The former Welsh cross-country international tells Ruth Jones how breaking the British 20km walk record on the track has spurred her on to aim for Olympic selection
I first tried race walking at school, but my technique was terrible. I just walked fast rather than race walked. I was a cross-country runner and had never thought about doing it seriously.
It was years later that I stumbled into competitive walking by chance. In my second year at the University of Leeds, I filled in for my team in the Varsity mile walk to help earn vital points. I ended up competing against the Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Jo Atkinson (née Jackson), and I’m pretty sure she lapped me twice. I hadn’t realised that Leeds Becketts University was home to the National Centre for Race Walking.
Dr Andi Drake, head coach at the National Centre for Race Walking, invited me along to one of his squad sessions. I quickly picked up the technique, eventually getting fluid and fast enough to build on my strong endurance background.
I’d not long started race walking when I was involved a car accident. It stopped my training for months. It was then I realised how much I missed competing and training seriously. As soon as I could, I got back into training and had a go at my first 5km race walk event. I finished in a time that was 15 seconds short of British championships qualification.
I was still running a lot and was the cross-country club captain at university when I won a bronze medal at the British championships in 2012. I had gradually been replacing most of my runs with walks and it paid off.
My coach, Andi Drake, spotted my potential and really believed in my athletic ability. I owe him so much. We are in regular contact and discuss training and I also use training software, video footage, and feedback from my local coach, Martin Bell, to help plan my sessions.
Alana Barber, the New Zealand race walker, taught me a lot. I lived with her while she trained and worked in the UK and her breakthrough (she finished 18th in the 20km walk at the World Championships in a national record of 1:32:07) made me realise not only that I could do the same, but also that learning the correct technique, building endurance, improving strength and mastering the 20km distance takes time.
Breaking the 20km British record was a big deal for me. It has given me a lot of confidence, as I completed the 50 laps comfortably and was technically strong.
I graduated from the University of Leeds in neuroscience. I have since moved back to Cardiff, and now work full-time as a clerical assistant at Cardiff University.
Variety is essential to keep me motivated. I always run on Mondays, usually off road, exploring areas unsuitable for race walking. I do loops of Heath, Bute, Hayley and Roath parks in Cardiff for my shorter walk sessions and meet Martin on Wednesdays at Cardiff’s Leckwith track for technical sessions. My longer walks are my most adventurous, and I love using the Taff Trail or the coastal path around Swansea Bay out towards the Mumbles, even though I often finish with a mouthful of sand.
My go-to breakfast is a bowl of porridge with honey, walnuts and blueberries and a cup of green or mint tea. Later on in the morning I have a peanut butter and banana-topped cinnamon bagel plus enough water to keep me hydrated. My boyfriend is a chef and prepares great snacks that I often share out at races. It goes down very well with all of my competitors.
My long-term race aim is to eventually break the 90-minute barrier. I’d like to break some more British records, and eventually qualify for the Olympics, if not Rio, then definitely Tokyo. And I’d like to join a group of women promoting the 50km event to try to get it into a major championships.
My advice to anyone starting out is to not overthink the technique. Don’t get hung up on the rules or on the misconception that it is slow, just go for it.
TYPICAL WEEK’S TRAINING
Monday – AM: Physical preparation: Focus is on strength and optimal range of movement for my event in the hips, adductors, hamstrings, foot and ankle, trunk, upper body, plus some lateral stability and global exercises PM: 8km easy run
Tuesday – AM: 5-8km steady race walk at 5:00/km PM: 10-12km steady race walk at 5:00/ km pace
Wednesday – AM: Physical preparation as Monday PM: 5km technical race walk. Track-based with Cardiff-based coach Martin Bell, who gives me feedback and can raise any areas to work on with Andi
Thursday – AM: 5-8km easy race walk at 5:10-15/km PM: 20-30min race walk drills and 6-8km tempo or VO2max interval race walk. Recent tempo sessions have included 3x2000m, 200 m float + 2x1000m, 200m float, 4:20-25/km. VO2max intervals will come in the autumn, ie 10x600m with 2:00 recovery in 2:20-25, ie 4:00-4:05/km
Friday – Optional training – if it’s been a big week of work this could include further easy race walk sessions, ie, 8km in the morning and the afternoon
Saturday – AM: 15-25km steady race walk at 5:00/km PM: 5-8km steady race walk at 5:00/km
Sunday – Rest
I have a monitor to measure heart-rate variability, which helps my coach monitor my daily training stress and tweak training as required – for example, taking an extra rest day or cutting back.
We track the overall pace of my training during each week in combination with training volume and record it all in a software programme called “Training Peaks”.
Technique is critical in my event as I have to maintain good form for about 90 minutes in a 20km race. I regularly video training sessions, which I can share with Andi in Leeds via an app.
» The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes