I would like to introduce you to August’s TeenRunner Athlete of the Month: Phoebe Barker.
Phoebe really is an incredible athlete and so I’m very pleased that she agreed to take part in this month’s blog feature. I actually know Phoebe back from when I used to run at Tonbridge AC (who she still competes for now) and she is about to enter her first cross country season as an u20. Despite being so young, Phoebe has already competed for Great Britain in Uganda at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, obtained a 5km PB of 16.44, overcome a longterm injury, finished 2nd place at the National Cross Country Champs, and has a 4min 29sec 1500m to her name along with a 9min 36sec 3km personal best.
Let’s hear what she has to say.
Firstly, I would just like to thank Ellen for asking me to be her August Athlete of the Month. I have known Ellen from when she was at Tonbridge and have always loved reading her blog. I was therefore very flattered to be asked!
Let’s start from the beginning: how long have you been running for and how did it all start for you?
I started literally ‘running’ at my primary school as we did the first round of the IAPS competition annually and used to ‘train’ for the month leading up to it (around a field that had a 150m perimeter… so preparation was excellent – not). However I really enjoyed it, was the fastest in my year and often finished in the top 15 at the IAPS.
Unfortunately, Y4 – Y8 was fraught with injury and involved multiple episodes on crutches: Sever’s disease, Osgood Schlatter’s disease, a tendon injury whose surplus fluid then created a cyst that I had to have surgically removed in Y7 as it was pressing on a nerve) and a broken coccyx from falling down the stairs (whilst on crutches for the tendon..!). I was not even running at this point- the extent of my sport was two PE sessions and a tennis and swimming lesson per week!
After all this was fixed, I started going to the school running club in Y8 as lots of my friends did it and we had an exceptional teacher – I thank him for starting me running. After finishing 4th in the Junior Knole Run, he then asked me to run in the Senior trials and I made the team for the Senior Knole Run (I finished 12th). My teacher then suggested I join a running club and recommended Tonbridge where I have been since.
What have the last track and cross country seasons entailed? Highlights and lowlights?
My cross country season surpassed anything I could have imagined this time last year. Highlights include:-
The three internationals (Brussels with the England team in December and Uganda and Edinburgh with the GB team).
Winning the Knole Run individually and as a team (it is a MAJOR deal at school as we host it)
2nd place at the National Champs.
My only lowlights were all the injections for Uganda and ending up in the medical tent after both the Inter-Counties and the World Champs due to an electrolyte imbalance..!
My track season was quite short as I went on a school Biology field trip at the end of June for two weeks where I couldn’t really train so I didn’t race after that. This didn’t bother me too much though as I don’t enjoy the track nearly as much as XC. However my highlights were:-
2nd place in the 3000m at the U20 Nationals
Winning the 5000m trial for the Europeans (and hopefully ending up top of the Pof10 but there is still time left..!)
They both gave me provisional spots for the Europeans but I didn’t achieve the qualifying time in either event.
I can only imagine the hard work and time that goes into your training. Could you tell us about what your training week usually looks like?
Monday – S&C with school in the morning and then a swim or cycle in the evening (again with school).
Tuesday – running session at TAC
Wednesday – circuits at TAC
Thursday – running session at TAC
Friday – complete rest
Saturday – running session (normally something more tempo style or hills in the winter)
Sunday – long run with TAC
How does strength work and stretching fit into your schedule?
After breaking my coccyx I went through a long phase of intense physio and strength work (often twice daily) but this has slowly petered out. I now only do S&C and circuits once a week.
As for stretching… well I own a foam roller?! However I am ashamed to say it does not get any further than that!
Competing for GB must have been incredible, especially race day and travelling with the team. What were your experiences?
Edinburgh was similar to a normal race in that we just travelled independently the day before although we did all stay in the same hotel – the team meeting with Sir Mo Farah and Laura Muir as team captain was surreal! The race day was fun; with all the focus on the seniors, we could just enjoy it and it was probably the smallest race I have ever done!
Uganda was a completely extraordinary experience. We arrived a few days before the race and spent them acclimatising (to little effect though..!) and looking at the course. Race day was incredible: simply mixing competing against all the different countries was amazing. However, after such a long season of intense training and racing (I was often racing up distance in order to be selected for the U20s as I was still U17) I had acquired an electrolyte imbalance so had to miss the after party due to being attached to a temporary drip in my hotel room, having thrown up since returning from the course!
