British endurance athlete on racing at the Olympics, winning the world 50km title and her advice for budding marathon runners
What it was it like to represent Great Britain at the Olympics in the heat and humidity of Brazil in 2016?
It was honestly a dream come true. Just to be at the Olympics was amazing and it was something I had dreamt of for 25 years. It was something I never actually thought would happen. There’s only a very small number that actually make it.
The emotions of crossing the line at the London Marathon which saw me qualify were overwhelming. There was relief, disbelief but also sadness because I lost a few relatives in the run-up, so they never saw me represent Great Britain at the Olympics.
However, my mum and dad were out in Brazil and they were cheering me on. Everyone who was out in Brazil said it was boiling hot but I was just focused on my performance and I had trained a lot for the heat so I didn’t feel the effects too much.
I’d been in Font Romeu doing some warm weather training, running in all your sweats in 28 degrees while we had ice packs and bands for the warm-ups.
During the race it was about taking on as much fluid as possible and pouring water over your head. It was also about adjusting your pace to deal with the climate. It was a war zone from as early on as 5/10km. I ended up finishing 27th and it was a fantastic experience all round.
How do you manage to fit in training for three disciplines in triathlon and what is your strongest and weakest?
I think my strongest is pretty self-explanatory! I remember doing a short-form triathlon and when I did the 2.5km run bit of the race I flew through and ended up finishing first in my age category. The weakest is definitely my swimming. I used to swim a lot when I was at school but that was about 20 years ago and it’s been a while since I’ve done it properly, so going into the pool for the first time again was pretty daunting.
I joined the local triathlon club and I was actually in the developmental lane until a few weeks before my triathlon. Even on the day I was a bit worried about swimming 300m non-stop but, being a competitor, it was a case of as soon as the gun went I had to keep on going. I targeted my swim for six minutes and I clocked 5:57. I’m still not the best at cycling but I also held my own and the running was natural – I can still produce 5:30 minute miles.
Fitting training in? It is a lot more time consuming but I work next to an aquatic centre. I swim on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, tend to ride to work and do a couple of sessions, while I also do track sessions and long runs. It’s also about keeping an eye on training so you don’t overdo it.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to run a marathon for the first time?
I always say to people to look at the three Ps: practice, pacing and patience. Obviously, practice is your training and you’ve got to be fully prepared for 26 miles. I know I ran the full distance in training but I don’t recommend that for everyone. For most, 20 miles is enough. Regarding pacing, if you go off too fast in that first 10km then it will come back to bite you and the last 10km will be really painful.
On patience, don’t expect that your fitness will come straight away during the marathon process. You’ve got to be looking at a 14-16-week block. If you’re at marathon peak fitness in the first week then by the time of the race you’re going to falling off the edge of a cliff. That includes being ill or injured. On the day of the race, if you hold something back for that last segment of the race then you’ll feel so much better towards the end.
Also respect the distance but don’t fear it. 26 miles is obviously a very long way but you’ve got to give it respect and don’t be cocky like I was in my first ever marathon because I was in a world of pain at 16 miles!
What was it like to break the 50km world record and did you break down different sections of the race?
It was a surprise to break the world record and I didn’t actually know what it was going into the race. My aim was to become 50km world champion. I did know what the British record was and I had hopes of breaking that around a nine-lap course.
My main mental barrier was going through that 42km mark as I’d never raced beyond the marathon. I had done a few training sessions at 30 miles but actually being competitive and doing six-minute miling over that distance was a little bit daunting. Once I got through that 42km mark I knew I had just one lap to go and it mentally became a lot easier.
Coming round the last bend, my team manager shouted that I was going to break the world record. It meant that my last 5km was strong and to cross the line, not only becoming world champion but to break a 31-year-old world record was a special feeling. It did feel a bit of a smash and grab!
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