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 🙂

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 🙂

Introducing my 2019 Adventure Support Crew!

I know, I know. It’s been a while 🙂 . In fact, it’s been long enough for a new year of adventure to brew itself up! During 2019 I’ll be doing a series of adventures under the banner #OldDogNewTricks. You can find out more about what the year involves and why I’m doing it here.

I’ve spent most of January doing lots of research to support each of my upcoming adventures (more on that in another post 🙂 ). For these adventures, I knew that I’d enjoy the experiences far more with a bit of expert help and moral support.  I’ve got a strong sense that ‘the support crew’ may grow over the course of the year, but here’s how things look right now 🙂 :

My Musical Theatre Adventure
My son is a huge fan of musical theatre and loves to perform. Right up until the middle of his lower 6th year at school, I used to take him to the Causeway School of Music in Coleraine for musical theatre lessons. When the AS level exam pressure got too much, he said he didn’t have time for his music lessons any more, so I took them instead!

I’d had a rigorous classical music education as a child and thought the obvious choice would be to learn to sing in the classical style. I took my first singing exam (grade 4) and managed a distinction. (I put this achievement mostly down to my ability to do the whole Stars in Their Eyes  ‘Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be …..’ thing 😉 and letting another persona take the strain. If you’re interested, the persona taking the strain was always the Wagnerian be-helmetted and be-plaited ‘belter’ 😉  .)

My singing teacher, Sophie Shiels, is my adventure crew member for my musical theatre adventure. I’m going straight in at grade 8, and I’m taking a bit of that there Wagnerian ‘belter’ with me. I’ve chosen my 4 pieces, I’ve entered the exam and my first adventure will take place in March 2019.

Sophie started singing publicly at the age of seven, mainly singing in various churches and school concerts. She studied music at Magee university. She’s sung  in many wonderful venues across Northern Ireland and even has even sung for former U.S president, Bill Clinton.

Sophie is brilliant at coaching adults and certainly seems to have no difficulty working with my larger-than-life alter ego. I think this adventure could go places 😉 .

My Track Athletics Adventure
As an endurance athlete, I’ve always found it easy to locate resources to support my sporting endeavours. My bookshelves are creaking with books about running marathons, and Runners World magazine is my go-to place for state-of-the-art training schedules. It’s even easy to find plenty of books about ultra-marathons these days.

Obviously, then, when I hopped over to Amazon, expecting to find heaps of books about track running, I was in for a rude awakening! There aren’t really any – and those that do exist are aimed at the younger (school / college) athlete. (Note to self: there’s probably a very good reason that there aren’t any books for older track athletes …. )

If you Google ‘training schedules for 200/400/800m runners’, the results are interesting. The articles usually say something along the lines of ‘track athletes have differing needs and so require tailored training programmes’.

Fortunately, I stumbled across Track Star USA and was able to access detailed training templates for 100/200m and 400/800m (400m and 800m looking the most likely at the moment ). Even more fortunately than that, it turns out that Richard Lappin, one of the coaches at Causeway CrossFit (where I train regularly), is a former 800m runner (and medalled to boot 🙂 ). (Maybe my unconscious mind knew exactly what it was doing when it sent me along to the local CrossFit box 😉 .)

I’ll be adapting the Track Star USA programmes (which include drills, sprint sessions, weights work and mobility exercises) in line with Richard’s advice. He’ll give me feedback on my running form and help with some of the  technical aspects of track running (like using starting blocks, for example). I think he’s even going to compete at the Northern Ireland Master Athletics Championships himself this summer.

CrossFit, powerlifting, strength and movement work all make up Richard’s human-centred approach to coaching and personal training . He’s a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, GBPF Level 1 Coach, CrossFit Endurance Coach, and a Mindset RX’d Coach and affiliate. He’s one of the few to complete the Strength Education Head Coaches Course under Chet Morjaria, and he’s been to many seminars by great coaches and athletes: Eddie Hall, Dan Green, Bill Kazmaier and Chad Wesley Smith to name a few.

As a runner, Richard’s had the most success at 800m, coming away with a few medals at the NI schools championships and with ‘one of each colour’ at club level in the Northern Ireland Championship competitions. He’s won races from 200m to cross country and has flirted with the long jump, too. Later in life, he decided that ‘running long’ was the way forward, completing both the Dublin Marathon and the Highland Fling amongst others.

