WRITTEN FOR ATHLETICS WEEKLY MAGAZINE
After years of dealing with targets and pressure, European cross-country champion Hayley Yelling-Higham is taking a more relaxed approach to her running and hopes this new-found attitude will help her reap the rewards when she makes her third Commonwealth Games appearance in Delhi next month, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 36-year-old Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow runner spontaneously returned from competitive retirement last winter after a year out to claim her second continental title over the mud in Dublin, and at the time, accredited her shock victory to apparently being so laid-back that she is almost horizontal.
With a cool and calmness that would give the comedic sprint superstar Usain Bolt a run for his money, Yelling-Higham is “only running around 80-miles per week” at the moment and is seemingly managing to juggle this ‘light’ training load with that of being a secondary school maths teacher; a job she returned to last week, with consummate ease.
Coached by Conrad Milton, Yelling-Higham has just celebrated her one-year wedding anniversary with husband Jamie and is relishing an attempt to better her best of fifth place in the event over twenty-five laps in India on October...?
The sister-in-law of Olympic marathoner Liz, Yelling-Higham’s selection for Team England was no surprise after her 32:49.07 qualification run whilst representing Great Britain in the European Cup back in June, however, she freely admits that her current race fitness is in doubt in the countdown to the championships:
“I had a break after the last race (winning the Bushy Park 5km in London on July 17 in 16:49),” Yelling-Higham explained.
“We’ve just said to do what suits so I do a track, grass and tempo session once a week. I really hate the track sessions, though – they’re so hard, I just love the grass and road. Tim Haughian (a 23-year-old 3:56 1500m runner and brother of former GB runner Sam, who unfortunately lost his life in 2003 aged just 24) does the sessions with me and another guy who lives nearby runs with me, too so I’m never alone.”
Revealing why she has not toed the start-line for eight-weeks, the Marlow-based athlete continued: “I wanted to take it easy after I made the Commonwealth time so not to over-train and race, that didn’t work for me in the past and my legs were so tired after the 10,000m – I must be getting old!”
I decided to target only one race for the distance and luckily, I got picked so I’ve been able to concentrate on training. I wanted more to life than running – not racing every weekend and I want to do well when I do race. Track was a real shock to the system but I was pleased to get under 33-minutes – I didn’t know what to expect after the cross-country season.”
Yelling-Higham, who has a 10,000m track personal best of 31:45.14 dating back to 2004, will find herself in unusual company out in New Delhi, as her team-mate will be seventeen-years her junior in the shape of European junior 5,000m silver-medallist Charlotte Purdue, who will be making her senior championship debut.
“I definitely don’t feel pressured to beat her at all,” Yelling-Higham insisted. “She’s very talented and has done incredibly well to get back to such form after her terrible injury. I’m pleased to be alongside her in the team.”
For someone who wasn’t even sure whether she would tackle the track ever again, Yelling-Higham has done well to be named in the Commonwealth squad and naturally, rather than let the nerves and pressure creep in, she is quite literally taking it all in her stride:
“I’m pleased to be selected but I’m not sure what state I’ll be in so I’m going into it with a relaxed approach,” Yelling-Higham revealed.
“I’ve never been to India before so that will be an experience in itself. They gave security threats out before the World cross in Kenya but that was well-organised and I loved it so I’m not worrying, I’m sure it will be fine.
The temperature’s actually not looking too bad, I think the average will be between around 24 and 32-degrees and the race is in the evening so I’m not really thinking about it. I’ve got no targets or times but it would be nice to better my best placing of fifth at the Commonwealth’s - that would be a bonus. I’m putting no pressure on myself – I just want to run and see how I do.”