AW speaks with the European junior 1500m champion about her unusual strength training technique

There is ongoing debate in the athletics world surrounding strength training for middle-distance runners. Despite boasting well-defined arm muscles, European junior 1500m champion Bobby Clay does not do any weights. However, the diminutive 18-year-old has her own story behind her perfectly formed muscle to weight ratio – when out walking her goats, she often has to carry one home!

Living on a small-holding with a couple of each type of animal, Bobby explains: “I often get asked whether I do weights and when I say I don’t, I always receive a suspicious look.

“What people don’t realise is that I walk my goats and one of them will often refuse to walk and lie down in the road until I pick him up.

“So, no, I don’t lift weights, but I have to carry a rather round pygmy goat down the road while the other drags me along, impatient to get back to the field.”

The animals are clearly a big part of Bobby’s life and the Invicta East Kent athlete even goes so far as to reveal that they have indirectly contributed to her run of good form this year, which has seen her improve her 1500m PB to 4:12.20 and go to No.8 on the UK under-20 all-time list, as well as win European and England Athletics under-20 titles.

“I’ve always had my horses and riding has always been a big part of my life. I have gathered the other animals over the years for various birthdays.

“They definitely keep me busy, entertained and make me happy. When I’m happy I run fast, so I suppose they all have their role in my training,” she explains.

“I don’t lift weights, but I have to carry a rather round pygmy goat down the road while the other drags me along, impatient to get back to the field”

Bobby also credits the part her sister, Alex – also a GB junior international for cross country and 5000m – has played in her success.

“I’m so thankful to have a training partner, sister and best friend all rolled into one. She pushes me hard and keeps me on my toes,” she says. “I hate it when she’s injured – it’s then that I truly realise how lucky I am to always have someone to keep me company on my long runs.

“We’ve shared some amazing moments where we’ve both been on top of the world, such as finishing one-two in the Edinburgh cross country in 2014. The feeling of crossing the line and hugging your sister is magical,” adds Bobby.

Having started out in tetrathlon (running, horse riding, shooting and swimming), Bobby claims she found the required concentration for shooting challenging and moved into running. She trains at Canterbury High School, and is now coached by Peter Mullervy, having previously been guided by James Roberts.

She explains: “Invicta is a great little club and my group are good fun. Peter leads the track-based sessions to which I moved to a couple of years ago.

“Previously I was in the grass-based group led by James, whose enthusiasm is what made me choose athletics rather than drifting off to another sport at a young age. The sessions were so much fun that I never realised how hard we were training,” adds Bobby, full of praise for her coaches.

Having missed the cross country season due to injury, Bobby did rehab exercises in the gym to strengthen the surrounding areas and she was able to bike and swim to maintain aerobic fitness. Rather than be disheartened, Bobby knew she was in good shape coming into the season.

She reflects: “I was just so excited to race and this over-rode any doubt. I was raring to get back to it. The break did me the world of good both mentally and physically. I realised how much the sport means to me and the passion I have. Therefore, I started this summer with a very positive mindset.”

Indeed, Bobby wasted little time in setting PBs. “After not breaking my 1500m PB last year, I knew that I needed to stop thinking about times, but race. As soon as I got racing, the times came,” she says.

“The break did me the world of good both mentally and physically. I realised how much the sport means to me and the passion I have”

As GB team captain and wearing the blue bib as the fastest in the field at the Europeans, did she feel the pressure? “It only really hit home that I had the European lead when I was given my number. It was really cool and a bit scary, but I love the pressure.

“As soon as the gun went I almost switched off my brain. I just let my instinct take over and raced until I crossed the line. I‘d been thinking about the Europeans as motivation all throughout injury,” she says.

Looking ahead to the winter, the ambitious athlete intends on having a cross country season, as although she admits she hates the thought of being wet, cold and muddy, she knows it toughens her up.

“Being this small, I need to be as hard as nails and I think cross country is definitely testing both physically and mentally,” she grins.

Her 4ft 11in height is also the prime reason – so she claims – for racing in long white Paula Radcliffe-esque socks, as opposed to simply trying to emulate the marathon world record-holder.

“Paula has always been a massive inspiration to me, but in all honesty I wear the socks because I feel they make my legs look a bit longer and I need all the help I can get,” says Bobby, tongue-in-cheek.

You can find further performance stats on Bobby on Power of 10 here.

» Support young athletes via the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, see rpmf.org.uk