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February 09, 2020

ITU World Championship bronze medalist, Kathy Stringer talks to Rokman about demanding training schedules, dogged determination and fitting it all in with regular life. 

Follow Kathy at @strngr_run

Kathy String Duathlon

Could you give a little bit of information and background about yourself and your journey and what has led you to become GB duathlete?

    I started running for my local club (Vale Royal AC) when I was 9 years. Throughout my teens, I competed for Cheshire in the 800m at the English Schools (just losing out in the final with a time of 2m16sec - still my PB today!), my team came 2nd in the National Cross-Country Championships and combining my two biggest hobbies, running and horse-riding, I even decided to give Modern Pentathlon ago!

    I continued competing through my university years, representing the university at the BUCS Championships in both track and cross-country, but when I moved to Bristol to do a masters degree the training died down a little and running became a way for me to relieve stress and have some downtime.

    It was during the masters year that I met my boyfriend, Nick, who was a really keen road cyclist. We used to talk about each other’s sports and every now and again, he’d come for a run or I’d go for a bike ride. The more we rode together, the stronger I became and he started to see potential in me to start racing. When I saw that there were duathlons, it gave me a bit of confidence because I knew I could do the running part. I entered my first duathlon in 2016 and came top of my age category, which gave me a real confidence boost and the self-belief that I could go all the way. After that, I just started training harder and investing in more kit…and here I am!

    Kathy Stringer ICT World Championships

    Why do you do it? What is it that makes you want to push your limits?

    I grew up with three older brothers and so became very competitive from a young age. I would always want to prove myself in front of them and not be the ‘little one’ or the ‘weak one’ and I think this has stuck with me throughout my life. I’ve never wanted to come across as weak or slow to anybody, therefore, I’ve always pushed myself to make sure that this isn’t the case. This concept even stretches to my Strava account where I don’t want people to think that I’m slow, so I’ll look for opportunities to achieve QOM’s (Queen of the Mountain) because then I can say that I’m the best on a certain segment. I realise how crazy I sound, but those little achievements honestly do give you little boosts!

    I also think that when you’re dedicating so much of your life to training and sacrificing other things to make it all happen, you want it to be worthwhile, so you’re not going to go into it light-hearted, or not train to the best of your ability. You could go for a run every day of your life, but if you’re not pushing yourself, you’re never going to get any faster or stronger - you’ll just keep doing the same thing over and over.

     

    How do you manage to fit in a full-time job and social life whilst training at an elite level?

    With difficulty! I think the biggest thing that has helped me is making my diary my best friend and staying organised. Last year I had my main goal circled in the diary and worked back from that date. So for example, I knew that a month before that date I’d want to be hitting certain targets in my training and so what sessions did I need to put in the diary for the month before that, in order to hit those targets…and so on. It also meant that if I did have a holiday booked or I was going away with work, that I could foresee which sessions I might miss and therefore I would shift some sessions around to make it work for me.

    I think it’s so easy to make up excuses for missing sessions when you’re just doing it day by day because if something does arise, you haven’t got a plan in place of when you’re going to make up for it. If you can treat your training schedule more like a jigsaw puzzle, where you’ve got all of your sessions lined up and you just need to slot them into place where they’re going to work, then it’s a much more flexible way of working and excuses don’t get you out of it!

    My final bit of advice for trying to balance the three is to try to overlap them in some way. I’ve invited friends on bike rides, runs and to my yoga classes so that I get to train and see my friends at the same time. It makes training much more fun and you don’t feel like you’re missing out as much! Equally, if I’m away with work, I try to still squeeze in my training around my day, whether it’s getting up a little earlier to go for a run or doing a quick 20min Youtube workout before bed. There are lots of little things that you can do like this, that just help to keep the momentum going. 

    Running and cycling are largely solo sports which means you can spend large amounts of time training on your own. Do you have any support systems around you to help you stay motivated?

    I am so lucky to be surrounded by the best group of people. As I mentioned above, I invite my friends to join me for some sessions whether that be on the bike, running around Bristol or at my yoga classes. This is always a huge motivator because chatting with a friend during a session doesn’t feel like training and it’s nice to have someone to share the experience with. My parents are both very active people and my dad was the one who encouraged me to take up running when I was younger - he’s never missed me race. On cold, dark, Winter nights after school, I’d go for runs around our town at home and he used to drive a car behind me, lighting the way and shouting out my times as well as words of encouragement. Looking back, the amount of support and commitment my parents gave to me (and still do!) for my sport was quite unbelievable and I’m so thankful to them for that. I think a huge amount of motivation comes from wanting to make them proud. This year I have invested in a coach and met up with him recently. He’s going to be shaping my training plan this year and no doubt will play a huge role. Then, of course, my boyfriend Nick, who is responsible for getting me into all of this…He has been a combination of my coach, mechanic, training buddy, boyfriend and a shoulder to cry on for the last couple of years and I don’t think I’d have done it all if it wasn’t for him.

     

    Do you have or subscribe to any particular philosophy on life? 

