Inspiring Women 2: Hazel Smallman

Today’s post is an interview with the inspiring masters track athlete, Hazel Smallman. I met Hazel at the Midland Masters Athletics Championships in Nuneaton this June. We were racing the same distances (400m and 800m) and shared the excitement of collecting our silver medals together!

Hazel Smallman (56) is a mum of one, wife to the long-suffering Mike and works as a  mentor and pastoral officer for apprentices at a large college. She discovered running in her fifties. After trying a half marathon she decided less was more and has moved into track. Hazel lives in Wolverhampton and is a member of  Wolverhampton and Bilston Athletics Club. She was a silver medallist for the 400m at MMAC this year.

Hazel in action – looking relaxed and focused!

1. You only took up track athletics this year. What inspired you to start? I’ve always preferred shorter distances and loved the idea of track. I’d tried it a couple of years ago but most of the groups that did track consisted of extremely speedy teenagers. Sadly, most people I ran with seemed to prefer longer distances. After missing most of last year through injury I decided that now I was able to run again, I was going to do the type of running that I wanted to do, even if it meant I did it on my own.

2. Tell me a little bit about your training regime.  Having decided to commit to track I got in touch with a friend who is a coach. He had always encouraged me to give it a go in the past so I asked him for coaching. Garry draws up a schedule for me every week and takes into account my working week and any other commitments for that week. I’m lucky because I work part time so I can find time most days to train. I usually do 2 or 3 track sessions a week together with some gentle runs. I help coach a C25K group on Saturday mornings and that is always built into my training.

I usually train alone following the sessions that we have agreed. Because Garry and I always discuss how I got on I find this gives me the discipline to push myself in the sessions. He also comes to some of the sessions and some of the races that I enter.

I also do a couple of gym sessions a week as I have found that I need to keep my legs strong to cope with the rigours of track running.

Competition preparation generally involves lots of chocolate and much soul searching about why I agreed to enter!! My lovely coach will, however, make sure that the actual sessions relate to the distance that I am running e.g. 400m or 800m.

3. What has running/competing given to you that you didn’t expect? Running has introduced me to new friends and gives me the energy and enthusiasm to enjoy life. It has taught me that I’m stronger and more focused than I realised. I don’t think I realised just how much was involved. People always say put one foot in front of the other and that’s all you need to know. However, I guess like most things, the more involved you get, the more you realise how little you know.

When I first started running 5 years ago I entered 5K and 10K races and did well at them. Track is completely different. It’s much more exposed and the other competitors are fast! I’ve had to accept that there’s a lot to learn and a lot more training before I will feel competitive enough. However, I have also learnt that I’m brave enough to enter races knowing that I will come in behind everyone else. That’s a huge thing for me, putting myself out there when I know I will struggle.

Following on from that, running has given me so much support. Every competitor genuinely respects the effort that goes into each race and respects their fellow runners.

I think I’m still working out which distance suits me best. This year is a year of learning for me and I’m happy to look at other track distances and see which I like. At the moment I’m still veering towards shorter. Sometimes, the thought of a second lap is one lap too many!!

Hazel working hard! I’d say that’s Hazel’s 800m face! (Mine is similar 😉 )

4. Are you a member of a club? Do you get coached? How many sessions a week? Are you doing a cross-country season this year? Although I am a member of a running club, this year I have mostly been training alone. I have coaching from Garry Palmer at Sportstest. We discuss how the previous week has gone, look at any races or future events and then plan a week’s training. This will usually include relevant track sessions and other runs as well. I usually run 5 times a week, probably around 20 – 25 miles a week. There’s always a complete rest day but on easier days I will do gym sessions as well.

I have tried cross country in the past but won’t be doing it this year. I tore my meniscus last year. Track and what I like to call ‘straight line’ running work well for me. I don’t particularly enjoy cross country racing and know that the terrain aggravates my knee if I run fast on that type of surface.

5. Why do you think athletics is a good sport for older women to take up? I love the fact that there is age grading. This means that you can compete against people of a similar age.  There’s good camaraderie amongst the ladies and there’s plenty of choice in the events. The support from other athletes is amazing and it’s great to challenge yourself. You can also do it at a level that suits you. It doesn’t have to be about competing with others. It can, whisper it, just be for fun too!!

I practised karate for 10 years before concentrating on running. What I like more about running is that it can be whatever you want it to be. I actually enjoy training alone and just concentrating on myself and what I need to do. However slower runs, done for pleasure with a group, give a social aspect to running. Similarly, running for a team gives support. For me I get the head space that I need when I’m doing a challenging speed session and then the social aspect I enjoy when running with a friend or a group.

6. As a woman on the other side of the menopause, how do you view your body? I can honestly say that I feel healthier, fitter and happier than before the menopause. Running has shown me that my body can perform far better than I thought it could. I’m actually lighter than I was before the menopause. I’ve learnt to nurture my body with healthy food, sleep and exercise. I definitely think that being physical helps.

I certainly respect my body more now. If I want it to perform I know that I need to give it the support that it needs to perform the way I want it to. I’m also proud of my body. It’s looked after me well and enables me to do the things that I want. I don’t take it for granted any more.

I’d like to think that I escaped the brain fog but I do find myself making endless lists to ensure that I don’t forget things. On the flip side though, if things do get forgotten or go wrong, I’m so much more relaxed about them now.

The finishing line is in sight! #FlyingFeet

7. People talk about women feeling ‘invisible’ once they have gone through the menopause. What do you think about that? Is it true for you? It’s just a different stage of life. In many ways I feel more secure in my choices and way of life. I still have the lack of confidence that has always been with me but I’m gradually learning to challenge that. I definitely haven’t conquered it but I’m aware that the spotlight is no longer on me as much. In that way, yes the menopause can cause women to become invisible, but sometimes that can be liberating.

8. Are there any upsides for you about being on the other side of the menopause? Lack of periods!! Growing into my own skin. Learning from past mistakes and realising that the world didn’t end. I think also, you become aware that time is finite and that spurs you on to do the things you always meant to but never seemed to find time for. Possessions are no longer important, work will always get done in the end. You realise that it’s friendships and relationships that matter.

9. What do you have in your sights? Desperately seeking a sub-3-minute 800m. I’d also like to get below 80 seconds for my 400m. It’s a little bit like being a child in a sweet shop. There’s lots of distances to explore but at the moment I’d like to concentrate on 400 and 800.

I’m also currently doing my Level 2 Fitness Instructor qualification and will then do the Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification. I’m doing these more to have an understanding of how fitness works and how to look after my body, rather than as a career change. I still enjoy going to the gym but use it to complement my running now.

10. What’s your number one piece of advice for post-menopausal women? Love your life and your body. It’s the only one you’re going to have. Cherish and make it a good one.

I wish Hazel all the best for her track career! I have the feeling that I’ll be racing against her (probably behind her 🙂 ) next summer 🙂 .

Right then. I am just going outside and may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Clouds and Silver Linings

[Photo credit: Stephen Lee]

The 29 June 2019 was marked as a big day on my adventure calendar: it was to be the day I competed at the NI Masters Track & Fields Championships in Belfast – my second sortie into the world of ‘fast’. It didn’t happen. The championships happened, right enough, but I didn’t make it – and I didn’t make it due to the thing runners fear the most: injury. (You can read about my first sortie into the world of track and field at the Midland Masters T&F Championships here.)

As an endurance athlete, with a running career spanning more than 30 years, I’ve been really lucky. I had a mountaineering accident that knocked me out of action for a couple of years in the mid 90s while I waited for knee surgery (the treated knee has ended up being stronger than my untreated knee 🤣). I also had an Achilles niggle during my ultra-running training about 10 years ago (nothing that a good sports massage and careful training didn’t handle: I still managed to race without an issue). Apart from that, it’s all been good.

My racing spikes 🙂

Two weeks ago I went along to the Ballymena & Antrim Athletics Club for the normal Tuesday track session. It was a toughy: 6 x 400m at 5 seconds more than best race pace. It was only the third time I’d worn a set of spikes and really I should have changed into my flats and done the speed work in those instead. But I didn’t change into them and come the end of the session, both Achilles were sore and my feet were hurting. (I don’t have the ideal biomechanics for spikes anyway: flat feet that pronate and are used to stability shoes – and used to heel-striking – have a fair bit of work to do to adapt to spikes, which offer little in the way of support and motion control!)

On the Wednesday morning I couldn’t walk. I self-massaged and dipped my feet and ankles in both hot and iced water. In the weeks since the injury I’ve kept active too, maintaining my hard-earned speed with spin classes (I love spin classes – basically, high intensity interval training on wheels – and the classes at Causeway Route-2-Fitness are super), CrossFit (taking out all jumping and running) and weight-training.  Last Friday I went to see Jonny Whiteman, a brilliant sports massage therapist who had helped me with my back a few months ago. He established that there was no rupture or bursa issue (on the upside), but that the championships were out (on the downside). 60 minutes of dry needling (which is as painful as it sounds and I was doing quite a bit of yelping, I can tell ya 🤪) and armed with a series of exercises to rehab my right tendon (the left had looked after itself), I found myself in new territory: 6 months training for this adventure under my belt but a full 400m/800m adventure ban in place.

My reaction to this situation has been of interest to me. 10 or 20 years ago, I might have seen this as a disaster. However, even though I am getting older by the day (and menopause and this so-called oldness means my tendons are less elastic and may not recover so quickly), my thoughts went straight to a new question: ‘Well, what can I do instead?’

While I’m rehabbing (could be weeks, could be months, but I can start back with short bursts of gentle running in the near future if things continue the way they are), I’m going to keep up the spin classes. They’re social, they’re tough and they’re good for my running fitness. My twice-weekly recovery swims can turn into actual training sessions, and CrossFit and weight-training are all doable (even if I have to scale the programming). Thinking about my running, all being well, I’ll get to try cross-country in the autumn, and that will be an adventure. There’s also an indoor track season as an option too – but I’ll need a plan for transitioning to spikes in a healthy way, I think.

I think that taking a winter season to allow my body to fully adapt to the demands of a track season is probably the best way to go, so I’m going to commit to that. I’m also going to get myself into good 5k and 10k shape. That’ll help with the cross-country season and I’ll also get the chance to road-race with my dad again (which I haven’t done for years). The last time I raced at 10k distance was in Coventry in the late 90s – my very first race!

So, I’ve adjusted my adventure map a little and I have to say the new territory is looking rather good 😎, although there is another cloud on the horizon. The rookie powerlifting competition is on 20 July and my legs and backside are bulking up rightly 🤣. I’ve been following the training programme to the letter and have been amazed at what my old-dog body has been able to do, but I think I’m beginning to reach my limits.

Progress on the bench press has slowed down (with my as-long-as-legs arms, this lift was always going to be a bit of a challenge!), but my deadlift and bench press have been solid in their upward trend. However (and it’s a really big however that I’m not going to ignore), my pelvic floor seems to have reached its threshold. The menopause (along with a host of other life events – like having children) can lead to a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. I’d say that mine are (or rather were) in good shape (although when skipping comes up on the CrossFit programme, I always hope for less than 100 skips … after that, well, you know 🤣). I do my pelvic floor exercises regularly, I’m not overweight and I’m physically active – but powerlifting is a whole different order of stress and my body is making it quite clear that going much further will only end in tears. Well, tears are obviously a very polite metaphor 😎.

Taking the positives from my powerlifting adventure: I’m much stronger than I was and I’d put money on my bones being super dense. It’s taught me to challenge what I believe is possible for my ectomorphic body (which, actually, doesn’t really look that ectomorphic any more!) and supported a new level of body confidence. I’ll still be competing on 20 July, but I may not be lifting to my full potential – or even the weights that I’ve been lifting recently. For back squats and deadlifts, I’ve gone back 3 weeks in the schedule to the point at which I didn’t have a problem. I hope this helps me to rebuild a bit of confidence in my pelvic flooor, gives my pelvic floor a bit of time to recover and helps me to feel competition-ready. And there’s always the demon bench press to hurl myself at – even if I just make it to 47kg, that will be something to celebrate!