Talking of racing, do you have a specific pre-race routine? Have you ever suffered any problems with nerves?
My pre-race routine always includes an easy run and strides two days before the race, a huge bowl of pasta with tuna and tomato sauce the night before and then porridge in the morning. I always like to walk the course when I arrive, have a banana two hours before and then an energy bar just before I start my warm up (40 mins before the race).
When I was younger I used to get very nervous the 24 hours before however once the gun went they always disappeared. As I have got older they have lessened and now I only get a bit nervous on the morning before important trial races. I haven’t done anything different; just got better at putting things in perspective and realised that the world will not end if I run badly!
Of course diet is a very important component of performance: do you pay any special attention to this? What are your favourite post workout meals?
Most say luckily (I personally think it is quite unlucky as I always miss out on things) I have never liked chocolate and I consequently do not have the sweetest tooth. Therefore I don’t pay particular attention to this aspect of my diet. However I do love cake and most puddings as long as they do not contain any form of chocolate.
This said, I mainly concentrate on ensuring I am consuming enough food to fuel my activity levels and focus more on adding beneficial things (eg. spinach…) rather than taking out ‘bad’ foods. Post workout I will eat anything but my favourite meal of all time is spaghetti bolognese.
You’re heading into upper sixth. How has it been balancing training with the international baccalaureate. Is your school able to provide any help with training?
So far, I have managed to balance everything pretty successfully although I think this year could be more difficult… I am very disciplined with my time management and whilst I do have to sometimes sacrifice parties etc. I believe it is worth it if it means I can run well and achieve the grades I need.
School have always been extremely supportive of me and I am very thankful to them. They frequently let me miss Saturday school for important races and Fridays if I need to travel. Cross Country is also a games option so sometimes I can train at school on a Tuesday and Saturday afternoon with the group if I am particularly busy or cannot make TAC. They have also recently employed a new S&C coach and redone the school gym which I am looking forward to seeing!
Back in year 7 you suffered from a longterm injury that saw you out of the sport for 8 months. Could you tell us a little about this and the effects it had on your performance? How long did it take you to return to full fitness?
As I briefly mentioned earlier, the summer before Y7 I fell down the stairs and broke my coccyx (this was a retrospective diagnosis as they didn’t want to x-ray my back at that age and I had already had too many MRI scans on my foot). I hadn’t really started running at this point.
-First 2 weeks: couldn’t bend at all, so had to lie down all day – just about managed to stand up to eat.
-By 4 weeks: could get from lying to standing unassisted but still couldn’t sit down without a rubber ring to sit on.
-6 weeks: I started Sevenoaks School and participated in normal sport as I didn’t want to miss out on trials (BIG mistake). However I wasn’t able to do any cross country in Y7 because of my tendon and cyst injury so started running in Y8.
By the end of Y8 I had hurt my hamstring multiple times and couldn’t sit down for longer than 45 minutes without my back hurting so I went to a brilliant osteopath and physio who said I had to stop all sport and just go back to basics. So it was back to the rubber ring (which I had to carry around school, possibly my most embarrassing three months…) and I had internal sacral realignment three times. After a summer of intense physio, I then gradually started building up the length of time I could walk for before progressing to jumping, hopping and eventually running. I also went through the Running School which was excellent and has ensured I run without putting excessive strain on any part of my body. This all took about 14 months.
After this was sorted out, I started properly running with the club as it was something I had always wanted to participate in but was always injured so hadn’t been able to.
And finally, what are your plan for the future? Is becoming an elite runner a career path that you would like to pursue?
I want to go to university and study Veterinary Medicine so I’m going to have to see which university I end up at and whether I can run competitively there. I am sincerely hoping that I will be able to pursue my running and see how far I can go with it but it will have to fit in around becoming a vet.
This has been amazing! I just want to say a huge thank you to Phoebe for answering these questions so well. I know Phoebe is in a similar age category to many readers so hopefully this post will inspire and help you understand a little more about what’s it like to compete at such a high level.
Quick update form me! I’m taking a break from @teenrunnerblog instagram over this next couple of weeks as sixth form starts tomorrow, but I’m still planning on writing a couple of blogs in the meantime. Over this past week I’ve also been adding a few more printables to the ‘workout‘ page. It would be great if you tried any of them (and sent feedback!), and for my most recent addition I filmed a video with RaceWithGrace which you can also view there.
Happy Sunday Everyone x