“Just fabulous!” are the words Shireen Bailey, the former Olympic runner, uses to describe Reigate’s first half marathon event last year.
She believes last September’s inaugural race, which attracted 4000 runners and raised £150,000 for charity has been great for inspiring locals to start running or up their game. “It gave everyone a goal and focus,” she explains. If people weren’t running it, they were volunteering or talking about it! So many people took part. And everyone who’d previously thought they couldn’t run were suddenly coming out to try.”
Clearly very passionate about the event, Bailey describes 2014’s Race Day as “lovely with an amazing carnival, festival-like atmosphere, a local and family-feel”. “I started the event up on stage and I was buzzing! The atmosphere was contagious! I remember talking to a guy working near me who said: ‘Oh my god, I just feel like getting my tracksuit on now too and running!’”
A local resident for many years, Bailey says Reigate and the surrounding areas are so good for running and perfect for a half marathon. Her favourite, regular routes tend to take in Priory Park and Reigate Heath. “Reigate is so pretty – especially around the park at the start and end of the race – and there’s so many nice restaurants to choose from to go to afterwards!”
Bailey, who now runs individual and group coaching sessions at Nutfield Priory’s Running Club, says she has seen a growth in local running clubs and this has helped running to become more fun and sociable.
“When I started coaching 20 or so years ago, I was the only one in the area doing it but now there’s several,” she notes. And she’s pleased that running is appealing more to older people than before: “More people than ever are realising that you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to run!”
SIMPLY THE BEST… Shireen Bailey with family and fellow Olympic runner Steve Cram at the recent Westminster Olympian’s Mile – Cram won the race and Bailey came second
So what inspired Bailey to start running? She credits her PE teacher following a ‘brilliant’ report at her school open evening. “I was just glad to be good at something, she jokes!” She was just 12 at the time and shortly afterwards joined Croydon Athletics Running Club where she tried out for an 800m race.
“My parents knew nothing about running”, she laughs “and gave me a huge roast dinner and syrup sponge pudding before the race. My dad’s only advice was: ‘Never let a leader get a few metres in front of you!’ So, during the race when he shouted out: ‘There’s a leader too far in front of you!’, I quickly responded by sprinting to catch up but then threw up my whole dinner!” Fortunately, Bailey managed to put her embarrassment to one side, went back to the club and then went on to become an Olympian.
Making the Olympic team was “as amazing as you can imagine” and the proudest moment in her running career. “And so of course was running my fastest time in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea having gone through all the heats to get there,” she adds, bursting with pride. She reached the 800m semi-finals, running 1:59.94, before reaching the final of the 1500 metres, running a lifetime best of 4:02.32. Bailey’s 800 metres best of 1.58.97, ranks ninth on the UK all-time list.
Four years prior to that was her biggest race disappointment when she failed to earn selection for the Los Angeles Olympic Games. “It was the worst moment of my life!” she confesses. “I was ranked No.1 but messed up at my Olympic trials then had to wait four whole years to qualify. I was absolutely terrified in that race; the pressure was so intense. My mum had her head down the whole time and couldn’t watch me but luckily I made the first two. I learned that you can’t let a bad experience put you off.”
She now transfers those experiences as an athlete into her work coaching runners. “A lot of it is mental – I know what they are feeling – I’ve been there… I know what it feels like to work yourself so hard you feel sick. And I’ve learned from silly things I’ve done like overtraining and burning out and can make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Bailey is not a fan of generic plans – only tailored plans designed to push the individual. “I’m not working from a textbook! I know when they are ready or not ready to work harder.”
Although famed for being a middle distance runner, Bailey points out that she regularly ran 10 miles as part of her training sessions to help with stamina and averages a 6-minute mile at longer distances. “At 55, I’m more careful now and tend to run shorter distances, given the level of training I’ve done over the years, plus I’m running and exercising while working.”
So which runner does Bailey most admire most? “It has to be Kelly Holmes – she ran my distances too – for her sheer guts and determination and all the hard work she put in.”
Reigate’s 2nd half marathon and new 10K race takes place on 20 September 2015 – sign up here
Training advice from an Olympian
Shireen Bailey answers your questions…
What’s your general training advice for 10Kers/half marathoners?
It obviously depends what you’ve done up to that point. Learning about pace is critical so you don’t burn out in a race; that’s what really makes the difference.
What words of encouragement would you give to a first-timer?
It’s great to try! Take your time, don’t rush and don’t worry about using a watch. I think people are too obsessed with their Garmin watches etc these days anyway. Time yourself but once you do know your pace, go and run and let your body get fitter gradually, don’t push too hard. The first six weeks are the worst for beginners – every step can hurt. Train with someone to keep you motivated and make it more fun.
How can having a running coach help?
Obviously not everyone wants a coach but they are great for the bad times and getting you through disappointments, not just for getting you brilliant! They know whether you are doing too much or not enough, help you get to know your body and listen to your breathing. It’s not about standard training programmes.
What does a coaching session involve?
Training is specific and tailored to the individual or group. Typically, I’ll take someone who has been running the same pace and same route. I’ll introduce fartlek training and interval training – a watered down version of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – which I’ve been doing for about 30 years! There’s always a proper warm up and cool down. They dread and love it all at the same time. I work them hard!
What advice would you give to more experienced runners looking to smash their PB?
First, I’d ask whether they are doing enough training. It needs to be a mixed bag of strength, hill and fartlek training – working at 70% or 90% of maximum heart rate. Make sure you’re not overtraining. Having enough rest days to recover is really important too as you are doing microscopic damage.
How important is speed training?
Very important as you need to push your lactate threshold (the exercise intensity at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood stream). Less mileage is needed if you do a mix of training – that’s what my coach believed and so do I.
How can you stay focused?
The race does that for you, it gives you a goal.
How can you fit runs into busy schedules?
Obviously it depends on your working patterns and days off but going for longer runs early in the morning or on days off and squeezing in interval training in the evenings is usually more manageable.
Tips for a great finish?
Think of the camera, looking good, and all your friends and family smiling as you sprint to the finish!