You ask the questions, the athletics star provides the answers. Here we hear from the world champs 800m medallist now guiding the career of Keely Hodgkinson
What are your memories from the 800m at Berlin 2009 when you won World Championships bronze?
If anyone asks me what my favourite race was during my career then I’d say this one. It was the first time I’d probably converted my time and form in training to a global competition.
I was really nervous before that final and I actually remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror, having a good word myself. I wanted to give it my all and I looked at the competitors and thought I’d beat a lot of these women day in, day out in the Diamond League. That was a big mindset change for me that I deserved this opportunity.
Everyone was completely shocked when I won a medal apart from myself, [my husband] Trevor and my real intimate team. I don’t remember going to sleep that night and I received literally hundreds of messages. I think it really dawned on me that people got so much pleasure from watching me run. All the hard work paid off for that one medal and the first one was definitely the best.
When did you and Trevor first spot Keely Hodgkinson and what were your thoughts?
Trevor knew Keely before I did as he was involved in the UK School Games competition. I kind of followed her results as we only lived six miles away so she was a real local athlete. We got to know her in 2018 and we were really impressed by her attitude. It’s not just about talent but also dedication, motivation and how you apply yourself.
We got to know her well and I have to give a shoutout to Keely’s mum Rachel as she would message me and ask me questions like what medication is okay to take if Keely had an anti-doping test. The fact that someone behind the scenes for Keely was thinking that way was very impressive.
Keely actually had an injury in 2019 and she came to Trevor and I for advice and told us she couldn’t run. She had shin splints and we told her not to run for four months which she was a bit alarmed by! However, he set her a progressive programme and chatted to her coaches at Leigh Harriers. What we were really impressed by was how much Keely applied herself.
Unfortunately, Joe [Galvin] – Keely’s coach – then became ill and they had made a decision that they thought Keely should be coached by Trevor, which she had kind of come up with in her own head, as well. It was no hesitation and we knew she had the right mindset, was prepared to do everything we asked her to and more and it’s been a really great working partnership ever since.
What advice would you give to young aspiring 800m athletes?
Probably a few of pieces of advice, actually. The first is just concentrate on yourself and don’t look at what anybody else is doing. I’m obviously going to come back to Keely but what she is doing at 19 and 20 is not the norm. I reached my peak in athletics and got my personal best over 800m when I was 28.
Everyone has a different journey and that’s what I’d say to most coaches, parents and young athletes. Don’t judge yourself based on others as there is no right or wrong way of doing it.
The second thing I’d say is don’t pigeon hole yourself too early. I think I knew I was an 800m runner and that was my preferred distance at junior level and at English Schools. As an intermediate athlete I then competed in the 300m and dropped down as I knew I had to be as fast as I could. Then, as a senior athlete, I moved up to the 400m.
I then carried on doing that distance at under-20 and under-23 level. I did always know I’d be best at 800m eventually but the thing to say is that the distances away from the 800m were really beneficial for me. They gave me championships experience, helped me and things like the 4x400m were really good for me. If I’d done 800m every year I think I’d have been burnt out so it was good to change things up and get some variety. Fun is the thing which will keep you in the sport.
I’d also say that you shouldn’t discredit how many drills and postural work you will need to do. I think a lot of people get caught up in mileage and think about just the running sessions but miss out on core stability. That’s not just doing it before a session but also doing it in isolation. Don’t just chat during the warm-up as well because you need to see it as a focused session and I was taught that from a really early age.
» This article first appeared in the September issue of AW magazine