As encouraging spring weather brings thoughts of some good summer training and an autumn target, we speak to Olympian and Windsor Women's 10K ambassador Jo Pavey...
What made you start running? What do you love about it?
I always loved being active as a child, I spent hours playing football, going on my bike, climbing trees etc. However it wasn’t obvious that I could be a runner. It wasn’t until I went to secondary school, and my PE teacher asked us to run two laps of the grass track. I loved it so next stop was local athletics club, Exeter Harriers. When I first joined the club, I tried different events but it was distance running that I enjoyed most. It was the start of my life long passion for running. I like setting myself goals and enjoy the challenge of trying to achieve them. I also love how running provides such a boost to both physical and mental health.
What are you most proud of?
In terms of my running career it’s hard to choose. I suppose winning European gold medal was the most significant achievement. This was because the gold came when I least expected it, being a 40-something mum and just coming back from having a baby. Winning a World Championship medal was also pleasing. My fifth Olympics was fun too, it meant I had a lot of banter about my age with my team mates!
Some of your greatest achievements happened after your 40th birthday.
At first when I turned 40 I didn’t give it much thought. I was too busy with my life. However my husband and I decided that I would try to make the GB team one more time. Medals were definitely not in our thoughts, so it was a big surprise to win European gold. I was flattered and grateful for the support I received from the public and media around that time. But shortly afterwards, I became more aware of the problems women get as they get older.
Do you feel that we as a society tend to write off women when they hit their 40s?
Even though I’d just won a gold medal, I got dropped from my sponsor at the time and I was not able to receive any type of funding. However, I felt that when I turned 40 I was able to draw on the experience that I’d gained over the years. It helped with making decisions and prioritising the important aspects of training. I think that all women in whatever career they are doing are able to use their experience to their advantage and have so much to give. I think I’m lucky though as I feel my experiences have been mostly very positive. I like to embrace getting older and have fun by still setting myself targets to achieve.
What’s it like having your husband as a coach? Is his advice ever hard to take?
Gav and I have been running together since about 1989. He started coaching me in 1996 but took on the role full time in 2001. We are both quite laid back and relaxed. I’m the type of athlete that needs to be told when I’ve done enough and Gav often ends a session. If I was the type of athlete that needed pushing and motivating then maybe it wouldn’t have worked. And it makes it easier to fit the training around family life!
Do you think our society puts enough emphasis on getting out and about, or in your opinion are we too sedentary screen obsessed?
There’s definitely more that could be done to encourage people, especially young people, to get active. However it’s great that in recent years there has been an big upsurge in the popularity of running. More and more people are entering events and setting themselves running goals, whether that’s running their first 5K, 10K, half marathon or even full marathon. Ultra running has also increased in popularity while parkrun has definitely encouraged people of all abilities to enjoy running as well as schemes such as the NHS Couch to 5K app. I think more needs to be done to promote families enjoying being active together and attention is needed to prevent young people from dropping out of sport. It needs to be made appealing to them, and draw them away from too much screen time. It’s been good that in recent times there has been a lot of publicity regarding exercise and its positive impact on mental health as this has done a lot to encourage people to get active.
Do you have a favourite place to run?
We are lucky living in Devon as there are many lovely places to run. I enjoy running on the South West Coast path and in nearby forests. When we visit north Devon, I love to run along Woolacombe beach.
What’s your typical daily training regime like?
I certainly don’t get to lead the pampered life of an elite full time athlete. But I’m not complaining, I’m now at a different stage of life which is lots of fun. On a normal week day, I don’t start training until the school run is done and the training has to fit around a busy family life. I don’t have a typical training day as every day is different. But in full training, I run about 100 miles a week. The training consists of interval sessions, tempo runs, long runs, and a bit of strength and conditioning work. It’s also important to do easy recovery runs and I take a rest day when I need it. I also need to make sure I do a lot of stretching and have regular massage.
How has having children affected your career?
Life gets very busy and like most parents we are busy juggling everything. Having children has actually made me enjoy my running more. I find it very motivating to have quality family time by being active together. When I go running we often go as a family, so when I run my husband Gav, Jacob (8) and Emily (4) go on their bikes. Afterwards we stay around to mess about on bikes and play in the woods.
Where do you keep your medals?
They are in a shoe box in the stair cupboard at the moment. I’m not one for displaying medals. I think it’s more important to let children enjoy them by passing them round on school visits etc, rather than being precious about them.
Do you think women in sport have enough support and visibility, or is there still more to be done?
There have been steps forward in raising the profile of women’s sport, but there is still so much work to do. There have been improvements in the coverage of women’s sport on TV and in other aspects of the media, but it is still clearly not enough. There are so many fantastic female sporting role models across all sports. We’ve also had great team success achieved by the women’s rugby, hockey, cricket and football teams. For women in sport to get more visibility and support it needs more coverage. Fortunately there are many people working hard to increase the support for women’s sport like the Women’s Sport Trust. Hopefully women’s sport can go from strength to strength.
For those of us for whom running for the bus is a challenge, how should we get race ready for the Windsor Women’s 10K?
If you’re relatively new to running, it’s important to build up gradually to avoid injury. On your first outings, try alternating running for a few minutes with walking for a few minutes for 20-30 minutes and gradually increase the amount of time that you are running. Don’t try running every day to begin with, remember to take rest days to let your body recover and adapt. Set yourself short term goals in preparation for race day, like perhaps running a 5K. As you become a more experienced runner, you’ll need to introduce different paces into your training to get the most out of your running. Interval sessions will get you running quicker than your race pace, so will improve the pace you’re able to sustain throughout the race. Tempo runs are also useful to improve endurance. It’s also useful to include a long run each week in your schedule.
However remember that there aren’t that many weeks left now until the Windsor Women’s 10K, so it’s important not to suddenly introduce lots of new training types at once. In the last week before the race, ease right off so you're fresh for race day.Prepare your kit the night before and plan your pre-race schedule. On the morning of the race, have a tried and tested pre -race light breakfast. Stick to your race plan and kilometre splits, but also listen to your body and ease off if you find the pace too tough. You’ll get your best time if you can run an even pace or even speed up a bit at the end. Most of all enjoy it, it will be great. Go for it and good luck.