I’ll be having two track adventures in June (one in Nuneaton, England, and one in Belfast), and I’m convinced that I’ve definitely got the best coach for the  job. At this stage, the real question is this: how fast can Forrest actually go?

My Powerlifting Adventure
You’ll never believe this, but one of the coaches at CrossFit Causeway is a weightlifting champion! When there was talk about a rookie powerlifting competition for NI lifters being held in our box (gym) in July 2019, I immediately thought ‘I’m in!’ . The stars were definitely in the right place for this adventure,  and even though the cut of me isn’t necessarily ideal for this sport, I’m going for it.

Paul Cullen spent his early forties representing Ireland in all-round weightlifting. He holds two current IAWA (International All-Round Weightlifting) world records: behind- the- head military press and push press from the rack. He’s a CrossFit L1 Trainer, GBPF L1 Coach, and Precision Nutrition Coach. Coaching from local to international level, he coaches CrossFit, powerlifting and nutrition.

Paul is a lot of fun to work with and a professional through and through: it’s clear that he loves to support people in achieving their goals (no matter where they’re starting from). I’ve already benefited a huge amount from his coaching (my deadlift is more alive than dead these days 😉 )

My Butterfly Adventure
I have to admit that even I was surprised that this adventure impulse emerged. When I was at school I had a rather humiliating experience involving this swimming stroke (it’s a long story and I’ll save it for another post 🙂 ). I wonder if it’s because I’m back in the pool twice a week, using swimming as a recovery and mobility session? I wonder if there’s a part of me trapped in that old butterflying trauma that’s calling for release – and the only way of releasing me is through … yeah .. very unfortunately … actually mastering the butterfly 😉 😉 😉 ?

For now, I’m not questioning it too much. I’m going with the impulse and that’s that. There’s definitely a weird pattern emerging, though: nearly everyone I talk to about this adventure has a talent for the fly or knows someone who has. My neighbour is a former Ulster Youth champion. My son’s friend’s father is a former Ulster Youth champion. Samantha at CrossFit is a former butterfly specialist. Hmmm…. This is getting interesting. (I’m starting to feel like I’m the only one in the world who can’t swim the fly!)

There are, of course, plenty of books about swimming – and there’s plenty on YouTube, too. However, this feels like an adventure where in-the-pool coaching is going to work best for me. I asked my neighbour if she knew anyone who could help. She said she’s heard of a guy in Belfast  with an ‘endless pool’ who coached triathletes (and so was probably a front-crawl specialist). I contacted him, and, to my delight, I found out he is a former BUTTERFLY CHAMPION (yep 😉 you read that right 😉 #TheUniverseIsOnMySide ).

David Graham runs Trinetic and is a former Irish champion in swimming, triathlon and duathlon. He still competes occasionally for fun, but most of his time and energy now goes into coaching others. He coaches triathlon for clubs and individuals who range from beginners to experienced Ironmen athletes. He also works with people learning how to swim or those looking to perfect their technique in his endless pool facility in Belfast.

I have my first session with David just after the powerlifting competition in July. He’ll do an initial swim analysis and then give me a programme to follow. I’m giving this adventure a full three months of my time – maybe more.  Who knows what’ll happen?…

Moral Supporters and Inspiration
I’ve known Fiona ‘Mad Dog’ MacDonald since 2010. I was looking for some female running company for an unofficial 24-mile mountain race I’d devised. The race was called ‘Man Versus Mare ‘ and covered the last section of the West Highland Way in Scotland. The running club in Fort William put me in touch with Skye-based Fiona, but she couldn’t make the date. However, we’ve remained in touch via Facebook over the years and become firm friends.

I’d say that Fiona and I are cut from very similar cloth: we’ve a tendency to hurl ourselves at projects and keep on going when most folk would stop. When I ‘met’ Fiona, she was a seasoned ultra-runner. Over the past year or so, I’ve watched her turn into a very talented powerlifter; she’s been a major inspiration and encourager as far as my powerlifting adventure goes.

Fiona now competes in the 55.5 kg category (you compete in age-weight categories in powerlifting). When she began lifting, her  back squat was 65kg (that’s Fiona demonstrating a back squat in the picture), her bench press was 30kg, and her deadlift was70kg. She now squats 85kg in competition but has done 90kg in gym.  She now benches 55kg in competition but hits 60kg in the gym. She deadlifts 130kg in competition but hits 135kg in the gym.

