After 2 weeks of watching the Olympics, it is safe to say the inspiration and motivation levels are high. There were some phenomenal performances and there is no way you could come away from them not feeling driven to chase after your goals. Seeing some of the athletes competing at the Olympics, that you see also racing at BMC’s and British champs, makes it seem very real and human. It makes you see first hand what hard work and perseverance can achieve.
Even if you are not a competitor with the dream of competing at the Olympics, you can’t help but feel inspired. It is amazing to see so many athletes achieving life long goals, as well as starting off their careers. For some, the achievement is in making it to the Olympics, and for others, it is about setting PB’s or winning medals. In my eyes, anyone who has made it to the Olympics is a hero and an inspiration.
Firstly, one of my all time inspirations has to be Jess Judd. I have looked up to her since I was tiny and saw her competing at the Essex Cross Country Champs. She hasn’t had an easy journey, but her ability to persevere and keep going when times get tough is relentless, and I admire her hugely for that. Seeing her race her heart out in the 5,000m and 10,000m was incredible, and it even reduced my mum to tears!! Haha! She gave it absolutely everything and even when I’m sure she was tempted to step off the track, she didn’t. And she smashed it. She also happens to be an incredibly kind and happy person who deserves every bit of success.
One of the races that I’m sure inspired everyone who watched it, was the women’s 800m final. I am no 800m runner, but gosh all three of those girls are amazing. Despite being one of the youngest in the field, Keely Hodgkinson ran a race well beyond her years. Her ability to keep a level head and not get flustered by everything around her is impeccable. I have to say, I think this is what I find most inspiring. Her attitude to running and racing just seems to be so calm and collected. She doesn’t appear to overthink things or let her mind get the better of her, she stays strong physically and mentally, and gets on with the task ahead. As a result, she was awarded with a silver Olympic medal!!
Alike Jess Judd, Alex Bell truly seems to be an incredibly tough cookie. (You can read my interview with her previously here) Even when things have not gone as she planned or hoped, she has never let it get the better of her. She has continued to put in the hard work, stay committed, and not let the words of others get the better of her. This is something I feel we should all do. Others will have their opinions, and they will undoubtedly get to us at times, but it is recognising that the opinions of others do not matter. They do not know you, your journey, or where you will end up, so they cannot say what you will or won’t do. Just like them, we don’t know either, so there is no point doubting yourself, because you don’t know what you are capable of until you go out and chase after it. Finally, Jemma Reekie. She wasn’t faced with the result she wanted, but to finish 4th in an Olympic final, no matter what you expected of yourself, is unbelievable. She has so much dedication to the sport and has given her all to ensure she can get to the level she is capable of and this speaks volumes. We must believe in ourselves.
Whilst there are so many athletes I could mention who have inspired me, the last I want to cover in this blog is Katie Snowden. Despite the set backs of injury, she has continued to fight for what she wants and chase after her goals. She made it to her first Olympics and then proceeded to run an astonishing race in the semi-final. To have got that far and come home from the Olympics with a PB, is no stat to ignore. I can’t wait to see what she achieves over the coming years.
So, for me, whilst there were some stand out performances within the athletics events, there was a lot of inspiration I found from other sports. I even found myself inspired by the BMX riders and skateboarders! Bring on the Paralympics.
Last week, I went on a plane for the first time in a year and a half, and headed to sunny Belfast for the Northern Ireland Senior Track Champs. Seeing as my father is Northern Irish, I am equally eligible for NI as I am for England, and recently I made the decision to switch eligibility to Northern Ireland. The Champs were an essential race to tick off, and it was one of the most enjoyable races of the season.
I headed into the race with no focus on time and purely concentrated all my energy on trying to win. I have to say I loved doing this. I had hoped to sit in for the first few k, but I ended up heading straight to the front of the pack, and staying there for the entire race. A lot of people don’t like doing that, as you have to do all the hard work, but I enjoy having the difficult job because it can only make me stronger and be beneficial in the future.
