Most runners have a running hero of some kind; someone who inspires them, someone in whose successes they can share and in whose hurdles they can commiserate. For a long time, mine has been Jo Pavey, a distance runner whose name has only really become known in the public domain in recent years. Having followed Jo’s progress since her very early days as an athlete, as I grew up in the same village as Jo, went to the same schools and worked with her when she was in the Brownies and I was a Girl Guide, the publication of her autobiography was an event I very much looked forward to. I knew lots about Jo the athlete and her achievements, but less about Jo the person. On a wet and windy camping holiday in Wales, it took me less than 24 hours to get through her life story; well-written and easy to read, I just couldn’t put it down. It didn’t disappoint.
Jo’s story is one of success; the tale of a runner who has a European gold medal to her name and is about to take part in her fifth Olympic games. It is the story of a mum, a mum who runs; her life, her loves and her travels. But, moreso, the book tells a saga of dreams, determination and seemingly insurmountable barriers, many of which would have floored the most determined of athletes. But not Jo. Her will, grit and determination shine through in spades, and make for a truly inspirational life story. As runners, we have much to learn from Jo, for she lives the values and beliefs that make a champion, a champion and a mum.
So what I have learned from Jo's story?
Focus on the bigger picture. Be dedicated and determined and keep chipping away at what you want to achieve. It may take years to get there, and there will be barriers along the way, but keep your eyes on the prize for as long as it takes. For Jo, that meant in the region of 20 years from realising that she had a gold medal performance in her to standing on that podium with the medal around her neck.
Having people to support you and help you along the way is wonderful, be it family, a partner, a physio or a coach. The desire, though, and the sheer will to achieve, has to come from within you. The dream has to be yours and yours alone.
Make the best of what you have, whatever that may be. Identify your strengths and build on them. Don’t neglect your weaknesses – work on them too – but don’t try to be a sprinter if your genes are more suited to marathons.
You are never too old to run, and never too old to run to the best of your ability. Accept that your body will change as you age, and adapt your training accordingly. You may need to train less, so train less, but keep the quality high.
If you become injured, focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. There is highly likely that there will be some form of training that you can undertake to at least maintain your fitness, if not improve it. Hours spent in the pool aqua running may be mind-numbingly tedious, but if that’s all your body can manage, then that is what you have to do. Without aqua running, Jo would not be where she is today.
Anywhere can be a training venue, anywhere. All it takes is a little imagination. Found some steps in a park or sand dunes by the beach? Do reps to build hill strength. Noticed a long flat stretch by a river? Do an out and back tempo run. Wherever and whatever is to hand, think how you can make the most of it.
Family comes before everything else, but having a family does not mean having to give up on your dreams. It just means doing things differently. Running at night when the children are asleep may not be your first choice, but if that is what you have to do to get a run in, that is what you have to do. You may not be able to have a treadmill inside the back door like Jo, but with a little creativity, you will find a way.
Being fit and active is being a great role model for your children. Involve them whenever and however you can. Jacob Pavey likes a home-made running track on the beach – a simple but effective way of keeping him involved. Again, your imagination is your only limit.