British distance runners Claire Duck and Jenny Nesbitt explain what it takes to perform at the top level.

Leeds City’s Claire Duck and Worcester’s Jenny Nesbitt have both had breakthrough years in 2018. Duck has run lifetime bests over 1500m (4:15.27), 5000m (15:39.68) and 3km (9:26), as well as coming within seconds of her 3000m and 10,000m PBs.

The 33 year-old turns out for her club regularly over the country, track and road, and has enjoyed team success at the national road relays as well as individual glory at the Inter-Counties and National Cross Country Championships.

This season has seen her achieve her highest finish at the British Championships 5000m (5th), along with a top class 32:51.38 result at the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs.

Photo: Pete Brown

Nesbitt has also had a standout year. She’s run her fastest ever times over 3000m (9:11.37), 5000m (15:51.6), 10,000m (32:38.45), 3km (9:40) and 10km (33:24).

The highlight of the 23 year-old’s year so far has been representing Wales at the Commonwealth Games over 10,000m. The student managed to deal with a very late call-up to run a strong 32:58.14 and finish 17th in extremely hot conditions.

So what does it take for these two inspiring talents to perform at this level and how do they juggle training with other commitments?

Fast Running: Well done on all your successes so far this year! What do you put your progress in 2018 down to?

Jenny Nesbitt: Consistent training and undoubtedly the support from Adam Rattenberry and the rest of the specialised support from Welsh Athletics.

Regular physio is so important when trying to run 90 miles a week, as is advice on nutrition, strength and conditioning, medicine. It’s all helped keep me healthy this year.

I’ve also learnt it’s more important to be able to put together week after week of training than having one or two ‘wow’ sessions. Until this year, I thought the idea that slowing down can help you speed up when it really counts was a bit of a joke.

Funnily enough, it works! I’ve cut back to two quality sessions a week, slightly lengthened my long run and incorporated easy miles around this. This has helped me break my PBs this year.

Claire Duck: Consistent training is so important. So is confidence and self-belief, and working on this in 2018 has played a big part in achieving my goals.

I can be pretty tough on myself when a race or training hasn’t gone well.

Instead, I’ve worked on being kind to myself and understanding that when things don’t go right it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong. It just didn’t quite work out that time. It’s very hard to have the perfect race every race.

FR: What do you do outside running and how do you balance training and racing around it?

CD: I work full time as a sonographer in Leeds. I really enjoy it but as with many jobs, there are challenges too. My colleagues are hugely supportive of my running which is invaluable to me.

It’s hard balancing training and working as I can often get tired. However, I have a good routine which helps me to make the best use of my time.

Photo: Adrian Royle

I cycle to work four days a week, which is around 44 miles. I don’t run double days, mainly due to lack of time. This means the cycling helps me gain the aerobic benefit while also commuting to work.

When I get home I put my trainers on and get out the door as quick as I can so I don’t sit down, otherwise, I’d not feel like getting up! I eat, sleep and repeat until my day off on a Friday.

JN: I’m in my final year of studying Sport and Social Sciences at the University of Bath. I can’t say I’m excited by the prospect of writing my dissertation!

However, I’m really lucky that the university supports me as much as they can. I do a lot of long distance studying. This makes it easier for me to combine both training, racing and completing my degree.

When I graduate next summer I’d like to do a Masters at Cardiff Met in Sports Broadcasting. I hope to pursue a career in sports broadcasting and journalism in the future.

FR: Tell us about your coach, and a little about your training set up.

CD: I’ve been coached by Mike Baxter for the last eight years. We have a really good relationship as he’s very easy going and relaxed. We meet twice a week for sessions and then communicate regularly during the week.

He’s made a huge difference to my running. We focus on quality over quantity and getting the best out of each session I do. He clearly plans all my sessions out well to peak for certain events.

He’ll never sugarcoat anything, and always tells the truth about how I’m training or how I’ve raced, which I really appreciate. I can then see the areas I need to work on to improve.

Shockingly for many, I don’t keep a training diary! Instead, I tell Mike what I’ve done every day and he keeps a detailed record of the workout, times, weather, and how I felt. This is really important for both of us, and takes the pressure off me. It’s one less thing I have to do during the day!

JN: Chris Jones coaches me now, I feel we really work well together. It’s nice to have a new stimulus and a different approach to training – so far it’s resulted in PBs across the board.

My old coach Dave (Walker) still plays a fundamental role in my running though. I feel I can turn to him with any query, melt down or success and he’ll be able to level me out.

My training is pretty simple. I tend to do sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays, with a long run on Sunday. All my other runs are easy. I use a heart rate monitor for most of my easy runs. This ensures I’m not running too hard and instead I am recovering rather than stressing my body further. I also make sure I incorporate S&C twice a week, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with activation exercises before all runs.

A typical week for me is:

Monday – (am) 7 miles (pm) 5 miles

Tuesday – (am) session (pm) 5 miles

Wednesday – (am) 12 miles (pm) rest

Thursday – (am) 8 miles (pm) 5 miles

Friday – (am) session (pm) 5 miles

Saturday – (am) 5 miles (pm) 5 miles

Sunday – (am) 15-16 miles (pm) rest

FR: Tell us about the clubs you run for – what role have they played in your training and racing?

CD: I really enjoy running for Leeds City AC. They’ve supported me for 10 years and are a really friendly and inclusive club.