The first kilometre went out very slowly, and I felt incredibly comfortable, but rather than panic that I’d gone out too slowly, I used the energy I had conserved to my advantage. I worked to pick the pace up slightly each lap, until the point I knew I could create some distance from the rest of the girls. As I hadn’t raced against most of them before, I wasn’t sure where I stood in comparison, so I didn’t want to push on too much incase they did come past me and push on. Instead, I gradually wound the pace up each kilometre and pushed on in the last mile. The great thing was I felt soo strong! I had no idea of the time I was on for, but I expected it to be slow after the pace of the first k. I was very pleasantly surprised when I crossed the line in 16:03, having front run the entire 5k, but knowing I had much more left in me to give.
Confidence going forward.
Something the race gave me was a lot of confidence. It reassured me that I can pick the pace up when a race goes out slowly and my legs can move at a decent pace. I do tend to run better when I gradually build into it, so knowing that I can run a decent time even when I start feeling extremely comfortable is very reassuring. It makes me excited for future races knowing that I can push on in the last few kilometres to make up ground. It also shows that in order to run fast times, I don’t have to go out with the lead back and kill myself immediately. I can run my own race, stay a little bit reserved, and then work even harder in the business end of the race.
Having felt the strongest I have in a race for the past month or two, I now feel more determined and motivated than ever to work hard to achieve my goals. It is so great when you come out of a race feeling excited for the next as motivation in training is incredibly high. I can’t wait to have a few more races, and then focus on working hard over the winter to chase after my goals.
Outside of racing, each week tends to consist of two tough training sessions/workouts. The rest of the week is made up of easy/steady mileage, a long run, gym and cross training. My standard session days tend to fall on a Tuesday and a Friday to give me enough time between to recover and be ready to go again. Previously, for years I would do 3 sessions a week, but I definitely didn’t feel as though this worked for me. Frequently, one of those sessions would go well and the other two would be average or below average. This was because I was tired all the time. Due to the volume of each session being relatively high, I was never quite able to really push myself to that extra level. I was apprehensive about making the transition to 2 sessions a week, but I would now never go back. It works a lot better for me and my body.
There isn’t a massive trend to which sessions I tend to do each week, but Tuesdays are more likely to be on the track and Fridays on the road or trail/grass. I like different sessions for different reasons, but definitely do have some stand out favourites.
The general theme of my favourite sessions are the ones that are longer. To me, the longer the session the better, and the more at home I feel. I do however also enjoy the shorter and faster sessions, as I know I am working on my weaknesses which will help me become a faster athlete. Since changing coach at the end of last year, that is one of the biggest things I have learnt, that you have to do sessions that play to your strengths, but also sessions that work on your weaknesses and push you outside of your comfort zone.
On the track, my favourite types of sessions are something along the lines of 1 mile tempo, followed by 200 reps with a final 1 mile tempo at the end, 400 reps, or 1200m reps at a range of paces from 1500m pace up to 10k pace. I love a track session as you can just switch off and tick off the laps. You also don’t have to worry about dodgy GPS or keeping an eye on your watch for distance, as a lap is 400m, it doesn’t change!
Off of the track, tempos are my absolute FAVOURITE sessions! There is just something absolutely dreamy about a tempo, especially a continuous one. Whether it is 10k or 8 miles, I love getting into that rhythm of pace and just ticking off the k’s. Even on the days where it doesn’t flow quite like you hope it will, there is an incredible sense of achievement when you finish the tempo and have managed to keep your body continuously flowing. I think the thing I like most about the longer sessions, is how you can just become completely entranced by your running and shut off to everything else around you. Some of my other favourite sessions have been, 3x3k or 8x3 mins with reps 3/5/7 being fast!
Session days are definitely the best days of the week as they make you feel as though you are doing everything you can to make your ambitions and goals come true. Especially when the Olympics is on, and motivation is very high, all I want to do is session or race!
In line with the message of this blog, I will keep it a short one, because we don’t all have lots of spare time to sit around a read the rubbish that comes out of my mind. Plus, this time of the year is a very busy one as I am balancing, working, training, racing and my dissertation is due in 5 weeks! When there is lots going on in life, it is important to manage our time well, so how do I ensure I get everything done when time is tight?
To me, it is important to figure out what is the most urgent thing for me to do, what needs to be done as soon as I can, and what can be done at a later date. Once I have figured this out, I can prioritise my work. I tend to structure my day around training. So I set out when I need to get my training done, and then I slot everything else that needs to be done around that. For me, that allows me to add structure to my day without stressing about getting everything done. Currently my two main tasks are paid work and my dissertation. I tend to spend the mornings doing paid work and the afternoon doing my dissertation because these are currently the two most important things outside of training for me at the moment. Anything else, I fit in around that if I have time and use it as a break from the other two things.
