TRACK & FIELD: STARTING AT 22, WHY NOT?
I was a late bloomer. A teacher first spotted that I had a talent for athletics when I was at primary school and took me to my first competition, but I didn’t start training properly until I was 22; after I’d finished school and university, and had become a PE teacher. I’ve always been interested in sport and health – I even studied sport science for my degree - but initially I enjoyed running because I was good at it. It was that simple. By 6 years into teaching, I was a fully funded athlete.
‘Athletics Is A Pauper’s Sport. It’s An Elite Sport, Not A Professional One. To Compete You Really Have To Graft.
The good news: It’s free so anyone can do it.’
ATHLETICS NEEDS MORE FUNDING & SUPPORT
The fact that I was competing – living the ‘athlete dream’ – whilst teaching did inspire the students, but at the same time they kept asking ‘why are you still teaching at school Miss?’ They didn’t understand that athletics isn’t a professional sport; it’s an elite sport. They see footballers and what they get paid and think all sportsmen get those benefits. The reality is very different. The squash academy in Manchester lost their funding this year. That was very sad. Squash isn’t an Olympic sport so as much as Sport England tries to support them they don’t get National Lottery funding. Many kids now have to train at home, rather than at that amazing base.
There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you race. It’s difficult to compare it to anything else because people expect you to feel a high, lots of adrenalin, but the reality is like being in a bubble. It’s weird because when you have a really good race, you almost don’t feel anything. Obviously you care, but you’ve practiced for so many years that even if a crowd of 40,000 people surrounds you you can’t hear anything. You’re so focused in that moment, in doing well and getting to that finish line that when you’re running well and going down that home straight, as you run past people you feel a strange euphoria, like you’re on cloud 9 – it’s crazy – but you only really realize it after you’ve finished. You might get nervous for 5 minutes before or after (if you’re disappointed or something), but when you’re running, it’s like you’re untouchable to the outside world. You know what to do, you’ve practiced and practiced, now it’s ingrained inside you. You have to trust yourself and go for it. In the next few minutes, that’s what you do. It’s all that matters.
MY TEAMMATES ARE MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION
I’ve met some really good friends along the way. Asha Philips and Emily Diamond, in particular. Their stories are amazing. They’ve overcome so many injuries and have achieved so much, not just in their careers but as people. Their attitudes and mentality are so inspiring for me, especially when I was still competing. These days, we work together to mentor a lot of up-and-coming athletes. To pass on that determination and outlook is amazing. You can’t pick it up by textbook training; it’s a combination of natural instinct and something that develops over time… but when you hear them speak, you just ‘get’ it.
‘Athletics attracts a very specific personality. People are drawn to it because of their nature, and that’s important to succeed. There are so many ups and downs, lumps and bumps; overcoming them changes you. You either up your game or drop out.’
A GOOD 400m ATHLETE IS…
Drink bicarbonate of soda. Drinking a glass of water with some bicarbonate of soda before racing will reduce the lactic acid build up. Bicarbonate of soda is very alkaline acts so it will stabolise your blood PH, acting as a lactic acid buffer.
Eat lots of jelly. This really helps to protect your joints, especially with regular high impact exercise. The gelatine contains collagen and is really good for your tendons and your skin too.
Buying trainers? Buy Asics or New Balance. Asics and New Balance make some of the best top level running trainers available, mainly because of the technology they invest behind the shoes. People who don’t have running experience or understand how important the mechanics of how trainers are constructed often buy a pair that they like the look of or that’s fashionable, but a lot goes into making good trainers. They’re all designed for different purposes, impacts, ankle support, foot support and cushioning… This differs a lot between brands. It’s why trainers are so expensive, and why the expensive ones are usually better than the lower budget ones. That said it’s not just about price. You need to ensure they’re built for purpose. Yeezy’s for example sell for anything from £400- £675; it doesn’t mean you can run in them, they’re designed for fashion.
THE BEST ADVICE
One of my first coaches always said ‘slowly, slowly catches the monkey’. I had no idea what he was talking about. Now I think I do. It ultimately means that you don’t want things now (too easily or quickly, without solid foundations), you want to work at them and eventually you’ll get there.
I WISH I’D KNOWN SOONER…
Before making a decision, take a step back from the situation. Too many athletes make decisions with their emotions, without thinking clearly about the consequences. Take a step back, take time to think, research and don’t let other people influence you. Often, if you make impulse decisions, they won’t be the right ones and if people are rushing you, you have to wonder why.
‘Athletics is quite a serious sport, but there are a lot of fun times too. You need that humour to break things up. I still love competing against my friends like Emily Diamond. We have such a laugh afterwards and get up to mischief, playing jokes on the other teammates.’
ALWAYS TAKE THE RISK
When I was little, my brother had a poster above his bed. It was a dark basketball court with a hoop in the background. Underneath it, it said ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. It’s true in everything in life, so take the chance’.