Britain’s fastest steeplechaser in years is silencing the event’s critics with world-class performances, writes Ruth Jones
I don’t pay too much attention to the criticism of current steeplechase standards. I think a lot of people still think it’s an easy event, and don’t give it the respect it deserves. It is a really hard discipline because you need to be relatively fast but, more importantly, really strong — both in an endurance sense and also being able to physically stand up to the pounding on your legs. Anyone that tells you it’s easy probably hasn’t tried steeplechase.
My dad was successful in the event. He drew me to try it. [Bill Mullett ran 8:40.8 over the barriers when he represented Great Britain in 1969 – a mark that survived as a Sussex record for nearly 20 years – and ran for Scotland in the World Cross Country Championships in the same year.] I competed over the barriers as an under-17 and under-20, but I moved away from it for a few years because I didn’t feel I was strong enough. It wasn’t until I came to the end of my time in America as a student in 2010 that I felt I could make it in the event and earn a GB vest.
I’ve been a permanent resident in the US for over three years, and have lived in Indianapolis since 2009. It is definitely my home now, and I only travel to Europe for races in the summer. I work in a running store, which gives me a lot of flexibility to train. One of my bosses is the former American 5000m record-holder Bob Kennedy, who has been able to give me some useful tips.
My Lewes-based coach, Dave Leach, and I have a pretty good relationship that works really well. Although I only train with him when I’m in the UK, it’s so easy to speak to him on Skype or Whatsapp. The distance between us doesn’t seem as far. However, I’m on my own on a day -to-day basis in the US, so I’ve got to know how my body feels, since I’m the one who will have to make any immediate in-session decisions.
Winning the British championships last year was really big for me. It justified my training and to come back a better athlete after a few years of injury was fantastic. Of course, running 8:22.42 is high on my list of achievements, but so is breaking four minutes for the mile at Butler University, especially as I was the first in the college’s history to do so.
I am proud of finishing dead last in the 2009 NCAA Mid East regional. I had fractured my sacrum falling on ice, but once I was able to I cross-trained really hard in the pool. I was so exhausted some days, but I was back running eventually, won the 1500m qualifying race with the ‘help’ of my team mates, and ran a season’s best in the heats. Although I was left for dead in the slow and tactical final, I had given everything to get back racing, and sometimes that is more important than the outcome.
Indianapolis is a great training location. There are so many options, such as Eagle Creek Park, and the central canal towpath and Monon trails, both of which are long and mostly off-road. There are also quite a few outdoor tracks and three indoors for the winter months.
During my base phase, I have plenty of people to train with for long tempos and sessions. But once track season comes around I usually end up on my own because most of the group are focused on half and full marathons. I run with Thomas Frazer a lot, who ran the World Half Marathon in Cardiff, and former Loughborough and Butler athlete Andy Baker is always up for joining in on my late night shake-outs. I live in America, but run mostly with another Brit and an Irishman.
The easiest way to deal with discomfort in training or in a race is to break it down into segments of time. When it gets tough in an interval or race, I’ll just think how far I have to go before it is over, which might be 400m, which is 63-70 seconds in steeplechase. I know I can run hard for that length of time, which seems less daunting than a specific distance. It’s also useful to look back through training every so often to remind myself what I have done to get to where I am now. It’s a good reminder that I am fit.
My success is a result of training very hard and consistently for years. Dave’s coaching has been instrumental in my ability to do that. We have tweaked training in places to make improvements, but hard work and being happy are probably the two biggest factors in running fast.
ROB MULLETT’S TRAINING LEADING UP TO HIS 8:22.42 STEEPLECHASE PB
“My least favourite sessions are tempos or long runs, but I’m pretty happy doing most track work. I run on lots of different surfaces and usually make my runs hilly, but that can be a little challenging in Indianapolis as it’s pretty flat. I think my training is pretty standard for a lot of runners, but I’ll try to hit various paces throughout the week, and vary the locations of sessions to keep everything new and less monotonous. The training below is fairly typical over the summer. My volume has reduced, but as I race more regularly, training days change as needed.”
Friday am: Tempo or Fartlek session ie 4x4min @4:55 pace with 2min @5:25 pace. pm: 35 minutes easy
Saturday am: 35 minutes plus strides and core. pm: 35 minutes easy
Sunday am: 1 hour 25 minutes long steady run
Monday am: 15 minutes easy plus weights. pm: 60 minutes steady
Tuesday am: Track session: 3x1600m (lap jog) @ 4:24, 800m and 400m over hurdles at steeplechase race pace and faster. pm: 35 minutes easy
Wednesday am: 50 minutes steady. pm: 35 minutes plus core strength
Thursday am: 15 minutes easy plus weights pm 65 minutes steady
» The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes