Despite only taking up competitive running a few months ago and dealing with pre-race pressures, Hayley Carruthers is quickly becoming one the UK’s brightest road running talents.
Hayley Carruthers only started training seriously last November, but in the last few months she has run a 17:40 5k, a 35:15 10k, a 79:10 half marathon (two of those on debut over the distance) and ran the fastest long leg at the Northern Road Relays.
So who is this new kid on the block, who only joined her first ever club, Rotherham Harriers, earlier this year, and didn’t have a coach until a few months ago?
The 24-year-old full-time radiotherapy cancer researcher from Birmingham clearly has a deep well of natural talent, but she credits the combination of her training schedule she follows from her coach, Gary Warhurst, with her weightlifting and gym work for her continuing improvements.
Here we ask the bright young star how she feels about her long leg victory at the Northern relays, how she’s dealt with overcoming racing pressures, and delve deeper into her training diary ahead of her biggest challenge so far in her short competitive career – the London Marathon.
Fast Running: Congratulations on your fastest relay leg victory at Birkenhead Park – tell us how you felt during the race and what the win meant to you?
Hayley: I honestly can’t believe it, I feel I’m living a dream! I always say to my coach ‘maybe it’s just beginners luck’ but apparently that doesn’t exist for runners.
Every time I race, or train, I surprise myself. I make sure I learn something new from every single run whether it is in training or on race day.
I knew the second lady was right behind me at the relays and I was petrified! Being at the front was much harder to hold pace into a strong wind!
FR: You’ve only recently started competing – (Hayley’s first ever race was last year’s Manchester marathon, which she ran in 3:22:58, but she says her first event she actually ‘raced’ was the Birmingham Mo Run last November, which she won in 37:12) – tell us how you’ve overcome your long-term racing anxiety?
HC: My pre-race anxiety used to be so bad I had panic attacks the week leading up to a race, then cancel the race. This is why I have never raced until now. Mental toughness is a lot more important than you think.
I am still so nervous before races but I am making small steps every day to overcome these.
Before a race, I am quiet, I feel sick and I’m shaking, but my coach says this is normal. The second the gun goes off the nerves disappear instantly!
FR: Tell us about your training before you met your coach?
HC: Before I met Gary last November I had no schedule at all, I always ran easy and at the same pace. I did speed work once a week – if that – and I didn’t know what steady or tempo meant before Gary, or what effort levels were!
I ran when I felt like it and never more than 20m a week, along with four strength or weight training sessions.
I’ve come a long way though – my steady run in January for a four-mile run was 6:15 pace and it killed me, now I can do 12/13 miles at that pace fairly comfortably!
I also listen to podcasts and read articles about mental toughness and overcoming race anxiety, such as Running for Real, Dr Nicole Detling, ‘How to invest in your mental toughness bank’, ‘Run to the top – psychological weapons to conquer your inner chimp’ with Dr Simon Marshall, and ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters.
FR: You only met your new Rotherham Harriers club mates and their coaches for the first time at the Northern relays – what made you join their club?
HC: Rotherham’s Sophie Cowper (33:53 10k runner) contacted me first and has been an absolute inspiration to me, answering so many of my ridiculous questions about running before introducing me to her coach, Gary, and then the club.
All the great things they told me were spot on. They’re all so lovely and supportive, but I think they were all as shocked as I was when I won the longest leg! Rotherham’s Nigel Brookes said to me ‘I don’t think you realise what you’ve just done’ – he was right, I don’t!
The running world is such an unknown world to me. I’ve only just learnt what the term XC means! (cross country).
FR: Tell us about your coaching set up with Gary, you’ve had to iron out some training issues along the way?
HC: At first I was just in search of a coach to help me get sub-3 in the London marathon, but now we’ve ironed out training ‘speed bumps’ we make an amazing team.
Gary told me he got carried away with what potential I had after seeing me run my first 10k last November in 37:14 (she has since run 35:15). Obviously, he was right to be excited though!
It took time to work out what worked for me, and actually I had a break from coaching for a month in January because I couldn’t handle the pressure I was putting on myself – I had never wanted to be a ‘serious’ runner at first, I just loved to run because of the feeling it gave me.
However, I decided to give it a go again, he listened to what I wanted and didn’t want from a training schedule, and that included no more double run days – they are not essential.
I can now talk to him open and honestly, so we have created the perfect balance of hard work and happiness, and I have great support from my partner, family and friends.
FR: Could you tell us about your training and how gym work has benefitted your running?
HC: My runs are all for time and not miles – psychologically it’s better for me, I can’t panic about running 15 miles on a weeknight, but if I say 90 minutes easy, its just 90 minutes.
However, there are some difficulties with running for time, because you don’t want to be miles from home when your time is up, so I tend to do loops or runs I know don’t take the full time set for the run, then check my watch. Or run for half the time and turn around. Either works!
Hayley Carruthers’ typical week’s marathon training
Sunday: 2.5 hours easy with a group at a conversational pace, ie 7-7:30 pace, with the last 15 minutes at marathon pace.
Monday: 45 mins steady, about 6:30-7min/mile.