    I don’t necessarily follow any particular philosophies, however, I do like to be efficient with my time. The best way to explain this is that sometimes in life you hear about amazing people (and I’m pretty certain everyone reading this will have come across this at some point) who are talented at everything. For example, (let’s call them them ‘Sunshine’) Sunshine has a PHD, runs their own business, trains and competes in Ironman races, owns a house, can play a musical instrument, is bilingual, volunteers for local charities on a monthly basis, sees their friends regularly and is just an all-round nice person - know the type I’m talking about?… I think the first question everyone asks is ‘How do they fit it all in?’ Or ‘How do they have enough time for it all?’ - But the truth is, everyone has 24hrs in a day and 7 days in their week so the people achieving more have just used their time more efficiently to make themselves the best person that they can be. This is something that I now try to work to, where I try to make every minute count. No more excuses, no more procrastination, I have to prioritise what means the most to me and make sure that I make it happen. I rarely come in from work, make dinner and watch TV until going to bed - this to me seems like such a waste. Instead, I’ll be training, seeing friends or working on something for my career. If I do want to watch a program, I have to mix this with something else like training on the turbo - this way I’m achieving something at the same time. This way of living is tiring and I get that it’s not for everyone because you rarely get to switch off, but I love the feeling of constantly doing more and making the most of life. 

     

    Who is your biggest inspiration and why?

    I have a few elite athletes that I love following, a firm favourite being triathlete, Lucy Charles - that girl is an absolute machine and I’m always blown away by how good she is at every discipline. I look forward to major sporting events such as the Olympics because it’s not just athletes/triathletes that inspire me, but any talented sportsperson at the top of their game. I remember watching the women’s GB hockey team win gold at the Rio Olympics and the England netball team win the Commonwealth Games in 2018, and even these sorts of moments can inspire me hugely to keep trying. 

    I also get inspired by people around me. My cousin, for instance, is a mum to two boys, works full time and trained for an ironman a couple of years ago. Hearing about how she squeezed in her training every day, week in, week out, is extremely inspirational and it makes me think harder about how I portion my days up and how I can use my time more effectively. I think you can be inspired by lots of people but you have to be able to understand what it is about them that inspires you, and then take that and apply it to yourself and your own training. 

    How do you define mental toughness?

    Mental toughness to me is the ability to believe in yourself and to be able to overcome the negative thoughts and feelings in the rest of your body. If every muscle in your body is burning and screaming and your brain is telling you to stop - it’s that ability to override those thoughts with positive thinking and to spur yourself on. One that comes to my mind is ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ which is very cliche but often works if I’m literally about to collapse. I think you need to be resilient, strong-willed and determined because, without these, it’s doubtful that you’ll keep going if something gets in your way, or sets you back - you need to be prepared to succeed no matter what. 

    I read a book called Endure by Alex Hutchinson which is all about sports psychology and I’d highly recommend it to anybody interested in this sort of area. It explains how people who do a lot of exercise and sport, tend to have higher pain thresholds than those who don’t do as much because their brains have learned how to deal with their pain receptors better and can almost override them in order to keep going - it’s why some elite athletes can literally push themselves until they blackout. With regards to training, back in the day, everyone thought that the more miles you put in, the better you’d be, but in more recent years, research has shown that this isn’t the case. Doing shorter, more intense training sessions such as HIIT workouts or fast hill sprints, are not only amazing for you physically, but also mentally, teach your brain to push yourself beyond what you would normally. 

     

    How do you physically prepare yourself for competition?

    Because I have two sports to train for, I split my time between the two of them. I also find time to fit in gym and yoga sessions because as I’ve got older, I’ve realised how important it is to have a strong core and to stretch out properly between sessions. My coach has advised me to do more yoga this year too because he’s noticed that I have tight hip flexors and hamstrings. It’s amazing how much of an impact that these sorts of things can have on your body and form, without you realising, and so I’m definitely going to try and fit more in this year.

    A typical week would look like this:

     Day Training
    Monday
    Turbo session on the bike / Hill sprints
    Tuesday
    Track session with Bristol and West AC
    Wednesday
    Turbo session on the bike / Gym session
    Thursday
    10k run
    Friday
    Rest day 
    Saturday
    Long bike ride
    Sunday
    Long run / Yoga


    What're your plans for the future?

    In the short term, I’m aiming to win gold at the World Championships, achieving a new half marathon PB, and maybe even run a marathon (something I still haven’t done, weirdly!). Longer-term, I’m not really sure! I don’t think I’ll keep doing duathlons because, like everything else in my life, I want to keep trying new things and pushing myself in new ways. I’d like to try an Ironman one day but I’d also like to do some other weird/wonderful/crazy/stupid events such as the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco or the Transcontinental bike race. Another goal is to try and complete some of the challenges that the UK has to offer such as Lands End to John O’Groats or the three peaks. As you can tell, I need some help channelling my enthusiasm and excitement for these things because I’ll end up wanting to do them all, but never getting round to doing any of them!

    If you could share the most important/effective motivational quote with our members, what would it be?

      I have three quotes, two of which are very similar and another that I remind myself of quite a lot. The first two are ‘the only bad workout is the one you didn’t do’ and ’no matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everybody on the sofa’. I think these quotes come into play the most when it’s the Winter - when the weather is poor and you barely see daylight - because it’s so easy to make excuses and not train. But the likelihood is that if the weather is like that across the country, not many people are going to go out in it to train, and if you’re one of the people that decide to go out, that means that: 1) You’re getting valuable training in when they aren’t, and mentally this is a great confidence booster, and 2) Training in those conditions prepares you for anything that race day might bring. I think that no matter how tired or down you feel, just remember that even doing a small session such as drills or 15minutes of yoga, all help to build you towards your end goal.

      The third quote that I love is, ‘It never gets easier, you just get faster.’ Because I’ve always ran, when I’m doing an event like a 10k or a half marathon, people often say to me ‘ah, you’ll find it easy,’ or ’it’ll be easy for you,’ when actually I’ll find it just as tough as them, and go through exactly the same notions in my head, but just happen to be running it faster. When you start training for a specific time, or a specific goal, never underestimate how hard it’ll be and that the training will never get any easier, no matter how fit you get.






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