By Karla Borland, from her blog www.whatkarladid.com
Hannah (second from left) in the zone!
I met Hannah at Meadowbank Track, shortly after arriving in Edinburgh. The session was run by the fantastic Alex MacEwan (interviewed previously). Alex told me to try to stay with Hannah as she would be a metronome. I didn’t know what a metronome was but I figured it meant she would run steady for the whole session and so I ran beside her. Two reps in she turned to me and said in a Belfast accent ‘Don’t sit in lane two, get in behind me’. That was me told! As they say in Northern Ireland, she calls a spade a spade.
This story still makes me laugh as Hannah is one of the kindest, warm-hearted and funny humans I’ve ever met. She has an absolute army of friends family who would all agree. We spent many nights together at Pizza Express with our friend Karen discussing the latest Edinburgh AC gossip and putting the world to rights. Hannah and Karen, in particular, were my Edinburgh family and a home from home. It was such a privilege to ask her some questions about her running and life as a physiotherapist.
You started running as a junior – how did you get into it originally?
My first memory is running a race around our school pitches – I didn’t do too bad and was selected for the school team. I then ran in the Ulster Championships at Mallusk. It was there after the race that a local coach from a club called Albertville Harriers approached me and my dad asking if I would join. That Saturday I was at a cross country race and the rest is history!!
Who coached you as a junior?
The coach who approached me was called Bobby Rea. He was like a second dad to me. He brought me to races, training and when I couldn’t make training due to school exams etc would phone my mum and give me my training for the week. He was an amazing man and developed a very strong junior section of the club, later forming a new club with all the junior members. He would go round the world picking us all up for training and races, in fact we would often turn up at races, his car would pull up and well over 10 of us would get out of his car…..I think the record was about 13 (boot included). There were times if we were approaching a police station or checkpoint, he would turf a good few of us out and we would run down the street and get back in when the coast was clear! Maybe not such good race preparation but we all made it and ran the races! We were a mixed bunch from different schools, different religions but we all just enjoyed running. We would train round the streets of Ballysillan and often run a loop. Depending on what part of the loop you were in, depended on which was your fast part…….!
What have you taken from your junior years to running as a senior athlete?
Being part of a club is important to me – I grew up in the club system and I try to turn out for EAC (Edinburgh Athletics Club) both in XC (cross country), road and volunteering when I can.
Otherwise it’s all about consistency – in the words of Alex MacEwan, I rock up and train consistently. And I try and listen to the coaches – a few years ago although I was turning up consistently I wasn’t really getting anywhere – Alex took me aside and told me to run one section of the grass loop hard and just coast the other section – that was enough to kick start me again into running hard.
Also resilience – some days are harder to get out the door than others but you just know you will feel better afterwards for doing it. I think running a hard session in sleet and wind has made me more resilient to deal with other aspects of life.
What was your best race as a junior and why?
My coach Bobby had the amazing ability to get us to our peak at the right time. I remember running the Ulster schools track 3km and just scraping to the Irish Champs. I said to Bobby ‘I’m not going to the Irish champs, there is no point as I was 3rd in the Ulsters and the competition would be tough’……lets just say he didn’t mince his words and told me I was going…..at the bell there were 5-6 of us together and I went for it in the last lap and I only went and won the thing – he was right all along!!
Irish Schools, 3000m. Tullamore, 2000
We also win the national road relays in Birmingham, that was a big deal. We qualified and a team of us went over – it was the first time a number of us had been on a plane so we were just excited to go someplace different. We just got out and ran. There was a lot of chat about Sutton Coldfield Athletic Club and I think it was a bit of a shock to a number of the English clubs that this wee club from Belfast was in with a chance of a top 3 place, never mind winning the whole thing! We nearly missed the presentation and I suppose at the time didn’t really realise how big a deal it was. Many years later Bobby told me he had to hide behind a tree and compose himself he was so emotional about it!
