Last weekend I went down to London to watch the marathon. I was insanely jealous of all the runners pounding the streets, it’s not billed as the greatest race on earth for no reason. I had athletes who I coach and a lot of friends running. It was also Paula Radcliffe’s last competitive marathon; I couldn’t miss that!!
I will never apologise for the admiration I have for Paula and I’m not afraid to admit that I was nervous for her or that I shed a tear when she passed me at mile 21.5 and again when I saw her cross the finish line. I am honoured to have been part of Paula’s journey to the start-line. But there was also times when I was worried that I may have played my part in her not making the start-line. I knew what she had gone through in the previous 8 weeks since pulling up injured mid run out in Kenya. Injuries had plagued her since and she had to use all of her famous grit and determination just to get herself to the start-line in one piece. I kind of feel a little bit responsible for pushing the pace on the long runs even though she said I was killing her.
Everyone knows what Paula has achieved but I don’t think most people truly understand just how incredible her 2.15.25 really is. To really understand the speed of it you need to try and run just half a mile in 2.35 or a mile in 5.10 – that’s how fast she ran for 26.2 consecutive miles. To put it in perspective – the PB I recently ran at Trafford 10k, which still tops the UK rankings for 2015 and that I excitedly text her about, is 26 seconds SLOWER than her average 10k splits during her 2.15!! MIND BLOWING!!
Last weekend social media was awash with tweets and Facebook statuses of #thankspaula. Messages sent from athletes of all levels, joggers to pros, from across the world. Many noting how she has helped and inspired them in their running journeys, many just thanking her for creating great sporting memories. From social runners to Olympic medalists, most female runners have been inspired by her in some shape or form.
I have a lot to thank Paula for. It was watching her smash the distance in 2002-2005 that inspired me to move up to the marathon, to challenge myself and push myself beyond my limits. This year alone we have shared miles, laughs, tears and traumas. She has helped to turn me around. She has lifted my confidence and stopped me from making silly mistakes again. She has hugged me and wiped away my tears when I was hurt and I have done the same for her. She has become a friend and mentor. But most importantly she has made me believe in myself once more and for that I truly do thank her from the bottom of my heart.
Because of Paula I was very nearly out pounding the roads of London on Sunday. Towards the end of the Kenya camp I was out on a run with her when she planted the idea of me running London into my head. She thought I was in good enough shape to run a big PB. At first I didn’t think much of it as I didn’t have a number but the more I thought and the more I chatted to her about it, the more I thought she may be right and it may be a good idea to give it a go.
Bearing in mind this was only about 8 weeks prior to the race so I knew that it would be a bit of a rushed build up but also knew that it would only take a few longer runs to get me into good marathon shape so thought why not make enquiries. A few emails and I had a number! I did ask the organisers to allow me until after Reading Half Marathon to make my final decision and they agreed to this.
To be 100% honest I still wasn’t completely convinced that this was a good idea but the more I spoke to Paula the more she convinced me that it was. She kept on reiterating I was in great shape, I kept arguing the opposite. I raced Trafford 10k 6 days after I returned home from Kenya and ran a PB of 32.29. That showed me I was in better shape than I thought and the ‘I told you so’ text from Paula confirmed what she had been telling me, I was in good shape, it was just a case of me believing it!!
So a slight change to my training to add some longer tempos and longer long runs and I was giving it a go. Paula offered to mentor me to make sure I didn’t trash myself by squashing too much into the short time frame. My longest tempo was 16 miles. For this I used a local 20 mile race which was made up of 20 x1mile loops of a park – yes I know – totally nuts!! This didn’t go exactly to plan and I didn’t quite hold the pace I wanted to for as long as I wanted. It made me think that I wasn’t quite as ready for a marathon as I thought I may be so we made a deal that if I ran sub 71 at Reading I would do London, if not then I would go back to plan A and just focus on Berlin in September.
Reading was a solid run for me but I did fade a bit in the latter miles and I slipped outside of the 71 minute mark, that was my mind made up, I wasn’t running London, though I did still volunteer my services as a pacer if I was needed.
Training has gone back to what I had originally planned. The big aim for the year is still to run fast in Berlin and I have started to focus on doing some speed work and getting ready for the Highgate 10,000m in the short term. Apart from running like an idiot at Brighton 10k so far everything is going to plan. I’m racing Sunderland 10k this weekend and I’m really looking forward to the next few months where I can try and build some speed over the shorter distances, I’m even going to test myself out over 1500m at the North Easterns, so if you want a good laugh get yourself down to Gateshead Stadium on May 24th to witness that!
I’ve spent some time the last few weeks strengthening the support team around me to help me get the best out of myself at Berlin. I’m still working with Julie Twaddle for my strength and conditioning but this two man team has now expanded. I now have two great mentors in place to help guide me through the rest of my training. One is an absolute guru of the sport, in my opinion one of the best coaches in the world and has a vat of experience of coaching on an Olympic and World level, which speaks for itself. Whilst I won’t claim that they know everything about the sport, I don’t believe any coach or athlete does, but they have probably forgotten more about coaching and competing than most will ever know.
I’ve been very fortunate to gain support from John Dennis and his team at Physio Haus in Jesmond. John is giving me free treatment as and when needed to make sure my body is kept in peak condition to allow me to run fast. I’ve also enlisted the help of Renee McGregor in sorting my nutrition out. Again Renee is one of the best in the business, if you want some great nutrition info you can’t go wrong in checking out her book Training Food. And of course I’ve got Ian, my partner, standing trackside with the stopwatch every Tuesday night.
I believe that to become the best you need to learn from the best. As the old saying goes, ‘if you want to soar with the eagles, don’t hang around with the turkeys’. Needless to say, I’m excited and ready for what lies ahead!