So, this old dog maybe has to come to terms with the parts of her that are actually old! But there are workarounds. There are plenty of other adventures to be had. And both the 400m/800m and powerlifting adventures have opened new doors. Come the winter, I’ll be looking to integrate a track-specific weight-training programme into my run training, and I’ve absolutely no doubt that my powerlifting adventure will have built a more-than-solid F1 chassis for any future speed adventures!

Right, then. My tail’s still wagging. I may be an old dog, by I’m still a puppy at heart! I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Midland Masters Track & Field Championships

Well, that’s me back safe and sound from my first sortie into the world of track and field! I talk in today’s video-blog (scroll right down) about how I got on at the 400m and 800m races at the Midland Masters Track & Field Championships, which took place in Nuneaton, Warwickshire on 9 June.

For those who prefer to cut straight to the chase, I did well and won two silver medals! I ran the 800m in 2:49:14 and the 400m in 1:13:67. You can check out the full results listings here.

I learned a great deal from participating, including:

  • I could probably up my pace in the 800m (I had no idea about pacing for this race).
  • I need to accelerate more in the first 100m of the 400m (and stop laughing so much 🤣). By the way, I made a wee mistake in today’s video: I meant to say that the other athletes ran the first 100m very quickly!
  • Masters track & field athletes are a friendly and inspiring bunch of people!

400m 45-50 & 50-55  [Photo credit: Stephen Lee]

Working hard! 400m 45-50 & 50-55 [Photo credit: Stephen Lee]

I’m now looking forward to the NI Masters Championships at the end of June. I think I’m going to enjoy myself 😎. Here’s today’s video-blog with the full low-down about the Midland Masters Championships:

Right, then. I’m off to polish my medals and then I’m just going outside and may be some time. (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

White Lights

One of the biggest challenges of my #OldDogNewTricks year of adventure is project management! For the first three adventures, I’ve had to prepare for each simultaneously: I started preparing for my musical theatre adventure, my track adventure (400m/800m) and powerlifting adventure in January.

Whilst my musical theatre adventure was done and dusted in April, my first track adventure takes place this weekend (9 June). All well and good, you might think 😉 .However, the small spanner in the works is that I’m less than 7 weeks out from the rookie powerlifting competition. This has meant that getting ready for my upcoming track races (including the NI Masters Champs at the end of June) is clashing head on with an increasingly heavy (literally 😂) powerlifting training load.

Result? I’m whacked. To be more precise, I’m REALLY whacked during the first week of every new powerlifting mesocycle. (Each mesocycle is a 4-week schedule with a very heavy first week, a moderate second week, a heavy third week , and a light fourth or de-load week). I’ve just come to the end of the first week of a new cycle, so I’m definitely feeling it a bit. With my first track races this weekend, I’m getting in as much recovery as I can. Basically, this means as much sleep as I can take (which is about 10 hours at the moment: 9 hours at night and 30-60 minutes kip late afternoon if I’m working from home). It also means as much food as I can take (which is 4000 – 5000 calories a day at the moment); and it means a strategic lightening of the training load (which means that I’ve front-loaded my moderate powerlifting week so all my lifts will be done by tomorrow lunchtime. It also means a slightly lighter run load).