And your worst as a junior?
I genuinely don’t really remember any really stand out bad races. I think back then you didn’t overthink your performance – you ran and then you just moved on to the next one. As I said before we always had set target races and no matter who you are, you can’t run well in every race, you use certain races as training, to build up etc.
Who inspired you growing up?
The era of Kelly Holmes, Roger Black, Sally Gunnell, Iwan Thomas was a great time for athletics. I also really loved watching Sonia O’Sullivan as she had a great running style and was of course Irish!
You have continued to run throughout university and then as a physiotherapist – how did your running progress?
At a schools international cross country in Irvine in 2000 I overheard a Scottish girl called Dennise Smith talking about how she was going to Glasgow Caledonian to study physiotherapy. Of course, I interrupted her conversation and told her I was too! She said she would look out for me and that she did. In fact for the next 4 years in Glasgow, Dennise and her parents (ma and da Smith) adopted me and my fellow school pal Jill Shannon into the Kilbarchan Athletic Club fold. Her parents brought us to races, her dad took fabulous pictures of us all and her mum provided snacks and words of encouragement. We would get the bus out to Linwood for track sessions with Derek and then we discovered Scotstoun track and gatecrashed John Montgomery’s sessions. It was a great time running for the Kilbarchan and the univeristy and I was lucky enough to make the Ireland team for the World University XC Championships in Spain.
I’m relaxed at the start of our university road race with Denise!
What motivates you to continue with your running?
It’s a way of life for me – I don’t know any different. I still enjoy it and want to be the best I can be. I have made some of my bestest pals through running whether it be all my Abbey AC lot who I did zoom quizzes with during lockdown, the uni girls, and all my Edinburgh crew. There’s nothing better than a Sunday long run with Nikki, Emma, Karen and Elaine – so many amazing people from all walks of life.
Who coaches you now?
I have been lucky enough to have had two great coaches – both very similar in their dedication to the sport and in their passion for running. Very sadly and suddenly, Bobby passed away the first year I moved to Edinburgh. At that time I joined Alex MacEwan’s Tuesday track sessions and although it was emotionally tough at times to run, I know Bobby would be chuffed a lot of “his kids” are still running.
Which performances stand out as a senior athlete?
The stand out race is probably setting my 10k PB in Stirling a few years ago. I had just come off a marathon and had no real expectations. I had been ill during the week leading up to it and hadn’t run so decided just to run to feel – no watch and I couldn’t believe it when I saw my time in the finishing straight! The only gutting thing about it was I just missed out on beating Andy Latham! I try and advise anyone who runs a PB to really enjoy it as you don’t know when your next one will be!! And it’s really important after training hard to enjoy it when you achieve something.
Have you got a favourite session?
Track sessions have been a big feature in my life. Since I was 11 I have always run on them whether it be at Mary Peters, Linwood, Scotstoun and Meadowbank. I do miss them as you can just go for it and focus on your technique. Split 800’s are prob a favourite session. During lockdown I having been doing a lot more tempo running and though they are really tough at the time I get a real buzz afterwards when looking at my times. A session I always dread is mile reps, but once you get going they are never as bad as you think. In the last wee while I have been going along to EAC Saturday morning sessions and you forget how much benefit you get from training with others – the competitive juices flow and you always run faster. I always love a sneaky wee tow when sitting in behind someone!
Any bucket list races that you have or haven’t done yet?
Not so much. I love nothing more than a wee local road race with a good spread after (a good spread is a nice selection of food in Northern Irish)!! I had set myself a challenge of completing the parkrun A-Z before I was 40 but time is a ticking and with no parkruns happening I am not sure when it will happen…..
The best international place you’ve been running?
I have raced in various places such as Turkey, Munich, Santiago.
I tend to sneak a run in wherever I go on my travels…..I always scope out good places to run and was thrilled to find a track in Ecuador when I was there!
Favourite route in Edinburgh and in Belfast?
