Elinor Kirk, Ross Millington and Jonny Mellor, runners from Team New Balance Manchester, a professional running team sponsored by New Balance, explain how they’re always in ‘Always in Beta’ as athletes and how New Balance’s new brand ethos shapes their training and approach to competition.
Find out about Elinor, Ross and Jonny’s careers to date below.
‘Always in Beta’ from New Balance is about constantly pushing yourself, testing your limits and evolving as an athlete to be the best you can be. How does this approach shape your training as a team?
Elinor: I think it's about trying to do everything you can to make yourself a better athlete. It’s about trying to do better every day and making sure you're doing all the little things right; whether it's in terms of nutrition, recovery or sleep. It’s about focusing on what you can control as well – there are lots of uncontrollables in training and in life in general so by focusing on what we can do - good nutrition and training hard, for example - then hopefully with time it will all accumulate and result in good performances. It’s about never being satisfied but always thinking that there could be more.
As a team who train and live together, does being part of Team New Balance Manchester help you to stay motivated and keep setting the bar higher?
Ross: Absolutely. With the team environment we've got and with the three of us living in the house at the minute there are always other people accountable for getting out the door and training. Me and Jonny go running together every day but if one of us decides to have a lie in then it messes the day up for the other person and vice versa. It helps us to get the mundane mileage done.
It's an interesting dynamic. If you just threw people together who were competing against each other I don't think it would work 9 times out of 10 so I think Steve’s [Steve Vernon, Team New Balance Manchester’s coach] got to take credit for picking the right sort of people working together. The dynamic just works: we know we've got to compete against each other but we don't really talk about it that much; we just know that when we're competing it's every man for himself but we do everything we can to help each other along the way.
Do you work to specific goals throughout the year to ensure you keep improving as a team and as individual runners?
Jonny: We all have individual goals but a lot of the time we're working towards the same goal as well. For example, Ross and I are competing at the British champs at the weekend in the 5000m, so although we've got our own goals, we're working together on a daily basis to try and achieve those goals. It definitely helps when you're doing similar races and you've got similar events to train for along the way.
Do you think goal-setting helps all runners, not just serious athletes?
Absolutely, it gives every run purpose. If you don't fancy getting out the door but you've got a goal at the back of your mind that you're training for, it's going to help motivate you and get you out the door. Sitting down and setting goals is a really valuable thing to do.
Have any of you had any notable setbacks such as injury or illness? Do you have any advice on how to stay focused and positive when setbacks happen?
Elinor: I'm nursing a foot injury so it's a relevant question for me at the moment! The first stage of injury is accepting that you're injured and not really thinking about the fact that you're injured but a) why it happened and b) what you can do to help heal it and help the recovery process. You have to try and not dwell on the injury or get annoyed at the fact that you’re injured; it’s important to focus on what you can do, whether that's cross training or doing strengthening and conditioning. It is hard initially to keep yourself motivated: when you stop running you feel like all the hard work you've put in is going down the drain, but you can definitely keep up your fitness by doing cross training. I think setting other goals is good to keep you motivated too otherwise you can get in a bit of a cross-training rut. It's about focusing on what you can do and trying as much as you can on enjoying doing something different for a while - as runners we just run, so it's good to embrace doing something different. Enjoy getting on the bike or swimming - whatever it is you can do.
When it comes to standing on the start line of an important race, do any of you have any particular pre-race rituals that you do, or a mantra that helps you focus?
Ross: I try to steer clear of that sort of thing because every race is going to be different - sometimes you have perfect training leading up to a race, sometimes you don't, so my focus is more about being flexible with the situation and with the races.
Eli: As long as I've had caffeine I'm good to go!
More generally, how important do you think the mind and mental strength is to success in sport?
Eli: I think it plays a massive role. If you don't believe you belong in a race or that you can compete against the people you're in a race with then that can be detrimental to your performance. To perform at your best you definitely have to believe that you have got a chance of doing well in the race. You have to believe that anything could happen - someone else could have a bad race, for example; you don't know how other people are going to run. All you can do is focus on what you can do as an athlete and I think staying positive during the race plays a massive role.
