Fast Running’s Gill Bland talks to one of Great Britain’s most consistent athletes over the the last 10 years Aly Dixon on her plans for the coming year, starting with Tokyo Marathon this weekend.
Sunderland’s Aly Dixon would be happy to be described as one of our most experienced runners. She has a PB of 2:29:06 and represented GB at the 2016 Olympics in Rio where she finished as the best-placed Briton in 28th place, with a time of 2:34:11.
She also won the Brighton Marathon in 2011 and narrowly missed out on a spot in the London 2012 team, so she’s no stranger to chasing the Olympic dream. She’s a staunch supporter of her home club, Sunderland Striders and regularly runs for them.
As Aly says herself – she’s been running longer than some of the new contenders in the GB marathon scene have been alive. Still, she’s clearly not done yet. Last year Aly decided to mix things up a bit and headed to Boston for the first time to take on those infamous hills – our first GB elite in that race for a long time.
Shortly after, she took on her first ultra at the 50km World Championship in Brasov. She left Romania with a gold medal and a World Record time of 3:07:20.
Aly chatted to us about her success in 2019, her running bucket list, why her focus has shifted over the last year and what she thinks about the up-and-coming talent on the women’s marathon scene
Fast Running: What were you most excited by in your running/training last year?
Aly Dixon: Probably the change in focus from constantly chasing times. I’ve spent the last 15 years chasing times across all distances and 10 years chasing marathon times. Last year was about doing something different and enjoying it.
I ran Boston as my spring marathon as it’s not a course where you chase times. It’s a tough, challenging route. To prepare for the hills I did a lot of bike work on the turbo and then gradually added in run sessions. I was never stressing over not hitting as pace on tempos – I’d just run comfortably hard over routes with a similar type of elevation profile i.e downhill, undulating, uphill, downhill. My main aim was to get my body strong enough to conquer the course, not to chase a fast time.
I took the same focus into training for the 50k. Don’t worry about pace, get strong enough to hold a good effort over the distance. Because the distance was an unknown to me I didn’t have any goal pace going into the race (apart from I wanted to beat the British record).
I knew I was in shape when I did a 10 mile tempo over an undulating route in Font Romeu and ran 58.xx. I resisted the temptation to compare it to when I ran the same route at the same point before I ran my marathon PB (later checked, I was only 2 seconds slower).
Come race day I just set out at an effort level I thought I could sustain for the distance and didn’t worry about pace. In the past I would have been dictated by the watch and let that tell me if I was too fast or slow. The new approach seems to have worked well!
FR: What are you most excited by looking to the year ahead?
AD: Just continuing to have fun and to do some new races which I’ve not had the chance to do in the past. I’m running Tokyo marathon in March . It will be my first time in Japan and I’m really excited for it. I’m writing a bucket list of races for the year which I hope will end with Now Galen on New Years Eve.
FR: What are your key goals?
AD: Obviously it’s an Olympic year so everyone assumes that will be every athlete’s big goal for the year but for me it’s not my main focus.
I’m quite realistic when I say it’s a possibility but a big long shot. I believe I can run the qualifying time but I don’t think I am capable of running a 2.26/7 which I think is what it will take to make top two at London.
Obviously with no preselections for the women it’s still all to play for and you could finish 2nd Brit in 2.29.30 and make the team over one of the current 2.26/27 but I don’t really see that happening. I’m very lucky to have had my chance in 2016. If I did make it again it would be a massive bonus, but if I don’t then it’s not the end of the world and would take nothing away from my prior achievements. So to answer the question, my big goal is to get a 4th win at Blaydon Race.
FR: What do you think about the women’s marathon scene in GB at the moment?
AD: It’s so good to see the girls coming through. For the last 4-5 years I thought my 2:29 was quite special. It has now been made to look pedestrian! I’ve said for a while now that we were due a resurgence. Obviously I’m not naive enough to say that footwear has nothing to do with it, but even with a pair of Next% on you need to be able to propel your body forward at that pace.
The shoes don’t do the running, they just help with a couple of percent. On a personal level I’m glad that we have four girls running 2:27 or faster. Although my PB is nearly 3 years old now, whilst I was still one of the fastest I was still wanting to chase teams.
