It was approaching midday on Sunday 2nd of April 2017 and I was sat in front of my laptop, eyes fixed on the screen which was automatically up-dating every 30 seconds. The reason, I was following the Manchester marathon up-dates on their tracker and awaiting some finishing times to filter through. The race started at 9am. Runner number 1971, Gemma Hockett had passed halfway at 1.29.55. If the target finish time of 2.59 was to be achieved, she has to cross the finish line any second now. I sit and wait, confidently. The clock in the bottom right corner of the laptop reads 11.59. Any second now I expect the tracker to up-date me with her finish time. “Come on Gemma”, I say to myself, “where are you?” The clock ticks over to 12.00. . . . . . . .
I started coaching Gemma in June 2016 after she had ran 3.07 at the Edinburgh marathon. We had some in depth conversations about where she was currently and where she wanted to be and I started to plan her training. There is one quality that a runner has to have in abundance to achieve a difficult goal. That quality is desire. From desire comes dedication and hard work. It was clear to see that Gemma had huge amounts of desire.
Gemma is a full time employee of a major financial company in the centre of London so I knew that time would be precious. Other lifestyle factors such as stress and sleep would have to be taken into consideration. With such a busy life would there be enough time for recovery?
Her training during the summer months was disturbed and broken due to a pain in her shin which was diagnosed from a scan as being a stress to the bone, probably developed during or soon after the Edinburgh marathon. To Gemma, this was a disaster, to me it proved to be a blessing in disguise. These few weeks showed me just how vulnerable her emotional state can be and as any marathon runner will tell you, it is imperative that you train the brain! Gemma laughed when I described her as being like “an electric fence which is always buzzing.” Her brain was constantly in overdrive, making irrational and immediate decisions without stopping to think. Hence we worked on the human tri-brain, and reduced her usage of her “reptile” and “chimp” brain. Being an intelligent (or over inquisitive) girl she also did her own research in this area and I regularly get messages from her saying, “this happened, but don’t worry, chimp is in its box and I’m calm.” Result!
Gemma sent me some videos of her running on a treadmill from the side, the front and behind. Using these videos I did an analysis of her running stride, full body, not just lower limbs. From this analysis there were some quick wins that we could make to improve her running economy and reduce future injury risk. Hence her strength and conditioning plan was created. This plan, along with Yoga, Pilates and sports massage enabled her to remain in balance, strengthen her entire body and have a smoother running style. The plan progressed in two stages from basic strength to a more specific running plan incorporating strength, endurance, balance, co-ordination and proprioception.
Nutrition is something that everyone struggles with, mainly through no fault of their own. There is so much information on the internet, coming from social media and from the media that people become so confused. I provided Gemma with a very basic nutrition plan, designed to make her more energy efficient and fat adapted. The plan being that it would allow for a small amount of weight loss and provide more energy in the later stages of a marathon when her glycogen stores are being used up at an increased rate. Gemma did a great job of incorporating this plan into her normal lifestyle.
The winter months were spent building an aerobic base. As Renato Canova taught me “you have to bake the cake before you can put the icing on top.” In her childhood years Gemma had been a sprinter and since then hadn’t really been involved in any notable sports that might have developed some good endurance. We factored running to and from work into her training plan to gradually increase her mileage on a cyclical basis, with easy weeks to allow for recovery. Speed sessions were gradually brought in and progressed with marginal gains in mind. A 5k PB at the end of December was a clear sign that the plan was coming together nicely.
January was Kenya time! The aim for Kenya was to come home with an increased level of general fitness (not necessarily speed), a couple of kilograms lighter and a stronger head. The first week was going absolutely bang on, gradually easing into the hardship of altitude training. Week two however was a major setback when a pain in Gemma’s shin/foot let the chimp out of the box. After a few days of treatment including rest, ice, gradual rehab, lots of massage from Kenyan Sports Therapist Isiah Kosgei (LOTS of massage), and the use of Zane Robertson's exercise bike, we were back on track in the third and final week of altitude training. This time being more used to the altitude, we could build the mileage back up at a quicker rate that the first week. Low and behold, the Kenyan diet and altitude training did its job with some natural weight loss and spending time living with the world’s best athlete’s made Gemma so much stronger in the head. Just seeing how hard they train and realising what accepting discomfort in training is all about proved to be decisive.
Returning back to the UK we planned a couple of races and gradually started to increase the speed sessions while reducing overall training volume. A 10k PB and half marathon PB were both achieved in quick succession and in difficult conditions.
As race day approached, I knew Gemma was in good shape. The last 3-4 weeks are imperative to get right. Taper enough to be fresh on the start line but don’t lose any fitness gains. We planned these weeks pretty precisely. I also enjoyed getting regular updates and pictures from Gemma during her carb-load!
On race day, I was glued to my laptop awaiting the result filtering through. The clock in the bottom right of the screen ticked over for 12.01 and my palms started to sweat! The screen up-dated and the result – Gemma Hockett – 2.59.37 appeared. Nobody deserved it more.
You can follow Gemma's progress at www.themarathongirl.co.uk