Chasing, Racing, Pacing

This summer’s track season is definitely one I will remember for a long time. I began it chasing the Olympic Qualifying Time of 9:45. Once I relaxed into racing mode I achieved this and slightly better by running 9:42.6 in Letterkenny in July, which qualified me for the World Championships in Beijing and next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio.

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I am a born racer and really enjoyed getting back to some 1500m running especially at the European Team Championships in Crete, where I finished 3rd picking up good points for Ireland. Beijing was a fantastic experience and I have learned many things for my preparation on the Road to Rio. It gave me the opportunity to race against the best female chasers in the World, who only a few weeks later looked to me to pace them through to run one of the fastest times in history over the event.

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After my race in Beijing I was asked to pace the Diamond League Final Steeplechase in Brussels. Ghribi the Tunisian athlete and silver medalist in Beijing was hoping to run an African record of 9:07. 3:03 was the time she was looking for through the first kilometre, which is pretty fast running in terms of the Chase when you have to hurdle barriers and also break your running rhythm negotiating the water jump efficiently.
Coach Rodgers and I knew that I had the enough speed ok off my 1500m races this season and the fact I had gone through the first km in the World Champs in around 3:07, so we set up a time trial whilst I was still out in Beijing – just to make sure I had the speed and confidence to lead the top group through at a fast pace. The time trial went well and I hit my times, all I had to do was stay in form for the next two weeks to do the job well.
It was a long journey home from Beijing, I got home very late and went straight to bed. The next morning and I woke feeling rather sniffly, I was coming down with a cold which I must of picked up off the plane. I took extra Echinacea and Vitamin C and made sure I was checking my pulse on each run as I knew I couldn’t really afford any days off with the pace job not far away. Before the Diamond League Final, in only a few days time, I was heading to Gothenburg to pace Charlotta Fouberg through to the first mile in the steeplechase in the Folksam Grand Prix.
My club was hosting the ‘Mill Hill Mile’ and it is a race which I have competed in since the age of 14. I was the current record holder and really wanted to run. It was less than 24 hours off the plane from Beijing and with the horrible cold I decided it was best not to push myself. By lunchtime though I had changed my mind, runners can be very indecisive at times (a lot of the time!). If I was going to pace at the weekend then I must be able to go at race pace so the ‘Mill Hill Mile’ would be a good test of how the cold would effect me.

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Our club, Newcastle AC, had a great turnout at the race and it was lovely to see all my club mates after being away for so long. The plan was to race sensibly as the Mill Hill can be a real killer, especially if you go off to fast (it’s a 280 feet climb). I came over the line at the top and clicked the watch, I had a sub-6min on there and I had previously held the record of 6:00 from the year before so was really hoping to have gone better. 5:58 was my official time and I was delighted and confident that the head cold would not effect my pacing jobs coming up.

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The following morning and my cold was getting worse, it had moved into my chest a little but I was determined to do all the right things to shift it and try my best to fight it off. Hot honey and lemon with paracetamol was on the cards for the next few days and some easy running into the weekend as all the hard work had been done.

It was a bit of a nasty night weather-wise in Gothenburg, unfortunately we had wind and rain for the Women’s Steeplechase. Charlotta and I had met four years ago when we both competed in a Chase in Germany so I was able to have a good chat with her in the warm-up area before the race and plan the pace that she was looking for on each lap. Although the weather was horrible and it poured down during the race I hit the lap times well with the girls slotting in behind me. I was asked to go to 1500m but took the girls to the mile mark so I could peel-off before the water jump. Charlotta went on to win comfortably and just missed out on the Olympic Qualifier by only one second. She was happy with that as she had had a tough pre-season of injury and the weather conditions hadn’t made it easy at all.
I really enjoyed setting the pace but started to feel nervous already for the following week when I would have to run much much faster (albeit over a shorter distance) in the Diamond League.
 Six days later and I was lining up in the packed King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, it was a bit like Beijing again, but I must admit my nerves where on edge. This race was not for me but for the other athletes. It was my responsibility to get these girls through at a world class pace. I had my 200m and 400m splits embedded into my brain, and also written on my hand for safe keeping!

The start line was packed and I was in the outside lane ‘chomping at the bit’ for the gun to go. I needed to get this right. As soon as the gun went the girls blasted off, the second pace maker (Kenyan) was pushing me in the back and shouting GO! GO! GO! I hit the front through pure sprinting, I was getting a few clips from the second pacer and went through the first check mark a second or two fast, but the first 223m has no barriers to negotiate and as soon as I got over the first barrier after the finish line, I settled into the required pace. I was going to have to attack the water jump well as there were many Kenyans around me and they tend to have a very different hurdle approach with two legs out to one side – getting caught could be difficult.

With the speed that I was going the water jumps went well and I felt I was clearing each barrier and running off well.
It was the required 3:03 through the first km, and then I continued onto 1200m and pulled off onto the inside of the track. Ghribi had run relaxed behind us and took over with a few laps to go. She really did look so relaxed at speed and was heading to smash the African record! 9:05.34!!! Amazing and the second fastest female steeplechaser of all time.

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I was delighted that I had helped Ghribi on her way to achieve this. She was so happy and we cooled down together for about 30 minutes, chatting about how we both train in Font Romeu and how we both like running 1500m rather than 5000m. It was another amazing experience to top off a great track season and I learned more about how fast the race will be in Rio!

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I have taken so much from this season, I have also learned a lot more about the event and what I need to do going into next year to step my race up a level. Ghribi thanked me for pacing and presented me with her Diamond League flowers and goodie bag of chocolate. I was well chuffed and so happy to have helped make a bit of running history. It was now time for two weeks off for some end of season rest and recovery!