No average Jo: World 10,000m fourth-placer, JO PAVEY spoke to NICOLA BAMFORD about her rollercoaster ride to athletic success, training, her multi-talented husband and future aims; and offers the Run Britain audience some inspirational advice and tips... (written for UK Athletics 09/08).
Taking time out from her hectic training schedule, the modest, 34 year-old 2004 Olympic 5,000m fifth-placer 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 11 years old I was asked to run 2 laps of our school grass track by my teacher Mrs Sexty. She thought I did well and suggested I should take up running. It wasn’t until I was 13 that a lady in the village offered to take me to Exeter Harriers as she already took her sons there. I really enjoyed it at the club. My first coach Paul Gregory was great as he didn’t give us too much formal training. We played games and did skills type activities as well as some running training. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I joined a serious endurance coach, Tony White at Exeter Harriers and I started doing some more difficult sessions.
My motivation when I started was that it was good fun. I enjoyed sport, especially football and tennis and I liked running too. I also kept very fit by roller skating for hours. May be I would have joined a football team if I had the opportunity but there were no girl’s teams back then where I lived and so I concentrated on just running.
2. Were you always a talented athlete or have you had many disappointments and setbacks?
I think like any athlete I have had a lot of ups and downs during my career.
After joining Tony White in March when I was 14, I had a pleasing summer. Things went ok for a while but then I had foot surgery in 1990 when I was still only 16. I then missed the seasons 1991 to 1996! I kept trying to run but every couple of weeks I would break down with injury. Actually during this time I would train for a few weeks and then run some low key races (about 4:23/4:21 for 1500m) but after a few more weeks I would have to stop again because of injury. It was very frustrating. When I ran 4:21 I thought that perhaps if I can get back to some proper training I could run a bit faster.
In 1997 my husband and I decided to go back-packing around the world and whilst we did this we trained harder than we had before. When I came back from my travels, I joined Mike Down’s group and I made the World Championships in Athens. Unfortunately in May 1998 I needed an operation on my knee. The operation went wrong and I unfortunately could not compete for 2 ½ years.
Fortunately I have been able to compete every season since 2000 but I have had the disappointments of illness at championships such as Helsinki and Gothenburg.
3. Which has been your favourite achievement so far?
I think the 4th place in last year’s ‘ World Championships. It was frustrating to be so close to the medal but I was still pleased with the race.
I was also pleased with my Commonwealth silver in Melbourne as the atmosphere at that championships was amazing.
4. You’re coached by your husband Gavin – has this relationship always worked? How long have you been married?
Gav has coached me since 2001. Just prior to that I was coached by Chris Boxer, who really helped me. Unfortunately, she was no longer able to coach me due to lots of other commitments.
I really enjoy being coached by Gav. He is so supportive and it is also fun to work towards goals together.
Our relationship has always been really great. We are both very committed to what we are doing but we are naturally fairly laid-back types and not argumentative. We like to banter a bit for fun when training and I always like to try and beat him if I can. Gav was in my training group at Exeter and we trained together from when I was about 15. We have been a couple since 1990 and were married after graduating from Uni in 1995.
5. CONGRATULATIONS on finishing 12th in an extremely high calibre Olympic 10,000m race in Beijing. Tell us how the race went for you...were you pleased with your performance?
I was not very happy with my race at all. In Macau my training had gone really well but when I travelled to Beijing I just felt really weak and flat. My energy levels were low and I just couldn't run well. Like a few other athletes on our team I had a bad stomach when I got to Beijing but I don't like making excuses and so I will just put it behind me and move on.
The race itself was very tough at the front with the top two under thirty minutes. After that there was a big gap back to third and the performances from third back to sixth were good but not unrealistic. Unfortunately I just could not perform well on the day.
6. Take us through your warm up and cool-down routine...
To warm up I go for a gentle jog, stretch then drills and strides. I usually end up running to the toilet a lot! In the call room, I try to relax and maybe stretch a bit. After we are led out on to the track I will try to do a quick couple of strides. Cool down is another jog and some gentle stretching.
