Sticky toffee pudding, ballet and pilates
The beauty of running is that it’s all inclusive, ready and willing to invite everyone to the party, even former Olympic sprinters for whom going for a run was most definitely not high on their list!
Donna Fraser was fourth in the Olympic 400 metres in 2000 and happily admits that back then the thought of going for a plain old run filled her with dread. She was very much all about speed and power.
But today, she loves nothing more than a low-pressure trail run. “I love it,” she admits, laughing out loud that she is actually saying those words! “To be honest though,” she adds, “I don’t miss the 400 metres, but fitness is still very much an important part of my retirement [from competitive athletics]. I go to the gym and run. I won’t go to the track because you can’t help but look back and see what you used to run.”
At her peak that meant covering one lap of the track in 49.79sec, a stunning time still today 20 years later. Of course, that success didn’t just happen overnight. For Donna it was a case of turning her love of athletics she first discovered in primary school into a life-long career that involved discovering everything from how she dealt with sprinting to learning how to breathe correctly.
“But I still remember how it all began and running that 55 metres at the school sports – it felt like a mile,” she laughs.
Relatively quickly she soon found herself running the longer sprint as by her own admission she just couldn’t get her long legs moving quick enough to run the 100 metres. It’s that philosophy of understanding her strengths and weaknesses that perhaps best sums her up. As a runner she recognised that she was great for 350 metres but needed to work on the strength for those final all-important final few strides. “Obviously strength was important,” she explains, so she hit the gym and hit it hard!
But she also realised that her mental approach needed some thought, so she taught herself visualisation skills and calming techniques like controlling her breathing before a big race.
“And do you know? A good way to learn how to relax is to run downhill at speed,” she says. Try it. You need to be loose, relaxed and trust how your body will react. Simple but effective.
Next, was diet. Initially she employed professional sports nutritionists but realised that she knew her body better than anybody. “I found out what works for me and that’s three meals a day with a snack of fruit or protein shake in between. Plus, I learned not to have carbs in the evening as that’s what put the weight on for me.”
She has some great advice on how you too can best put all of this into practice for you own running.
“Keep a diary,” she explains. “But don’t just put down what you did, but say how you felt as well. Take a note and understand yourself as an individual. Learn from your mistakes and move on,” she says.
Today, that means Donna has learned to include things like ballet and pilates into her fitness regime to keep supple and strong - hugely important as you progress as a runner. Plus, she also reveals she’s developed a liking for sticky toffee pudding. “But only as a reward,” she laughs. *Today Donna is UK Athletics' Equality Diversity and Engagement Lead and Interim Domestic Athletics Operations Manager