s a race to take the most beautiful route.”

Running was important to his father.

Jim Crehan passed away in 2013 but during his life, he became an Olympic coach and married Susan Crehan – an Olympian herself who competed in the marathon at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Their son Matt is now making headway in the sport having started at St Helens Striders, the club his grandfather founded after seeing the joy running brought his son and daughter-in-law.

A fantastic 2021, in which Crehan won both the Liverpool and Manchester Marathons, has put him on the England scene and when he spoke to us, the 30-year-old was just off the plane from Catalunya where he had been representing his country at the 34th annual Granollers Half Marathon.

Performance-wise, the weekend wasn’t his absolute best, however, he expects a big year ahead and is setting high targets for the future: “When Kipchoge (marathon world record holder) said ‘no human is limited’, that completely resonated with me. You’ve got to dream at the top…

“I don’t think I can limit myself. I feel like I’ve got to aim for the very top, which is an Olympic gold, which seems like madness and crazy but I feel if I can’t at least put that down as a goal, then there’s no chance I’ll ever achieve it.

“I’ve got to see how close I can achieve to it and that’s the real goal”

Given his family heritage, it may seem like the son of an Olympian was always destined to achieve success in athletics, however, his trajectory hasn’t always been linear.

Talking about his sporting beginnings, Crehan said that he actually started running quite late, at age 15, in comparison to his competitors.

“My dad was a great runner, a county-level runner in the golden era of male British athletics, and my mum ran in the Olympics and the world champs so I always knew about that.

“On red, white and blue day in primary school, I used to go in wearing my mum’s Olympic tracksuit. I got paint on it one time and she was desperately trying to wash it out!

“I grew up knowing that and I always wanted to be a runner but I was always quite lazy and didn’t want to go out running – I just liked playing video games…

“Then, going into year nine. I just said to my dad: ‘I want to go down to the local running club and just train.”

Despite his parents’ exploits, Crehan said it was his PE teachers who pushed him into it.

“They always used to put me in the school races in year seven and year eight, and I wasn’t fit and stuff like that, but I’d always run round at the back of the field then sprint the last lap and finish last anyway.”

Credit: Huw Fairclough/Rock ‘n’ Roll® Running Series
Credit: Huw Fairclough/Rock ‘n’ Roll® Running Series

Once Crehan was hooked though, his mum’s accomplishments provided inspiration.

“Knowing that my mum went to the Olympics gave me that thing that you know, ‘if my mum can do it, then I can do it’ There shouldn’t be a barrier there.”

Injuries and university meant that Matt spent some time away but got back into running properly about five years ago.

“I was 25 when I got back running again, but I’d stayed involved in the sport through being at parkrun; I did a podcast interviewing Olympic medallists while I was at uni – that was just how I kept in touch with the sport really.”

“I got married at 21 and my wife left me when I was 24 so I sort of went ‘I either be down and depressed by this or I turn back to the thing I love doing’, which was running.”

“I thought ‘my mum was 32 when she went to the Olympics. I’ve got time so let’s give it a go and see how close I can get to doing the same thing.”

Crehan, who co-owns the St Helens running shop, Made to Run, speaks enthusiastically about sport in general.

He’s clearly ambitious when setting his targets but also sees the benefits to exercise, specifically running.

During the first coronavirus lockdown, a Sport England survey noted an increase of 731,000 people running outdoors, however, this was offset by gyms closing.

The shop owner recalled the period: “Everyone was told you can go out for an hour and exercise, well, what could you do in an hour that didn’t involve too much stuff?

“People got out and were active so that increased and people who’d gone to the gym were then suddenly outside.”

He also said: “Just as in life, you want to spend it with people that make you happy and doing things that make you happy, and to be able to look back on it and say you did what you wanted to do in life.

“I think that’s the same with running, you know? Yeah, it’s fantastic to win a race and things like that, but it’s just fantastic to be out there.”

Whilst an Olympic gold may be a mere pipe dream for Crehan at the moment – his current personal best of 2:18:26 is just under 10 minutes slower than Kipchoge’s winning time at the 2021 Tokyo Games- winning isn’t always everything when it comes to sport.

In the short term, Crehan is off to sunny Sevilla soon to train ahead of the Manchester race he won last year, but he also has his heart set on entering November’s New York Marathon, the first marathon that his parents ever raced.

(Featured image credit: Huw Fairclough/Rock ‘n’ Roll® Running Series)