Former world junior duathlon champion explains how her big leap forward to 2:26:18 for 26.2 miles was built on years of steady graft
When George Schwiening took five minutes and seven seconds from her marathon PB to go to seventh on the UK all-time list in December, the Cambridge athlete’s reaction was refreshingly humble. She tweeted her delight at her 2:26:28 in Valencia but asterisked it with: “I was in super shoes and half the top 10 all-time runs were without springs.”
Uncomfortable with sporting the carbon-plated footwear which have been responsible for a radical overhaul in elite road running standards in recent years, Schwiening did eventually give in last year. She might not like it, but rightly wants to be on a level playing field with everyone else.
That great leap forward in Spain was not just down to what she had on her feet, though. Her previous best, set in the Therme Manchester Marathon last April, was also run in carbon-plated shoes, and though quick to note the part played by technology, the former junior world duathlon champion also believes her improvement was a product of years of conditioning her body for the event and learning how to train for it.
Since her debut performance of 2:58:23 in 2017, Schwiening has completed 14 marathons, including her 11th place at the Commonwealth Games for England in Birmingham last summer. It’s been a remarkable progression — achieved without a coach, while working full-time and without ever training on a track.
The journey began with an active childhood. Schwiening took part in swimming, cycling, high-diving, rock-climbing, netball, hockey, gymnastics, tag rugby and trampolining before eventually focusing on running and triathlon. However, her swimming was relatively weak so she switched to the run-cycle-run sport of duathlon. As well as winning the world junior title in 2013, a world senior bronze followed five years later.
While running has lost several athletes to triathlon and duathlon in recent years, Schwiening went the other way — partly as a result of the pandemic limiting travel.
“A lot of the duathlon scene is in Europe,” she says. “With the travel, it didn’t seem quite the right thing to be doing, so it’s where the simplicity of running has its advantages. I suppose it wasn’t a conscious choice, it’s just that I haven’t done a duathlon for a while and the pandemic was part of that.”
Duathlon’s loss was running’s gain and Schwiening, who had already improved to 2:35:22 in 2019, continued to advance.
“Since my first marathon in 2017, I have just chipped off times and gradually improved,” she says, adding of her 2:26 run: “On paper it looks like a big jump, but I think I probably hadn’t always been able to show my fitness in the past. It also wasn’t a shock in the sense that that’s the time I trained to do and I set out at that pace.”
Her approach seems straightforward. Avoiding injury is key. “I just continued to chip away, being sensible,” says the 28-year-old. “Marathon training is mainly about avoiding picking up those niggles that can stop you – just listening to my body, building up really gradually and not taking risks.
“For me the most important thing is that your body is adapting at the same speed that you’re building. It’s making sure the training load is appropriate for the state your body is in.”
» This is an excerpt from an interview that appeared in the February issue of AW, which you can read here