Katharine Merry

Still on a learning curve

If you ever need a perfect world formula when it comes to creating your own training plan and progression you need to look no further than Olympic bronze medallist Katharine Merry.

A superstar in the U15 girls age group she was constantly the subject of newspaper and magazine interviews. Global photography agencies featured her in studio shoots such was the amazing speed she possessed. She ran British and world records in the short sprints, representing Great Britain when she was just 13.

Of course, as we all know only too well - for many that’s the end of the line and all too often great runners fall by the wayside after stunning performances in their youth. Not Katharine. Sensible coaching, club athletics support, great advice and a long-term understanding of how to develop culminated in a wonderful 400 metres at the Sydney Olympics where she clocked 49.59 to pick up that bronze medal she so thoroughly deserved. And there’s more.

"I found the transformation quite easy [from being a full-time athlete to someone who had to go to work!] - I started broadcasting whilst still an athlete. Being injured gave me the opportunity to work for the BBC, etc. so when I eventually retired it was a role I had started to do and so the opportunities were in place.

I was conscious of doing various roles to widen my skill set. This has proven invaluable as I can jump between television commentary to infield hosting to stadium commentary, and as with athletics you have to work hard. Many ex-athletes get opportunities, but you have to deliver, and work hard when you get them."

"I’ve learnt many lessons through sport," she continues. "The key skills and disciplines I learnt, and that sport teaches all of us, are transferable to any field of life. Goal setting, teamwork, persistence and perseverance are all needed in any role. I have learnt to work hard for everything in a methodical way but learnt to be flexible enough to adapt in a situation if needed. Injuries taught me this!

Personally, for myself? Never lie to yourself and try and convince yourself you have done all you can to reach a goal, when you know you haven’t. Be honest and only expect to get back what you put in."

True to her word as an athlete she was all about hard work. Of course, she was hugely talented as a youngster, but she had the strength of character to realise it takes much more than that to succeed. So, after winning countless short sprint titles, she moved up a distance to 400m.

"The main difference was the track work-load," she recalls. "My weights and conditioning were the same, but the track sessions were altered to being longer. Example as a sprinter, I would rarely run over 300m in training at any given time of the year ... as a 400m runner I would run up to 600m in sessions. A 6 x 150m session would be replaced by a 500, 400, 300, 200, 100m session. More of a speed endurance mix than the emphasis being on speed."

Today, Katharine is the British Athletics Supporter’s Club president and still very much involved with grassroots athletics. There will be many challenges," she says, chatting about how she sees us emerging from the pandemic. "We know Athletics is a multi-discipline sport that requires a lot of athletes and officials! The key maybe is to build up, so like a few meetings are doing, smaller fields and fewer events. This doesn't help championship events of course.

Keeping social distancing, as is stands, is the most complex issue. From warm-up areas to field of play. It is an ever-evolving situation that no one has ever dealt with before so we have to do the best we can - with health being the main concern."

But let's end on a positive. For her whole career she was a Birchfield Harrier, which will host the 2022 Commonwealth Games where the England team will be a powerhouse in track and field. "What a showcase for our sport 2022 will be," she says with a grin. "I can’t wait for the athletics action to begin."

In the meantime, she’s turned that dedication she has displayed for so many years to good use. "My garden currently looks like a Chelsea Flower Show entry with Wimbledon-standard grass! And there is the rare, fantastic family time with my children who will hopefully look back and say, ‘remember in 2020 mummy, when you and daddy were home all the time and the sun was shining?"