Hi Kelly. What have you been up to recently? I’ve been helping Scottish Power promote Shine, which is a UK night-time half marathon or marathon walk. I’ve been doing a photo shoot on the Millennium Bridge very early this morning. It’s all to support Cancer Research. Having had my own charity, I realise how long-term partnerships are really important for supporting charities.
How much do you run these days? What’s it like being retired? Ha! When you speak to most people, they really do retire from their sport. But I still run, just for myself. I’m more into events like this – it’s just about your fitness and feeling good about yourself. So I just do what I like, sometimes in the gym, or on the bike, just to keep fit and active.
Where is your favourite place to run? I’m fortunate that I live in the countryside, so it’s beautiful to just go running around the lanes. One minute there’s a horse, then a tractor. It’s nice to just go out and switch off in that environment. Equally, I’ve raced around the world a lot. Hot countries – I used to train in South Africa; that was a great environment for an athlete. All over! All over the UK, Scotland, even around London. London is spectacular. The views you get, the backdrops – it’s so beautiful. I think people underestimate it.
Do you remember your first race? Yes. I lost it! I was encouraged by my PE teacher to start running because I wasn’t very academic at school. So she got me into this cross country race that I really didn’t want to do, against a girl who was really well known for our age group, who was in a club. That was at the time when we had apple-catcher knickers and knee-high white socks and white plimsolls and Aertex shirts. Great look … And this girl turned up in her running vest and knickers and spikes – I thought, God, she means business. She was only 12! But in my own mad world, I thought I could win everything. I went off and was winning but, with 50 metres to go, she beat me. Instead of being down about being beaten, I thought, wow, I’ve done this. It inspired me to want to do more.
What’s your top training tip? I generally ask why people want to do it. People do exercise for different reasons – health benefits, feeling good about yourself, keeping active. So I’d say find the things you are interested in and set yourself a goal. Then that goal sets your training activity for you.
Did you ever struggle with motivation? I think everyone does! You look outside, it’s pouring, you think ‘surely I must be able to change that training programme around..’ Everyone has their bad day, off day, don’t want to do it, working too hard.. it’s a natural thing to feel. But again it goes back to what you want out of it.
Do you listen to music when you run? Yeah, I have to, to be honest. It’s different when you are an elite athlete – then it’s a job, so you are just focussing on the outcome and your coach screaming and shouting at you, and your own breathing. But now, especially doing long distances, music is key. It takes you off the pain. Then, before you know it, you are further on. I have a complete mixture. Energising ones, calming ones. I even plan my music like that, starting with a warm-up phase, moving on to a faster tempo. So music is actually a really good tool for longer events.
Do you like a gadget? Yeah, a Garmin watch. Sometimes it’s a bit intimidating: it’s like your mini coach shouting in your ear, beeping at you. Then I’ve got bone conductor earphones so I can hear traffic, or I’ve got Intel earphones that record your heart rate as well.
What’s the worst thing about running? Oh boy! The pain after. DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness], I guess. That’s maybe the starting point too for a lot of people. It’s obviously high-impact, so some people, when they start, think they are getting injured but really they just aren’t used yet to the muscle fatigue. The body needs to adapt, everyone has to go through it. Then some people can get bored if they’re not used to being in their own space. But that’s where you bring in the tools that motivate you, whether it’s other people or music. It’s facing the positive side.
And the best thing? The health benefits – losing weight, feeling good about yourself, socialising, all the things people do it for. I like these mass-participation events. For a lot of people, that’s what will inspire them and get them doing it. Then it’s easy; it’s cheap, you don’t need expensive gear. You need footwear that’s right for you, as everyone is different. The trainers I run in are about £30 and are perfect for me. So you just need a bit of Lycra and there you go; out the front door and you’re gone.
What would be your post-race indulgence? If I’d had a good race, I’m a bit of a chocoholic. Though it’s also good before races too! I had chocolate before my Olympic wins; it’s the fat content. But if I’d had a great race, either won or got a PB or something, then I’d have a Chinese meal and chocolate. If I didn’t, or ran rubbish, my coach would say “Don’t even go near it!’
What would you eat for breakfast before a hard session or a race? I’d have porridge with honey. Sometimes a yoghurt. Orange juice with water and salt in to keep hydration. I often used to have a roll with ham and cheese – it’s a good balance of protein, carbs and fat.
Have you ever tried barefoot running? For some people it’s good, but I think you need to have strong legs. Most people need a bit of support. I wear slipper-type trainers that are as light as anything, but proper barefoot puts a lot of pressure on achilles and calves.
Mo Farah or Usain Bolt? Oh God, that’s a difficult one. Of course I’m British and would always go British but … Usain is just the showcase now. Obviously it’s [the 100m] the blue ribband event, but he’s such a personality. He backs it up with amazing performances, of course, but probably Usain for the theatre around it.
Who is the greatest ever runner? If I looked at my own event, Maria Mutola was probably the greatest ever distance runner. She won everything. You just can’t get better than her. I’m glad I beat her when I won my gold, but that was a very rare occasion. So, sticking just with my event, she was the best middle-distance runner in the world, ever.
Cancer Research UK’s Shine Night Walk, sponsored by ScottishPower, is a half marathon/marathon walking event on 26 September.
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