WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Coping with the demands of training, travel and competition en route to London 2012 would stretch most relationships, but Games hopefuls Hannah England and Luke Gunn are a unique couple as they are currently successfully juggling their preparations for a big day on and off the track, writes Nicola Bamford.
The Birmingham-based duo have not only set their sights on making their Olympic debuts in the capital this summer but are also planning their wedding day for January, in what is likely to be an exciting few months ahead for the talented pair.
For 25-year-old England, the World 1,500m silver-medallist and 27-year-old Gunn, the Commonwealth Games 3,000m steeplechase finalist, the countdown to the two most important events of their lives has been hectic yet surprisingly complimentary:
“It is a lovely distraction (from athletics) and I must admit, we are both pretty laid-back so you won't see any Bridezilla's in our build up,” revealed Oxford-born runner, England.
“We will be having the ceremony in Oxford and we have been fortunate enough to be granted access to one of the University's chapels - we did toy with having a Harry Potter-themed wedding for a while but Luke vetoed it - it was just my way of using his only veto up early.”
For Derby-born athlete Gunn, such an important phase of their lives has been made much easier to cope with courtesy of a secondment from his job at the University of Birmingham – where they each studied and indeed met, back in 2006.
“Last year was definitely tough not seeing Hannah for months at a time, which was definitely one of the main contributors to my decision to take a year out of work,” explained Gunn.
“We both need our partner in crime for support as much as possible this year.”
Having endured a long-distance relationship during Gunn’s three-year study period at Florida State University – where England additionally spent a year back in 2008 – the couple have survived challenging spells apart so the past winter and spring spent together in Kenya and the French Pyrenees, respectively, signified a welcome change in their training routine.
Guided by Bud Baldaro, the pair spent month-long stints in Africa back in November and January and are now enjoying another high-altitude spell at the tail-end of a spring training camp in Font Romeu.
“We've been able to spend a lot more time together training and the trips to Kenya mainly consisted of base-training with high mileage (over one-hundred miles a week for Luke and up to eighty miles for myself),” England, a 4:01.89 metric miler revealed.
“This year, these camps have been attended by the very best of the British distance community – this meant Luke was able to do lots of his running with the likes of Paula (Radcliffe, the World marathon record-holder) and Mo (Farah, the World 5,000m champion).”
With a best of 8:28.48 over the barriers from the 2008 season, Gunn offered his thoughts on how the duo withstands the constant strains on their time and priorities:
“We both completely understand the level of commitment involved and can both act like the motivator when times dictate it.
“It's also much easier to drag yourself out of bed if the other has already risen and is about to brave the elements, too - that being said, we hardly ever run together, though we do still train at the same time in the gym or at the track, which makes life easier.”
Seeking his fourth-consecutive UK outdoor title at the Olympic trials in Birmingham in June, Gunn continued:
“It has been tough for both of us at times with Hannah having to remain utterly focused on her season during my disappointment on missing out on teams.
“I have had to force a smile to ensure my bad mood has no negative effect on Hannah at crucial times in her summer and we are a team so when she won her silver last year, that gave me as much satisfaction as many of my own running achievements as we have gone through her full development as an athlete together.
“Largely, we feed off each others’ excitement and positivity and the tides have certainly turned in recent years, where Hannah now challenges me on my mental approach and tactics - however, I am not ready to step into her shadow just yet.”
Mentored by 2004 800m and 1500m Olympic champion, Dame Kelly Holmes and looking for her third-consecutive UK outdoor title next month, England is facing the added pressure of being tipped as one of Team GB’s one’s-to-watch after claiming her first major championship medal in South Korea last summer.
Dealing with the expectation of bringing home another medal, she explained how sharing her life with another elite athlete helps her keep everything in perspective:
“We are both guilty of bringing home a bad session or race but we have been together so long now that the other one often knows how to distract the other, whether it be with a weekend away, night to the cinema or just a simple silly dance to lighten the mood.
“We are also very fortunate to have a group of close friends who are great at keeping us grounded, stopping us from getting too insular about training and most importantly, feeding us emergency chocolate and cake when needed.”
Just six weeks out from the first big test of their 2012 campaigns, Gunn continued:
“First and foremost, we both have to qualify for the Games and that is, and has been, the goal since 2008 when we were both sat on the wrong side of selections.
“So we have to get an ‘A’ standard each before the trials which we are both refusing to look too far beyond at the minute - we are both pretty proud to be British champions in our respective events and we both intend to fight tooth and nail to retain those titles.”
England, also the British indoor 3,000m champion, concluded:
“The pressure of London this year is always there on a low-ebb and whilst it can rise to nerve-wracking heights at times, these are just natural periods of doubt that we talk through together and rationalise.
“We have to admit we wouldn't have it any other way - the excitement of still being in contention for a place in the Olympics is the only motivation we need to push our body to new limits every day.
“We are both early enough in the season to be in command of our destinies so at present we are focusing on keeping both of us healthy, injury-free and maintaining positive momentum, as places on the team are still available and we fully intend to occupy two of them between us.”
And should this speedy pair realise their Olympic ambitions come August, then the New Year will indeed witness an exceptionally happy bride and groom walking down the aisle.