Sunday, 30 August 2015

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Ice baths in a wheelie bin and being sick in bushes - training is tough for Cumbrian athlete

Her head feels fuzzy, her legs are trembling and her stomach is churning like a washing machine. Angela Kelly’s hard training session has just become too hard, as she stumbles into the bushes and vomits.

Angela Kelly photo
Angela Kelly

In a single session Angela can be doubled up in this agony five times. And still she comes back for more.

Such dedication would be notable in an athlete of any age. This athlete is 51 years old.

Angela recently returned to Carlisle from California. Her luggage included a bronze medal earned as part of Great Britain’s over-50s’ women’s 4x100 metres relay team at the World Masters Championships.

Masters competitions are for athletes over 35. When Angela was 35 her only exertion was walking upstairs after an evening watching TV.

How times change. She is already planning for the next World Masters, in Brazil in 2013. The long road begins next month, in a forest near Ecclefechan.

“There are 10, 100-metre sections going up and up and up,” says Angela. “The first 100 metres is hard. The second hundred’s harder. The third one is evil.”

When Angela and her training partners have finished one section, their coach walks up to the next one. When he reaches it, they start running.

“Normally for the first four weeks you’re all in the bushes being sick. Probably about five times in one session.

“I just have to think of what I’m aiming for – winning. You don’t get any sympathy from the coach.”

He sounds like a nasty piece of work. Is he a real tyrant? Come on, Angela. You can tell us.

Apparently he’s not that bad. Which would explain why John Birkett is Angela’s partner as well as her coach.

“The two things are altogether separate,” explains Angela. “Once he’s got his coach’s hat on there’s no mercy. But we leave it on the track.

“If a race doesn’t go right we have words and then it’s forgotten about. He used to be a goalkeeper for Gretna and he competes in throwing events himself. He understands sport really well.”

Angela was a sporty young woman. Until 21 she was a cross-country runner; a county champion who competed for Morton School at the English Schools Championships.

Then life intruded. Angela was 22 when her daughter Claire was born. She also had a demanding job in insurance which took her around Scotland and left little time for running.

“I was unfit for years. After work I just used to slob out in front of the telly. It’s easy to do.”

Claire had been one reason why Angela stopped running. As Angela neared 40 her daughter – a PE teacher at Austin Friars St Monica’s School in Carlisle – became the reason she started again.

“My daughter started running. I started doing some jogging with her. I went about a mile and a half. I felt terrible. I had to walk and jog, walk and jog. It was a shock. You think running is easy.”

It wasn’t. But Angela persisted. She built up slowly, spending a year jogging and circuit training before deciding she was built for sprinting rather than long-distance.

She began training at Carlisle’s Sheepmount track and joined Carlisle Aspatria Athletics Club where she was invited to compete.

“If I’m going to compete, I’m not the kind of person who just wants to turn up. I was running against people as young as 18 and I found I was holding my own. They had more to lose than I had. They didn’t want to lose to somebody in their 40s.”

Angela began running in Masters events. Between May and August she competes around the country and further afield. She has won dozens of medals in the UK, eight at European Championships and two at World Championships.

It’s an expensive business with no funding or sponsorship. Angela is a trainer with Cavaghan & Gray and takes her holidays during competitions. “Although I feel like I need a holiday when I get back!”

This is her off-season: six weeks of light training before she returns to Ecclefechan.

Here’s a measure of how hard Angela usually trains: in the three weeks since last season ended she has put on a stone.

On a blustery autumn afternoon the long-jump pit at the Sheepmount is swirling like the Sahara. Angela sets her blocks on the track and powers up and down the home straight, arms pistoning.

She is compelling evidence for the argument that much of the ageing process is down to lifestyle. Keep pushing your body and it will keep bouncing back.

Recent performances in the over-50s 100 metres and 200 metres have seen Angela achieve her highest-ever world rankings: 15th and 12th respectively.

Three days a week she is in the gym. Another three are track days. Saturday is a day of rest, and housework.

Things are easier now that the Sheepmount has floodlights. Night training used to take place in Bitts Park under car headlights.

But anyone concerned that Angela is getting soft can rest assured. Twice a week during summer, John puts the wheelie bin in the back garden, fills it with cold water from a hosepipe and throws some ice in.

Next in is Angela. Ice baths are thought to aid recovery from a hard training session.

“The initial part is like running up the hills again,” she says. “Once you get used to it it’s all right.”

What must the neighbours think of the nice blonde-haired lady who keeps clambering into a wheelie bin full of water?

“Everybody thinks I’m crazy,” says Angela, matter-of-factly.

She really doesn’t care about that, or the discomfort which is the downpayment on medals.

“Everything I do, I like to be the best and do the best I can. Sometimes you feel like you can’t be bothered. But you’ve just got to think your competitors are out there training so you’ve got to be out there training.”

Any doubts about whether she was on the right road were dispelled in November 2009.

“At 50 my brother, Kevin Hayden, dropped down dead of a heart attack. This year brought it home more. Winning the British Masters 100 metres, I was 50. And Kevin’s not here. He used to play football when he was younger but later he didn’t have much time for sport.

“I’m quite grateful every time I race. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to do it next week or next month. I don’t take it for granted. I think that’s why I enjoy it more. This might be my last run. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I think it brings it home when someone like your brother dies.”

The benefits of exercise come to mind every time Angela trains at the Sheepmount and sees the children there, and remembers how many more there used to be.

“When I was younger that track was always busy. Now you get a handful of children. It’s a shame. I think a lot of people will die young because of their lifestyles.”

At the World Masters in California, Angela spoke to former 5,000 metres world-record holder Zola Budd. She has also met British sprinter Dwain Chambers and 400 metres world-record holder Michael Johnson.

She asks about their careers, listens to any advice they are willing to impart and goes away inspired by their commitment.

As the hills of Ecclefechan loom again, you can’t help wondering whether they might be inspired by Angela Kelly.



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