Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Purf-ect Speedy Student


This time last year, she was sidelined with a stress fracture to the knee but in the past few months long-distance starlet Charlotte Purdue has bounced back to faster than ever before and now lies on the cusp of international glory in her debut season as a senior, writes Nicola Bamford.

The diminutive 19-year-old spent much of last winter rehabilitating in the gym and pool and after only opening her season in June, subsequently had to miss the World junior championships, where she would have been a solid bet for a medal in the 5,000m.

Refusing to become despondent, however, the London-based runner sped back to lifetime-best shape after only six races on the track and stormed into the record books with a scintillating 32:36.75 British under20 10,000m record in Tipton in August to seal her selection for the Commonwealth Games in India.

For good measure and to more than make up for lost time, Purdue also obliterated her 3,000m and 5,000m personal-bests with 9:10.34 and 15:23.4, respectively - going to the number-two spot on the all-time lists for the latter.

But it was in Delhi with Team England, where Purdue – fresh from a 33.06 10km road best in Sheffield – impressed on her senior major championship debut by placing an outstanding fourth in the 10,000m and fifth in the 5,000m.

Having passed and thrived off her first taste of an international event at senior level with flying colours, the countdown to 2012 suddenly appeared more than just an Olympic dream.


In a new season, on a different terrain, the bubbly Purdue has started her 2010/11 winter campaign where she left off – with a bang.

Capturing her first European junior cross-country crown in Portugal last December – after claiming silver and bronze in previous attempts – she progressed to take fourth amongst a world-class senior field at the Bupa Great Edinburgh international and was a clear winner of the McCain UK Cross Challenge Cardiff and Antrim legs last month.

Now, as she looks ahead to claiming her first British university title, Purdue – who has amassed an impressive twenty national medals over the past five years through the age groups – will aim to take the English national and British crowns as she steps up into the senior ranks before attempting to achieve her ambitious goals in the global championships.

“Training’s going really well – it’s all geared towards the World cross-country championships (in Spain on the 20th of March),” Purdue explained.

“I’d like to be first Brit there and have a top twenty-five finish. It’ll be a challenge but I’m looking forward to it and after the World’s, I’ll have a break and go to New York to take it easy for a few weeks.”

Heading across the Pond for some relaxation and a spot of shopping is a regular occurrence for the Nike-sponsored athlete. With her partner, Ben Lindsay – fourth in the 2008 European under23 cross-country championships – studying at Iona College in the city, Purdue enjoys making good use of her time away from competition:

“It was hard being so far apart at first but we talk via Skype every day and he follows my running,” Purdue revealed. “I always look forward to going over there for visits.”


But before her next scheduled break in seven weeks’ time, the second-year St Mary’s university history student must stay focused on producing her next eye-catching performance.

Guided by Woods – the man who has steered a production line of prodigiously-talented athletes to international success in the past decade – Purdue juggles her studies with a heavy training workload and praises both working environments:

“The group’s success is all down to Mick. He’s coached me since aged eleven and I owe everything I’ve achieved to him,” she explained.

“We have a really nice friendship and the group are all really good friends - we all really push each other on. Steph (Twell, the 21-year-old Commonwealth 1500m bronze-medallist and her main training partner) and I are on different pathways as she’s doing the 1500m but I treat her the same as everyone else in a race.”

On combining sport with her academics in a year in which her big aim for the summer is making the GB squad for the World championships in Daegu, South Korea in late August/early September, Purdue continued:

“I don’t have too many hours of lectures as it’s more the hours of reading that are tough, but it’s manageable – reading isn’t strenuous on the body around training is it.”

Training around the university grounds and living on campus certainly helps keep her routine as relaxed as possible and Purdue is keen to thank the support she receives there:

“I have all of my sports science support and my massage (which is paid by 2004 double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes) there, as well.

I’m really grateful for her help as my mentor as well – we see each other a lot. The funding is a big help, too like when I had my knee injury – I didn’t have to worry about medical help as it was all provided.”

With aspirations to become a full-time athlete after her final-year exams in May next year – two months before the London Olympic Games - Purdue’s timing could not be better:

“It’s really, really good that the Olympics are coming to London as not only will it be great for family and friends to go watch, but also the atmosphere will be amazing and everything will be to our advantage,” she revealed.

“It’s a great opportunity and I’d love to be a part of it. My aim would be to do the 10,000m there but maybe the 5,000m, too.

It’s so exciting and I’m not daunted at all by it, I just really want to be there. I don’t think about it loads, I just focus on the next event and take every season as it comes – it’s not good if you think about something too much.”

With plenty to keep her busy in the meantime, the next seventeen months will surely fly by for this busy student, who seems destined to enjoy an exceptional post-degree celebration on the track next summer.

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