Amongst the parkrun family there are numerous international athletes, Olympians and experienced coaches.
Each week we invite one of them to share their top tips and advice on training and improving your running, whether you’re looking to complete the course without stopping, break 45 minutes, go sub-20 for the first time, or just bag that new PB.
This week it’s the turn of Jo Pavey!
Jo Pavey needs no introduction. She is a World, European and Commonwealth medalist, and is the second fastest woman on the UK all-time list for both 5000m and 10000m.
Jo is also a five-time Olympian, having represented Team GB in every Olympic Games from 2000 to 2016, making her the only British runner to have ever competed in five Olympics Games.
Hi Jo! First up, what’s your home parkrun?
Exmouth and Killerton parkruns are the nearest, both about ten miles away. We are quite lucky around here as there is also one in Seaton and Exeter. Exeter has a great junior parkrun on the Sunday too.
I often have an interval session on a Saturday, and our kids have clubs to go to on a Saturday morning, so I don’t make it along as much as I’d like to, but when I eventually retire from international competition and the kids are a bit older I will definitely make it along much more regularly.
What major events are you training for away from parkrun?
I’m just seeing where my running takes me at the moment. I would like to run in more championships, and hopefully another marathon in the future as well as in shorter road races. I’m really enjoying my running and as I get fitter I’ll make decisions on what I’d like to do. It’s nice to focus on enjoyment of running but to still keep one eye on bigger goals like championships and big road races.
It can be hard to fit in running and training around a work, family and social life – what’s your best tip for finding a work-life balance?
Like most parents, we’re juggling a busy life. I still have goals I want to achieve in my running but my main priority is being a mum. The fact that my husband, Gavin, is my coach helps us to fit training around the kids activities, and by working together we’ve been very fortunate not to have needed to use childcare over the years.
Because my running fits well around family life, it means that I’m enjoying my running even more these days. It’s so motivating to be able to have quality family time by being active together and it’s nice to show the kids that being active is fun.
When I go running we often go out as a family. Jacob, our eldest who is 8, rides his mountain bike and Emily who is 4 goes in a bike seat on my husband’s bike, although she is now able to keep up for a bit on her own bike too! After the run we will often all mess about on our bikes for a bit. They both love going on the mountain bike pump tracks or perhaps for a play in the woods.
By being creative, we find we can involve the whole family and enjoy the great outdoors together. Wherever we go it’s nice to have a picnic afterwards too, or eat out somewhere nice if the weather is a bit cold. To fit the necessary training in, we do have to have a flexible plan. We prioritise the important aspects of training and work out how these fit into what’s going on with family life each week.
What is your top tip to new parkrunners on how to improve their running?
Good pace judgement is important to get your best parkrun. In training, learn how to gauge the pace that you can sustain throughout the 5k distance. Have a good pre-parkrun routine if you’re targeting a PB. Get up early enough to be able to have a light pre-parkrun snack and hydrate. Allow time for a warm up before the parkrun too if you’re wanting to go for it.
In training, try to introduce running at different paces. By including some intervals, fartlek training and perhaps a faster paced short run in your schedule, you’ll avoid always running at the same pace. Running faster than your normal parkrun pace will allow you to sustain a faster pace throughout your whole parkrun. Including different training elements and more variation will also enhance your enjoyment.
It’s also useful to add a long run into your schedule to improve your endurance. This will make it easier to maintain your pace over the parkrun distance. It’s important however to build up your training very gradually to reduce the risk of injury.
Listen to your body, don’t be afraid to rest if you’re unduly tired or have a bit of an injury niggle. Perhaps include some cross training in your exercise program as you build up your fitness, such as swimming or cycling. It’s advisable to stretch regularly and to get a regular massage to work on tight areas of muscle to aid in injury prevention.
Many parkrunners find that after weeks and months of PBs and improvements, their running can start plateau. What would you suggest to mix things up?
If your performance has plateaued recently, make sure you’ve been giving yourself enough time to recover between training sessions. It’s during recovery that adaptation to training occurs. Ensure that you’re not getting fatigued by overtraining, it could be that you need an easy couple of weeks before pushing on again.
On the other hand, if you’re sure you haven’t been overdoing it, perhaps you’re ready to add some new and different components to your training. Sensibly introducing tougher interval sessions that include speed work and gradually increasing your mileage when you’re ready, will help take your running to the next level.
Fartlek sessions and hill sessions are also useful. Fartlek sessions allow you to mix up your pace and practice picking up the pace when you are tired. Hill sessions are great for improving your aerobic capacity and improve leg strength in a dynamic way.
Gradually adding a bit of strength and conditioning work to you’re schedule will also improve your running. Running drills are also a way of promoting good running form. Remember any changes to your normal training schedule must be introduced gradually, so don’t feel tempted to start adding lots of new training units at the same time or too suddenly.
It’s also important to keep training enjoyable and interesting to keep your motivation going. Take the time to run in beautiful locations and run with others to make running sociable. Make sure you consider other things that are required for getting the best out of your running too, like stretching, massage and good nutrition.
And finally, for those people who want an insight into the training of an elite athlete, what’s your favourite training session and why?
During my career I’ve mostly been a 5k and 10k runner and so my training has been primarily aimed at these distances. I’ve always loved running and always liked the challenge of working towards goals. I love the challenge of trying to achieve the targets in sessions, so to pick a single session is quite difficult! However,I do have some key sessions.
To run well at 5k / 10k you need to include different paces in training from maximum speed right through to 10k pace and beyond. I’d say I have a few favourite sessions. The first is:
The key to this session is judging the pace, especially on the first set, so that you can still maintain pace on the second set. I always try to quicken as the session progresses but to also push myself enough on the earlier reps to make it tough.
The session is useful as it gets your legs going at race pace or quicker with a very short recovery. This helps with both speed and endurance which means it also promotes good running economy at the longer distances. If you’re not using a track, you could run to time instead, ie perhaps 65-80 seconds per rep instead of 400m and 30-40 seconds instead of the 200ms.
It’s important to choose good terrain if you’re not a using a track, like a good trail or good quality grass. The session is relatively low volume if aiming for 10k races or longer. I’ve sometimes added a short tempo run of around 10 minutes after a 5 minute recovery if I’m wanting to add some endurance. I find it a good training effect to push myself whilst I’m already tired.
My sessions are positioned in the schedule so that they are the priority of the week. I therefore avoid doing a session the day after a long run, tempo run or strength training. This is important to enable the session to be done with the required quality but also to help prevent injury.
Although I’m essentially a track runner who also does some road racing, I carry out most of my training on trails. I love nature and the great outdoors and out on trails is what I really love.
When I’m getting close to my track races, my really good quality work is mostly done on the track. But at other times of the year I do some trail sessions and also some road sessions in preparation for road races. I find it important to include road sessions in the lead up to big road races in order to adapt to the impact.
Do you have any other general advice for parkrunners, however fast they walk, jog or run?
Running isn’t just about how fast or how far you can run, if you truly want discover running then I believe you must try to focus on enjoyment. parkrun embraces all the great things about running. parkrunners are happy runners!
They are able to share their enjoyment with other runners, supporting each other and hanging around for a chat afterwards. And of course we are all so grateful to the many many volunteers who help to make it possible.
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