Meet the athlete - Jo Murphy
Updated: Jan 29
I first met Jo Murphy in the ladies loos at the Anglo-Celtic Plate in August of this year. I was having a minor pre-race hair crisis and she came to the rescue with a couple of hair grips! The Scottish team that day were so friendly and chatty and happy to be racing - quite different from the normal nerves at most races. Jo went on that day to have a storming run, finishing the accidentally-longer-than-100km race in 7.50.58 and placing 4th on the Scottish all-time list. Two months later she followed that with another incredible run at the Gloucester-24-hour race, running over 230 kilometres. That incredible run placed her 3rd on the Scottish all-time list and 8th on the GB list.
I listened to her recently on the Young Hearts Run Free podcast and knew I had to ask her some questions. If you get a chance go and listen to the podcast, after you've finished reading this of course!
I’m 34 years old and I live in Crossgates, Fife. I am a Police Officer and have been for over 14 years. I live with my husband Gary and our 7 year old English cocker spaniel, Reggie. Reggie has previously joined me on many a hill run but prefers lazy days on the couch nowadays so he’s in good company with his dad!
I have just taken on a coach after 2 years of self-coaching. I feel I’ve got myself to a point that I will either plateau or potentially over-train, neither of which I want. I have taken on Neil MacNicol who owns RunRecover and is based local to me. I have previously been coached by Neil at a time that work and life were busy, so I took a break from structured training and I’m looking forward to working with him again and seeing where it takes me. My coaching is sent to me weekly and we have catch up runs and chat on the phone.
I got into running in primary 7 when my school started a cross country club, surprisingly I enjoyed it and found I had some natural talent. This progressed into high school where I competed in a variety of track events, finding that I was no good at field events and hurdling! Other than running, I’ve never been into any other sports.
I love the marathon distance and beyond. The thing I love most about the marathon is that it is a mix of both speed and endurance, and you can really push your limits, running as close to that red line without actually hitting it (hopefully). I find that marathon training carries over to the 100km distance really well.
My build up to the Anglo-Celtic Plate (ACP) 100km was a good one. I had the endurance in my legs after running the Challenge 180 race at the end of May which was the East and West Highland Way routes combined (180 miles). I found my recovery after this to be better than expected as the race had not been intense, or speed based. Having focused previously on running long and at low intensity with a lot of hill repetition work, I changed things up and increased the intensity whilst reducing the weekly mileage. I was getting in a short interval session, a longer interval session and then a long run with pick-ups at the weekend. I felt this worked towards improving my speed and endurance and enabled me to target a pace for the 100km that I felt would be sustainable throughout the race.
My A race for the year was the ACP 100km, however I had booked the 24 hour race earlier in the year. I didn’t anticipate that I would obtain a qualifying time for GB 100km selection so set my goals on using the 24hr race as a qualifying distance for 24hr GB selection. I am now in a fortunate position to have a choice between the two. The main focus between the 100km and 24 hours was recovery. They are very different beasts to tackle.
My training through Covid had been generally uninterrupted with no races, no taper and in turn no extended recovery time so I’ve been able to build my training and mileage consistently. I generally work on a 7-day training schedule and have Sunday as a rest day. I had 2 virtual races for the GB team - The IAU 6-hour global solidarity run. One was at the end of August last year and one in March this year which was a great way to put my training to the test in prep for the ACP 100km, which I anticipated to be rescheduled for Autumn time this year. My weekly mileage was around 70 miles a week. One additional thing I have adopted and found useful this past year has been regular yoga and strength sessions which compliment an ageing ultra-runner!
Sunday is my scheduled rest day for family time and usually consists of a long lie, dog walk and lazy afternoon with some foam rolling and lots of food.
I’ve slowly learnt to listen to my body and after racing got back into running when I felt the time was right.Walks with the dog and cross-training such as the bike and gym have kept the body moving as well as some massage. I am a really good sleeper which helps too! I knew after the 24 hour that the rest of 2021 was about recovery and going into 2022 ready to ramp up the training again. The end of season/winter time always brings about an additional fatigue for me so instead of resisting this, I eat more, sleep more and enjoy the down time.
