As a four-time Olympian, Jo Pavey knows exactly how it feels to constantly pursue faster speeds and seek new levels of fitness regardless of the passing of time
After winning gold over 10km at the 2014 European Championships aged 40 – to become the oldest female European champion in history – the mother of two also knows that every runner can achieve what they aspire to, if they are prepared to train, plan and focus hard enough.
Here’s how you can unleash your own gold medal performance and smash your 10km time
Make running part of your routine
Regular and sustainable training is the key to setting a 10km PB, so weave your runs into your daily schedule. “Fitness needs to part of your routine,” advises Pavey. “You don’t want to be looking out the window and thinking, ‘I don’t fancy it today’. Every run should feel part of your lifestyle. Run at lunchtime, after work, or to or from work, and you won’t even have to think about it.” That doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. “As a busy mum, nothing is set in stone – if I miss a 1pm run I will do it later when the kids are in bed.”
Mix up your training pace
Manipulate your running speeds in training to condition your body for a faster race time. “The main thing is getting different paces into your training week,” says Pavey. “The key elements of a training week are a long endurance run.
You’ll also need an interval session – for a 10km, try 5 to 8 x 3-minute intervals with 1 to 2 minutes’ recovery in which you’re running faster than your race pace, so over time your new race pace will seem easier. And finally you’ll need a tempo run of 20-25 minutes at a pace that’s ‘comfortably hard’ but not eyeball-popping. And don’t forget your recovery days too.”
Use nature as your training partner
To maintain your motivation and consistency you need to enjoy your runs so let the great outdoors inspire you to new heights. “The thing I love most about running is getting outside so I run in the Devon countryside, let my mind wander and enjoy it,” says Pavey. Out-and-back runs are a clever way to ensure you stick to your plan.
“I do a lot of out-andbacks on the Grand Western Canal near Tiverton because I know I have to get back home again!” And always plan your routes so nothing hampers your pacing. “If you have to cross busy roads or compete with pedestrians it will slow you down.”
Learn to move better
To really sharpen up your 10km time, try to hone your running technique. “I do specific movement drills such as high knees, hops and fast feet drills, but I recommend people focus on running mechanically well whenever they train,” suggests Pavey. “Sometimes I see overseas athletes do perfect sprint drills on the track, but when they start running normally they are all over the place. It’s better to focus on your form whenever you are actually running. In particular, pay attention to how you run when you get tired as that’s often when you lose form.”
Set small goals each day
Setting a long-term goal, like targeting a specific 10km race, will keep you focused, but it’s just as important to set smaller goals each day. “I prepare myself for exactly what I am going to do today,” explains Pavey. “If I have planned a two-hour run, I get ready mentally for that. And on the days when I have a 40-minute run, I prepare for that. The trick is to get your mind set for whatever you’re doing before you get out the door.”
Keep a training diary
Logging your distances and average speeds in a diary will help you monitor your weekly improvements. “We record all my training so I can see how I am progressing,” reveals Pavey. “But it works as a reference for the future too. I can look back and see what I did, what I didn’t do, how it influenced me and how I got in that shape, so it helps you progress your knowledge about yourself.”
Perform 360-degree training
It doesn’t matter how hard you have trained if injuries and aches hamper your race day performance. “Stretching, conditioning and recovery are as important as your runs,” warns Pavey. Get into the habit of stretching before and after every run. “Do some dynamic stretches and don’t be embarrassed to add 35-50 metres of skipping to the start of your run. And always stretch out afterwards to improve your flexibility.”
Trail running can be a useful tool for galvanising your body. “It’s a good idea to vary the surfaces you train on to reduce injury risks – uphills, downhills and rough terrain can be really good for conditioning.”
Copy Pavey’s speed session
What’s the best session a runner can do to improve their race speed? “You need all the different components like tempo runs and endurance runs to improve your speed,” advises Pavey. “But a really good one is 4 x 1000m with 3 minutes’ recovery between each 1000m; then
8 x 400m with 30 seconds or 1 minute’s of recovery; then after a 5-minute rest finish with 2 x 200m. You do the 1000m reps really well because you know you have 3 minutes’ recovery, but the 400m reps are more about sustaining a high pace when you’re tired and the 200m sprints add some late session speed.”
Bolt on some cross-training
You have to put in the running miles to improve your 10km PB, but you can still boost your cardiovascular fitness with crosstraining. “Over the years I have used stationary bikes and cross-trainers but mostly aqua-jogging in the pool,” reveals Pavey. “You can really emulate running in the pool, with long runs or interval sessions, so you improve your fitness and running action with minimal impact on your body. Before the Athens Olympics (in 2004) I aqua-jogged so much I was nearly drowning!”
Taper your training
If you want to run fast on race day, make sure you rest beforehand. “The main thing is to feel healthy and fresh and not run down so always reduce your training in the week before,” advises Pavey. “However, I like to do a short jog and a few strides on the day before a race to keep my legs ticking over and to awaken my neurological system so I feel sharper.”
Get prepped early
In the final 24 hours before the race, you want to be fuelled, hydrated and relaxed, not stressed and bloated. “I eat lots of carbs the night before, like chicken and veg with rice or pasta, but keep it plain so it doesn’t upset your stomach – so maybe not a curry!” advises Pavey. “And always think about your kit, travel and logistics in advance so you’re not stressed and wasting energy.” On race day, start preparing as early as possible.
“I get up five hours before an event, I don’t like drinking loads in the last two hours as you will just need the toilet, so it’s better to hydrate early then have a few sips before the race. Breakfast is coffee, a sports drink, porridge and a tuna and mayonnaise roll followed by a PowerBar and a sports drink two hours before the race.”
To unleash your most powerful performance, have a clear pacing plan based on your training speeds and stick to it. “It’s good to keep strict km splits in your mind or written on your hand,” says Pavey. “Spend time in training working them out so you know what pace you can sustain and you’re not in the dark. Then just think about all your hard work in training and give it your very best.”