Tuesday: 1 hour easy (about 8 miles)
Wednesday: 90 mins at marathon pace. Originally this was going to be 6:50 pace for a sub-3 hour marathon, but actually, they’ve all been 6:15-6:25 pace so far. I run them ‘comfortably fast’ and tried to not check my Garmin a lot as I run ‘to feel’.
My logic is if I run at these paces (faster than MP) and make them feel easy, my marathon pace will actually feel easier on the day.
Thursday: 1 hour easy.
Friday: Session: 3 min, 2 min, 1 min, all 1 min recovery jog (x 5) with a 10 minute warm up and cool down. I love speed work! My last paces for this session were 3 minutes @ 5:29, 2 minutes @ 5:21 and 1 minute @ 5:14. Sessions test me mentally and physically.
Saturday: Rest day. I try to stay off my feet as much as possible, but I still stretch and roll on these days (I stretch, roll and have a bath every day). Recovery is so important when you’re running mileage up to 70-mile weeks.
My training varies from week to week with the marathon fast approaching, and I always do a slightly easier week one week every month. I keep in touch with my coach every day to feedback on every run, every ‘niggle’ and how I feel after each run. This is so important so we can make any necessary changes if required.
When I see my plan for each week, it sometimes worries me the amount of mileage it may be and that I might not be able to do it.
Now, I only look at the day I’m on and nothing for the rest of the week because I know I will just worry about it! I am naturally a very anxious person but with all the podcasts and articles I’ve listened to and read, I’m a different person now.
Weight training and gym work
I’ve lifted weights for about two and a half years now and love it. I think it’s made me a faster and stronger runner because I have a good base to build on. It is so important for endurance athletes especially.
I’d definitely recommend using weights in a running regime, it’s helped keep me injury-free so far. I do heavy weight low rep one day per week (on the day where I run easy miles/short steady), and try to fit 10 minutes of body weight in most days (with the focus on one body area, such as core/arms/legs).
I always do these after a run because the run needs to be quality and then adjust the weights accordingly.
I also always make sure I have at least one day between body weight/heavy weight sessions if they are longer than 20 minutes. I generally spend about one hour in the gym doing heavy weights, with a variety of exercises such as weighted squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, chest press, making sure they are all running-specific sessions.
Time is always of the essence as I work full time in radiotherapy research – I love it, but it is demanding physically and mentally. Some days I am so mentally drained it makes my runs even harder.
I now make sure that on my drive home from work, I try very hard to switch off from the day and forget about it all so it doesn’t affect my runs. I am seeing a huge difference in my running efficiency now I am doing this!
Up to the last couple of weeks I also went to Crossfit at B76 CROSSFIT in Walmley, Birmingham, but I’ve had to stop because it was just too much with 70-mile weeks. Crossfit is fantastic for runners, building full body strength, flexibility and improving aerobic and non-aerobic endurance!
I also see my strength and conditioning coach, Glen Reed, at the Velocity training club in Birmingham when I can, he’s made me a more knowledgeable, smarter and strong runner.
FR: How do you fuel your training, and have you perfected your marathon fuelling strategy?
HC: I used to really struggle with my eating habits when I was in my late teenage years, but I’ve discovered a new found mental strength in that area. I sometimes use the memory of being able to beat these negative behaviours when I’m struggling with a run or a race. I believe that if I can beat that, I can do anything.
Day to day, I eat very healthy, with porridge for breakfast, banana mid-morning, chicken, rice and veg for lunch and dinner is generally protein, carbs and vegetables.
All my snacks are fruit or healthy carbs such as rice cakes, nuts, toast, cereal bars, and I always have Greek yoghurt, fruit and honey after my dinner too. I drink about three litres of water or squash every day, and a lot of coffee!
I’ve haven’t used energy gels on my long runs yet, but then again it wasn’t so long ago that gels weren’t even invented and marathon times were faster then than they are now! However, I will try them in the next two weeks to see what works for me, but I might not use any gels for the marathon – I quite fancy using jelly babies though!
FR: What is your go-to motivation when things get tough in training or racing?
HC: I love mantras, and I use quotes a lot on my Instagram (@mileswithhayley). My favourites in hard runs and races are: ‘It’s meant to hurt’, ‘You don’t train so it doesn’t hurt, you train so you can tolerate it’, and ’Nothing to lose, everything to gain’.
I never listen to music though, it really annoys me!
Whenever I struggle to finish a run I always try and think of the feeling post-run when you’re sat in the bath relaxing and reflecting on the day. That’s my favourite thing to do for post-run recovery, mentally and physically.
FR: Finally, what are your aims now for the marathon, and beyond?
HC: It’s changed since the Northern road relays, as before then I was still aiming for sub-3 in London.
Now it appears my coach has bigger plans for me, and up until now, he has always been right! I trust his judgement and I think he knows more than me what I am capable of – I can’t wait to see what this year has in store.
After the marathon, I’m going to be making my debut on the track and do more road races.
I had never envisaged the successes I’ve had in such a short time with such little experience. I still wake up every day in shock.