The April TeenRunner Athlete of the Month is here!!! April is always jam-packed with 26.2 milers, so it seemed wrong not to feature an incredible marathoner for this month’s slot. Without much further ado, I’ll introduce you to Anna Boniface.
Anna trains with Reading Athletics Club up in Berkshire, and is also a physiotherapist. Training for a marathon has always been something that interests me, and after talking to Anna it’s safe to say I’m in awe of the amount of work she puts in.
Last Sunday, I’m pretty sure that most runners were either running through the streets of London, or watching the race unfold on TV- meaning you’ll have seen Anna storm to victory in the mass start race…
1) Let’s start with last Sunday. Congratulations on your incredible championship victory at the London marathon in 2 hours 37 minutes and 7 seconds. How did it feel to cross the line? Has it taken a while to sink in?
In the last 5k of the race I was at my absolute limit and it took all the determination I had to keep going. When I crossed the line I’m not sure I could have kept running for much longer. It was shear joy but also relief that I could stop. After a brief sit down in the medical tent, I was very emotional and the realisation of months of hard work had paid off. I managed to hold myself together with the residual caffeine and adrenaline pumping through me to meet my coach, friends and family but I was aware I wasn’t feeling well. I was rather sick on the tube and for the rest of the day so I couldn’t really celebrate! – I envisaged devouring a cheeky nandos but I couldn’t even hold down a cracker.
It’s still sinking in really – it’s been a whirlwind few days with so many people sending me lovely messages. I’m so touched how other runners are saying how I’ve inspired them. That makes me so so happy.
2) As you have described in your marathon blog post, some of those miles are hard. How did you get yourself through them? Is there a method that you’ve developed to deal with the pain?
Training for my second marathon has been much more specific. My body has been acclimatised to running marathon pace on tired legs. All my big marathon sessions have been on big volume weeks in the middle of the cross country season, so I’ve never really felt completely fresh when doing marathon pace- so my legs have been used to running tired most of the time. Come race day with having a taper marathon pace felt very easy for a large portion of the race because it was the first time I had ran it on fresh legs. It literally felt like jogging initially.
The marathon is a big mental challenge. When it really hurts, everything tells you to slow down. I knew it was going to really hurt at some point so I was prepared to embrace the pain. I’m a big fan of Alexi Pappa’s and her “Run Brave” mantra – she wrote a great article about embracing pain and I’ve tried to use some of these strategies.
3) Marathon training seems miles away (quite literally), from the training that most people my age will do for the shorter distances. Has it been plain sailing? How did your body cope with stepping up the mileage?
When it comes to mileage I think it’s very individual. Runners (myself very much included!!) get very caught up on how many miles they’ve run a week and it even becomes competitive against other runners, which isn’t healthy.
I work well off quite a lot of volume and still keep decent quality in there, however another runner might not quite tolerate it. Mileage is an art of patience (also the marathon for the matter) and it often takes a few years to allow your body to build up tolerance to bigger volume. This is probably why marathon runners are older.
When I trained for my first marathon, my mileage was very sporadic and I randomly decided to do a 100 mile week – it was awful quality and I picked up an injury. Therefore it was completely pointless – I had just done it because I wanted to say I had ran a 100 mile week.
This cycle round has been more structured – so I tend to have 3 weeks of big volume and drop down for week (usually as a small taper for a race) and then build up again. I am now able to tolerate 100 mile + weeks no problem which is good quality training.
I think structure is important to stepping up mileage and doing it slowly which is best done by slowly incorporating double run days. That’s the easiest way and probably more tolerable on the body. Also doing it in blocks to see how your body responds to each increase is important (e.g. block one 3 weeks peaking at 50 miles 1 week down to 35 miles, block 2 3 weeks peaking at 55miles, drop down to 40 miles for 1 week and keep building on that).
4) Have you been set on being a runner from a young age? Has the marathon always been the distance you thought you would prefer?
Deep down I’ve always know the marathon would be for me.
My mum ran the London marathon when I was 10 and I had always wanted to do one since then. I’ve always been sporty for a young age, but seemed to have a natural ability over endurance sports. Cross country was my entry into running and that will always be the bread and butter – even as a marathon runner.
As lots of athletes, I always have that daydream of being an Olympian or representing my country but I never thought that would be something achievable. But now that seems like something that could be in the future.
5) What inspires you to train through those long miles?
Firstly, I just love running. It’s a huge part of who I am. It’s a big part of my daily routine and it’s a great physical and mental release.
I’m quite an ambitious person and when I get something in my head and I will devote all my attention and energy into trying to achieve it.
My whole life was devoted to training for the London Marathon. Forcing myself out of bed at 6am on a freezing cold morning before commuting to my job in London, knowing that when I would be back home again later I would be out training again was not easy. But what drove me was the sheer determination that if I do this I know I can do something really special come race day. It’s that self believe that drives me.
My training group the RobSquad have been awesome. My coach and the group bring loads of positive energy to training. They’ve helped me so much training for the marathon by pacing me on long sessions and giving me so much encouragement. The group has some really talented athletes and when they do good performances with thrive off each other.
Training groups are great for that. Positivity and success is contagious. We inspire each other.
6) Being a member of Reading AC, do you believe that club training is much more beneficial than training alone? Has it helped your preparation?
My training group has been paramount to my success in the marathon (see my blog on training groups – don’t push yourself, push each other) training in a group you can work together to push yourself harder and get so much more out of training. I see group training sessions as a team effort – take it in turns to lead reps and pace etc. It’s a lot more enjoyable and the sense of comradery helps.
7) What would you say to any young aspiring athletes, who are dreaming of success? Is there an age where you think finishing positions start to become important?
Don’t set limitations to what you want to achieve. With hard work and patience you can really achieve all sorts. For me, it’s been a number of years, hoping that I will improve and all of a sudden, when I least expected it, it happened.
My pinnacle moment was breaking 20 minutes at park run on Christmas day in 2014 and from then on things just seemed to fall into place and I rapidly improved.
Don’t always focus on the finishing positions and times – focus first on enjoying running and racing. If you don’t enjoy it, then you need to think why are you doing it? Passion is the key to success. You’ve really got to love it.
8) What other sports/ strengthening do you practise to support your running?
I go to the gym once – twice a week for strength and conditioning which is mainly bodyweight resisted – I try to make sure they are as functional to running as possible therefore they are often single legged strengthening exercises. My favourite is a Bulgarian split squat. Glute strengthening is really important – particularly in female athletes.
I’m a big believer in doing drills – I think this is really important.
Outside of running I love sailing – which I don’t get to do very often anymore.
9) Favourite pre and post workout snacks/meals?
I love protein pancakes after a long run.
I eat a lot of eggs – I’m rubbish a poaching eggs but I make a pretty mean omelette.
After a race or a big sessions I do love a good Nandos!
I eat a lot of vegetables and salad – which I will have with most meals – I haven’t had a cold in ages an I’m pretty sure its down to this.
10) What are you planning on for the future? Next marathon plans?!
I’m having a week off to let my legs recover.
My next race back is the British champs 10k in London at the end of May
An autumn marathon is on the cards – Berlin in September.
My next goal will be after an international vest.
On behalf of everyone I would just like to say a huge thank you to Anna for writing for us today. Very inspirational!
If you want to read more, follow the links below.
PS. Sorrrry there was no March AOM…things got very busy!! Stay tuned for May’s athlete.