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  • Writer's pictureKarla

Meet the coach - Sophie Dunnett

Sophie Dunnett is a coach at the top of her game. She coaches several GB athletes and lots more in the making alongside her role as Head Coach for North Highland Harriers and her job as a Scottish Athletics tutor. I love her straight-talking approach and her focus on the individual and what works for them. She's an inspiration. You can find Sophie at and on Instagram @performance_endurance_training.

I am from the very North of Scotland, I can literally see the Orkney Islands from the bottom of my road. I have always lived 'up North', I moved to Aberdeen to attend University but then came north again. The quality of life is unique here: beauty, peacefulness and highland hospitality in abundance. I coach part-time and work part-time within education. I’m responsible for planning and co-ordinating the programmes for senior phase pupils who attend our local College.

It is difficult to pin down one favourite place to run as there are so many to choose from, but all involve trails or hills. If I can have two then they would be the trails in the Caithness Flow Country; Forsinain, Loch More and Braemore with miles of nothing and no-one. My other favourite would have to be Arco, Italy where I visited to support Andy Douglas in the European Championships in 2016. Maybe it was the stunning scenery or the success of the GB team, but Arco has left a lasting impression and is definitely on my list of places to go to again.

I’ve always been a runner. I had a gap of about 10 years after being told that I shouldn't run due to knee surgery and running being bad for your knees!! Note: always seek advice from sports specialists.

I have been coaching for some 34 years now and until 3 years ago I did this on a purely voluntary basis. Then I finally took the leap of faith and started a coaching business, purely as a means to be able to coach more athletes as I was constantly getting requests but did not have enough hours in the day to grow the number of athletes. To do that I needed to reduce my hours at North Highland College UHI so started my Performance Endurance Training business.

I ran as a junior athlete and when I returned from University, I just slipped into coaching at the local club. Roll forward about 20 years and two of my daughters were running internationally and I went from coaching club level juniors to working with my first international athletes. Now I have a group of 30 athletes I coach individually. Seven of them are already competing or have strong potential to compete for places in Scottish/English or GB teams across mainly mountain running and ultra-distance events.

My coaching philosophy is to ' Believe in the Process'. I think this has always been my philosophy, but it just took time to recognise it. This recognition came with the successful moulding of athletes from good club standard to being able to compete on the National and International stage or reaching their individual performance aspirations. Coaching athletes is not about throwing the latest fashionable sessions at them, it is about finding out what works for each individual athlete and them having belief in the journey you are taking together as an athlete and coach. Achieving successful running performances is not a linear process and there are often bumps along the way and at these times athletes need to believe even more so in the process.

The science of running motivates me. I have an analytical background and studied Psychology and am always reflecting on the end goal for athletes, working back to plan out their training, continually reflecting on sessions as they happen and questioning both the quantitative data gathered and the qualitative feedback from athletes. For a mostly online coach, I love nothing better than getting together with athletes and just watching........ taking in form, fatigue, execution of sessions and the point at which I start getting the evil eye... when the session starts to bite. As an endurance athlete I apply the same principal to myself in reflecting on my training and writing my training programme.

I was asked about who influences me at a Scottish Athletics hill running camp and my response still stands, I have no single influencers. I have read widely and am constantly researching but have a very eclectic approach now that I could not credit to a small number of influencers. I am a UKA Level 3 Performance Endurance Coach and gaining that qualification was the starting point in my pursuit of knowledge as opposed to the end point. I would say now my biggest influence comes from my athletes and the drive they give me to do the best I can for them in preparing them to achieve their running goals. In doing so, there is also a significant positive impact on their lives wider than running and it is humbling to be a part of this.

The most common mistake I see is the 'more-on' approach - so as an athlete you have a vague idea of what you want to do with your training, then someone mentions something they do and you add it to the list of sessions/nutritional requirements/rehab go to/kit. This happens repeatedly to the point that you are not doing anything well as you try to juggle the ever-growing list of masters and how to prioritise them with little consideration of if they are right for you. The 'more-on' approach sees runners and coaches constantly adding more on, rather than questioning the value for the individual athlete and how it sits within the existing training programme.

The most underrated thing is the psychology of being at the top of your game. Andy Douglas and other athletes I coach often refer to the support that I provide as coach. As coaches and athletes, we often look at advances in supplements, testing, rehab for that extra 1% gain but for many athletes having the appropriate support mechanism can be that 1%. I am passionate about working with athletes and that includes the bad patches when you are the person who just gets how important their running is to them.

I have far too many funny anecdotes, all locked in my private memories of this wonderful journey I have been on as a coach. One which is maybe not funny (and I hope my hubby doesn't read this) but I have got myself into some serious pickles when travelling to the European and World Mountain Championships. Athletes and the Team Management rightfully climb on transport and everything is organised for them. I normally travel alone to places that are not easily accessible due to the terrain the athletes are competing on. I have been dropped off on the edge of a motorway in Italy and walked 5 kilometres to my accommodation late at night looking so obviously like a tourist, I have got up at 3am to walk I hate to think how far to get to the course before the Junior girls’ races start and have run through enough airport terminals to catch connections; being relatively fit has its benefits.

I genuinely have an amazing group of athletes who give me as much back as I provide for them. I have a growing number of athletes targeting GB selections and they challenge me as much as the 50km/100miler/multi-day ultra-athletes. I would say I am one very fortunate coach.

I want to just keep doing what I am doing. My athletes are succeeding, and I can't ask for more than that.

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