Planning is key. Without planning nothing gets done efficiently. Well, this is how I feel anyway. I go in to each day with a plan. I write out in my notes everything I need to get done and the order in which I need to do them. Firstly, this stops me from forgetting the things I needed to complete, and secondly it allows me to get through things efficiently throughout they day by having direction. As soon as I wake up I know the tasks ahead of me for that day and that means I can organise my time in a way to ensure I can complete them. I find write down my plan for the day makes me accountable to it and also gives me a sense of achievement when I am able to tick off the things I have successfully accomplished.
This is a big one for me. Unless I have loads of time to complete something, I panic that I won’t be able to get it done. In my mind, 4 weeks to complete something doesn’t seem like a lot of time. I used to stress when I got my assessment guidelines 4 months before it was due and panic I didn’t have enough time, but this wasn’t productive. There is no point worrying about what you don’t have (enough time) as this will not help, instead, we must focus on the time we do have and use it wisely and efficiently. Stressing won’t get anything done, it will only make doing it less enjoyable.
The last minute approach works for some, but definitely not for me. As an organised freak, I will to ensure I have given myself as much time as possible to work on something as I like to do it to the best of my ability. As soon as I get set a task, I get to work on it. This helps prevent me from feeling as though things are building up. If I try to do a little bit everyday, before long I have completed more than I realised without any stress, so this is how I operate. Be organised and start working on things well in advance.
Sometimes, the thought of tackling 25 laps of the track can be a scary one. Psychologically it seems a lot further than 10k on the road, but it doesn’t need to. There are a few tricks I try to employ to make the 25-lap distance seem less daunting.
Focus on one lap at a time.
There is no point focusing on the 25 laps ahead of you when you are in the first 400m of the race. If you do this, the race will drag. Try to break it up. I focus on one lap at at a time. I think about keeping those legs spinning and aiming for consistent lap times. It is helpful when the timekeepers shout out the lap times as it allows you to focus on the individual laps and keeping them consistent, rather than the overall time ahead of you. Think of it a bit like a tough session. I don’t focus on how many reps I have left to go, but instead the one I am doing at that exact moment. More often than not you surprise yourself at how quickly each lap goes and before you know it you are over halfway.
Ignore the lap counter for as long as you can.
The lap counter in the 10,000m is something to avoid for as long as possible. If you take a peek too early, it can make the race drag on. I always try to ignore the lap counter. When I go around the start line, I purposely avoid looking at it and keep me eyes directed straight ahead. I try to do this until at least 5k, because then I know I am in the final half of the race and it is all downhill from there. This is how I mentally direct my focus away from the number of laps, because if I haven’t seen the lap counter, I genuinely forget how many laps I have actually done. It then comes as a nice surprise when you do look and have less than 10 laps to go.
Work with someone.
If it is possible, it is great to work with someone or sit in with a group in a track 10k. This way you don’t find yourself doing completely all the work and you have someone else to drag you along and push when you are finding it tough. Often, if you find yourself say within a group, the time goes by a lot quicker as you are purely focused on sitting in and digging deep. It is not always possible to do this, but when it is, make the most of those around you.
Feel good through 5k.
Something a lot of people say, and one I am still learning to accept, is the need to feel good going through the 5k mark, and not cause this to alert you. If you go through 5k and you feel good, don’t be alarmed and think that means you need to push on now, go with it, because, within the next k or 2 you will undoubtedly start to feel the burn. Feeling strong through the 5k point is a very good sign that you are pacing the race well and still have more to give going into the last 5k. In my latest 5k I felt really good going through the 5k mark and in doing so maybe wasted energy surging at points I shouldn’t have because I felt so good. I think it is important to save that energy and use it to really push in the final few k when the pain sets in.
There’s no getting away from the fact that 10,000m on the track is a tough distance. It always will be, no matter how fit you are. These are however a few things I do to make those laps seem less daunting.