Ross: The mental side is probably more important than the physical side. Everybody can get out of the door and put the miles in but when it comes to the start line when you're stood with your own thoughts, that's when mental strength is important. It's about mental preparation and the thoughts that go on during the race as well. There are so many times when negative thoughts come in and you have to learn to deal with those. Nine times out of 10 what separates a great performance from a bad performance is when those doubts creep in and how a person deals with them.
Lots of recreational runners love running but don’t do any strengthening or flexibility work. How important is strengthening and flexibility work in your training schedule? Do you think it pays off in terms of PBs?
Jonny: Since September I've been paying a lot more attention to it. I’ve done it all the time I've been running, though it's only really since we've got the first season out of the way that Steve has got a lot more specific with me. You notice the difference - you don't feel as fatigued all the time and you get less little niggles and weaknesses and imbalances. For me, making sure I'm in the gym twice a week is really important and it allows me to train on a more consistent basis as well. Plus it's good to mix up your training so it's not so repetitive. I enjoy swimming, which is really good for running.
Coach Steve Vernon: The guys do a lot of dynamic flexibility within warm ups - in every single hard workout they do they also incorporate a warm up and a dynamic flexibility routine. It’s not your standard static stretching however, it's more dynamic flexibility and in a total of 7 days, they're probably doing an element of it 4-5 days. They'll also have little things that they're given by their physio at home - one of them might get more tightness in the calfs for example, so they’ll have their own individual exercises to do. We call it rehab - they're not necessarily rehabilitating from anything serious, but it's an area of potential injury so it's a mixture of their own programmes plus the dynamic flexibility that forms part of their warm ups.
Can you tell us about your diet and the role it plays in your training?
Jonny: I’m probably the wrong person to ask but it's got a lot better recently. Why did you give me that question, Steve?!
Coach Steve: I'll give you a bit of background. When Jonny first came to me he was somebody who ate Alphabites five times a week. Along with potato waffles. But his diet’s improved hugely and joking aside, I think it's had a massive change on his career because Jonny has something called rebound hyperglycaemia, probably from eating a very high glycemic diet for years. But he's now learnt to balance his diet.
Jonny: Before a race now I eat low glycemic foods and make sure I get protein in there to slow down the glycaemic rate. I have to be a lot more careful in terms of planning what I eat in the lead up to a race now. When it's a morning race it's a lot easier as I can just have porridge, but when you race in the evening you have to re-think your strategy in a little more detail as you have to plan what time you're going to eat and what it is you're going to eat. Diet has definitely had a big impact on me. In the past I've had to stop on runs because I felt so light headed and I think it affected me last year in the Commonwealth Games. I pay more attention to my diet now and I think more professionally about it.
And what about foods after you run?
Jonny: The quicker you recover the quicker you’re on form for your next training session and next race. We always have protein as soon as we finish a hard session and we have a good evening meal as well so that we're recovering as best as possible.
Do you have an overall recovery routine to help make sure you stay on form?
Ross: People talk about the 20 minute recovery window so we all take a protein recovery shake after a hard workout and after the gym. That's the first step in recovery for us and then we take food on board later. Then in broader terms we see a physio once a week who comes over to the house and sees us all individually to give us a flush out or work through any niggles. When you run as we do you need that once a week to help iron out all the kinks and keep on top of everything.
Sleep is massively important too. If you came round to our house at 10.30pm there'd be absolutely nothing going on as we're all in bed by 10 o’ clock! We get up at 7.30am, so we try to get a good 9 hours minimum in and I’m partial to a few naps during the day too. When we're not running we'll be doing anything we can to get better and recover.
Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest is a 10K obstacle race open to all. It’s a full body workout with obstacles that test speed and agility and some that test strength and power. As runners you’ll no doubt excel in the running part, but how would you go about training and targeting for the other areas of fitness – agility, power and strength, for example?
