We speak to a Liverpool athlete who left smoking and binge drinking behind to become a masters record-breaker
Kirsty Longley has two young daughters and works full-time as a teacher. Yet she still finds the time and energy to run 60-70 miles per week and such training has led to her topping the UK rankings in the W45 age group last year in the 3000m, one mile, five miles, 10km and half-marathon, plus the parkrun.
Amazingly she did not start running seriously until she was 30, either, but has knocked chunks off her PBs and is still improving aged 46. “I wasn’t that talented,” she says. “I was a little bit overweight. I was binge-drinking and used to smoke in my twenties, so I had to start at rock bottom.”
Apart from a little ballet and dance at school, Longley didn’t do much exercise as a teenager but began working in a gym in her early twenties. It wasn’t until nearly ten years later, however, that running came calling.
A local athletics coach saw her jogging on the gym treadmill and encouraged her to train at Liverpool Pembroke & Sefton AC.
“It was January and freezing and I was running sideways as the wind was taking my breath away,” she remembers. “I thought: ‘This is not for me as it’s cold and horrible’.
“In my first races – a Northern League at Wakefield – I did the 3000m in 12:49 and 1500m in 6:51 and I actually wore headphones and came last in both races. My mum just said: ‘Next time, just beat someone’.
“So the next time I beat just one person in the 1500m. But then someone told me: ‘I’m really sorry but that person you beat was a shot putter’.”
But Longley stuck with it. “It took me 10 years to break 10 minutes for 3km,” she says. “For me it’s been consistency, not getting injured or ill and just grinding it out.”
Having worked as a sales account manager, Longley says she had developed a super-competitive mindset. “I wanted to be No.1 so I’d highlight people who beat me and then I’d go after them,” she explains.
Her first daughter arrived when she was 34 but she returned to running and has never suffered a serious running injury. “I’m 46 but feel like a 20-year-old,” she says. “Running has changed my life.”
So what are her secrets? “Relaxing during sessions and listening to your body is important,” she says. “At the moment I’m in a really good training group where everyone is there to help each other instead of racing each other.
“I’ve always been a very positive person, too. I’ve always been told I’m full of energy and always smiling. I enjoy what I’m doing. I love racing – I’m a race-a-holic. One year I did 75 races. I was going berserk. I love the buzz you get at the end of a race.
“As a mum there are no rest days or lie-ins and I am often found doing yoga in car parks while my girls do their cheerleading and tumbling hobbies.”
Speaking to Longley, it’s clear that she is indeed a bundle of energy and enthusiasm.
She counts Jo Pavey among her friends and says the five-time Olympian has gone out of her way to praise her performances. Her next goal is a marathon debut later this year.
“I’d like to get my half-marathon time down first,” she says. “What else would I be doing? Sitting on the couch watching Coronation Street?”
Coach Tom Craggs says: “It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Kirsty for a number of years now. Regarding planning Kirsty’s training we work hard to balance it with the demands of a very busy, high energy life – children, teaching and everything else that surrounds it which can be draining. Further to this there are of course both social and psychological stressors that come along with this time of life but also biophysical considerations to consider related to a high performing masters athlete.
“As such whilst we have a broad long-term direction of travel we would rarely ever plan more than 10-14 days of detailed training at a time and often work in a more iterative way looking at coming days and making decisions based around energy levels, sleep, stress levels, HRV etc. So I would not say we have a default week as such.
“It’s also important to note that Dave Evans has been integral to Kirsty’s development and performance over the last 12-18 months and it would be accurate to describe Kirsty has having two coaches, myself and Dave. While I am leading the communication with Kirsty and setting a training plan, Dave is physically present with her at least once a week in sessions whereas I am based remotely. This gives Dave the ability to provide much more direct feedback and engagement than I can and the training group he has developed works really well for Kirsty in terms of the atmosphere and culture which is very supportive.
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“The nice thing about this dovetailing is more often than not the sessions Dave is setting at different times in a year fit very closely to what I would plan for Kirsty so we have quite a similar philosophy to training and more broadly, which helps.
“The overriding priority with Kirsty is happiness, enjoyment and health so often the plan below might look very different if we need ot change things to keep that central.”
Monday: Easy run at an effort of 2/10 effort. Often Kirsty would add or include some strides if the long run was not too intense on the Sunday before.
Tuesday: am: 30min easy, conversational effort, 2/10.
pm: Longer reps on the road such as 8-10 x 1km alternating a 10km-10 mile effort, with quicker 5km intensity off 90sec rest. For short periods of the year these sessions might be lower in volume working more 3-5km pace and faster.
Wednesday: 45-60min easy run to RPE or HR to allow Kirsty to feel the right intensity based on the previous day’s session.
Thursday: am: 30-40min easy 2-3/10 effort.
pm: Kirsty used to run three pretty big sessions a week. We still keep some quality work on many Thursdays but I have encouraged this to be more focused on mechanics and form rather than big aerobic stress with a big recovery cost. So often this might be a handful of 200-400m reps with generous recovery focused on control. Sometimes this will be very light progression or short hills of 5-6 sets of 8-10 seconds run near maximal intensity with full recovery. If Kirsty has a half-marathon focus sometimes we will shift this run to Friday with Thursday as rest, and then this session would have some more controlled tempo work in, with an easy run on Saturday.
Friday: Rest. For Kirsty a regular rest day every 7-10 days seems to have really helped keep her feeling mentally and physical fresher.
Saturday: More often than not this will be Dave’s sessions which typically longer split tempo reps such as 4 x 8-9min, or cut down sessions starting at a tempo effort and building in intensity. If racing cross-country we might include the tempo work elsewhere in the week dropping one of the other sessions.
Sunday: 80-100min run easy to steady based on feel and energy levels. Some weeks when focused on a half marathon we would use the long run to incorporate effort around race pace for example 25km with 4 x 3km starting slower than HMP and finishing a little faster off a float recovery. Then the Saturday would be easy.
Power yoga and core is incorporated into the week.
PBs: 3000m 9:43.04 (2018), 5000m 17:10.99 (2018), parkrun 16:46 (2019), 10km 33:35 (2019), HM 75:05 (2022)
» This article first appeared in the February issue of AW, which you can buy here