Quite frequently, people ask me about my diet as a runner. The first thing they ask is what I do and don’t allow myself to eat when I’m training and racing, but the first thing I say is, I eat whatever I want. The most important part of my diet is ensuring it is varied and balanced, and I try to always cook from scratch. I also really enjoy cooking so this isn’t a chore for me, it’s just ensuring on busy days I have a quick meal to prep so I don’t spend too much time in the kitchen.
One of the most important things I try to do is eat a lot of fresh foods. This includes plenty of fruit and vegetables in order to incorporate as many vitamins and minerals in my meals as possible. This can be helped by adding as many vegetables as you reasonably can to main meals as well as fruit as snacks. If I make a curry, I will always try to fill it up with extra vegetables, such as peppers or aubergines or spinach. Quite frequently, I will have at least 3-5 different vegetables in my meals. I find incorporating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables into my diet makes me feel more alert and energetic, both physically and mentally. It keeps my diet high in fibre too, something a lot of people neglect. I do also eat meat quite regularly but I firmly believe I would rather eat good quality meat where animal welfare has been a high priority or not eat it at all. Therefore I always buy fresh meat from local butchers or meat that is organic.
I used to be bad at spicing up my meals. I had the same go to dinners everyday of each week. I had a few recipes that I constantly ate on repeat. Whilst this is not the end of the world, it does mean I was missing out on getting the different nutrients other foods provide. As a result, my body wasn’t getting some of the goodness it needed. I now try and cook different recipes regularly to avoid lacking some nutrients and also to keep cooking interesting. I LOVE a new recipe book. When I plan my meals for the week ahead of my delivery shop I aim for 2-3 vegetarian/vegan meals, one oily fish dish, a red meat dish and then maybe chicken or whatever else I fancy.
Cook from scratch.
I like to eat out on occasion, but most of the time I cook at home. One thing I do for definite is always cook my meals from scratch. For example, a go to meal for me is pasta pesto with roasted vegetables and feta. I try to make my own pesto and make it in bulk then freeze it for convenience. If I don’t have time to make my pesto, I always try to buy the fresh one to avoid any added long life additives. I like to know what is going in my meals so I can be sure it is all good quality, wholesome ands nutritious ingredients.
For me, balance is incredibly important. It is vital to ensure that I eat a little bit of everything and don’t cut any particular food or food group out of my diet. This was something I struggled with in the past and as a consequence I developed quite a few deficiencies. For this reason, I now focus on allowing myself to eat whatever I want, whenever I want to. This way I keep my stores topped up with everything I need and I also don’t develop massive cravings for having deprived myself of certain foods. This also helps me keep a healthy and rational relationship with food.
Organised and prepared.
This is something that lends itself nicely to my personality. I love to be organised. When I do my supermarket shop I make a list that covers all my meals for the week. If I am busy on certain days I make sure I factor in a quick meal for that day, and if I have a bit more time I let myself get a bit more creative in the kitchen. This makes sure I don’t suddenly get home to an empty fridge and end up eating toast for dinner. After a busy day training, I need to ensure I have a decent meal to kickstart the recovery process.
Ultimately, what I eat is far from rocket science. I eat whatever I want, whilst ensuring I have a fresh, varied, and balanced diet.
This year was my third British Champs but my first Olympic Trials meet. Despite it being the Olympic trials, I felt a lot less nervous than the previous two years I competed at the British Champs. Whilst I felt more nervous than my other races this year, in comparison to other years, I was very calm. I had some nerves in my system, but they weren’t negative or self doubting as they have been previously. In pother years, the champs have been a bit of intimidating shock. It tended to be the only race of the year where I would compete against the best girls in the country. However, this year, I had raced against most of the girls at all my previous races. This meant, the champs felt like just another race, and I felt I had earned my spot on that start line.
My main aim was to run strong. I ran a poor race last year and didn’t have the strength to hold on to the others in the field, and I DNF’d the previous year due to collapsing in the heat. This year, I wanted to cross the finish line knowing I had done myself justice and ran a strong race, and I believe I did this. I didn’t get overtaken at all throughout the race and made sure I was able to pick people off, something I haven’t done in previous years.
The race itself felt quite tough. It was surprisingly windy up the home straight and the temperature was pretty hot. Being the first race of the year where it has been hot and the race has taken place in the middle of the afternoon was a bit of a shock to the system. Despite this, I was pleased to clock 16:01 (which was my PB just 6 weeks ago) and finish 7th in tough conditions. I definitely feel there is a PB inside of these legs!
