Our first TeenRunner Athlete of the Year is Jenny Nesbitt!
Jenny is a British long distance runner, currently running in the U23 category for Worcester and Bath Uni. She really is an inspirational athlete: not only has Jenny already competed for Great Britain in multiple events including the European U23 Championships in Poland, but she also overcame an illness that saw her in and out of hospital for a year, and has come back stronger than ever. Jenny holds personal bests of 32:59.52 for 10,000m, 72:54 for the half marathon, and 15:57.55 for 5o00m.
1.Let’s start from the beginning: how long have you been running for and how did it all start for you?
I started running in school. It wasn’t until I was in year 9 that I really got the running bug. I was desperate to get on the school athletics team to compete at the ESAA School Cup and no one wanted to run the 800m, so I volunteered myself. Unfortunately, this meant that I also had to do a field event too, so long jump it was! Im very glad that I decided not to pursue this event! That year we got to the final and came 3rd , and I got my first taste of running on a national stage and was hooked. I swiftly joined my local athletics club and connected with my coach, who is still my coach to this day. I guess ever since then I have been a (little) obsessed with the sport, with an ever growing edge of competitiveness! Its safe to say that I now currently hate the 800m, and I’m very glad that I’m old enough to run a lot more laps of the track!
2. What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Thats a really hard question to answer! There have been so many moments that I look back at and think, wow I’m so glad I got this opportunity! I think running my first 10km road race in 2014 in Worcester (where I live) and beating Paula Radcliffe was a massive moment in my career. I was coming back from a really difficult few years with illness and that win gave me a massive motivation and confidence boost that I was okay, fit and healthy! This was a pinnacle moment in establishing me desire to run the longer stuff, which I have loved!
I think getting my first GB vest for the Euro Cross was a big highlight also. Its something athletes work so hard to get, and I was over the moon to get the call up. I remember it all so well, jumping around my university room trying to contain my excitement, whilst not freaking out my flatmates! Once I got my first taste for international competition I was driven to work even harder for more!
Winning my first individual European medal in the Euro Cup 10,000m is another highlight! I came into that race ranked 12th on paper, being the youngest on the start line by a few years. At the time it was a race in which I feel I did everything right. I was chuffed to come away with a bronze medal and it proves that rankings mean nothing when you go into a championship!
The World Student Games this summer was also another opportunity I will never forget. The whole trip, from the travel, to the village, to the culture and the crazy weather! I learnt so much and gained so much experience! Getting to represent your country on such an international level is always so much fun, and again, coming into the race ranked 12th, I was so pleased to finish 5th!
Could you tell us about what your training week usually looks like?
My training week is pretty standard. I very much like to know what I am doing session wise at the beginning of the week – rather than have some nasty surprise sprung upon me!
Monday – double run day (12 miles) + gym
Tuesday – grass session and recovery run
Wednesday – double run day (14 miles) + gym
Thursday – tempo/fartlek and recovery run
Friday – rest or cross train
Saturday – track session
Sunday – long run (up to 15 miles)
How does strength training and stretching fit into your schedule?
I used to be really bad at stretching and foam rolling. In fact if it wasn’t running, then my motivation to do anything else was lacking. With some pretty nasty injuries over the past couple of years I have learnt to ‘love’ the gym. I make sure I lift twice a week, but I also all my accessory exercises everyday. The best way to make sure I do this is to roll out of bed and ban myself from coffee until they are done! So far this technique has been a success!
What are your reasons for choosing to complete the majority of training on your own?
I don’t have much choice when it comes to training on my own. It has always been this way, so I guess I am used to it, but it is always so great to get a run in with another human rather than my iPod! I regard myself as a highly driven person, so 9 times out of 10 I have no problem getting out and doing my sessions. My club is quite small so there are not that many others to train with, and hardly anyone who runs as much as I do. I would love to find a great training group in the future, but ill have to learn to run in a straight line!
Competing for GB must have been incredible, especially race day and travelling with the team. What have been your experiences?
