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.
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!!
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.
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.)