7. Describe a typical weeks’ training/mileage...and do you mainly train alone?
My training volume has gradually grown from 35 miles per week back in 2000 to between 80 and 110 miles per week now. The total varies depending on the time of year and emphasis of the training. If there is an important race coming up I would reduce my training. My program includes lots of tempo running, track intervals, some off road intervals and a long run of 1hr 30 min to 2 hrs. I also do two gym and drills sessions. The remainder is recovery and steady runs. I train with Gav for about 75% of my runs and most of my sessions.
8. What’s a typical routine in your day?
I start my morning run about an hour after I get up. When I get back, I go through my stretches. I have a quick sleep usually after lunch if I am in a hard training block. I usually have a coffee when I get up. The evening training is usually the more quality session in the summer. After training I refuel, then we do physiotherapy.
9. Do you go on training stints to high-altitude/warm-weather venues?
Yes, I have about three one-month camps in the winter mostly in South Africa or Arizona.
10. Do you enjoy travelling for races?
I enjoy going to different countries, unfortunately though you often don’t get to see much. It would be nice to go back and have a proper look when I retire.
The only thing I hate about travelling is that I am quite scared of flying.
11. Do you see your rivals as just that, or become friends?
I have made some great friends through running. I think that a lovely thing about the sport is to be able to make friends from all over the world. The British team are all very friendly and supportive which makes it a good atmosphere at holding camps.
I definitely think it is fine to be rivals and friends and to be supportive to each other.
12. Have you an athletics hero/inspiration?
Liz McColgan and Kelly Holmes are very inspiring to me and are very supportive.
I also think Sally Gunnell was amazing. When she did track-side interviews, she was really friendly and nice and always supportive of everyone.
13. Do you have a large support network? Physio, nutritionist etc...
Yes. Gav does my coaching, management, admin, daily physio and pace making. Alongside Gav I have a ‘proper’ physio, nutritionist, strength and conditioning coach, and I also work with the UKA medical team including the doctors, etc.
14. You’re a trained physiotherapist – tell us more...?
I graduated in 1995 and worked as a physio at Bath Royal United hospital for 18 months. I enjoyed it so much, the work was very rewarding and I had great colleagues to work with. Gav does most of my physio. We work together and he has learnt as he has gone along. He has been doing it for 13 years now and so is pretty skilled. Being a physiotherapist has helped my running and has been an integral part of being able to come back from injuries.
15. You’ve had your fair share of injuries – tell us how you overcame them...?
It is really hard to explain how in a few sentences. Basically it’s about making the right decisions. You have to become intuitive and really understand your body. We make decisions every single day regarding the training type and load in relation to my current state. We are very flexible with the program and will alter things as and when required. I have a stretching routine which is repeated three times a day and I have about one to two hours of treatment every day.
It is also important to keep going where possible but modify your training in order to try and achieve a fairly consistent level of fitness.
16. Does it worry you that some of your rivals could be on performance-enhancing substances? And do you find drug-testing a chore?
Of course, it worries me a lot. This is a huge problem for the sport and I feel that I always run against some cheats at every championships. There is often a lot of testing at the actual championships but it is obvious that the cheats are going to make sure that the drugs are no longer detectable at that point even though they still have the benefits. It’s a real shame as it is damaging our sport. I am definitely in favour of life bans and I also wish other countries had as much testing as the UK.
I think it was justified to see Marion Jones go to prison, all criminals should be treated as criminals – sometimes in athletics the wrong-doers are not given sufficient punishment and thus the deterrent is not there to prevent others from cheating.
I personally do not understand why cheats are willing to be so dishonest to their friends and family who support them. Imagine how awful it would be if people close to you are watching and cheering you on and you were just cheating on drugs.
17. What has been your favourite/which do you rank highly in terms of UK road races?
I enjoy all of the Great Run series. I so enjoy the fantastic atmosphere of the big participation events, it is definitely something special that you do not get from track running. I really enjoyed the Great South Run in 2006, it was the worst weather I have ever raced in but the runners were all so enthusiastic. People were freezing and drenched but everyone still seemed to be having a great time.
I have also enjoyed competing in the Hyde Park Road Race.
18. How do you feel the UK road scene could improve?
I think it is flourishing. It’s amazing how many big races we have now. I wouldn’t mind if there was a few more big races leading up to Christmas.
