Selection for the European Cross Country Championships was always on the agenda for Steph Twell. Here, she tells Ruth Jones about her battle back after an horrific ankle injury in 2011

I have trained at altitude from a relatively young age. However, my first trip to Font Romeu was in the build up the 2015 Beijing World Championships. I had the best two weeks training in the mountains as the start of my final championship preparation. I completed most of my sessions alone, apart from two sweaty track efforts with Steve Vernon. Once I overtook him on a home straight, I knew I was ready to race.

Sometimes I can’t quite believe how fast I have actually run. I look back at my times over 5000m (14:54) and 1500m (4:02) and struggle to comprehend that I’ve run them. I was never content as a junior and pushed myself relentlessly, so I didn’t actually appreciate how good I was. I was coming right at Paula Radcliffe and Jo Pavey, but had no sense of the enormity of that.

My world junior 1500m title is my greatest achievement to date. Not only did I run the last 800m in 2:06, I shared the podium with my best friend Emma Pallant (recently crowned World Duathlon champion). Without Emma I wouldn’t have pushed myself so hard. I rarely experience the shared passion and determination to succeed that I had when I trained with her. It’s a little different now.

I love swampy, boggy cross country races. My season wouldn’t have been complete if I hadn’t made the team for the European Cross Country. However, I was always prepared to allow my body the time it needed to return from the horrific ankle injury I suffered in 2011.

I am still coached by Mick Woods. Neither of us has stopped learning yet. Personally, I have evolved so much since my injury that our relationship is founded in part through trust and listening to my own experiences now. Mick will still set me some training I won’t enjoy, and tell me if I raced badly, which I love. He’s the most professional, selfless and encouraging person I know, but a big softie deep down who requires patience and tolerance to earn his trust.

I rarely train on the track during winter. I do most of my running through Caesar’s Camp in Bracknell Forest. On a Friday, which is a day off work, I visit St Mary’s University Performance Endurance Centre for one-on-one strength and conditioning as well as some physiology assessments.

I hate my Wednesday morning runs and also warming down after every session. Other than that, I like pretty much everything else about training. Mick is imaginative, not only in the sessions he sets as a challenge, but with the courses he takes time to mark out.

At Aldershot, it is rare if my female counterparts haven’t trained at least twice a week together. Being in Mick’s
squad from the age of 11 has helped me realise I can always be challenged by training partners. I have often trained alongside under-15 and under-17 year old athletes when returning to regular training and they have really helped me reach where I am today.

We are like a big family. Mick’s squad looks like a parkrun at every session. In return, I have given back to the club, and am always there to welcome, help and be collaborative in helping others further themselves.

I love food. Lately, I have fallen for Japanese cuisine such as miso, seaweed, rice and stocks with fresh veg and quality meat. My daily staples are eggs, beetroot, avocados, peanut butter, coconut and coffee as well as Cherry Active drink. I’ve recently invested in a smoothie maker and my coconut milk, almond butter, banana and cinnamon smoothies are just divine.

I work as a Learning Support Assistant at a primary school. I really am passionate about helping young people have the best start in life and previously I worked at a charitable organisation called The Pier, a centre for children with social, emotional and behavioural needs.

This year I ran two qualifying times for the Worlds and the Olympics. It makes me very excited about my chances of bettering my 12th place ‘global final’ best in the 5000m next year.


The following represents a typical week’s training in a high intensity period

Saturday: Volume session on grass with long reps such as 10 minutes, 5x1200m and 800m.

Sunday: 80-90 minutes at 6:10-6:30 pace over undulating forest trails.

Monday – AM: 30 minutes easy at 6:45 pace.
PM: 50 minutes steady at 6.00 pace followed by strength and conditioning.

Tuesday – AM: Grass session, 30-35 minutes effort such as 5 minutes, 2×3 minutes, 5 minutes, 2×3 minutes, 4×2 minutes.
PM: Squad session.

Wednesday – AM: 20 minutes easy running at 7-8:00 pace depending on how my ankle feels.
PM: 45-50 minutes at 5:40-6:00 pace and strength and conditioning.

Thursday – AM: 20 minutes tempo run with 2×12 minutes.
PM: 30 minutes of hills with 6-8 steep hills.

Friday: 40-50 minutes on treadmill at altitude. I will sometimes run again in the evening and also do strength and conditioning.

» The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes