Meet the Runner – Minna Jones-Walters

By Karla Borland, from her blog, photo credit

Minna Jones-Walters is the perfect training partner. She’s up for any adventure, loves hard sessions and is always keen for a beer afterwards. We’ve raced together a lot – if I can see her in front of me at cross-country, I know I’m having a good day. My favourite run with her is the long run as I can usually learn something new and come away seeing the world in a different light. Minna is passionate about the environment and how we can minimise climate change. I loved hearing a bit more about her running and training. She is definitely one of a kind!

I could call myself a lot of things. I’m sort of an environmental policy maker, sort of a forestry professional. Really, I’m generally bumbling around trying to do something that feels meaningful environmentally and socially and means I have to use my brain. With regard to running it’s a mixed bag; it can be brilliant with loads of flexibility to train when I want, and it can be really tough because I tend to travel a lot. I run for Southampton because I lived there for 12 months in 2016. Since then I’ve been back in Wallingford, in Oxfordshire. I haven’t joined another club and I do like the people. However, this means I don’t have a formal coach and potentially should sort myself out and get one, so I get more out of my running. Currently I try to meet up with you (Karla) for some of your sessions which works pretty well.

I joined Wakefield harriers when I was 12 (I think). I always liked running and was always one of the best in my class at school however all extracurricular activities soon got swept aside for ponies; an obsession which took over my whole teens. When I went to university I had room for a new obsession and I neatly replaced horses with rowing which became equally all-consuming for the next 5 years or so. We had to do quite a bit of running in the programme and again I always really enjoyed it and was pretty OK at it. Every time I deviated from rowing, I picked up running; being super fit meant I found I was able to go pretty fast and being just-a-little-bit competitive this probably reinforced the enjoyment. Eventually I joined Southampton AC and job circumstances forced the switch and in my head I became a runner instead of a rower.

I did the Essex 20 miler for Hampshire in March, which was a tough race and I wasn’t particularly happy with my time. I was hoping for a pre-marathon marker that saw me cruising just inside marathon pace (for a sub three) and instead I had a serious struggle to finish on about 7 min mile pace. Retrospectively it wasn’t bad but at the time I really wanted some confidence I could PB in the marathon… and now we’ll never know! I also did the Kernow vertical kilometre a week after that which was a joy! 15 miles of coast path… potentially an unwise thing to do 3 weeks out from Manchester so I had intended to cruise round (ha!), but I don’t know how to cruise and instead I smashed myself to finish 3rd female. Total contrast from the Essex race, probably because I put myself under zero pressure… now what could we learn from that?!

My normal training week is pretty chaotic. I try and do the standard sessions on Tuesday and Thursday; sometimes Saturday too and a long run Sunday. I also arbitrarily aim for 50 miles as a standard week, but I am not super disciplined and move things around depending on work. I also try and do one or two weights or conditioning sessions.

I generally love interval sessions, especially with other people, I just really enjoy hammering along and the adrenaline/ endorphin buzz and satisfaction you get from completing the reps. However if I could only do one thing it would be the long run; I like to explore and have a mini adventure on trails and footpaths; often ending up going much longer than my planned miles and staggering home out of food and water (if I bothered to take any)… can’t beat it.

Lockdown! Lockdown means lots more of my runs are rambling (slow) off road, with-the-dog runs rather that purposeful runs on the road. With all the races off it’s been a mix of lack of focus and structure (bad) and an opportunity to only do the bits I enjoy (good) and not having to travel (good). With some long-term goals of long, mountainous trail races I am telling myself rambling runs on the ridgeway are good preparation…. but I am not sure if/when I will get some focus back to properly train for the marathons that have been deferred to the autumn. I have also started doing Pilates every day which I am sure has to be a good thing for my running. (Anna Jenkins’ online pilates; Anna can be found on Instagram @annajenkins_tri).

I have a suspicion that a lot of the objectively ‘best’ running I have done is left in training. I have had periods of being in really good shape but not quite matching those with race results or times I have wanted. If you ask Power of Ten it is a random 1500m I did as a part of the SAL (Southern Athletics League), closely followed by a southern road relays leg; neither of which I particularly remember. I think probably if it’s what I am most proud of it would be Comrades or my 3:04 at London Marathon 2019.