19. Your transition from track to road seemed effortless – was it? And which terrain do you enjoy racing over the most?
I still enjoy the track a lot, but I am really enjoying the road racing, too. Fortunately, the road is a smooth firm surface which helps as I seem to be able to run better if my rhythm is not broken. Cross country is very difficult for me if the ground is muddy or uneven, although I still run some cross country sometimes as I find it fun especially if I can run as part of a team.
With the transition to road racing I did have to incorporate more hill training as there are no hills on the track. I still prefer the road to be as flat as possible!
20. How much sleep do you take per evening?
About 8 to 9 hours.
21. Do you have any hobbies (surfing?!), or are you always too tired?!
I like body-boarding, hiking, playing tennis and football. At the moment, though I do not really get a chance to do these hobbies as they could be an injury risk and it is also important to recover from training. I will get back into active hobbies when I retire. I also enjoy cooking, listening to music, mainly U2 and the Killers, reading, and watching DVDs etc.
22. You come across as very modest and down to Earth – do you find the media an inconvenience and intrusive?
I don’t mind it. We need the media to ensure public interest in athletics and as an athlete you have a responsibility to the sport. I also really appreciate the athletics fans who support us, they are very important and I am very grateful to them. I do feel upset with the media however when quotes are made up and when it makes you sound like a right big head!
23. Do you feel you’re adequately supported by the UKA lottery funding/support system?
Yes I do feel adequately supported. I went to the World champs in 1997 and the Olympics in 2000 without funding in those years. I actually like the fact that I was able to make it on my own without funding as it makes me appreciate everything much more now. You also have a bigger sense of achievement.
I was a bit short of money in those early years but when I look back now it makes it more rewarding. Gav actually didn’t have a hotel at the Sydney Olympics. After paying for his flights we only had a little bit of money left. He used his money set aside for a hotel on a hire car to take me training and so he just ended up sleeping in the back of the car in a park. Since 2000, the funding and support has really helped. The main area of support that I rely on is the medical support and this has been really good.
24. You’re Devon born and an Exeter Harrier – do you visit home often and keep in touch with the club?
I return to Devon when I can as both of our families are in there. I met Gav at Exeter Harriers when we were both training in Tony White’s group. I was born in Honiton and grew up in Feniton, a small village in East Devon. I try and get back to the Harriers as often as I can but it is difficult with all the overseas travel. I also try to get down to the Exeter and East Devon Sports Association for the Disabled and the Women’s Running Network as I am also a member of these organisations.
We hope to move back to Devon when I retire, but for now it is better for us to be in Teddington as it is easier to do what we need to do.
25. Any words of wisdom/motivational tips for our audience?
The main thing is to enjoy your running, it is fun!
Set some long term goals and have some short term goals along the way to keep you motivated.
Be patient and always try to keep training consistently as much as possible.
Build up the training gradually, but make sensible decisions each day regarding your training program. Be prepared to be very flexible according to any niggles you may have, therefore do what you can do rather than what you think you should do. This may mean doing long reps rather than speed work or going to the grass rather than the track. I think it is very important to keep doing what you can do rather than take complete rest, even if it means training in the pool. Keep persevering.
When an important race is approaching make sure you taper down enough else all your hard work could be wasted.
26. In moments of weakness, do you indulge/over-train etc...?
The training is hard but since my comeback in 2000 I don’t think I have ever over-trained. I love chocolate and red wine but I make sure I don’t over indulge at the wrong time!
27. What would you like to do after your running career is over? And do you ever see yourself retiring from competition?
I hope to run at the 2012 Olympics but I will only do so if I continue to run at the same level and improve. If I start to slow down I will stop and run for fun.
When I retire I want to start a family. I will hopefully do some coaching alongside Gav and I hope to live somewhere in the West Country (Devon or Cornwall) near the sea.
I might at some point do some physiotherapy work as I really enjoyed it.
28. Do you and Gavin have aspirations to start a family anytime soon?
We would definitely love to have kids sometime.
29. How would you like to be remembered after your days as an elite athlete?
Not sure really. I suppose as an honest runner, a clean athlete.
Hopefully supportive to the younger athletes coming through.
30. Any other tips...??
Keep training sensibly, eat well, but have treats, get plenty of rest, enjoy your running and enjoy your life!