THE MULTI-TALENTED, MARATHON-MAD LIZ YELLING spoke to NICOLA BAMFORD about her life as one of the World’s elite – and most versatile (in and out of competition) - road runners, and offers the Run Britain audience some inspirational advice and tips...(written for UK Athletics 09/08).
2008 has been a superb year for the Commonwealth marathon bronze-medallist - a 2:28.33 PB and Beijing Olympic qualifier in the London marathon, a fourth National cross-country title, wins in the Wokingham, Silverstone and Reading half-marathons (the latter in the 6th-fastest time in the World – 69:34) and a tremendous 15th-place (and 1st European-born runner) in the World cross-country Championships followed her fine achievements of 2006; which included 4th-place in the LaSalle Bank Chicago marathon, a 69:28 half-marathon in Bath, 10th in the European cross-country Championships.
However, although apparently set to capitalise on her encouraging form in the Beijing Olympic marathon, bad fortune struck for Yelling; who was tripped and fell; leaving her with fractured ribs and left to run the final 17-miles with only one fully-working lung.
Now though; with that frustrating day behind her, Yelling took time out from her hectic training and work schedule where the multi-talented runner, journalist, coach and mentor took part in an enlightening Q & A...
1. How old were you when you started running seriously? And what was your motivation behind becoming a runner?
When I was younger I remember going to races to watch my Mum run on the roads, whilst my dad drove my brother and I around the course, where we would leap out of the car and eagerly await our mum, and shout at her as she trotted past smiling and waving at us.
At 9 years, I was quite an energetic kid, and soon I was begging Mum to take me out on her runs. Mum thought it was better I trained with people my own again and so took me down to the local running club at Bedford and country AC, where I met my coach Alex Stanton.
2. Were you always a talented athlete or have you had many disappointments and setbacks?
When I did my first XC race in my school PE lesson I won by quite a big margin. My second local XC race for Bedford and county I won, much to my surprise! I was dizzy with excitement when I was presented with my first ever trophy, so I guess I did have a natural talent for the sport.
I did not always win, though; finishing around 249th for my first ever national XC being an under 11 in an under 13 race. Of course I have had many setbacks in running, who hasn’t? That’s part and parcel of running. The key is to learn from that experience and let it make you a better stronger athlete.
3. Explain how your first marathon went? Which has been your favourite marathon and achievement?
My first marathon was Berlin in 2003. I turned to marathon running after an Achilles injury sustained in the January during a XC race. I had 6 weeks out, and knew a track season would be out of the question. I just knew that I could achieve the Olympic qualifying time of 2.32, and so set my sights on running this and Qualifying for Athens.
Berlin was a great experience for me, (apart from having to dive into a toilet at 25k for moment) I ran strongly to finish in 2.30.58. I loved the race, the atmosphere and the buzz that surrounds marathon running. I felt I had finally found my event, and the race eventually qualified me for my first Olympic games.
4. You share the same coach as Paula Radcliffe; Alex Stanton but you are also a qualified coach and a mentor for UK Athletics – tell us more?
My coach, Alex and his wife Rosemary have coached me since I was 9. Paula and I were just 2 of a large group of young girls and we were not the best runners then! Alex is an amazing coach as he gets to know you as a person. Alex coaches the whole person, taking into account of your lifestyle, school/work commitments, issues associated with growing up, and stresses placed on you external to running. He adapts everyone’s programs accordingly to take into account of these issues. Alex promotes a really friendly social environment so girls get more than just running from his group. He is one in a billion. I would not be where I am today without his support, daily lifts to the running club as a teenager, and his massive commitment to the coaching of many women and girls of all levels. He is a very humble man and for him it is about his athletes. He is like a second father to me and I can’t thank him enough.
Alex has been the main inspiration in my coaching philosophy. He has taught me most of what I know in a roundabout way and I’m really able to apply my own knowledge, experience and qualifications understand the coaching process and add my own personal touch through my own running and training experiences.