Now that the girls are pushing me down the rankings I can justify to myself why I’m not putting a major focus on the Tokyo Olympics and start to take a bit of a back seat. I’ve had a good innings. It is time to hand over to the young ones now. I’ve been running longer than some of the girls have been alive!
FR: Which GB runner are you most excited by at the moment?
AD: I think Steph Twell still has more to come over the marathon. She’s a strong, reliable athlete and my ‘safe bet’ money for a Tokyo place would go on her. She’s got the speed background and still quite recently, but also a great aerobic engine. Jess Piasecki too – if she can make the start line she’ll smash it again.
Her run at Florence, especially her second half was phenomenal. We’ve got a few who have made big jumps recently but are still capable of breaking that 2:30 barrier – Elsey Davies, Natasha Cockram, Jenny Spink, Tish Jones
FR: Why do you think the GB women had such a great year last year?
AD: I think a few things combined for it. Firstly, it was a pre-olympic year so everyone chases the qualifying standard so that they can go into London with the security of having the time in the bag and just focus just on the actual race. Added to that, Charlie Purdue running 2:25 in London gave everyone confidence – it created an ‘if she can do it, I can’ attitude.
There are more younger athletes now doing the distance. In the past it’s been older athletes. People would wait until their early 30s to move up and by then their legs would be deadened from years of hard training and their basic speed on the decline.
Now runners are focusing on the distance from their early-mid twenties and using the freshness to their advantage. They aren’t coming from nowhere, the top girls still have a good 10+ years of training behind them. You can’t expect to come to the sport in your 20s and within a couple of years be producing world class times, you need to do the background work and put the foundations down first.
FR: Who do you think is flying under the radar but destined to surprise everyone this year?
AD: I’m not quite sure. I think Elsey Davies (she’ll kill me for saying that) has a lot of room for improvement. I’m not saying she’s going to smash a 2:25/26 but I think she can get down to 2.28. Mind, I thought that about Jess and look what happened!
FR: What do you think about the decision not to preselect anyone for the olympic team?
AD: At first I was shocked. I was convinced a 2:25 and 3rd and 4th fastest brit ever (run by Charlotte Purdue and Jess Piasecki) was enough but when you read the selection policy they didn’t quite fulfil the pre-selection criteria.
Running the qualifying time was only one of the criteria. With Jess’s result being her first completed marathon, she has no championship form. Also, whilst 2:25 is fast for us, it’s probably still not medal/top 8 potential – though with Japanese climate who knows?
Charlie is obviously in great shape with a 68 minute half marathon performance recently but I guess a DNF at her last 2 championships may have gone against her, even though she bounced back from both of those disappointments with great performances. From talking to Jess I think she knew that a one off fast time wouldn’t be enough.
It’s going to make for a great London. There is still all to play for and this situation keeps the door open for those girls who are running around the 2:30 time just now. It will be difficult for those who haven’t run the time prior to London as they are going to have to take the risk to run fast, as well as taking risks to try and make top two Brits. Those who have the time already can sit back a bit and focus on position – similar to my situation in 2016.
FR: Will you be running London Marathon and if so, are you willing to share your goal?
AD: As I’ve said, I’m running Tokyo Marathon (World Major) in March. I’m not going in chasing times, I want to enjoy the experience without stressing about splits. If I do manage to run fast enough to beat the qualifying time for the Olympics I will give London a go. If not, I have offered to be a pacemaker for the elites and will hopefully help a few people set some PBs.
FR: What shoes do you train in?
AD: I do my everyday mileage in Nike Pegasus and use either Zoom Fly or Streak 7 for faster work.
FR: What shoes do you race in?
AD: For my “A” races – 10k + I’ve worn Vaporfly 4%. I prefer those to the NEXT% but I’m trying to get used to the NEXT% because I need every little bit of help possible at my age! On the very rare occasion I’d do a 5k or less I would wear Streak 7.
FR: Are there any supporters that gave helped you over the last year?
AD: My only official sponsor is Nike, where I’m on the final year of my contract. I am an ambassador for Revvies caffeine strips and they have been very generous to help me financially towards the cost of my current training camp in Kenya.
FUT gym in Gosforth have been invaluable with their S&C assistance. Garmin were kind enough to send me a new watch to help with training for the 50k and chia charge have supplied me with some products.
Everything else is self financed but I get a lot of help and support from some key individuals who help to keep me on track when things may be tough or stop me from getting carried away when things are going well.