Runners At The Sharp-end #7: Justina Heslop

Justina is a friend and colleague of Tom Payn, our Runner From The Sharp-end #6 (which you can read here) so thank you to Tom for asking Justina to answer the RATS questions and thank you to Justina for taking the time to do that. The first – but I hope by no means the last – female Runner At The Sharp-end, this is a really great interview and very inspiring. So take it away, Justina…

To begin with could you give us some background about yourself and your running? What distances do you run? What are your personal bests (and what were your first times for those distances)?

I’ve been in London for the best part of 12 years but I’m a Geordie at heart as I lived in Newcastle until I was 21.

I’ve been to Ethiopia many times for training and have been lucky enough to make many good friends there including top athletes. I work for Run-Fast, a sports management agency, so spend a lot of time working with our Kenyan athletes.

Personal Bests:

  • 800m 2:08.02
  • 1500m 4:16.03
  • 3000m 9:07.62
  • 5000m 15:49.74
  • 5k 15:47
  • 5 mile 26:18
  • 10k road 32:40
  • Half marathon 73:11
 How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I started running as a child in school cross country races. I did my first race in plimsolls at the age of 8 and came 65th!  I did a lot of swimming as a kid then did a fun run when I was around 11.  I enjoyed it so started going along to my Dads running club, Elswick Harriers in Newcastle.  I stopped running when I started university and didn’t pick it up until my mid-twenties. So I’ve been running for about 7 years as a senior.

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

Bruce Tulloh advises me.  He sets my training programs and gives me really helpful advice on altitude training and planning for races.

(Aside from your coach, if you have one) who or what has been the biggest influence on your running and why?

My Dad always gives me good advice and I admire his strength in completing the London Marathon- when I was a kid. I’m so proud of him!

What is the best piece of running advice you have ever been given? Who gave you that advice?

I have received a lot of good advice but probably the advice that changed my attitude to my running and what I could achieve was from a friend in Ethiopia.  He just advised me to go in to each race believing I could win and not to worry about other competitors too much just to focus on my own running and doing the best I could do.  I went on to beat a few Ethiopians and Kenyans in UK races after this!

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

Probably my favourite thing is my purple Nike jacket that a friend from Ethiopia gave me.  And also my Ethiopia National team top. Just reminds me of friends and good times.

What has been, or where is, your favourite race?

My favourite race was a race I did in Ethiopia in Hawassa.  It was only 7k so my kind of distance and Hawassa is a little lower altitude and somehow I managed to win!  It was brilliant- they were so surprised that an English girl had won.

What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?

Believing in myself more.  After my first trip to Ethiopia about 3 and a half years ago I started to think I could achieve at lot more than I’d imagined possible.

With the benefit of hindsight, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be and why?

Stick at it and try to enjoy it more.  I think I put myself under too much pressure so stopped running when I was 18.  I sometimes feel I could have achieved more if I had stuck with it. I don’t really regret it as I did different things- got a degree and travelled a lot in my early 20’s.

Do you stretch enough?

Probably not but I do yoga a few times a week.  I know I should stretch my calves after I run as they are always pretty tight but I am always more interested in chatting or eating after training…

What do you think about the general state of running in the UK and, assuming you don’t think it is perfect, what could be done to improve it?

There is probably a lot that can be done but most of it just comes back to individuals working hard!  I think taking on board the things athletes are doing in other successful countries is useful.  For example in Ethiopia and Kenyan- although they do have some advantages there is no magic: most of it is hard work and wanting to win.  So I think I’m saying just work hard and strive to do your best. Where I work at Run-Fast we bring athletes over for UK races which helps make the races quicker and should encourage Brits to raise their game and not just assume that all East Africans are out of reach.  I have beaten some Run-Fast Kenyan athletes on a few occasions!

Also looking to other sports for inspiration- a lot of good stuff seems to be happening with triathlon in recent years.

What is your overall ambition for your own running? What do you think you need to do to achieve that?

I would love to compete for Great Britain. I think I just need to believe in myself and keep training hard but with balance.   I need to keep enjoying it as this will keep me motivated.

Please complete the following: I run because…

I love the people I meet through running and enjoy being fit and healthy.

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