I supplement with protein after longer workouts but generally I don’t take on other supplements. Pre-race is always pizza/pasta and generally post-race too. You’ll regularly see me with a plate of ‘tri-carbs’ consisting of chips/garlic bread, pizza and pasta. If it’s beige then it’s on my plate! I am lucky to have a pretty steely stomach and can generally manage both solid and liquid fuel during a race. I like active root, PH nutrition, Lucozade and coke to drink and take on gels, sweets, crisps and anything else on offer. This years’ ACP was the only time my insides have given up on me but I think that was due to running at that intensity for that length of time and thankfully didn’t scupper my race as I was able to be sick on the move.
My favourite race is The West Highland Way. It holds so many lovely memories both of racing and training. The route never bores me, and the scenery is so changeable during the seasons.
The ACP 100mk this year was my absolute highlight, it is not often that races go to plan but when they do it is a great feeling. It was the icing on the cake to what has been a great couple of years of training.
I haven’t done much racing abroad, but I’ve run the Prague half marathon twice before and loved it. It’s a great city to visit and I combined it with a girls’ holiday both times.
I love racing on local soil and get a real buzz having friends and family supporting me. For that reason I am looking forward to 2022 ACP being back on home soil.
I’ve had a lot of great races and having a great crew has proved invaluable. I’ve been really lucky to have good friends who I credit most of my racing to, I couldn’t achieve what I do without their help and support. Going into a race in the best possible condition and finishing knowing I gave 100 percent of myself that day is all I ever ask for. Some of my best results haven’t resulted in being on the podium. You can never account for others’ performances in a race, so I just focus on myself. It might be the route, the weather, the support or some other factor that makes it special. This year I really enjoyed the Challenge 180 as I ran it with my friend Derek, it taught me a lot about myself. If you ever want to find out who you really are then sleep deprivation will do that! We ran for 55 hours so in a strange way it has made 24 hours feel much more manageable now.
I don’t really have any worst races! That’s not to say I haven’t underperformed. I’ve had some races that haven’t gone as well as I’d have liked but I feel it’s important to finish the race and grind it out, unless of course injury prevents this. If you can learn to fight through the bad spells then better times are ahead. Quite often a race can turn around so it’s always worth digging in. I always set a gold, silver and bronze target for a race so there’s a fall back when things aren’t going so well. In a bad race there is always something to be gained, questions like “Did I fuel right?” “Did I over/undertrain?” “Did I not train specifically enough?” can always be asked. It improves you as an athlete and gives you something to work on. Giving up is not an option for me, I’d worry that it could become a default and an easy way out in future races. Ultra-running is tough but that’s what makes it great.
My philosophy is to be happy and enjoy what you do. If it is no longer enjoyable then stop. I am heavily motivated by my running friends and my family. I did a lot of fundraising for causes close to my heart in my early running/racing days and the enjoyment from both running and raising awareness serves well in an ultra when self-doubt creeps in as you’ve got a reason to keep going.
I am not sponsored but I do love the Salomon hydration vest, I got over 4 years and probably about 4000 miles out of my last one. Controversially (maybe) the Nike next percent 2 which I wore to the ACP 100km were superb. I have always been a bit cynical about shoe technology, but they really were fantastic both during and post-race. I felt I pulled up well afterwards as the shoe had a great return off the ground. I also had no feet issues at all, this says something as I blister badly usually in any long races. I try to wear a smile on my face every time I race, it’s probably the most important piece of kit.
My mum has been my biggest influence. Sadly she passed away when I was 16 but I am motivated by her every day. I feel lucky to be able to do what I do. My ethos to work hard and be the best version of myself comes from my mum.
I would love to pull on a GB vest next year in either the 100km world champs or the 24 hour European champs later next year. My goals are (if selected) the ACP 100km which is due to be hosted in Perth again in April. I’ve got the Edinburgh marathon booked in too at the end of May and I’m seeking that elusive sub 3 that has escaped me on previous attempts. May the wind be kind that day.