What a difference a year can make in sport and, as AW found out, Racheal Bamford is proof that anything is possible

The fast-improving Racheal Bamford admits that this time last year, steeplechasing, let alone the Commonwealth Games, was not even on her radar.

However, after a conversation between her coach, Mike Baxter, and the late Dave Sunderland, together with a tweak to her training schedule, the 25-year-old can reflect on a year that saw her finish seventh in the Commonwealth Games 3000m steeplechase with 9:45.51 to go sixth on the UK all-time list.

More recently, she made her GB debut in the mixed relay at the Morrisons Great Edinburgh Cross Country.

The Leeds City athlete explains: “At the 2014 BMC indoor Grand Prix in Sheffield, Dave suggested to Mike that I give the steeplechase a try as a good time could mean a spot on the England team in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games. I think Mike really mulled this over before broaching the subject with me as he worried it might harm my 1500m running due to my clumsiness over barriers.”

However, in March last year, Bamford started training for the event. She says: “I attended a couple of steeplechase clinics with Bashir Hussain in Stockport. Mike introduced me to John Baron, who coached me in basic hurdle technique and drills, and Andy Rodgers, who Mike coached to a national junior title over the steeplechase, also helped me with the necessary technique. He gave me a useful tip to speed up into the water jump barrier.”

After a couple of early-season races, Bamford ran 11 seconds under the ‘B’ qualifying time at the BMC Grand Prix at Sport City in Manchester. After a bronze at the UK Championships and some training sessions over “blind” hurdles with two runners in front of her so she would feel comfortable in a group, Bamford took to the start line in Glasgow.

She reflects: “It was a position I never believed I could be in since starting running with my local athletics club five years ago. I was completely calm about the race, visualising the opportunity and not focussing on the pressure, keeping Michael Johnson’s quote ‘pressure is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity’ in mind. My experience in Glasgow was brilliant and has motivated me further to train hard and focus on training for the steeplechase.”

“I was completely calm about the race … keeping Michael Johnson’s quote ‘pressure is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity’ in mind. My experience in Glasgow was brilliant”

Bamford completes all training sessions and training runs “to feel” with no Garmin nor heart rate monitor. She aims to run 50-55 miles a week for three weeks, before an easier week at 35-45 miles. She also tries to do as much of her running as possible off-road.

Since she fits training around working full-time for her family’s architecture practice, David Bamford Chartered Architects, as an architectural technician and office manager and helping her fiancé, Zack Whitehead, with his art gallery, she often has to run with a head torch in the winter or resort to the roads.

Usually, the Yorkshire runner does a track session on Tuesdays, a hill or tempo session on Thursdays and a grass session on Saturdays. This regime is complemented with relaxed running and conditioning in between. She trains from home and uses the Leeds Carnegie track and some grass sessions. She links up with Claire Duck on Tuesdays and Saturdays and the rest of the time runs on her own or with her fiancé. She is supported by Club Energy in Otley for her conditioning and does body bar and circuit classes.

When asked for her favourite training session, Bamford replies: “I recently read a quote from David Oliver on the IAAF website that said: ‘Having a favourite training session is like asking what your favourite dental procedure is’. I enjoy all my training, but when it has been raining hard and I have a grass session to do I might think the dentist’s chair to be less painful!”

In the autumn, Bamford benefited from a UKA training camp in Kenya and is grateful for the support they have given her over the winter. She says: “It made me realise more than ever that a one-size-fits-all approach is not viable for every athlete. Mike had considered the altitude carefully when setting sessions for me, using our traditional sessions, but making the recoveries longer. I think I really benefitted from his training plan. I learned so much. At home I don’t find enough time to take conditioning seriously, so in Kenya I made an effort to join in with drills and yoga. The team physiotherapist helped strengthen my ankles, giving me a gym routine and drills to complete. Another team physio
introduced me to needling, which sorted a knee niggle on the spot. My post-Kenya testing showed a big VO2 max and lactic threshold improvement and helped me become a more rounded athlete. I can’t thank British Athletics, the London Marathon and all the other sponsors enough.”

“It (UKA training camp in Kenya) made me realise more than ever that a one-size-fits-all approach is not viable for every athlete”

Bamford also enjoyed being a full-time athlete for a few weeks. She adds: “I did notice how fresh I felt all of the time training in Kenya, whereas I often struggle with tiredness at home. But until I can financially substantiate being a full-time athlete, my work for the architecture practice and gallery has to be my priority.”

Interestingly, she came from a triathlon background and had been coached by Malcolm Brown, who encouraged her to transition into athletics. Explaining her coaches’ philosophy, Bamford explains: “Both Mike and Malcolm believe in quality over quantity, particularly when it comes to track sessions. Even during the winter they both ensure athletes are in touch with a change of pace.”

WEEKLY TRAINING OUTLINE

Monday: (am) 45/50min steady run. (pm) Body bar at Club Energy – 1.

Tuesday: (am) 30min easy run. Track session plus hurdle drills – 2.

Wednesday: (am) Steady run 45/50min. (pm) Circuits at Club Energy – 1.

Thursday: (am) 30min easy. (pm) Light session (hills or tempo plus acceleration runs).

Friday: Rest or very easy jog.

Saturday: Grass session – 3.

Sunday: 60-70min long run off-road on the Chevin or Wharfe Valley.

1 Tend to do either body bar or circuits.
2 Last three track sessions: 4x400m in 70sec off 90sec, jog 4min, 1200m in 3min 50sec, jog 4min, 8x200m in 31sec off 90sec; 4x300m x3 (off 50sec with 4min jog between sets) 51sec (last 300m in 46sec); 2x1km in 3min10sec off 3min jog, 2x500m in 88sec off 90sec, 3x300m in 47sec off 2min.
3 Last three grass sessions: 3x4min at sub-5km pace off 3min jog, 1x2min hard, jog 5min, 6x80m sprints; 1x4min/2x3min/3x2mins/4x1min (all recoveries half previous effort); 3x3min at 3km pace off 2min jog, 3min recovery, 3x1min at 1500m pace off jog 60sec, 3min recovery, 3x1min all-out off 90sec jog.

Conditioning: I try to do a 10min core set three times a week. This varies, but includes things such as crunchies, planks, dips, press-ups, single-leg squats, medicine ball and swiss ball exercises. I usually warm-up for this with “sun salutation” yoga and ankle mobility plus steeplechase conditioning such as single leg kettlebell Romanian deadlifts, leg-out body twists, theraband “crab” walk and leg to the sides, trail leg drill and hurdle position stretch.

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

» You can follow Racheal Bamford on Twitter – @Rachibuns