I am passionate about running and helping others fulfil their potential in their own running goals. I’m part of a progressive coaching company called Full Potential (www.fullpotential.co.uk) and we hold running camps, training days and workshops.
5. Commiserations on the bad luck you suffered in the Beijing marathon. How did you feel in the run-up and during the race (before and after the fall)? Did you enjoy your Beijing experience?
6. Take us through your warm up and cool-down routine...
10-20 min light jog and some light stretches, followed by some strides.
7. Describe a typical weeks’ training/mileage...
I don’t train the same all year round. But in a marathon focused phase I average around 100-110 miles a week, running twice a day 5-6 days a week, with one complete rest day. I typically do threshold and intervals on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and sometimes on a Saturdays depending on the focus of my long run.
8. Do you go on training stints to high-altitude/warm-weather venues?
I have been to altitude and warm weather training venues. These have been to prepare for a specific event. For altitude I love Boulder, Colorado and Font Romeu in the Pyrenees. I usually go to Lanzerote, Portugal or Florida for Warm weather. More recently I have opted to train at home, with shorter stints of training in warmer climates closer to home. This way I can still race in the UK and test my fitness.
9. Do you enjoy travelling for races?
I do love to travel and racing is a great way to see the world, but sometimes you get to a place and you only see the hotel room and the race venue. Sometimes you fly in and fly out with no time to do the tourist thing. So it is not quite as glamorous as it sounds.
Often you are sharing a room with another international athlete and your languages may not be compatible, so sign language is common at these times. I remember I was at a Spanish XC race, where no one spoke English, and my Spanish is limited to asking for a white coffee, so I just followed my roommate and choose the same things as her at dinner time. We did not have great conversation over the dinner table. However, I do love it, and I think it has made me a better person from being out of my comfort zone and challenging me when preparing for a race. I think it has made me mentally stronger and has taught me to generate my own positive thoughts.
10.Do you see your rivals as just that, or become friends?
Most of my rivals are great friends and the British endurance athletes are some of my best friends. We end up spending a lot of time together on trips and over some 10 years it feels like extended family. Of course Hayley Yelling is my extended family and running has brought us closer together than most sisters in law and we are great friends as well as rivals. However, when the gun goes no one is my friend. I want to beat them as much as the next person and then we cross the line and we are mates again.
11.What tips do you have for a beginner to the marathon?
I believe anyone can do the marathon if they have the willingness to want to do it. You do however have to respect the marathon distance and make sure you prepare and train correctly for it. This will make your marathon experience all the more enjoyable and you are more likely to sustain your running after your marathon run.
Getting support from family and friends is important so they realise you commitment and help you to achieve your training goals as well as your racing goals.
12.Do you have a large support network? Physio, nutritionist etc...
I am fortunate that being in the sport for so long I have been able to create a fantastic support network around me. My husband, Martin is my manager and so he deals with press and race directors and sponsors. He helps me with some of my training, coming on the bike at handing me drinks and gels. He is very supportive and makes me feel good about my running.
I have recently moved to Poole, Dorset. Fortunately I landed on my feet as most of my neighbours are physios. Tim Cruse-Drew runs his own practice called East Cliff Therapy Centre in Bournemouth and has been kept me in one piece in the lead up to London along with Jo Cooles my massure.
My sponsors Lucozade Sport have helped me with my pre- race and during race nutrition. I would not be able to train as well as I do without the support of my other loyal Sponsors, Adidas and Tensator. I think it’s about putting a support network in place around you that allows you to grow as athletes. It’s been very hard sometimes physically, emotionally and financially but I just love to run so it’s all worth it.
13.What has been your favourite/which do you rank highly in terms of UK road races?
I love all road races in the UK. They all offer something different. I love the low key races with hot tea and slice of cake from the van when you finish. I love the high profile races such as London Marathon, the Bristol, Bath and Reading Half Marathons and the Great Run series. They always have such a buzz to them and they really test you with their great international fields. These races let me know where I am at and motivate me to try harder.
