It’s often said that athletics is the root of all sports. But what about a wacky motorsport like speedway? We chat to maverick world champ Tai Woffinden about how running helped him conquer the dirt track.

"I hate running with a passion" says Tai Woffinden, 23, the tattooed speedway champion whose disciplined fitness regime has underpinned his hugely successful season.

Speedway riders race four laps around an oval track, on a motorbike without brakes.

At the start of 2013, newcomer Woffinden was granted a wildcard spot among speedway’s elite. To cope with the demands of a gruelling, 150-race season, he knew he’d have to get serious. He employed a personal trainer, shed 7kg, and began pushing his body to the limit.

“I’d often sprint from lamppost to lamppost with maybe a minute rest, and I would do this for an hour. I was almost stumbling towards the end of it.”

Another horrific sounding session involved 45 minutes on the treadmill with the gradient set to maximum. “It would kill me,” he says.

Tai Woffinden ()

Tai Woffinden: speedway’s front runner.

"It was great for my fitness," says Woffinden, who was initially listed as a 500-1 shot to win the speedway title. "There were times during the season when I was pulling up to the tapes and laughing because I knew I would win. I was so much fitter than anybody else."

The British rider, who races for the Wolverhampton Wolves in the British league, also competes in the Swedish and Polish leagues. 

As the 2013 season progressed, and his position in the FIM Speedway Grand Prix series strengthened, Woffinden became even more reliant on running.

“I remember flying into Germany for a five-hour stopover, I put on my gym clothes and went for a run around the airport for an hour-and-a-half,” he says.

“I was running up and down a steep set of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a bar, where I’d stop to do sit ups, push ups and squats. I just remember watching guys drinking in the bar, laughing at me.”

Despite twice breaking his collarbone during the season, Woffinden’s outstanding fitness helped him to secure the world title in Torun, Poland, during the final round of the season.

Tai Woffinden 2 ()

Hungry like the Woff: our running man wins big in Poland.

The 2014 FIM Speedway Grand Prix season begins in Auckland, New Zealand on 5th April, and Woffinden hopes that another tailored running programme will pay dividends on the circuit.

"I’d love to work with an institute of sport to do some running which suits intense, one-minute bursts, because that is how long the races are. I want to know the best training for racing for a minute."

If it pays off, Woffinden can become the third man in history to secure back-to-back Speedway GP titles.

Keep on running, Woffy.