Running advice from Olympics hopeful Jenny Meadows
European championship 800m medallist and Olympics 2012 hopeful Jenny Meadows met up with her former PE teacher (and Commonwealth games runner) Aileen Mills during a visit to her former school, in Wigan, Lancs, where she hosted a running masterclass for pupils.
It was the perfect chance to catch up with her as she waits to hear whether she'll get a place in Team GB for London 2012.
Do you still get nervous before a race?
Yeah I get absolutely petrified. I tell everyone that but nobody believes me! They say they see me standing on the line, waving at the crowd as if I don’t have a care in the world. But really I’m thinking about all the work I’ve put in to get to that point. There are a lot of TV cameras on me and everyone’s watching me at home so I get really nervous.
But saying that, over the years I’ve learned to control my nerves more and realise that everybody else in the race is just as nervous as I am.
Do you train every day?
I do, I train every day, twice a day. Then in my rest phase at the end of every year I have three weeks off. For about the first 10 days of the break I’ll love it and I eat everything I shouldn’t, pizza and loads of fast food. But then I start to feel so uncomfortable and angry for letting myself get out of shape.
At that point I just start doing a bit of unofficial training, going to the gym or working out on the cross trainer. Actually it’s harder for me not to train now!
Do you enjoy running?
I really do, running has always been my thing. I’d love to have been good at singing but I’m not. I always thought from aged seven that I wanted to go to the Olympics. It’s been really hard work and I’ve failed a few times, missing out on Athens in 2004 was awful. But it hasn’t taken away from my enjoyment and I love the challenge.
What is your top tip to becoming a better runner?
Always make running as enjoyable as you can. The moment you start pushing yourself too hard that’s when you start feeling like it’s a chore and making excuses not to do it. Think of running as a way to release the stress of other things and you’ll find it more relaxing and enjoyable.
What preparation have you been doing for London 2012?
I’ve been a mad woman. I’ve been doing absolutely everything from long runs to short sprints, and workouts in the gym twice a week. I hate stretching but I’ve really been working on that and I made sure I have plenty of music on my iPod so I don’t get bored doing it.
What would you have done if you hadn’t made it as an athlete?
I think I probably would have been a teacher. Not necessarily a PE teacher though, maybe an English teacher. When I went to university I did English and PE so I think I could have been an OK English teacher.
How many medals have you won?
I've got six major medals, which are World Championships Indoors and Outdoors, Europeans and Commonwealth. So the only medal I haven’t got is an Olympic medal. Obviously my chance comes this year and I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself but to complete that collection would be absolutely amazing.
What’s your favourite race memory?
That would be when I ran in the World Championships in 2009 in Berlin. I was really thrilled just to get to the final in the first place, that was a big achievement for me at the time. I remember being in my hotel room before I left to go down to the track. I looked at myself in the mirror and that was the first time where I actually said to myself ‘You’ve got a real chance of winning a medal here’. I went out and got bronze which was an incredible feeling.
What’s the best part of being an athlete?
It’s probably that my family and friends are so proud of me and what I’ve achieved. Being able to say I’ve competed in an Olympic Games is brilliant and getting the opportunity to meet people and talk about how you can make it is really rewarding. I guess I am a role model to young runners so I try to set the best example for them.
How old were you when you first starting running?
My mum always tells people I was aged 7¾ when I first started properly. I went along and joined my local athletics club and immediately loved it. You don’t have to start at that age. You can be 14 or 15 years old when you take up a sport and still make it as a professional.
I came into it really early and never really did any other sports other than athletics. You could say I became pigeon-holed in athletics but I never had a problem with that.
How important have your coaches been in your success?
I’ve been so lucky to have great coaches all the way through my running career. To have PE teachers, at my school Deanery High in Wigan, with real experience of top level running gave me a terrific starting point. Aileen Mills who ran in the Commonwealth Games took me for PE and I learned a lot from her about how to train and prepare for races.
Having a good coach and one that you can depend on is so, so important.
What’s the hardest part of your training sessions?
It’s a really nasty hill section which I do in South Africa. It’s at altitude so there’s reduced oxygen in the air, which means I’m already running up a hill, its baking hot and there’s very little air. To make it worse I usually do it without a training partner so I’m running up the hill by myself.
During it I absolutely hate it. But it’s one part of my training where afterwards I feel really good and know I’ve tested myself to the limits. Whenever I think about easing up or taking some time off, I think of the top names in distance running, my direct competitors, and I think ‘would they give up now? No they wouldn’t’ so I keep going.
Jenny Meadows is an ambassador for Alfa Romeo - official car supplier to UK Athletics (UKA).
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