RW Interviews: Steph Twell

Back in February one of Britain's brightest middle-distance running stars, Steph Twell, fractured an ankle racing cross-country in Belgium. To make matters even worse she was just 600m from the finish line with a clear path ahead to yet another victory.

When RW caught up with Twell two months later, we were impressed by her positivity. Twell has a deeply held philosophy that great runners can overcome great obstacles, and it's clearly working.

Twell herself is already one of those great runners. At 21, she has already notched up Commonwealth 1,500m bronze and World Junior gold over the same distance, and is three-time European Junior cross-country champion. After narrowly missing out on the 1,500m final at the Beijing Olympics, she's raring to make her mark at London 2012. 

How's your recovery going?

Really well thanks. I've been seen by some great physiotherapists and coaches. I've been based at Bisham Abbey, an intensive sports rehab unit for athletes at podium or development level, and I've been able to work with the staff there and my physio at home Paul Martin. We've been really getting into the joints to reduce swelling and to help get my mobility back.

Have you been aqua jogging?

I start that tomorrow. I'm actually ahead of schedule in terms of recovery. I like exceeding expectations and although I can't run yet, I'm definitely trying to keep on training in different ways. 

Will you be able to race by the end of the summer or is this season a write-out?

I've just got to listen to my body and see. This is the most severe injury I've had, so I'm really paying attention to the physios around me. It would be a bonus if I could race but I'm not putting pressure on myself.

The circumstances of your injury were pretty dramatic - you were only 600m away from victory. How did you feel at the time?

My first thought was "Damn that's annoying", as I was so close to the finish. But at the same time I was in so much pain and I knew I had to be moved off the course. I was in the bottom of a ditch and people would have run on top of me. I heard the ankle snap on the way down and I immediately knew it would turn my whole life upside down. But now I have quite a different perspective. It's a bone, it will heal, I've had injuries in the past and I'm optimistic. This will be a test for me as a person to come back and see what I can achieve from here, it's a new challenge.

You've competed in quite a range of running distances. Which event is your favourite?

You're right, I've got a very big kit bag. I've competed in everything from 800m up to a half-marathon. I want to stay at 1,500m and 5K for as long as possible, with 1,500m as my preference. I want to be competitive against the Kenyans and not just someone who turns up on the day.

How does cross-country running help your track running?

It gives me strength of character because it's tough when you're racing in the mud, in the hills and in horrible weather. I think it gives you a sense of what being a real runner is all about; you're outdoors and you're facing adversities, both physical and mental. Plus the over-distance training you need for cross-country complements track events.

What do you enjoy most about running?

I love being outdoors. It's just that feeling of overcoming obstacles, it's mind over matter isn't it? You get into a rhythm, feel the flow and embrace the energy from everyone. I can't image anything more exciting than running really.

What's your top cross-country running tip?

Don't be afraid of hills. I personally work every hill I see and I always push harder, even when it hurts. Also try to concentrate on different things during a race. Keep picking different obstacles, for example trees or stiles, and get to them as fast as you can. Always walk the course before a cross-country race because you want to find the shortest and safest route.

On the next page: Discover why Steph swears by yoga and prepare to be amazed by what Steph calls an average training week.