Fiona has taken a few records in the British and European 50.3kg class and has several titles in the 53kg category for her age group. She qualified to go to the world championships in Boston and won her category, returning to Scotland to compete in the Scottish championships, securing 3 records in squat, bench and deadlift. (If you’re wondering, Fiona is in her 50s, too. #TrailBlazer 🙂 And if you’re wondering, it’s highly likely that we’ll cook up some kind of Thelma-and-Louise adventure to undertake together in the next ear or so 🙂 .)

I’ve known US-based Fritz Homans since 2008. Again, we only know each other ‘virtually’, but over the years we’ve got to talk about all sorts of things: our children growing up and flying the nest, Brexit, kale chips, and Donald Trump. I’ve always known that Fritz was a swimmer – and a very good one at that. What I didn’t know (that’s right. You’re probably way ahead of me on this one) was that he is a butterfly man!

At the US Olympic trials (1976) he finished 13th in the 100 fly (56.11) which was good enough for a 19th world ranking for the event.  He also qualified for the 1980 Olympic trials but didn’t compete due to injury.  He has competed in many international meets, open water and masters swimming over the years, setting several masters records.

Whatever I’ve undertaken, Fritz has always been a brilliant supporter. I’m sure our conversations will now take a very interesting (tumble) turn 😉 !

I’ve been going to CrossFit since September 2018. The very first session I attended was a real ‘wow moment’ for me. It was so inspiring to see so many strong women – of all different ages. Over the months I’ve  learned so much from training side-by-side with them.

Sarah Dickinson is a long-distance runner and CrossFitter. She’s a brilliant encourager and made sure I knew how everything worked when I first joined ‘the box’ (like writing down what you need to do for each workout so you can keep track of where you are ). Sarah is always the one to say ‘Well done’ – and, my goodness me, you should see her handstand press-ups. (So, that’s a handstand against a wall and then doing press-ups in the vertical position!) One day, I hope to do press-ups just like Sarah 🙂 . Sarah just quietly gets the job done. I’ve never heard her whinge once. Definitely something to learn from Sarah, I think.

Tracey Morrow (on the rower) is my lifting buddy. She’s great craic, a demon rower and has bags of grit.  She’s most likely to say, ‘Only lift it once, pet. You don’t want to be wearing yourself out’ and ‘I’ve just added another 20kg to the bar.’  Samantha Russell-Morelli (behind Tracey) is (yep 😉 ) a butterfly specialist (I’ve already received some top tips for leg drills and hip flexibility), blue belt (Brazilian jiu jitsu) and all-round powerful woman. Samantha is most likely to say when deadlifting 100kg+ ‘That’s still an 80kg bar.’ Samantha also appears to have absolutely no fear of failure. The bar doesn’t seem to phase her, no matter what the weight of the plates loaded onto it.

Gail Mahon‘s focus is absolutely incredible. I definitely could do with some of what she’s got. When Gail’s at the gym, it’s like training with a Shaolin monk. There’s a stillness about her that whips itself up into some sort of phenomenal (and graceful) force – seemingly at will! Gail is competing in the powerlifting competition too. (I think she’s going to do really well). Most likely to say  ‘Put the chains on me while I do my pull-ups’ and ‘I think I could have gone heavier’ 😉 .

Cheryl Kasparian is another brilliant just-get-the-job-done-r and all-round cheerleader. She’s the one most likely to say ‘You’re doing well’ during a workout – and sometimes, when you’re having a Near Death Experience, those words can get you through. If there’s a run involved in a warm-up, Cheryl’s always the one out at the front and I try to keep up with her. She’ll breeze back into the gym saying ‘I really needed that’. I don’t say anything because I’m gasping for breath trying to keep up! (That’s Aidan, Cheryl’s son, in the picture. He’s a very accomplished athlete himself and has a lovely confidence about him.)

That’s the team for now. Just writing this, I’m realising how important human connection is to me and to this adventure project.

*UPDATE* 21/04/19 A dance adventure is now in the offing for autumn 2019! Read all about it here. My dance teachers are going to be Peter and Paula McAuley of Tango Northern Ireland. This intrepid couple have danced in New Zealand, Hong Kong,  Long Island, New York, England, Spain, Scotland, Ireland and Argentina. They’ve performed in the Grand Opera House in Belfast and choreographed dancers performing in the Opera House. Having taught at various venues in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they are now teaching in Belfast.

I’m just going outside and may be some time.
JT 🙂