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Meet the runner - Hannah Polden

I am currently in my final year of a Physiotherapy degree at Cardiff University, but due to all the chaos, this was sadly cut short! Since coming home and being in lockdown, it’s been a whirlwind of my dissertation, final assignments, physiotherapy job applications and interviews and I will ‘graduate’ in June (not in the way I’d hoped!) Then into the real world of my first physiotherapy job which will begin with a 2-year rotational post in Wales.

Since joining university, I have been a member of Cardiff University Athletic Club (CUAC) and really enjoyed how sociable and friendly it was! I began competing for CUAC in cross country and track in my first year and became female cross-country captain in my second year. While this club was really enjoyable, I decided I want to push myself a bit more with my running and so decided to join the Cardiff Met Training group at the end of second year. I trained with this group most Tuesdays and Saturdays and more recently, one of the coaches decided to form a female training group. This really benefited me as it meant us girls could have individual coaching and not feel like we were being lapped continuously by the boys!

The degree has certainly had its challenges, making it that bit harder to fit in training or have the time to train, but my coach was always understanding and good at adapting my programme when general life got tough! Cardiff is spoilt for running routes, and even on tough days, a gentle jog round Bute Park or Roath Lake would always help! I have been really lucky with my placements over the past 2 years, getting to explore lots of new, scenic running routes all over Wales!

My dad got me into running when I was 11 and I competed in all the school cross country races, come rain or shine. At about age 14, my PE teacher persuaded me to join a club and so I finally joined Southampton AC! I distinctly remember my first cross country race for the club at Farley Mount- possibly one of the toughest races of the club calendar because of its tough hills! Even though it was tough, I actually really enjoyed it and met lots of friendly people from the club, the first of which was Anna Sharp who took me on a warm-up to calm me down because I felt so nervous! Anna is a very close friend of mine (and talented athlete) who has always encouraged me with my running.

For about 4 years now, I’ve been coached by Pete Haynes who has always been incredibly supportive and helped me achieve many different targets! I’ve really enjoyed training with SAC when back from university for holidays and catching up with Pete and other friendly faces! Although I have enjoyed racing on track, cross country and road, I found my niche for long distance running from quite an early stage, and over the past few years, have enjoyed racing longer distances, including half marathons.

I love working hard in training and nothing beats smashing a PB every now and then, but I would say the biggest motivator for me is the buzz I get from running, regardless of where I run or the pace! It’s the best, free stress reliever out there and I love exploring new routes, especially on Sunday long runs. I especially love running with others (even if it means dragging my dad out… he loves it really!!)

Training weeks do tend to vary but my usual programme before lockdown was a 45 min relaxed run or progression run on a Monday with an evening drill session, an easy morning run and then evening session (track or grass) on Tuesdays, 50 min-1 hour recovery run on a Wednesday, hills or longer relaxed run on a Thursday, rest or gym/cross train on a Friday, session on a Saturday (track or grass) and long run Sunday (10-13 miles). I’d often try to add at least 2 gym sessions a week too for general strength and conditioning and cross training plus daily core work. I’m trying to follow this programme as best I can during lockdown and am currently averaging 50 miles a week.

My favourite session is probably a good hill session- they’re always tough (and it always seems to be raining) but they have so many benefits and have certainly helped me throughout the cross-country season.

This programme has changed a bit since lockdown, and whilst there are no races, I am actually using this time to build on my weaknesses and cross train more. I try to do a session of strength and/or conditioning daily whether it’s a HITT workout, Pilates, mobility or band work. I am also cycling a lot more now and am finding it’s actually building my general fitness and strength more efficiently as well as saving my legs from all the impact! I am also mixing up my training by including more short intervals and hill sprints to get the legs spinning a bit more, with the aim to try and improve over shorter distances once lockdown is over. Lockdown has been a strange time and I have certainly missed the social side of running, training with a group and meeting up with others to run. I can’t wait to get back to group training once we are all able- it’s definitely easier to motivate yourself than doing it solo!

My best performance was the Cardiff Half Marathon in 2018 where I managed to get my target of sub 90 mins. I had no idea I was capable of it, but it just proved that with good training and the right mindset, you an achieve anything! It was an incredible atmosphere and would love to race it again. It was after this race that I decided I wanted to get into marathon running in the future.

I’d say my worst performance was probably one of my first cross country races at Hudson’s Field, I was doing pretty well and felt strong, until a particularly boggy patch where one of my spikes came off! I wasted a lot of time trying to put my shoe back on as lots of runners came past me and actually ended up coming second from last- (needless to say, ever since I have made sure my spikes are on properly!!)

A cross country race I will always remember was when I decided to wear trainers instead of spikes because the course was supposedly mostly gravel track, but the start line was on grass and as the gun went, I remember slipping and falling over straight away! After seriously debating giving up and almost in tears, I decided to push hard to catch up with the pack and actually ended up finishing in the top 10 (I still don’t know how that happened).

My best piece of kit is probably my Brooks trainers. I have always worn Brooks and they’re a good all-round supportive shoe for sessions or easy running.

I don’t follow a particularly special diet, I just try to make sure it’s healthy and balanced! I used to have quite a few issues with eating and running, thinking I needed to be a specific shape to be a good runner. But I’ve learnt it’s so important to fuel, and now, I eat well and am always hungry! I always make sure I have a good meal with plenty of carbs after a training session and make sure I get some protein in soon after a long run. I take iron and vitamin C supplements daily too.

I don’t have any current injuries (touch wood!) but have had a few in the past, quite often shin splints or the odd sprained ankle. Earlier this year, I had symptoms of ITB and couldn’t run for 4 weeks – as well as plenty of cross training, I was advised to really focus on conditioning work, including proper stretching, foam rolling and hamstring strengthening. I have been making sure to do this ever since, following a run or training session to prevent this happening again!

I have lost my running mojo from time to time and at university, this has usually been due to stress and workload, but trying to push my body too hard at the same time, meaning I over-train. I have definitely been guilty of overtraining in the past and looking at my watch too much when I should be listening to my body. I find I often lose my mojo when I have plateaued or don’t seem to be progressing, but I have learnt now to be patient with training as it takes time to see the benefits! I used to quite often compare myself to others, wishing I could be faster, but with time, I’ve learnt training is personal to you and everyone will always be at different stages. When I got back from a physiotherapy placement in Peru back in December, I was certainly a lot more unfit than I thought I’d be and it took a good 3 months to get back to fitness again, so I just had to be patient and trust my training!

I used to be quite critical after a bad race, but I’ve learnt to just take the positives because you can learn from them, and this makes the good races and getting that PB even better! Having so many supportive running friends both in Southampton and Cardiff has definitely helped me when races haven’t gone to plan or I’m lacking that motivation to train.

I do think that losing your mojo makes you take a step back and work out what’s going on with your training and general life and it’s something all of us runners should do- we run because we enjoy it at the end of the day!

You can find Hannah on Instagram @hannahpolden

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