Not your regular Jo

Over a 20-year running career, Jo Pavey has represented Great Britain at four Olympic Games, set two national indoor records and become European 10,000m champion at the age of 40 – the oldest female European champion in history.

We caught up with Pavey to talk time management, what she loves about the London 10,000 and how having tuna for breakfast is an essential part of her pre-race routine...

How did you first get into running?

I always loved being active as a child, spending hours running around playing football, cycling and roller-skating. However, it wasn’t obvious that I could be a runner when doing the short sprints at primary school. It wasn’t until I went to secondary school that I got into running. My school teacher asked us to run two laps of the sloping grass track; she was pleased with how I did and recommended that I joined an athletics club, and it went from there. 

What do you love about the sport?

There are so many things that I love about the sport, which is why I’ve wanted to keep competing for so long. During my career, I’m grateful for all the great people I’ve met along the way and the amazing experiences I have had. I love the camaraderie you get from the sport.

I enjoy working towards goals, and the excitement of racing. I really like being able to train in beautiful locations with my family; it makes training fun.

I really enjoy big road races too as it’s great to be able to run with so many other runners, every one of them going for their own personal goals.

What do you enjoy about the 10KM distance? 

It’s a great distance as it really allows you to use both speed and endurance. It can also be so tactical, which makes it fun. It’s a perfect distance to race fairly regularly, so it’s an ideal distance to challenge yourself to improve your performance. It’s also a distance that is manageable for most runners who are trying to fit running into their busy lives or who are perhaps entering their first event.

What’s special about the London 10,000?

It’s a fantastic event, with a brilliant course. I have such great memories of competing in the race. It’s so brilliant to be able to run such an exciting course, which takes in the sights of the city. The atmosphere is always amazing, and I love running with lots of other runners, all of them going for their own goals. 

What does an average week of training look like for you?

I train twice a day. My training involves many different components – a mixture of track sessions, tempo runs, long runs and some steady recovery-type runs. I also do a bit of strength and conditioning work. I make an effort to train off road for most of my mileage, so I do most of my mileage along a canal tow path or in the forest.

Tell us about your strength and conditioning routine.

I do some strength and conditioning work about twice a week. However, I make sure that it doesn’t affect my running sessions. I tend to use free weights for functional exercises rather than using machines. I also do some core stability work as this helps with injury prevention and running form.

How do you recover between sessions?

When I’ve just finished the session I hydrate with an electrolyte drink, then have a protein recovery drink. In the evening after a hard session I have a massage to reduce any tightness in my muscles. I also find it important to go through my stretches of each muscle group to both aid recovery and to also check for areas of tightness. I make sure I have a day of recovery running too before I do another hard session. I find it’s also good to have a day of cross training if you’ve got an injury niggle. 

How do you take care of your nutrition? 

Nutrition is important to ensure you can recover and repair your system from all the hard training and races. Make sure that you eat a good balanced diet with lots of fruit, veg, carbs and protein. It’s also ok to have treats, so don’t feel you need to deny yourself!  

It’s also important to note that it’s not just what you eat but the time you eat it, too. After a hard workout, when you’ve pushed yourself really hard, there is a window of opportunity when the body is more receptive to replenishing its depleted glycogen stores. So try to hydrate well and have a snack or protein-type recovery drink within the first 20 minutes and a decent meal at least within an hour to 90 minutes of training. 

What do you do when you’re not training?

As a busy mum of two young children, as any parent knows, they keep you very, very busy. There is always something to do, as well as fitting things around parties and play dates and clubs etc. I love the quality time with the kids, playing games, drawing, making things from playdough etc. As a family we love to spend time going to the beach, the forest, play parks and indoor play centres. It’s all good fun.

How do you prepare for a race in the hours before?

If it’s an early morning race, I like to get up at least four hours before. I have a coffee, then about three-and-a-half hours before I have my pre-race snack. For a morning race I’ll usually have some porridge, then – and this may sound disgusting – I have a bit of tuna with it. This provides some protein for a bit more sustainable energy. I’ll also have a sports drink. 

In the last 90 minutes before the race I snack on half a sports bar. In the last hour before, I only take sips of water as I should already be well hydrated, and like most runners, want to avoid needing the loo.

I warm up about 50 minutes to an hour before the race. First I’ll do about 15 minutes of jogging followed by some stretching. I then do some gentle strides and drills to get the muscles fired up. 

What are your top three 10km training tips?

In your training week, try to include some faster-paced running to ensure you’re doing some work faster than your race pace. You can do this by doing interval sessions and tempo runs. You could try six to eight sets of 1,000m with two minutes’ recovery between sets, or four times one mile with three minutes’ recovery between each mile. Remember to build up interval sessions gradually if you’re not accustomed to them.  

Try to include a tempo run, which is a useful way to get used to that feeling of sustained effort. A guide is to run comfortably hard, not totally flat out, for 15 to 20 minutes. Ensure you have enough recovery days between hard workouts.

Include a long run in your schedule too – it’s useful to run further than the race distance in training. For 10km training, building to a maximum of 13 to 15 miles would be adequate, any further and you could adversely affect some of your shorter quality work.

Be flexible with your training: have a plan but be prepared to listen to your body on a day-to-day basis. Don’t be afraid to modify your training or take an extra rest day if needed; consistency is the main way to improve your fitness.

How many sessions per week would you recommend for 10km training?

If you’re talking about higher-intensity sessions such as interval sessions or tempo runs, you could do two interval sessions and one tempo run a week. This would be for an experienced runner who had built up to this. Other days would consist of steady or easy running and one of the days would feature a long run. If you are only used to steady running, then at first you would only want to introduce quality sessions very gradually.