In my very humble opinion, I think that Liz Yelling has all the attributes of a top coach – she has ‘been-there-done-that-and-got-the-t-shirt’, she has a really friendly way with us normal runners and none of the unnecessary airs and graces that could come with being an elite athlete, she has bags of enthusiasm, she can still really run and… she has a great voice for barking out instructions. All this I know, because I met her tonight for a little training session along with some tips and advice in advance of the London marathon, in five week’s time.
Hyde Park, but no where to hide
We – that is Liz and the two other runners who were invited for the session – met at Marble Arch in central London, just as the sun was starting to set on a rather grey day. There were some quick introductions and then we were off, jogging through Hyde Park towards a spot on the side of the Serpentine that Liz is clearly all too familiar with.
After a short warm-up, Liz took the three of us through some drills, which she explained are better for activating the muscles before a session then static stretching. Since meeting my coach, I have started doing these sorts of drills, but it was nice to see a couple of different ones that Liz uses and she helpfully pointed out that the ones she showed us could be done standing still or moving forward, depending on whether there is space to move around.
The session and some clear instructions
After the warm-up and the drill, came the session. This was a mixed pace session, involving running on a set loop on the paths in the park. We set off at marathon pace for a set period and then, after a short standing recovery, turned and ran back the way we had come at threshold pace, aiming to get back to the start point faster than we had run the out-leg. Then we repeated the exercise with the out-leg at threshold and the return-leg at faster than that. The final set was – for me at least – a return to the first set.
Almost as we started the session a big group from British Military Fitness took up residence on the patch of grass that we were running around. There were at least 20 trainees and three military instructors and as they grunted and puffed and growled their way through the session the army instructors barked out instructions and orders and motivation. They were noisy in fact.
But Liz took this completely in her stride and covered the ground between where we started and finished to call out the end of each rep and the recovery times. I was worried that I might not hear Liz and I would need to time myself. I needn’t have worried – as clear as a bell, over the racket of the soldiers and their mini-squaddies, Liz’s voice rang out. A great attribute for a coach, to be heard like that!
I thought the session is a great way to get in some faster running with a clear focus on what needs to be done – measuring your effort on the way out and then upping it for the way back. It also means that a group of mixed abilities can train together starting and finishing in the same spot.
We finished off with some strides (I can confirm that retirement from international marathon running has done nothing to dent Yelling’s speed!) and a short cool-down as the darkness descended in the park, ending a really good – albeit short – session.
Tips from a seasoned pro.
While we were running, Liz shared some of her tips for the final few weeks of the marathon and I thought I’d pass them on:
- Liz said that on race-day she has a very light breakfast: three slices of white toast with butter and jam, maybe a slice of cake (cake featured quite prominently in the conversation throughout our time with Liz!) and a cup of tea or coffee. She said that anything heavy and fibrous like porridge can be hard to digest and went on to suggest that race-day breakfast should be practiced before the big day
- Gels form an important part of Liz’s race nutrition and she said that in a marathon she would take six of them. In her case the gels would be taped to bottles that were laid out for the elite athletes, whereas the rest of us have to carry them. But they are obviously useful and worth getting right in training
- We talked about pacing and Liz said that knowing your pace is crucial. I was pleased to hear that Liz used the same tactic I do in races – a stopwatch and target split times written on the wrist. She admitted using a GPS in a race once and said that due the inaccuracy that is standard with all GPSs, it was one of the biggest mistakes she ever made
- Liz has never needed to use the loo in a race. She told us that it is crucial that runners plan their race-morning preparation to make sure they are completely comfortable when they set off and remain so throughout a race like the marathon
- During the taper, Liz would maintain the frequency of her runs, i.e. if she ran every day, she would continue to do that all the way up to the race, but reduce the duration and intensity of the runs to the point where the run the day before the race would be a 30 minute jog. She didn’t like not running because it left her feeling stiff and tight
I asked Liz about her future plans and whilst she said that for now she is enjoying not putting herself through the rigours of hard training, which she has done from the age of 9 years old, she does love the mountains and thinks that one day she might have a crack at the North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, just for the experience. But it is clear that the plans are far from firm yet: it is just something Liz thinks she’d like to do one day.
One thing that is clear though, is that Liz is still driven and competitive. She admitted that she cares about where she comes when she enters a Park Run (first woman usually and overall winner in at least one race recently) and she is also focused on the athletes she is training. And one thing is for sure, Liz will make sure anyone she works with hear her and know exactly what is expected of them!