Worst performance? Many. What did I learn? Nothing. I am only half joking! I have definitely underperformed too many times as a result of terrible pacing and overcooking the race in my head before I even get to the start or not tapering! My monkey brain that just loves to race has a much louder voice than my rational brain that understands pacing and the fact that I am unlikely to all-of-a-sudden knock several minutes off my (insert distance) PB. I think very slowly I am learning though and I have done some better pacing and better runs when I don’t add loads of mental pressure. I still feel like I haven’t fully had chance to capitalise on this though… maybe one of the autumn marathons?

Best piece of kit? I was going to say my watch or favourite trainers but I think in reality the bit I most couldn’t do without is a Shock Absorber ultimate run bra. In my humble opinion the options for decent, genuinely bounce free running bras is pitiful. I am a D cup even at my absolute skinniest and I am by no means particularly ‘curvy’… sports brands need to do better!

I enjoyed ‘Born to run’ by Christopher McDougal. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a barefoot running convert and I bloody hate those toe shoes, but the message that human beings have been refined by millions of years of evolution to run is cool and something to remember, we are all runners!

Have I ever lost my running mojo? Yes, for sure! Never dramatically and I have probably still run, but I don’t always have the same drive. I think it’s healthy though, you can’t always be training and running hard, usually entering a race that excites me brings me out of it.

No, no special diets here! I am veggie and try and eat vegan as much as possible, but sometimes I think the more ethical choice for the planet is not the vegan choice! I try to eat my 5 a day and vary my diet. I take vitamins C and D in winter and Iron occasionally. I could definitely be stricter but at the end of the day I need to make it through a full time job and all my training and sometimes biscuits are the only way to make it!

I am very conscious of climate change and make a lot of choices in life generally to reduce my impact from diet to driving an 18-year-old car (which I won’t go in to!). When it comes to running there are two things that spring to mind.

One is kit, probably shoes most notably. Fashion has a big carbon footprint and I am sure running shoes are no exception, plus they are probably most unrecycled plastic and bought online so come with shipping. I am very happy to wear clothes for ever and the majority of my kit gets worn until it falls to bits (and smells pretty bad!), and it is pretty un-stylish. I also try really consciously to avoid anything I don’t need. I have a Garmin watch, but it took me years to adopt that, and it will be worn until it dies completely. I try and squeeze all the miles I can out of my shoes, and then they get downgraded to casual wear, but I undoubtedly buy more than if I didn’t run. Not a perfect solution but one I will try to keep adapting, buying from ethical brands that consider their own carbon footprint as much as possible, trying to switch to natural fibres that don’t pollute like synthetic ones, and mitigating in other areas of life.

Second is travel. As a squad Southampton is pretty good at lift sharing so that is a plus but compared to international travel it’s a drop in the ocean. I flew to South Africa for Comrades last year which was my only flight of the year but still doesn’t sit that well; the world is changing fast and with it our perceptions of what is and isn’t acceptable. I will definitely continue to keep flying to a minimum (a maximum of once a year) and for upcoming races in Spain and France I am plotting an overland route, using public transport, and I would seriously question overseas races if they required flying and I really don’t think I will fly long haul for a race (or any reason for that matter!) again. Damien Hall is a really great inspiration, recently doing the Paddy Buckley in Wales and travelling there and back by public transport; I think we need to think of it as adding to the adventure!

The world is catching up and it is great to see races making adjustments to reduce their impact, for example asking runners to carry a cup and reducing the freebies (which let’s face it, usually don’t get used and probably don’t encourage us to buy the sponsor’s products).

On the whole I think running is a good thing with respect to climate change. It gets people outside and noticing their surroundings. When you see the impact on your favourite running routes of insanely dry summers and other extreme weather it hits home more, you notice trees dying and unseasonably warm Februaries, you notice when the earth is cracking already in early March and when cross country in November is balmy and dry enough for flats, and this is stuff the general population notice less and less as our lives become so online and indoors. When you see it impacting you then you’re more likely to make a change. And I suppose compared to other hobbies it’s (capable of being) pretty low impact… runners are pretty boring when not running aren’t they!

Firstly; don’t take yourself too seriously, secondly; say yes! Try everything, do everything, have adventures even if they are just adventures into your own capabilities. You never know when injury or life or whatever will mean you can’t run so just go for it as much as possible when you can!

I love cycling; I love watching it and I do like getting out on my bike! But I’m a bit of a fair-weather cyclist and there’s too much gear involved to get properly obsessed with it!

You can find Minna @minnajw on Instagram.

By Karla Borland, from her blog