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Steph McCall

Social media can get a bad rap but it is pretty great when it comes to running. I follow Steph on Instagram, drawn in by her running photos in cool locations. When she and co-host Rose Harvey started a podcast I was keen to listen. The podcast really is excellent and I've particularly loved the interviews with Sophie Raworth, Kevin Quinn and Charlotte Purdue. Most runners have full time jobs and busy lives so it's amazing to interview someone who balances their running goals with everything else in their life.


I live in Kingston in London, with my boyfriend Joe, and my cockapoo Nellie. Kingston’s a great area for accessing lots of running routes. We’ve got Richmond Park, Bushy Park, and the towpath so lots of options for running, and for dog walks, whilst also being an easy journey to get into London. The best of both worlds if you’re a runner and want to be near a city. My passions are running, the podcast, my dog and travelling.

 

I work in commercial finance. I started my career as a graduate at Barclays, but after a few years I realised that I wanted to connect and relate to the product that I was working with. We spend so much time at work so having more of a connection to what I was doing, and therefore enjoying it more, was important. I initially moved to a company called The Gym Group which meant I could relate to the product and feel like what I was doing was more tangible. I really enjoyed my time there, and while there, condensed my hours from 4.5 days into 4 days, allowing me to have Fridays off. This was great for my training, and to have a bit more balance. Sometimes weekends can feel a bit rushed, so having that extra day made a huge difference to me. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that.

 

Asking to work four days per week was the start of me trying to be a bit more selfish with my time and realising what makes me happy and matters most to me. I’m at a different company now but have continued working four days per week. Before I start at a new job now, I have the conversation about how much I value my time out of work, and while I’m going to work very hard and get the job done, in order to enjoy working hard I do need some balance and flexibility. That means I don’t have to feel guilty about training when I want to. I do work remotely which enables me to work while I travel too. That’s something that’s only happened in the last few years as I’ve realised what’s important to me. Also with the podcast, I’ve wanted more time to focus on that.



 I was always one of those sporty kids who wanted to be on every sports team when I was at primary school. At secondary school there was a cross country team but when I first moved to secondary school, I didn’t have much stamina, even though I played lots of sports. In year 8 (age 13) I got an amazing opportunity to be a ball girl for tennis at Queens (a tennis club that holds a very famous tennis tournament) and the training for that was intense, with months of practice. I naturally developed my fitness and endurance, and I noticed that I was able to run a long way without being out of breath or getting a stitch. After that I decided to try out for the cross-country team, got into that and made a Surrey school team. I was running with my dad as training at the time, for short runs 2-3 times a week. No structured training at all. When I was 15 or 16, I was doing Parkrun and I got to the top of a hill and wanted to push on but had to wait for my dad. He then realised I needed a bit more guidance and so I joined my first club, South London Harriers. My running carried on through university and I’ve never stopped although what running means to me has definitely changed.

 

I’ve had several coaches. My first coach was as a teenager at South London Harriers and he took me through until university. He was really nurturing and caring, and he also had a good relationship with my parents which was important as a junior. It wasn’t just about running times; it was about what else was going on with me as a person in terms of GCSEs and A Levels. At university I was coached one-on-one which was when I had a mini-breakthrough and started to take running a bit more seriously. It really helped to have someone looking at me as an individual and designing the training around what was best for me, and what my goals were. He also considered my university life, with studying and exams. When coaching hasn’t worked for me has been when it’s about smashing sessions, hitting splits, and not taking into account that being a good athlete comes alongside everything else in your life too.

 

My current coach is brilliant. I was doing some runs and sessions with Sally O’Gorman and chatted to her about her coach set-up. She set up a conversation and we had a chat about how he likes to work. He’s based on the Isle of Wight so it’s remote coaching, but we talk on the phone every couple of days. He knows about the other things that are going on in my life. He’s also passionate about my goals too so it feels like a team effort, working towards those together. He wants a healthy athlete, and a well-balanced athlete, someone who has longevity and a balanced way of training.



 I do travel a lot and I always have done. My parents met travelling and love to travel so it was ingrained in me from a young age. I used to complain about it because I wanted to spend the summers with my friends, not be on holiday. Now I look back and realise how lucky I was to see so many cool countries from a young age. My body is used to flying now but my coach is very big on avoiding big sessions the days around when I fly due to fatigue, and the likelihood of picking up a bug on a flight. Your immune system can sometimes be a bit hampered if you’ve done a big session, so I try to have a couple of easy days around a long-haul flight. Whilst flying I get up a lot and stretch. I do lots of exercises when I’m getting up for the toilet. And I try to sleep as much as possible if it’s a night flight.

