Smashing a 10,000m PB at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Julia Bleasdale cemented her status as one of Great Britain’s top long-distance runners this century. We caught up with her about training, running for joy and getting young people started in sports.
What are you up to at the moment?
I’m currently in St Moritz, Switzerland, doing some altitude training. I’ve been here every summer for the last three years. It’s got great facilities – a track, an ice bath, treatment facilities, everything an athlete could enjoy. It’s not just for runners – there are triathletes, cyclists, race walkers, all training at 1850-metre altitude.
I’m here for a couple of months, maybe even longer. I view this summer as an opportunity to get real, deep strength and fitness to build up before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
What does your training routine look like?
What I’m enjoying is just using the dynamic nature of the trails. Some athletes compete and train a lot on the track, but I enjoy the challenges of dynamic training to build strength. I feel it works very well for my body and I get a lot of joy travelling through landscapes.
I think not necessarily “I’d like to go for an hour’s run,” more “I’d like to see that view.” Sometimes I’ll run for more or less, just depending on where it takes me.
It’s unusual for a competitive runner to focus on running for joy over hitting numbers. What do you think about that other, goal-oriented, side of running?
I think in this technological age a lot of runners are pre-occupied, very caught up with the time on the clock, pace, speed, and there’s a lot of importance in that for training, but it’s also important to listen to your body, how it feels, when it’s hard, when you need to back off.
How did you get started in running?
My father was a county standard athlete, and at the age of around six I asked if I could join him on a run. The rest was history. I was involved with running at school, but I also played a lot of music – violin, viola and piano. I blame that for the left shoulder drop I have in my running style!
You took part in the Balfour Beatty London Youth Games as a teenager - how did you find it? Did it help prepare you for the international competitions you take part in now?
The London Youth Games was great because it’s an event where all kinds of sports come together, like a mini-Olympics. I wasn’t coming really high up in those competitions when I was younger, but I enjoyed working my body and running with other people.
I didn’t hit international standard until well into my twenties. Sometimes I’d do the National Championships and if I came in the top 100 it would be a great success. I wasn’t ever clearly a runner from a young age. I always had that burning desire that I could progress in my running… it was a slow build, I guess.
Have you had any major setbacks or injuries over the years? How did you deal with these?
Yes, as a teen I had shin splints and issues with my feet. You get sidelined for a little bit, but that makes you appreciate the sport and the great feeling you get when you can run, which gives you your balance. Having the support of family and encouraging friends, you keep trying to be the best you can be and make the most of your opportunities.
How do you recover after a hard training session?
If I’m somewhere where there is an ice bath, that’s quite a good way to help the recovery process, but one of the most important things is to get some food in you ASAP and elevate your legs. A nap is always a good thing but it’s not always possible!
Sometimes I make my own protein shakes with a whole load of different things, like nut butters, milk, banana, anything with a high level of nutritious content. Also, bars with dates and nuts blended together provide a great combination of protein and carbs.
What would you say to a young person who wanted to take up running but wasn’t sure how to start?
See what opportunities and possibilities there are around you. Speak to teachers, see if there’s a running club or youth group nearby. Also, don’t feel afraid to just grab a friend, go into the outdoors and get started. Maybe start with five minutes of running the first time, ten the second time and see how it feels.
What can people gain most running from a young age?
Running is a great way to gain a general fitness level, and that translates to a lot of sports. Whether you’re running across a football field or hockey pitch, you may not be able to hit the ball but you can at least get there first!
The London Youth Games 2015 finals take place at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre on Thursday 2nd, Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th July.