Coach Steve: We look at all-round body conditioning. All my athletes are strong as well as able to run because strength is important in injury prevention. It’s also very important for technique - you want to be strong enough in your core so that your legs can do the work they want to when everything else is fatiguing. The advice I'd give to runners doing an obstacle race is to make sure they're working their core strength in the gym – this doesn't necessarily mean you need to be doing lots of weights, you can just work on body weight - so press ups and pull ups in the gym for example, or using medicine balls as part of an all-round workout. The traditional circuit-type training is really good - I know a few runners who've used things like the Insanity workouts as well as their running training and used that to strengthen up. These type of races are all-round conditioning - you need to be both aerobically strong in your heart and lungs and strong enough in your body to get up the obstacles without them being too demanding on your body.
From a water hosing station to a mud run, a Parkour zone to scaling an 8 foot wall, SOTF obstacles put you through a range of environments to test different areas of fitness and mental strength. Are there any obstacles or experiences you think you'd particularly excel in?
Coach Steve: Ross is very light and fleet footed but very strong for his weight. He finished fifth in the European cross country champs this year which was a mixture of everything - ice, snow, hills, lumps in the ground, muddy terrain and then very fast terrain - so I'm going to say that he would do the best of the group.
Ellie and Jonny have got great form when they run but they don't like deep mud – there’s a technique to running in those type of conditions. But then Ellie did grow up in South Wales so I'm sure she must be used to it!
You all specialise in shorter distance races up to half marathon. Have you run a marathon or do you have any desire to try the marathon distance like Mo Farah has done over recent years?
Ellie: I've never run a marathon and at the moment I've no plans to, but I think at some point in the future when I'm a retired athlete I’d run one for fun. What attracts me to doing a marathon is the atmosphere at some of the road races - especially the London Marathon. The race has such history behind it and I'd love to be part of that one day. I wouldn't do it in costume but I'd do it as a fun run.
In terms of training for marathons, I think it’s important to get a few shorter races under your belt before you do the full marathon as it can help you get used to pacing and the race pace of a marathon. That's not to say you have to, but I think it helps you get a bit more speed.
Running has really blossomed over the past five years, with more and more races and running clubs: how important has running and sport been in your life?
Ross: Massively important - one of the most important factors in my life so far! I got into running when I was 12/13 and from there I got free education in America on a scholarship, and now I'm part of this team. Running and sport has been massively important to me and the fact that it’s grown over the past few years particularly hopefully means that it gives a lot more opportunity for others to connect with sport and make it an important aspect of their lives too.
The Team New Balance Manchester trio’s team stats
Main Disciplines: 5000m / 10000m / Road running
Track PBs: 5000m: 15:42.13. 10000m: 32:17.15
Road PB: 10km: 33.18
Achievements to date:
· Represented Team Wales in the 5000m and 10000m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
· 2014 NCAA 10000m Silver medallist
· 2014 NCAA 3000m indoor Bronze medallist
Main Disciplines: 5000m / 10000m / Road running (5K, 10K, Half Marathon)
Track PBs: 1500m: 3:41.95. 3000m: 7:46.73. 5000m: 13:31.21. 10000m: 28:42.20
Road PBs: 10K: 28:50, 10 miles: 47:35, Half Marathon: 62:59
Achievements to date:
• 2014 European Cross Country Championships 5th place
• 2014 Bupa Great Yorkshire Run 10K Champion
• 2013 UK Outdoor Championships inc. World Trials 5000m Silver medallist
• 2012 UK Outdoor Championships inc. Olympic Trials 5000m champion
• 2011 European U23 5000m Silver medallist
From: The Wirral
Main Disciplines: 5000m / 10000m / Road running (5K, 10K, Half Marathon)
Track PBs: 1500m: 3:41.95, 3000m: 7:46.73, 5000m: 13:31.21, 10000m: 28:42.20
Road PB: 10K: 28:50, 10 miles: 47:35, Half Marathon: 62:59
Achievements to date:
· 2015 UK 10,000m Champion (Night of the 10,000m, Parliament Hill Track)
· 2015 UK 10km Road Championships 2nd place (Bupa London 10,000m)
· Represented Team England in the 10000m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
· Represented Great Britain & NI over 3000m at the 2014 World Indoor Championships
Survival of the Fittest 2015, the legendary 10K obstacle race series for all brought to you by apparel and kit sponsors New Balance, lands soon in five locations across the UK. Sign up now at mhsurvival.co.uk
Find out more about Always in Beta from New Balance at newbalance.co.uk/beta