 

I think there’s a difference between what I’m good at in running, and what’s most enjoyable. I do think I’m better and have more potential in the longer races, but my marathon experiences haven’t been that enjoyable. My most enjoyable races have been the half marathon, and random distances where there’s no pressure. I did a 30km recently and that was really fun. I also did a couple of five mile races before Christmas that were great. I know I’m not going to be the best at that distance but it’s fun to work on your speed when there’s no real pressure. I like the extremes in training, the big marathon sessions when I’m grinding it out, but also the really short reps like 60 seconds on, 60 seconds off. I really don’t like mile reps, they’re my least favourite.

 

I do relatively high mileage – I tend to sit around 100 miles per week. Some weeks might be 90, sometimes a bit over 100 miles. I really don’t fixate on the number though. I’ve gradually built up my mileage. I probably ran 70 miles a week back when I was 22-23 and I’m 30 now. It was in the 80s range for a while but when I did my first marathon, I ran 100 miles for the first time. Since then, it’s gone up and down but for the last 5 years it’s generally been higher. For me, fitting it in is all about routine. I don’t think about the mileage during the week. Each day I do similar runs week-to-week. So, on a Monday I do 8 miles in the morning and 5 in the evening and I don’t question it. The session days are what pushes my mileage up as they tend to be big, and I do a 5km warm up and a 5km cool down. Those add up, and I do a shakeout in the evening.

 

It used to be more of a struggle to fit runs in when I worked in an office five days per week. Then, it would mean getting up at 6am to run before my commute and then running at lunch or after work. That wasn’t great for recovery. Now I’m lucky to have much more flexibility. Now I get up, start work and eat a good breakfast. I’ll head out at 10-11 for my first run, come back to have lunch and work, and then do my second run later on.

 

A normal training week is over 7 days. I do two hard sessions and a long run. That’s probably how I can withstand the mileage. With previous coaches I’ve occasionally done three sessions and a long run and it’s just not sustainable. I’ve got really fatigued and not adapted to the training. It’s really important to feel recovered enough going into the sessions, that’s how you get faster. I do shorter intervals on a Tuesday, more speed work. The Friday is more of a tempo type session and Sunday a long run. When I marathon or ultra-marathon train Fridays become a tempo work within a long run, like marathon pace segments. It’s a long session so that becomes the long run and my Sunday is a medium long run.


 My menstrual cycle doesn’t really affect my training luckily, but I do try to adapt my training if I feel more tired or have cramps. It’s important to listen to your body. Sometimes I might need to eat a bit more to get extra energy in or run a bit slower. Sometimes I’ll move my session but generally that’s pretty rare.

 

I don’t have set rest days but I’m honest with my coach so I will rest when my body needs it. I sometimes have a very, very easy day. Because I run high mileage, a short easy run can allow my legs to recover and getting them moving a little bit can help me feel better. Sometimes if I don’t run at all I can feel a bit stiff. But if I’m coming down with something or feeling fatigued then I won’t run.

 

My favourite location to run is undoubtedly Cape Town. It’s just so beautiful, and it’s got such a variety of places to run, and anywhere you run is so scenic. It’s got a great running community as well.

 

I absolutely love London marathon. I haven’t loved running it but as an event, nothing beats it. It has an incredible atmosphere and it’s my home city, so it has that extra special feeling. I haven’t done lots of international races but I’m hoping my favourite will be Two Oceans, an ultra-marathon I’m running in South Africa in April. It’s meant to be amazing, and very scenic. I’d love to do some of the major marathons, like New York, it looks really cool.

 

There have been lots of running highlights but I a few years ago I came 6th at the intercounties after a strong cross-country season, and as I crossed the line someone approached me about running for England. I’m hoping for lots more highlights coming up. Running is going well at the moment and I’m loving it.

 

I do genuinely love running, and that feeling at the end of a run is so rewarding and makes me feel great. The enjoyment and positivity I get from running is really motivating. From a competitive point of view, I love the challenge and the unknown. You don’t know what potential you have and you don’t know what you’re going to achieve. I really like that. You may never achieve the things that you want to, but you have to try. I really enjoy getting the most out of myself, seeing what I’m capable of, and running really fun events.