Competing for GB is incredible. My experiences have been great. It always makes a race feel a lot more important when you are wearing the red, white and blue, and travelling abroad. I love getting to visit lots of countries, although most of the time you only see the hotel and track/muddy field! Representing your country is something I never take for granted and each experience is massively special. I work so hard and so many people work so hard for me, that I feel I can repay them when I run for GB.
Talking of races, do you have a specific pre-race routine?
I’m a very unsociable person before a race. In fact my parents claim that I am the worst person to be around. Luckily they are quite understanding! I think it is important to be adaptable when it comes to your pre race routine as its very rare everything goes according to plan! I make sure I always travel with a porridge pot as this is my pre race meal, and allow myself an hour to warm up before I race. I must go to the toilet about 100000 times, so always allow for that too! I am not very superstitious, but racing knickers and my lucky socks (which are now black, not pink) are a must on race day!
Of course diet is a very important component of performance: do you pay any special attention to this? What are your favourite pre and post workout meals?
I think it is important not to over complicate your diet. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re fully. Make sure you refuel post run or race, and get in all the colours of the rainbow! Cake is a prominent feature on my menu, as are pancakes. I think its really important to enjoy what you eat and eat everything in moderation! I ensure I am adequately fuelled for all my workouts and always have something ready for when I am finished. Pre workout I stick to porridge as I know it sits well in my stomach and doesn’t cause any problems. I usually chuck a load of berries and seeds on the top with a large serving of honey too. Post workout, I enjoy pasta. I’m a rubbish cook, but can get pasta right, so usually have this with some form of protein and lots of veggies. If I can get my hands on a pizza or fish and chips post race then I am in heaven!
You’ve made an incredible comeback from an illness that saw you in and out of hospital for a year, could you tell us a bit more about this? Has the road back to training and full fitness been smooth?
It was an awful time of my life! I still get nightmares to this day – but I believe it has made me the person that I am. I was diagnosed with Henoch Schirolne Pupura when I was 17 and was hospitalised for a long time. It basically ate my body from the inside and the outside, leaving me really weak and with some dodgy kidney damage and holes in my leg. Luckily, 5 years on, I am through the worst of it, and just have yearly check ups to make sure there has been no regression. I still have to be really careful if I get any sort of cold or illness, but apart from that life can be resumed as normal.
The road back to training and full fitness was not smooth, but with the help and support of everyone I achieved it. It was about 15 months before I was able to run again, as I had to regain the weight I lost, help the holes in my leg heal and build some muscle before I was allowed to lace up my trainers. In fact, for a very long time the last thing I felt like doing was running as I was suffering from Chronic Fatigue. When I was eventually back in my trainers the first few tentative runs were both exhilarating and totally awful. My body felt battered all over, but I was so happy to be back running and so thankful that I was able to, I didn’t care.
For a long time I didn’t believe I would ever be able to run again, and neither did a lot of people who saw me at my worst – so to return to the sport I loved and go onto represent my country means so much more to me than just running laps of the track. It took me about a year to get back into some form of proper training and about 2 years to be fully confident that my body was going to hold up, but luckily so far, illness wise I have been okay! I think I learn that your health is the most important thing that you own, and whatever you want to achieve in life, if you aren’t healthy you wont achieve it. Even though the whole experience was a real life horror story, I recognise that life is so special and health is not a given and that everyday you should get out and do things before it is too late!
And finally, what are your plans for the future? Is becoming an elite runner a career path that you would like to pursue?
I certainly want to become an elite runner if I can. There is so much more I want to achieve and I am so passionate about it all. In the future would love to be an elite for as long as possible and give everything I have got to being the best athlete I can be. Life is for living and enjoying and its far too short to look back and think ‘what if’, so until I have no other option, running will be the main focus of my career. Alongside that I am determined to finish my degree, as one day I will want to put my education to good use. Ultimately, once I have finished running, if I can become a journalist, broadcaster or presenter of some sort I will be very happy!
I would just like to say a huge thank you to Jenny for taking the time to answer these questions and for telling her amazing and inspirational story. It has been incredible to hear about how Jenny battled such a horrible illness, and is now running for England and beating Paula Radcliffe. Anything is possible- a message that all runners should remember.
If you want to hear more from Jenny, click the links below.