October is drawing to a close but before we embark on November it’s time to introduce you to our new Athlete of the Month: Sarah McDonald.
With a 1500m personal best of 4.05, Sarah is f.a.s.t. Not only did she compete in the semi-finals at the World Championships last summer, but Sarah has had a brilliant season placing second in the Vitality Westminster Mile and running personal bests in multiple distances. Along side all the training and racing, she is also studying medicine at Birmingham University. But enough from me, let’s hear from Sarah herself.
Firstly, how did ‘running’ all start for you? Have you been competing at a high level from a young age?
I actually had a little bit of an unusual start to running, up until I was around 15/16 I was a figure skater but got pretty badly injured and had to have an operation, when I was recovering I did a little bit running and realised I actually wasn’t ’too bad’ at it and I enjoyed it, I joined a local athletics club and it all escalated pretty quickly! Prior to this I had dabbled in athletics and cross-country at school but nothing serious at all.
What were the highlights and lowlights of your last season?
The highlight definitely has to be the World Championships in London, it was just incredible from start to finish, I loved competing and being in that stadium with all the British support along with being able to share the moment with my family and friends – I honestly think it was two of best days of my entire life. There were some other great moments in amongst my season, running the World Champs qualifying standard in Hengelo in June was really special to me.
Of course, there have been some low points along the way with little niggles and the occasional sub-par race, however these tough times make the good moments feel extra special and you get to appreciate them a little more.
Getting training right is something all runners want to do. Could you tell us what a typical week might look like for you?
My training week can often change depending on how I respond to my key sessions, I think that this is pretty important, there’s no point trying to hit a really tough session on the track if you’re already knackered – it is only going to make you feel disheartened!
Monday a.m. Run + Strides
Monday p.m. Drills + Optional easy run
Tuesday. Session + S&C
Wednesday. medium length run
Thursday a.m. Tempo session
Thursday p.m. Optional easy run
Saturday a.m. Big session + S&C
Saturday p.m. Optional easy run
Sunday. Long run
How has this training progressed as you have moved up the ranks? Does strength work in the gym play a part in your training schedule?
My training has built up very slowly, adding volume and double running days very gradually and making sure it is manageable alongside everything else going on in my life!
I have done strength work since I went to Birmingham University and I think that it is really key aspect of my training, I do it twice a week in the winter, but this sometimes slips to once a week in the summer when I’m trying to manage racing a lot.
Moving onto racing, what was it like competing at the World Championships in London? Do you prefer competing at the bigger events?
I love competing on the big stage – it’s what drives me in training! I had the best experience competing in London and I am so grateful that I got that opportunity. London really sparked something inside of me, afterwards I just wanted to get back out and compete again at a major championships – hopefully it can spur me on in winter training when it gets tough and the weather isn’t kind.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy smaller events – I love racing at the BMC races in the UK, there is such a buzz on the Grand Prix evenings with everyone supporting each other, we are really very lucky to have the BMC.
As an athlete, do you pay any special attention to your nutrition? Any favourite post workout meals?
I try not to think into it too much but I do make sure that when I’m training very hard to make sure I have that extra spoonful of rice or pasta, it’s important to keep fuelled and make sure you eat a good amount of protein so we get as much out of the hard sessions as possible. I have a really sweet tooth and love pudding.
Favourite post-workout meals….I do love lasagne! But you can’t go wrong with any chicken based dish.
Most younger runners struggle to balance school work with running, but studying medicine as a top athlete must be a whole new extra challenge. How do you manage this?
Coffee is essential!! Other than coffee…I think it’s key to be organised with both your running and your work, have a diary/organiser and map out your time, but make sure you put in some time for yourself! I make sure that I never do work after 8.30/9pm this allows me time to relax before bed. I find exam time tough still, but I try to structure revision days so that training is a break from revising and revising is a break from training. I think it’s important not to stress out too much about having to move or alter training because of studies – for example after an exam I wouldn’t even attempt a track session! I also find it useful to make a note of what (work wise) I have achieved that day, this helps me reflect when I start to panic about my studies.
What advice would you give to younger runners who are hoping to make it to the top?
Keep on plugging away and stay positive – it’s a really exciting sport. If you aren’t enjoying it – speak to you coach, friends or family and see what changes you can make, it’s important to be happy and enjoy the thing you spend so much time doing!
And finally, what’s in store for you over the next year? Do you have any specific goals?
I really hope to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Australia and then look to selection for the European Championships in Berlin.
I would just like to say a huge thank you to Sarah for agreeing to be interviewed for this post. It’s always amazing to hear how the top runners train and race- very inspiring!
You can follow Sarah’s progress and find out more using the links below.