The mental aspect of running is something that I’ve been working on with a sports psychologist over the last year, and something I’ve made lots of progress on. The two words that really stand out to me are acceptance and perspective. Those are the two things I feel like I’ve really changed my mind set on, and that have really helped me enjoy racing more and enabled me to race well. Acceptance is about accepting that you may not have a good day, anything can happen, and that’s ok. Obviously, you want to race well and achieve certain things, but it’s never guaranteed. If you accept that you’re more likely to have a good day. My previous mind set was ‘this has to go well’, so the only alternative was failure. Instead, going in with the attitude of ‘I’d like this to go well, but it may not’ gives more alternative scenarios of how the race could go. It takes the pressure off and allows me to enjoy it more, and that’s really helped with my sessions and training. Perspective is really useful in that running really doesn’t matter at the end of the day, and there are much more important things going on. Realising that it’s a privilege to do it, and that I run because I love it is key. No-one cares about your result, your friends might be happy for you or sad for you but they forget about it. You never dwell on someone else’s result.

 

Recently I have been wearing the On Cloud Boom which is a carbon plated shoe. I’ve been racing in them and doing my sessions in them as well. I used to be very loyal to Nike but I’ve been mixing it up. The other brands have really upped their game in terms of carbon plated shoes so it’s nice to try some different shoes and see what I respond well to. I rotate my running shoes day-to-day. I think it’s good to wear slightly different shoes as a bit of a different stimulus for your body. Swapping my shoes around allows me to get some extra miles out of them too.

 

I have been pretty lucky to avoid injuries apart from a sacral stress fracture five years ago. I felt some pain in my lower back during a track session after my first marathon. I stopped running straight away, rested for a week or two and then got a scan. It was quite a bad stress fracture which meant I’d potentially had it for a while before I felt it, possibly during London marathon but I hadn’t felt anything up until the track session. I had 12 weeks off running, with some complete rest followed by time on the cross trainer and I stayed pretty fit.

 

RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport) is spoken about a lot now which is great. With my training mileage I’m really aware of the risks of being under fuelled and not having the energy availability for my training. I’ve worked with a nutritionist to make sure I’m eating enough and getting the timings of when I’m eating right. The timings are really important – both making sure I’m going into a session well fuelled and getting food after to recover. Also having enough throughout the day to prevent any energy deficits. It’s something I keep on top of. A lot of people think stress fractures aren’t going to happen to them but no-one is invincible. I’ve previously been guilty of that but since my fracture 5 years ago I’ve really focused on making sure it doesn’t happen again. The other really important thing is sleeping – that’s been a big thing for me. I go to bed early and it’s definitely made me recover better. Since I’ve been able to work more flexibly, that’s been a game changer for me too.

 

I’ve been trying to increase the number of grams of carbohydrate per hour I’ve been able to have in training. I started with at least 60 grams (per hour) and I’m now working towards 90 plus. I’ll be aiming for that for the ultra-marathon. I’ve found a carbohydrate drink makes it easier, as well as gels. Otherwise you have to have so many gels to get to 90 grams per hour.. I’ve also been practising during my harder session so I can do it during a race.

 

I am in a really good routine of strength training now. I have an actual program now which really helps keep me accountable. I do two heavy weights sessions per week, and I try to do them on my harder days, so on a Tuesday and Friday. Sometimes it’s a squeeze to fit it all in. I don’t look forward to it but once I’m actually in the gym I do really enjoy them now. Lifting heavy weights makes you feel powerful which is very cool.  I’m not trying to be the best at it but I am trying to be better. I think it’s really important for injury prevention, and for making you more efficient and stronger at running.

 

The people who influence me most are my friends in the sport. When you know someone, the work they’re putting in and the results they’re getting, that’s really inspiring.

 

At the moment I’m training for Two Oceans, my first ultramarathon in mid-April, in South Africa. I’m going in with no pressure and I really hope I’ll enjoy it. I feel like I might be good at the longer distances so that might open some doors with future races. I also have unfinished business with the marathon so potentially I’ll do another marathon this autumn but unconfirmed. During the summer I’d like to do some shorter stuff, 5ks and 10ks, and try to get a few personal bests.


You can follow Steph on Instagram @stephmccall and the podcast @5mileseasy.

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