Finding a happy balance

Friday 2 December 2016

'This Mum Runs' is the inspiring story of five-time Olympian Jo Pavey's journey to her first major gold medal at the age of 40.

Jo Pavey

(Photo copyright: Adidas)

If you're looking for inspiration to take up a challenge next year, then you could hardly find a better example than Jo Pavey.

This summer she ran in her fifth Olympic Games, and she's been re-writing the record books since 2014 when she became the oldest female European champion in history by landing 10,000m gold at the age of 40, just ten days after taking bronze in the 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games.

"It was like I suddenly had a double-barrelled surname - Jo Pavey-Forty!" she told me when I caught up with her to discuss how she manages to juggle a busy life as a mum of two young kids with being an elite runner, all chronicled in her new autobiography 'This Mum Runs'.

"I’m known for being 'old' as an athlete which I don’t mind; it’s quite fun. And I can use my experience to good effect."

Indeed Jo credits a new-found flexibility with that breakthrough gold medal.

"I’d been trying to get a gold medal at a championships for so many years and never would have thought it would come under those circumstances. I’d just had a baby, I was a busy mum, and I was over the age of 40.

Motivating factors

"When I was younger I was doing all the training, eating and sleeping and trying to do the right things. But I desperately wanted to be a mum, and when I got that balance in my life, that’s when everything fell into place.

"After having my second child, I felt really happy and I wasn’t stressed about running. I trained really hard when I could, but it was all so unexpected – I was still breastfeeding at the start of April and the trials for the 10,000 were in May. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could get a medal of any sort at either the Commonwealths or the Europeans.

"But I found ways to get fit. The treadmill is practically in a cupboard in our house but my little girl took five months before she would even take a bottle, so I had to train close to her - you must be motivated to run in a cupboard!

"So it’s been all about juggling things and working my training around kids parties, play dates, school runs and all the needs of the kids. Being very flexible with my training – training harder than ever when I’m actually at the track doing sessions but not dwelling on it either beforehand or after it.

"Having that happy balance in life has taught me a lot of lessons. I think if you’re happy, and you’ve surrounded yourself with happiness, then you can achieve things that you never thought were possible."

Words of wisdom

Jo has been delighted by the positive reaction to the book and it's clear when talking to her just how keen she is to help and encourage others to take up running and enjoy the multiple benefits it brings.

"Anyone can get out there and run, and no one should feel it’s not for them. You just need to take it slowly. Jog, walk and gradually build up to running 10 minutes continuously. Then half an hour.

"And don’t be put off by how tough it can feel initially because it’s not long until you surprise yourself. "

Her key piece of advice is: "Set yourself a target, whether it’s to run your first 5K or 10K, and plot back from that and think how you’re going to get there, with little goals along the way.

Inspired to run? Find a local 5K or 10K

"It’s so motivating to have goals to aim for and achieve – it's exciting seeing the improvements you make.

"And there’s so much more to running than just keeping fit. It boosts your self-esteem, you get to meet people and make friendships. And for parents, it’s great to be a good role model for your kids, showing that it’s fun to be active."

Indeed 'fun' is a constant theme when Jo talks about running and it's obvious she loves the sport just as much now as when she was starting out. Writing the book has underlined that: "It’s been such an enjoyable process to talk about the journey – right from being a schoolgirl runner and all the ups and downs since then."

This Mum Runs coverThis Mum Runs by Jo Pavey is published by Yellow Jersey Press (£18.99).

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