Hayley Yelling tells AW how she prepared for the first of her two European Cross Country Championships wins in 2004

At the 2004 European Cross Country Championships in Heringsdorf, Germany, Hayley Yelling triumphed against tough competition from Polish athlete Justyna Bak and fellow countrywoman Jo Pavey to claim the biggest race win of her life at the age of 30.

Yelling managed to fight off the best in Europe despite juggling a 90-mile training week with a demanding teaching job, which saw her fitting grueling cross country and track sessions around parents’ evenings and lesson planning.

Her life now as a mother of two-year-old twin boys couldn’t be more different to her heady days of competing in multiple European and World championships on the track and country. As a coach with Yelling Performance, the company she set up with her brother Martin, and also working as a maths tutor, Yelling keeps herself fit by pushing her children in a double buggy along Bournemouth promenade for anything between 6 and 14 miles.

It represents a marked change from her nine years at the top level of athletics training under coach Conrad Milton at Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow AC.

Fitting double training days around long days in the classroom, the diminutive sister-in-law of Liz Yelling swore by a number of sessions to confirm her training was on track for major track or road races. One key killer session was 5 x (5x200m) with 30 seconds recovery and three minutes between sets leading up to a 5000m race, and 20x400m with one minute recovery for 10,000m preparation.

“The 200m session really got my heart rate up, and with only 30 seconds recovery, it worked on my speed endurance, while I knew I was fit when I could run all of the 400m intervals in 68 seconds or under,” she says.

But she turned to the hills to prove in her mind that she was in shape to take the European title in 2004. Building up to every cross country season, Yelling knew she could rely on a particularly tough hill session to get her into prime racing shape and confirm she was on track for the championships.

“The session involved 6-8 double hill loops that took about six minutes and were very tough, despite being joined by the rest of Conrad’s group,” she explains.

“I still remember that total leg burn at the top, having to dig in and push hard along the crest, before letting go downhill, to then go back up again – that session got me fit! I also liked 1200m, 1000m, 600m, 400m as a taper session before big races, and knew I was running well when this session felt easy and I still hit the pace.”


Hayley Yelling was still working every day as a teacher leading up to the European Championships, but managed to fit key sessions in the final week to sharpen up perfectly ahead of her victory in Heringsdorf.

Saturday December 4
AM: Ache from weights yesterday. Session on rutty grass in Luton. 22 minutes warm up and down. 3×10 minutes (2min recovery), then 4x1min fast.

Sunday December 5
AM: Windsor Great Park hill
session. 3×3 single hill loop, about 2.5min long. Then 4x80m hill sprints. Clubmate Tim Hyde helped me on the first set, tough for the next two sets.
PM: 33 minutes relaxed, quick run. Felt good.

Monday December 6
AM: 5 miles, a real plod.
PM: 8 miles river run 49:40 minutes, felt relaxed. Drills and strides after and circuit class at the gym.

Tuesday December 7
AM: 5 miles steady followed by
busy day teaching.
PM: Session at the Long Walk in Windsor with the group. 20min warm up from the track, 6x1km (3min 10sec). Slight hill but it was up and back so loved the downhill section, then 8x40sec fast (30sec recovery), 25min warm down.

Wednesday December 8
AM: 5 miles steady.
PM: Untimed 8 miles, felt slow. Massage after, ouch.

Thursday December 9
AM: 5 miles steady.
PM: Session straight from school as I didn’t have long due to a parents’ evening. 3 minutes, 6x40sec x 3 (30sec recovery, 1min between sets). Felt relaxed.

Friday December 10
AM: 9 miles river run. Travel to Heathrow at 11.30am, flight to Berlin then a 3.5-hour coach trip to Heringsdorf.

Saturday December 11
AM: 30 minutes easy running with some drills and strides. Visited race course, thought it was okay, hilly but not muddy. Shared a room with Helen Clitheroe and had a laugh, felt relaxed.

Sunday December 12 – RACE DAY
AM: 20 minutes warm up then race. First in the pen alongside Jo Pavey. Had a bad start, hurt in the third lap but was still up there. Sprint finish, I can’t believe I won! We won the silver team medal too. Wow! Post-race drugs test took me a while, and was too excited to sleep after.