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.

Runners At The Sharp-end #6: Tom Payn

I was introduced to Tom by my coach, Nick Anderson from RunningWithUs. I knew of Tom from some of his amazing race results, but I didn’t realise how hard he has worked to become the inspiring runner he is and the struggle he had to overcome illness to turn himself into a marathon runner. Now, after a pretty stella marathon career, Tom has turned his hand to ultra distance racing and bested a very strong field at arguably the toughest ultra in the UK. Oh and he does all this whilst jetting around the world as part of the athlete management team at Run Fast. Well, I think Tom can tell his own story best…

Tom on his way to winning the Ring O'Fire ultra marathon

 

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 joined my local running club when I was about ten years old and have been running ever since. I started as an 800m runner but never trained more than three times a week until I was an under 20. I had some decent results coming 4th in the English Schools and AAA’s 800m as under 15, and medaling in the AAA’s at both under 17 and under 20 level. I can’t remember my first ever 800m race but know my personal best times were 2.02.6 as an under 15, 1.56.2 as an under 17 and 1.52.8 as an under 20. This remains my best time as once I went to university I had a little break from athletics to enjoy the “university life”! Once I had enough of enjoying myself I started running again with Birmingham University Athletics Club under the guidance of Bud Baldaro and instead of returning to the 800m I gave the 3000m Steeplechase a go. Again I had decent success at this being ranked in the top ten in the country for three or four years and getting my best time down to 8.47. Once I had finished University at Birmingham I moved down to Portsmouth to start a job as a technical sales engineer for a filtration company. As I was now on the south coast I hooked up with Nick Anderson in Winchester and he started to coach me. During a volunteering trip to Sumatra I contracted Leptospirosis also known as Wiels disease, this put me into intensive care and to cut a long story short, at the end of my time in hospital I had lost so much muscle I could only stand for a few seconds before I had to sit down again as my legs couldn’t support me. This made me reassess my running and I decided to make the switch to marathon. Six months to the day after I had first stood up for a few seconds in hospital I was on the start line of my first marathon. I ended up running 2.24 and although I was disappointed with this time, looking back it was quite impressive. Since then I have run about 5 marathons getting my time down to 2.17.29 at the Fukuoka Marathon in Japan. Since then I gave up my long term job to become a full time athlete, this didn’t quite go as planned but I did have an amazing 6 months living in Kenya and ended up getting my dream job as an athlete agent/manager. I have now just embarked on a new vocation as an ultra-distance runner.

How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I have been running for as long as I can remember. I joined my local athletics club at the age of ten probably because one of my school teachers thought I would be quite good at it.

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

I’m not currently being coached by anyone but have had a number of coaches through the years. My first real coach was a guy called Dave Needham who coached at my first club, Colchester & Tendering AC, he was a great guy who kept me injury free and enthused about running up until I joined university. At University I was coached by the one and only Bud Baldaro, one of the most inspirational coaches I know. If you ever had any doubts about your running ability, 5 minutes with Bud and you believed you could beat anybody! After Bud came Nick Anderson who helped me achieve most of my current personal best times and helped me get the opportunity to train out in Kenya. Since then I have briefly been coached by Gavin Smith whilst I was in Kenya. I think Gav will be a great coach and if I came to him at a slightly younger age I’m sure we could have done great things together.

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

I would have to say the biggest influence on my running would have to be my parents, they have always given me great support and guidance with everything I have ever wanted to do in my life and I know I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.

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

I can’t think of the best piece of advice I have ever been given but the best piece of advice I could give is just enjoy it. People put too much pressure on themselves to perform but if you just get out and enjoy it I guarantee you will run much better.

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

I am not much into gadgets and gizmos when I run, I like to keep it simple with just some nice comfy, technical running kit. So I would have to say my favourite bit of kit are my Adidas Tempo running shoes. I use these shoes to do most of my mileage. I find they give a nice bit of cushioning and support but they are light enough that you always feel like you can run fast.

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

Tough question, as I have had so many races that stick in my mind. These are probably my top three in chronological order.

  1. Barcelona 10km (2007) – This was my first race running for my country and I won. It doesn’t get much better than that!
  2. Bristol Half Marathon (2008) – My first big race win and one of the few times I felt like I was absolutely flying. Winning such a high profile race with big crowds was one of the best feelings of my life.
  3. Fukuoka Marathon (2009) – Marathon running in Japan is a national sport, so the support for this race was crazy. I ended up running on my own for 25miles but the support of the crowds pushed me onto a pb of 2.17.29
What do you think has had the biggest effect on you improving your times?

Consistency. I think this is the most important part of training. Some people can do some amazing sessions but if you can’t train consistently you won’t see that improvement.

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

Don’t stress, just enjoy running.

Do you stretch enough?

Does anyone??

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?

I think the state of running in the UK is in a pretty poor state. I’m sure there are many, many things that could be done to improve it but I don’t have the time to write it all down now!

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

I’m currently reviewing my running ambitions having only just completed my first Ultra Marathon. As with any target or ambition, it takes hard work and dedication to achieve so that is what I will be doing.

Please complete the following:

I run because I just love to run.

 

 

Runners At The Sharp-end #5: Mat Chataway

Mat Chataway at the National Lottery Olympic Park Run. 31 March 2012.

As fellow members of the Mornington Chasers Running Club, Mat and I managed to do a pretty good job of missing one another, but it was inevitable that we would meet. When we did I was hugely impressed with the dedication that Mat puts into his running and really empathised with his thoughts on wanting to be the best runner he can be, achieve the best marathon time possible and enjoy running for many, many years to come. These are three things that I sincerely hope I will achieve myself.

Having only met Mat recently it is evident that he has started preparing really well for the upcoming Cologne marathon in mid-October. A recent track session, where I spent lap after lap watching him pull away from me, showed me that he is in great shape and I have no doubt that as far as the Mornington Chasers is concerned, there will be a new fastest marathon time in the very near future. So I thought I would ask Mat about his running and feature him as a Runner At The Sharp-end. Here is what he had to say…

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 running on and off since leaving school in 2000, sometimes jogging a couple of times a week, sometimes not at all for a few months, and doing the occasional half-marathon.  I experimented (badly) with a marathon in 2006, again (a little more successfully) in 2009 and then really started to get into it at the start of last year when my brother suggested we do the Prague Marathon.  Now I run anything from 5K to marathons, but it’s probably true to say that I prefer the longer stuff.  My half-marathon time’s come down from 1.45ish to 1.13 (and 58 seconds, but we’ll call it 1.13) and I’ve done a 2.44 marathon having started out with one that was around 4.25ish.

How long have you been running and why did you start in the first place?

I guess my running life has come in two stages: I started in 2000 as a way of keeping fit when the organised sport of my schooldays was coming to an end, but started running in a focussed and structured way in 2011 to try to achieve what I felt would be a decent marathon time.

Are you coached? And if so, by whom?

I just joined Mornington Chasers Running Club and there’s a really good weekly training session with them.

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

My Dad was a keen jogger when I was growing up so without realizing it at the time, living in a house where running was an everyday thing probably had quite an effect.  And then I run quite a lot with my brother now, which is some of the most enjoyable running I do.

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

Not that he ever said as much in words, but the attitude to running that I saw my Dad take (to run for the love of it) has got to be the best thing you could ever keep in mind.  I’m pretty sure that if you strive to achieve that, in whatever form it’s going to take for you, then you can’t go far wrong.

What is your favourite bit of kit and why?

So much to choose from!  Ultimately, it’s whatever shoes I’m wearing/particularly enjoying at the time (current favourites are Brooks Green Silence) because that’s the absolute basic, fundamental necessity.  If I were to be deprived of bits of running gear one at a time, it’s the trainers I’d be most desperate to keep hold of (though I’d be pretty sad to see my Garmin go).

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

For many years the only race I did was an annual trip to the Great North Run and that has a very special place in my affections.  But my single favourite race experience came at the Amsterdam Marathon in 2011 because I’d gone out there hoping to break 3 hours and couldn’t believe it when I ran 2.48.  It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny autumn day and finishing in the old Olympic Stadium with my parents watching, and my brother also running a PB on the same day, was pretty great.

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

Taking the time to train properly.  By which I mean doing enough reading to understand the purpose of different training sessions, properly planning a programme, then having the commitment to see it through.  It is time-consuming, and I’m lucky that the people close to me tolerate it/me, but it’s amazing how resourceful you can be with your time-management when you really want to be.

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

Start running properly ASAP.  You’re going to find out that you love it!

Do you stretch enough?

Unfortunately not.  But I’m trying to get better!  I’m coming to appreciate that so much of your quality “training” is actually done beyond the logging of miles.  So I’m working on proper stretching and core stability strengthening routines twice a week, and then I’m also getting better at sneaking in stretches on the go.  I’ll often start a quick stretch when I’m sitting on the train or standing waiting for something.

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?

I think it’s great.  You just have to look at how many people are out jogging, doing Park Run events, entering the London Marathon, the Great North Run, any of the hundreds of other races occurring up and down the country every year – it’s fantastic.  If you keep in mind that running is fundamentally about health and enjoyment it’s amazing how many thousands of people in the UK are deriving those benefits.  I think an improvement I’d like to see is a few more really competitive UK athletes, but I can’t pretend to have any great ideas about how to make that happen.  To see everyone so enthused by the Olympics was great, and now there’s Diamond League quite prominently advertised as being available through the BBC, and I believe many running clubs have seen upswings in membership – but it’s going to be important to sustain and nurture that interest correctly.

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

This is what I’m grappling with at the moment – I’m not really sure.  In the short-term I’m running the Cologne Marathon on October 14th and want to break 2.40.  I think I’m in shape to do that but I need to stay free from injuries, relax and believe in my training, and run a sensibly paced race.  But beyond that, I’m trying to clarify in my own mind.  I’d always said it was “to run the quickest marathon I can” but when you really evaluate what might be required to achieve that you start to wonder whether so much dedication for the sake of, for example, a 2.38 rather than a 2.39 PB is really worth it.  Perhaps it’s better to say my overall ambition is to still be running and loving it when I’m old, and to achieve that I need to make sure that every short- and medium-term goal I set myself is one I’m going to enjoy pursuing – one that if I fail to achieve it, I won’t mind because the pursuit in and of itself was wholly rewarding.

Please complete the following: I run because…

I love it!  At the moment, for so many different reasons: I love feeling physically and mentally healthy; I love testing, exploring and advancing my limits and trying to become the very best that I can be at something; I love the beautiful places and things that I get to see (everything looks more wonderful on an endorphin high!); I love the people I get to meet and the time I get to spend with the people I already know; I love what I learn about myself.  Running has really enriched the way I experience life.