I don’t think I have a favourite route. I have many places I love to run. From my flat into Holyrood Park, down to Porty Prom, the Hermitage, the Pentlands. We are spoilt in Edinburgh. When I go home I just love running around the local streets – Monkstown Woods, Belvoir Forrest, the Cavehill… I never run with headphones, I just like to run, clear the head, have a look around just take things in.
Have you read any great running books?
I have to be honest I am not a big reader but I do love a wee TV show and I recently watched a documentary on Dame Mary Peters, which was amazing. She had quite a lot of challenges thrown at her along the way to all her successes but her resilience and determination shone through. She was some woman!!
What other sports/activities do you do apart from running?
I did a season of triathlon many years ago including a half ironman. I learned how to swim with my head in the water and everything (Clunie Scott – thank you for your patience) and still love to swim – in fact a wee sub group of EACers did a few swims in Gladhouse Reservoir over the summer.
I cycle a bit, and before lockdown would be a weekly attender of a Bikram yoga class.
During lockdown Malcolm Parry put me in touch with Scott Henderson’s online yoga session, which was great to keep me going with the yoga and was lovely to be doing it alongside other EAC runners. I still do his videos once a week.
Having run for about 28 years I do get niggles and have a few chronic issues that I have to accommodate as they aren’t ever going to go away so I try and include strength and conditioning exercises in my weekly routine. I always feel much better when I have done them.
Has Covid changed your approach to running?
Covid has made me enjoy exploring a bit more – in “normal” times you are sometimes fitting running in between work and meeting mates etc and so I tend to stick to my usual routes but during covid I definitely explored more off road.
I have worked all through Covid and have maintained my normal running routine. I operate best with routine – in work and running!!
What does running mean to you?
Everything. I am my happiest when I am running well and injury free!!
What are your hopes for the 2020/21 season?
Well that’s a tricky one! That I stay injury free and use the consistent and good training I had undertaken during lockdown for a good summer 2021 season and potentially an Autumn marathon which will be my first as a V40…….
Oh and to go to Club La Santa with Anne, Elaine, Tanya, Karla, Niamh etc! We got to go just before lockdown and always have such an amazing time!
Who has influenced you the most as a runner?
Bobby Rea- without him I wouldn’t have had any of my amazing experiences.
My parents have been extremely supportive from the start. When I couldn’t train with the club dad would take me to the local pitches and shine his car lights so I could see. They were at all my races and mum would get well into it giving me quite the gulder at times. I now rope them into coming to all the parkruns and definitely get my competitive spirit from them – they were quite peeved when in one parkrun I got pipped to the line by a canicross lady with a massive dog attached to her!!
Who influences your running?
Lots of people. My mate Paul Tyro and his wife who parkrun basically every week in life whether it be with a buggy etc.
Jim Scott – running fast times and motivating everyone else – he just gets on with it.
My mate Simon who is meticulous with his training plans and goals. He sets a target and pretty much runs it within seconds!!
All my EAC girlies – Nikki, Karen,Emma, Elaine who keep me going on Sunday runs and really all through the covid lockdown. We did videos to each other describing our sunday run routes – where we went and who we saw. Now we can run together it’s much better!
Seeing Kelly Holmes on social media continuing to train and adapting to her new level of ability after being a professional athlete.
A new inspiration is Sara Hall – I have followed her for a few years and who wouldn’t admire her London Marathon performance – great resilience.
Favourite bits of kit?
Look I’m not really into too much fancy kit, a shoe that keeps me injury free is all I ask for!!Thats why I love running – stick a pair of trainers on and whatever you want to wear and just get out the door!!
I am fastidious though about tying my laces about 20 times before a race.
And I have bought a fancy Garmin but to be honest I still don’t use all the available features.
I still have every running T-shirt I have got at races – stored at my mum’s house!
You can follow Hannah on Instagram @hannahwoo1981