One thing I definitely came away from the race feeling was inspired. Watching the likes of Jess Judd consolidate her position on Team GB for a second event was amazing to see. Having admired Jess from such a young age, and to see her achieving her dreams now, inspires me to keep working hard for as long as I need to, despite what setbacks I may face. Being in a race with people who are going to the Olympics makes you realise that the dream could one day be the reality if you keep working hard for it, you just never know.
Now both champs races are out the way, it’s back to work to try and get that PB down over the rest of the season.
A blog about my experience with coaching psychology and how my mental wellbeing affects my performance.
One of the most important aspects of running, that is quite often the most complex to crack, is the mental side of it. This doesn’t have to be directly in relation to running, but the impact our mental well-being has on our performance. It can be difficult to understand why we are thinking the way we are and to not let our minds overwhelm us. Whilst this is exhausting normally, it can also make training and racing to the best of our ability incredibly difficult.
For me personally, the correlation between my mental-wellbeing and my performance is huge. If I am not feeling mentally strong, confident or stable, or have a lot on my mind, my performance can take a significant hit, and it has in the past. An inability to understand why my brain thinks in the ways it does and not being able to catch my thoughts before they massively spiralled downhill, led to a period of mental instability which initiated a cycle of under eating and over exercising. It also meant I was in no mindset to be able to train or compete to the best of my ability. I crumbled as soon as anything got too difficult because I couldn’t cope with the daily stressors I was facing outside of running. Frequently, running would push me over the edge mentally because I was already stepping over that fine line.
Roughly 18 months ago, I made the executive decision to do something about this. I was already being mentored in regards to my wellbeing by the incredible human that is Wendy Roberts, but we decided I could benefit more from formal coaching sessions. Wendy's passion and willingness to guide, educate and allow individuals to understand the complicated nature of their thoughts has been instrumental in my development as an individual and as an athlete. Without Wendy, I’d have risked falling back into that downwards spiral on multiple occasions, but she has provided me with the tools to develop a sense of agency and become an autonomous individual who can confidently chase after their dreams.
What is well-being coaching?
Wendy is a wellbeing and performance coach who offers coaching in positive psychology. She works with individuals inside and outside of sport, but takes extra interest in those seeking to overcome the barriers preventing them from achieving their goals. Wendy works to get you to recognise that the mind, body and emotions are all interconnected, encouraging you to get out of your head and develop your self confidence. These are all ideas that I struggled to comprehend and felt Wendy could guide e towards recognising.
Wendy’s key focus is on positive psychology. ‘Positive psychology is the science of human flourishing and achievement which offers a vast array of resources to help people find the sense of wellbeing and performance they seek.’ (wendyroberts.co.uk, 2020)
My coaching ethos is person-centred and the work is a collaborative process that takes into account your strengths, goals and insights with a view to developing your self-confidence in your own abilities.
How has it helped me?
Initially, I wasn’t sure whether coaching psychology could benefit be. I am a very open book and tend to discuss what is on my mind with a lot of my friends, so I couldn’t see how talking to someone could help me. However, I’ve noticed huge developments since I began my journey with Wendy. Working with Wendy has allowed me to make sense of the complex matrix that is my mind, and I continue to develop as an individual with every session.
Wendy initially started as a mentor for me. She was an imperative figure that I could turn to when I needed to release and make sense of the thoughts rattling my brain. As our relationship developed, we then progressed on to having a coaching relationship where I would meet with Wendy every couple of weeks to discuss whatever was troubling me at the time. This came at a time when I couldn’t control my nerves going into weekly running sessions. I was losing my enjoyment for the sport as I became so worried about how I would perform and put way too much pressure on myself to constantly be perfect. As a consequence, my performance suffered. Wendy got me to recognise that there is no such thing as a good/bad session. Every session teaches us something different, whether it be physical or mental. We worked hard to get my enjoyment back to a very positive place now. Over time, my sessions with Wendy have become a lot more complex and allowed me to get to the root of some of my thoughts that I could never make sense of and have troubled me for a long time. She has allowed me to see the self-critical human being that I am and learn to manage my perfectionist traits.
What differences have I noticed?
