Jo Pavey was forty years old when she won the 10,000m at the European Championships. It was the first gold medal of her career and, astonishingly, it came within months of having her second child.
The media dubbed her ‘Supermum’, but Jo’s story is in many ways the same as every mother juggling the demands of working life with a family – the sleepless nights, the endless nappy changing, the fun, the laughter and the school-run chaos. The only difference is that Jo is a full-time athlete pushing a buggy on her training runs, clocking up miles on the treadmill in a cupboard while her daughter has her lunchtime nap, and hitting the track while her children picnic on the grass.
Heartwarming and uplifting, This Mum Runs follows Jo’s roundabout journey to the top and all the lessons she’s learnt along the way. It is the inspiring yet everyday story of a mum that runs and a runner that mums.
Quite frankly, I loved this book. In recent times I’ve become captivated by the fortunes of Jo Pavey, particularly in her quest to qualify for the Rio Olympics, so when I saw that her book was suggested for The Runner Beans Book Club I was thrilled as it gave me just the excuse I needed to order a copy and get stuck in.
The book begins fairly recently with Pavey’s race at the 2014 National Championships – dubbed the ‘Night of the 10,000m PBs’ – which was a trial for the European Championships in Zurich that summer. I enjoyed this as an opener for the book as it set the tone perfectly – Pavey juggling her running around being a mum (and the occasional spanner in the works thanks to family life!). What follows is a history of Pavey’s running career, from her earliest days with Exeter Harriers, right through to winning gold at the European Championships in 2014.
Throughout the book Pavey comes across as down to earth and humble, but perhaps what resonated the most with me is that her career has not been straightforward. Pavey has battled through injury and on many occasions has wondered if she could ever truly demonstrate her potential. That certainly sounds familiar to me! And interestingly, her greatest successes came from taking a more unconventional approach to training such as when she and her husband took time out to go travelling or, as a new mum, fitting training in around the needs of her children. Perhaps something for us all to consider when we’re obsessing over our latest training plan!
She also writes very humbly about the mass participation nature of running, offering advice for those who might want to take up running for the first time and writing of how privileged she feels to be part of a sport where the elite and the amateur can line up together. She heralds parkrun as a great weekly event (I definitely agree with her there!) and mentions her enjoyment of the camaraderie of running, the family-friendly environment and the experiences that have enriched her life. Reading this book feels like a chat with a friend, and I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much.
And as such a relatable writer, there is much we can learn from Jo Pavey:
- Resilience. Despite being plagued by injury, she never gave up. There may have been disappointments along the way, but Pavey bounced back and focused on what she could do to improve her running for the next race.
- Determination. Whatever she set her sights on, she did everything she could to make it happen. Even when injured Pavey continued to train in any way she could, whether through pool running, strength training or running on different surfaces. She was prepared to travel great distances for the facilities she needed and wouldn’t let anything stand in her way.
- Learn from experience. Albert Einstein reportedly said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Pavey and her husband Gav (who is also her coach) use the knowledge and experience they have gained over the years to know what works best for her training. Although she says she wishes they’d known some of this when she was younger, I guess there’s sometimes nothing for it but to learn things the hard way, make the training mistakes and come out the other side stronger.
- Age is just a number. Yes it’s a cliché and Pavey acknowledges it as such, but it’s certainly true for her. Pavey may now be considered an “older” runner (in fact she jokes that since turning 40 she may as well have a double-barrelled surname as she is always referred to as “Jo Pavey-forty” in the media!) but she is still running phenomenal times, with some of her greatest performances taking place over the past few years. She is a little older than me (although I’m catching up rapidly!) and the older I get the more I thrill to see Pavey showing the world that “older” female athletes can still give the next generation a run for their money (pun intended).
- Find balance. It is since having her children that Pavey seems to have found the key to successful training for her. By training whatever way she can around the needs of her family, and feeling much more relaxed than previously going into competitions, she has been able to perform really well. In addition, she has been much better at listening to her body and prioritising rest, as she knows she needs to conserve enough energy to run around after her children. It’s clear that family life is important to Pavey – indeed the title of the book This Mum Runs prioritises her kids over her running – and that seems to have unlocked fantastic potential. Whether you have family or not, there is always a balance to be sought between work, training and life in general. It’s something I’ve been working hard to find as well.
Of course there are darker moments in the book, and I don’t mean the sections describing the disappointment of injury. Pavey devotes a chapter to the doping scandal that broke late in 2015 and we see the heartache caused to those who missed out on medals due to the cheating of others. It’s not just about the loss of a podium finish, but everything that goes with that: the disappointment and anger at missing out on a victory lap, of a moment in the spotlight; the impact on an athlete’s confidence as they struggle to comprehend how they can match up to others putting in phenomenal performances; the risks they may take in training in order to “catch up” to others. Since publication of the book Pavey has called for those who have since been awarded medals that were robbed of through cheating to be given the opportunity to have the ceremony they missed out on at the time, something that is now going ahead at the World Championships in London this month.
Reading this book was a really enjoyable experience for me and it was great to find out more about an athlete I’ve come to admire greatly. If you think being an elite athlete is easy, then I encourage you to read this book and see that the “elites” are really just like the rest of us.