14.How do you feel the UK road scene could improve?
The British Road racing scene is pretty good right now. The great run series offer some good half marathons such as Bristol offer British only prize money which is great for bringing the most talented British runners together and providing them with a spring board to earning from their sport and enabling them to invest in their own running in order to progress and improve. Competing together helps to raise everyone’s game.
At the top end I’d like to see a series of UK road races come together to support the top developing athletes. This is something that I’m currently looking to talk to major UK races about. I’d really love to see more opportunities for talented runners to train together and I’d love to be able create a strong domestic pool of talent in the UK in the future. I like the way that the USA has successfully made a return to group high-performance training and am keen to try and recreate that in the future in the UK.
If any race wants some help or feedback on how they could look to improve their race I am always willing to help and give my suggestions. The races have to want to make those changes and once they do they will repeatedly attract good runners year after year as well as fill their field with mass participants.
15.How much sleep do you take per evening?
I like my sleep. I have on average 8/9 hours per night. I listen to my body and have more of less sleep depending on how I feel. I’ve just made one of the best sleeping investments of my running career and got a fantastic mattress. It’s really helped with recovery and quality sleep. www.mammothsport.com
16.Do you have any hobbies, or are you always too tired?!
Currently I have no time for hobbies, what with work, running and renovating a house I am pretty much flat out!
17.You and your husband; international triathlete, Martin run a performance, health and wellness consultancy.
Yes, we run activefutures (www.active-futures.com) but we’re taking our company further forward now and have a bigger team. We’re now called Full Potential (www.fullpotential.co.uk) and have various strands of the business growing all the time including coaching, camps in the UK and abroad, event support for businesses and organisations, athlete management and young athlete camps and mentoring. I’m really hoping we can generate something very positive for running.
18.You are also women’s editor for Running Fitness magazine and have written a book – do you have much time for your journalism, in addition to your training and coaching?
Running fitness is a great magazine for people passionate about running. I wrote my coaching book with Martin to try and make running more accessible for women who think that they couldn’t possibly do that! I’m more interested in actually coaching and running than solely writing it about it, though!
19. Do you miss your former role as a PE teacher?
No, I don’t miss teaching. Although the skills I have learnt from teaching have provided me with the foundations of what I do now. I love the work I am doing currently with coaching, mentoring and running camps.
20.It must be beneficial to have a talented sister-in-law (2003 European cross-country Champion, Hayley Yelling) keeping you on your toes? Do you ever train together?
It is great having Hayley as a rival as I think we really motivate each other. It’s like well if she can do it, so can I! We train together if we are in the same town. I remember doing a track session with Hayley last year, and we were both so stubborn we ran each other into the ground. I think it took me at least 2 weeks to recover from that!
21.Any words of wisdom/motivational tips for our audience?
Be patient, train smart and enjoy your running. Surround yourself with positive people. Run with purpose, passion and intent. Always leave the house for a run knowing why you are doing it.
22.In moments of weakness, do you indulge/over-train etc...?
I don’t have moments of weakness. I have trained too hard in the past and learnt a huge lesson from it but that’s part of the journey that my running has given me and without that I would not be as good as I am now.
Having over trained I am now a stronger athlete because I found out what caused it and now I make sure I listen to my body so it does not happen again.
I believe in moderation, so I treat myself once a week to cake and coffee…gosh a girl’s got to have a few vices!
23.What would you like to do after your running career is over? and do you ever see yourself retiring from competition?
Have a family, ski, go mountain biking, and do all the things I restrict right now. Build on the work I do with www.fullpotential.co.uk and help to improve endurance running in the UK.
24.How would you like to be remembered after your days as an elite athlete?
As a runner who showed true grit and passion in a sport they love who never gives up and gives 110%. As a fearless competitor who is not afraid to have a go and give it their best shot. As someone who is fun, friendly approachable and has strived to be the best they can be.