Since my journey with Wendy began, there have been many positive differences I have experienced. There are way too many to go into depth so I have developed a list for you. Wendy’s coaching has allowed me to:
If you have wondered if coaching psychology, either in relation to sport or everyday life, may benefit you, I would say give it a go. I firmly believed coaching psychology would not help me, but the change has been incredible and I truly believe it is allowing me to mature and progress as a strong individual and athlete. Wendy has been an instrumental to my progress and I would recommend her to anyone contemplating positive psychology.
As people go, I would say I’m pretty sensitive. I can be tough when I need to be and don’t let people push me around, but emotionally, I can be fragile. My dad always tells a story of when I was younger and if he starred at my for long enough, I would just start to cry. I don’t cry that easily now, but I like to be sure the people I surround myself are genuine, honest people, because life is a lot more enjoyable that way.
For a couple of years now I have been fortunate enough to have had the support of Mizuno behind me. They have also been sure to keep me kitted out, but it hasn’t stopped there. For me, the important part of a partnership is ensuring the brand cares about you as an individual. I have always found that Mizuno have continued to care for and support me through injuries and PB’s and that is what matters the most. Despite being no world champion (yet, you just never know! Haha), they still do their best for you. It is not just about what you can do for their brand marketing wise, but what they can do for you, and this is valuable.
Family and friends.
Having family and friends around you who are all genuine, trusting people is a priceless thing. They help keep you grounded but also on the straight and narrow. When at times I start to veer away from the side of rationality, having them there to keep you going can prevent things from going wrong. They also help remind you of who you are and stop you getting too absorbed within the sport. The running world can be very consuming, and you can spend every second of every day thinking about running if you don’t direct your thoughts elsewhere. Friends and family stop this from happening by reminding you there is more to life than running.
Coach and athletics related people.
As an athlete, you put all your trust in your coach and those who help you achieve your goals and (sounds cheesy) dreams. If you are going to do this, you need to be sure they are genuine, supportive people. I feel I have been very lucky and all the people I have helping me are the best I could ask for. From my coach, to my amazing psychologist, physios and those who help me from time to time, I have a very strong and caring team around me. I know I can trust everything they say and feel confident they have my best interests at heart. It is important to be able to do this, or you will constantly find yourself second guessing everything and having multiple contrasting opinions being thrown at you.
For me, the most important thing is to find people you trust, listen to them, ask questions, and allow them to guide you.
Last Saturday I took to the track at Birmingham University to compete against some of the fastest distance runners in the country over 25 laps. The event doubled up as the British Olympic trials and the European Cup. I was there to try and run a PB and give myself a marker to go forward with, and that is what I did.
This was my second ever 10k on the track, my last being the night of the 10,000m 2 years ago, where I ran 34:46. That year I was in the C race and the thought of breaking 35 minutes again was a huge achievement.
This year I went into the race with little expectation and pressure, except I knew I was due a PB update and I wanted to enjoy every minute of the experience. Training had been going well and I felt in better 10k shape than 5k shape, and the 5k had been going well too, so I wanted to enjoy feeling strong. On the start line, my legs didn’t feel as good as I had hoped, and I’d been suffering with a niggle in my quad that was definitely preoccupying my mind, but I wanted to make the most of the opportunity in front of me. To be on the start line with girls hoping to make it to the Olympics was a crazy but inspiring thought.
The start was a little congested as there were a lot of girls all desperate to get in the inside lane, but once it started to spread out and we got into a line, things began to settle down slightly. The great thing about racing 10k on the track was there was constantly someone to work off and chase down. If anything, I think I could’ve pushed on a bit more towards the end if I started slightly more conservatively, but those are all lessons to learn for another day.
I crossed the line in 33:11, a huge improvement on my time from 2 years ago and a huge PB. I was very pleased to run my best ever time but part of me felt unsatisfied despite that. I think it was because I was hungry for more, which every athlete is, but it’s important to celebrate the successes and not constantly look ahead. I feel proud knowing that the time I ran through 5k in the 10k equalled the time I ran some of my 5k races in last year. Also, seeing the likes of Jess Judd secure her spot on the GB team for Tokyo was incredibly inspiring and only makes me want to work harder. I know I’ve got more to come, and I can’t wait to show it. I love this running malarkey and am excited to see where the journey takes me.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!