On top of the physical training load is the psychological training load. Last week I learned how to get out of the blocks and got some track experience in my spikes to build a little racing confidence. This took a huge psychological weight off my mind. On Sunday, I’ll be focusing on enjoying the experience and getting a feel for what an athletics meet is really like: all useful for ‘peaking’ at the NI Masters Championships at the end of June 😎. (Listen, if you’re reading this and you’re competing at the Masters T&F Championships in Belfast at the end of June, don’t worry. My peak will be nothing like your peak: I just want to get off that track alive 🤣 ! And without getting disqualified 😱)

Psychological preparations have also started for the rookie powerlifting competition. Paul Cullen, my powerlifting coach (who holds two current weightlifting world records: behind- the- head military press and push press from the rack), ran an evening seminar for CrossFit Causeway lifters competing in the July competition. During this session, the five of us who are going to compete learned all about platform etiquette, how to work out what to go for for the three attempts at each lift, what the commands are for each lift, warm-up etiquette, weigh-in protocols and how you know whether you ‘got’ the lift. There’ll be three judges on the platform and what competitors will be hoping for is three white lights (and a minimum of two).

Knowing how things will work on the day helps me to stop worrying about all the things I don’t know (because I have a better sense of those things now) and put all that energy into training. Being prepared suits me 🙂 . Being inspired also helps me with my preparations. And last Friday Gail (my powerlifting training buddy) and I got a surprise mega-dose of inspiration after our CrossFit workout.

Ricky (L) and Eugene (R)

Gail and I take our training very seriously 😉

Northern Irish powerlifting legends Ricky Mullan and Eugene Currie popped into the box to train. Gail and I were thrilled when they took a bit of time out and had a chat with us. Gail got some top tips about tightening her belt and her wrist wraps (and, let me tell you, those things aren’t comfortable! My belt bruises my ribs every time I wear it 😱). When Ricky said I was probably a good deadlifter, it was really lovely to feel a sense of ‘belonging’ to the powerlifting community. To look at me, you might not take me for a powerlifter at all – and yet here was a great powerlifter ‘seeing’ the powerlifter in me. His words really helped to make me start to take myself more seriously as a lifter – and to feel more possibility too.  (I have pretty long everything, which isn’t that great for bench-pressing or back-squatting. Here’s an interesting wee factoid: my arms are actually as long as Gail’s legs! My old-lady back squats are improving, thanks to my knee sleeves which really help my old-lady knees 😉 But my super-long arms and super-long back are just perfect for deadlifting. )

So, here I am with 5 months of training under my belt. I’m running faster. I’m lifting heavier, and – most importantly of all – I’m feeling more connected to the world, and more alive, than ever before. If the world were watching me, I reckon I’d be getting 3 white lights right now!

Right. I think I need a little lie down, so I’m just going outside and may be some time 😉 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂

Getting Back on Track

With only two weeks to go before the West Midlands Masters Track and Field Championships in Nuneaton, I’m making my final preparations for my first athletics meet. This first meet will be all about me getting some racing experience, ready for the NI Masters championships at the end of June.

My racing spikes 🙂

Next Tuesday will be a big day on my adventure calendar. I’ll be learning how to set up the blocks for the 400m (and get out of them  😎) with my running coach, Richard Lappin. I’ll also be running in spikes for the very first time in my life 😱. The folks at Ballymena and Antrim Athletics Club have been brilliant. I asked if I could go along to the track in Antrim to give my spikes a try out, and they invited me along to a training session, run by one of their middle-distance coaches.

I’ll let you know how it all goes, of course. In the meantime, here’s a video-blog about my upcoming running adventures, which includes a trip down memory lane to the very first time I stood on an athletics track. (Correction: in the video I mention Marlon Devonish. He was a 100m and 200m runner, not a 200m and 400m runner!) Below the video, you’ll find  some 400m and 800m inspiration, along with a video about how to set up blocks 🙂 .

Here’s Michael Johnson winning  his fourth 400 metre world title with a new world record time of 43.18 seconds at the relatively late age of 31 years and 11 months. The record stood for nearly 17 years before being beaten at the 2016 Olympics by the South African Wayde van Niekerk.

On 9 August 2012 at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, David Rudisha led from start to finish to win gold in what has been called the greatest 800m race ever. In so doing, he became the first and, so far, only runner to break the 1:41 barrier for 800m.

And here’s how to set up those all-important blocks!

Right. I’m just going outside and I may be some time 🙂 . (By the way, if you’re new to my blog, you can find more out about my #OldDogNewTricks project here.)

JT 🙂