Running with Jo Pavey

On 21st May 2015 by Rachael

For world champion runner, Jo Pavey, the key to becoming a better runner has not been the tempo sessions nor the track work but becoming a mother


Last week, I was fortunate enough to run with Jo Pavey, who, at the age of 40 and just 11 months after giving birth, become the world champion over 10,000 metres and simultaneously, an ambassador for women the world over. Proof that neither motherhood nor age is an obstacle to being a sports champion.

Jo was taking part in Run It, a campaign from the charity Join In, to encourage more volunteering  in grass roots running. It is estimated that just one volunteer can help create the opportunity for over eight people to participate. If it was not for volunteers, Jo believes she may not even be a runner now.

‘It was some neighbours of my parents who first took me to the track,’ she says. ‘And it is volunteers right the way through my early years which enabled me to have a running career.’

As part of the launch, we ran 5km together through a sunny Hyde Park. Well, I say ‘together’ but after the first 500 meters and the glory of running shoulder to shoulder, Jo was off. And she wasn’t even running fast.

Still, it was an interesting training technique as we were asked to predict our estimated time, and then run without our watch to see how well we were able to predict pace according to a perceived rate of exertion.

I was only 30 seconds inside of the time but had a mini flip-out half way through convinced I must have already run 5km. I was pleased to hear when we sat down to chat, that Jo also struggles without her watch.

‘I use perceived rate of exertion to gauge how fast I’m going in training but I have to use a watch when I’m racing,’ she says. ‘It is a great coping strategy , which helps me get through the difficult parts of a race by thinking ‘only ten minutes left,’  that I can keep pushing.’

This illustrates that no matter what level you are, a beginner trying to reach your first 5km, or an advanced runner in the pursuit of a marathon personal best, we ALL experience the same pain and struggles and it is the mental strategies that you employ which help you through this, not how fit you are.

‘Rather than thinking, ‘this is horrible, I’ve just got to push through,’ I turn my psychology around and embrace the challenge, knowing the pain is making me fitter, stronger and faster,’ explains Jo. ‘And I think about how pleased I know i’ll be at the end knowing that I’ve given it my all, even if the result is not what I want.’

Jo has two children, a five year old son, Jacob and Emily, who was only ten months old when Jo won Gold over 10,000 metres at the European Championships in Zurich in April 2014.

Juggling family life with husband and coach, xx may seem like an obstacle to running for anyone, let alone an elite athlete. But Jo believes that having children has made her a better runner, and helped her performance.

‘With age and motherhood, I have achieved a better balance in my life,’ she says. ‘I used to be really stressed about my running and dwell on things that hadn’t gone right.

‘I’d train, go for a rest, and then think about my next sessions. Now, my training has to be based around the kids needs and going home and getting their lunch ready or going to a soft play area or taking Jacob swimming.

‘It’s all about getting through the day in a positive way and I feel happier and more balanced.’

And what of age? Conventional wisdom dictates that it comes hand in hand with slowing down but Jo is proof that it does not necessarily need to.

‘With age comes experience. Last year when I was down the track trying to hit the targets, I knew so much more and what sessions I needed to do and times that I needed to hit. But I don’t panic or stress if I don’t hit them anymore. What will be will be.’

To hit the times you want for a race, no matter your level, you need to ensure that all components, running, conditioning and recovery are balanced. How does she juggle this? Like the rest of us every day mortals in fact.

‘I’m very lucky that my husband is around to help, who gives me sports massages every night, an essential part of my recovery,’ she says. ‘But I don’t have the time to go to the gym anymore so I do what I can in my living room.

‘I lots of lunges and core exercise, using my coffee table for step ups and I even watch YouTube fitness videos for inspiration.’

Most crucial to her improvement though is mindfulness, the knowledge born of experience of knowing when to push and when to relax.

‘I’m more flexible now with what I’m doing and I listen to my body,’ she says. ‘I used to be very set in stone about my my training so I’d get more injuries when I was younger because I’d push through.

‘Now, I’m sensible and and more flexible with the sessions I do according to how my body feels.’

In fact, if there is one piece of advice that she would pass on to other runners, it is to listen to your body and learn from each experience.

‘We are not machines. You’re just a person and it is not always going to always go well,’ she advises. ‘Sometimes you go to a race and it goes badly and you just have to learn from that experience to make you stronger.

‘But having another challenge or something ahead for you to focus on next always helps me to stay feeling excited and looking forward.’

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