We have a great team of strong women. I love racing in events like the relays, as everyone gets behind each other to give it their all. We’ve had some great success over the last few years – long may it continue!

JN: Worcester AC has been great to me. Although I don’t train there any more, they’re always welcoming to me and happy for me to represent the club.

Some of my greatest early memories of running were Tuesday and Thursday nights down at the club with the group. There were many giggles, a series of unfortunate events, resulting in blood, sweat and tears at times!

Sadly because people moved away the original group dispersed and it was never the same again!

Luckily I have made some lifetime friends from that period, and we still reminisce today!   

FR: Do you train mainly on your own or with others?

JN: I’ve almost always trained on my own, but it doesn’t bother me too much. I’m very set in my ways – I think I’d make a horror of a training partner!

Since moving to Cardiff I’ve been able to do some sessions with others, which has made a lovely change.

However, most of my training is still solo. I have a lot more flexibility than others, meaning I can train in the day and fit it in around physio and S&C.

I’m a very self-motivated person – I’ll do everything in my power to achieve a goal or give it my best shot. I rarely have moments where I don’t want to train. If I do, I always think about the times when I’ve been injured and haven’t been able to. That’s a big enough kick to get out the door!

I’m also unafraid to hurt myself in training. I do a good job in doing so when I train alone, mimicking experiences in races where you can get separated from a group and have to work on your own.

Running to me is more than just training to win races though. It’s my way of keeping mentally healthy as well, which is always a motivating factor to get out and clock some miles. 

CD: I often do runs with my team mate Georgia Malir and other girls in Leeds like Laura Weightman, especially on Sunday long runs.

Claire Duck often trains with Olympian Laura Weightman

There are many different talented groups in Leeds, meaning there’s always someone to run with. This makes it an ideal place to live.

I do many sessions on the track and grass with Adam Stacey, who’s a valuable member of our group, along with our new addition, Josh Rowe.

Although we have a small group, we all help to motivate and push each other, especially on tough days when the legs are tired.

FR: How do you manage when injury and/or illness stops you running, and how do you bounce back?

CD: Injury is something every athlete will have had to deal with and I’m no different. I’ve had to start from scratch many times, which can be hugely disheartening. However, you will recover and these times won’t last forever.

When I first got injured I did find it hard to get myself in the pool or on the bike, because all I wanted to do was go for a run. But keeping positive is important, and cross training can help keep you surprisingly fit. Returning to running can be made much easier by doing it.

I had a serious cycle accident at the start of 2015 right before the National cross. Apart from the broken bones, it was also seriously disappointing.

I had to start from scratch but, with support from friends and family, I started running and walking for a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing this every day. I spent many days in the pool and then on the bike to build up my fitness again.

The next year I gained my first England vest, and the year after my first GB vest.

JN: Injury and illness are the worst – I feel I’ve been handed an awful lot of it over the last six years!

(Nesbitt was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Henoch–Schönlein Purpura in 2012, which saw her in and out of hospital for over a year. She missed more than two years of running. She was also out of action for much of 2016 due to a knee injury that required an operation.)

RELATED: Jenny Nesbitt is ready for more golden moments

I’ve been super low and upset when I’ve been ill or injured. Running is more than just logging miles for me. It’s also an outlet and a chance for me to be with my own thoughts.

When this is taken away from me, I really struggle. I am now learning that by focusing on what I can do, setting achievable goals and having the right support system around me, things don’t have to be so bad.

Athletes are routine people. When you’re injured, make cross training your new routine.

Jenny Nesbitt in the gym

Never believe that just because you aren’t achieving what you want right now that it can’t ever happen. Sometimes it might take a bit longer to get what you want, but the wait makes it even sweeter.

FR: What are your racing aims for this season, and beyond?

CD: My aims for the next cross country season to be confident in my ability and run well. I would like to do well at the Liverpool Cross Challenge (in November, which also serves as the European Cross Country Championships trials) and the championship races.

That said, I’m trying not to make specific goals and just enjoy my running – the results will come. Athletes always want to achieve more, but this is what motivates us.

While Doha and Tokyo would be a dream come true, I also know that these are huge challenges and may be beyond my reach! I would mainly just like to keep working hard and enjoy competing.

JN: I’m also planning on racing over the country this year. I haven’t had a proper cross country season since 2015, so it’ll be nice to get back onto the mud and remind myself just how painful it is!

However, before then, I’m so excited to be representing Wales in the Commonwealth Half Marathon, (October 7th) especially with it now being in my home city of Cardiff!

I’m excited to see how it goes. I know the last few miles pretty well as I now live at mile nine on the course!

I’ve just returned from my running break and am off to altitude this week. I’ll continue to rebuild my mileage and start incorporating some sessions once there.

My training won’t change too dramatically for the event. I still love the half marathon distance and I really wish it was an Olympic event!

Nesbitt and Duck are sponsored by Hoka One One.

Duck wears the Clifton or Bondi for general runs, the Challengers for off-road because of their grip, the Tracers for track workouts and racing, and the Hupanas for road sessions. She races in the Speed Evo track spikes.

Nesbitt wears the Clifton 5 for all her easy runs because of their cushioning and support, the Tracer 2 flats for long sessions on all terrains and road races, the Mach for steady hilly runs.

RELATED: Why I run: Claire Duck

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