“Me vs. the terrain”!

JANUARY 2017: I only met Emily Hutchinson for the first time, last autumn. It was just after the challenging, off-road, Beachy Head Marathon.

Travelling back to Brighton with Emily after that race, her Arena 80 clubmate and RunBrighton ambassador Andy Waters called me to say he thought Emily would make a great ambassador herself. I was looking for someone capable of supporting the front end of our winter training group and Emily was keen to get involved. She had just finished second at Beachy Head!

Over a coffee with Emily a few days later, it became immediately apparent to me that she would be perfect for the role. She was keen to offer her support of other runners in their quest to achieve their marathon or half-marathon goals, and was certainly capable of the pace required at the front.

I subsequently checked out Emily’s ‘Power of 10’ stats; she had omitted to tell me that, at the age of 19, her 3hrs16 marathon ranked her no.1 in the UK as an under-20 runner!

Emily, what was your first running memory?

My first memory of running was actually an embarrassing incident that happened at a lower school sports day. I must have been in year 2 and it was a race that involved running a lap around the school field. I remember beating all the boys and running towards the finish line, which was a banner held in mid-air by two teachers. However, I was too afraid to run into the banner, not knowing they would obviously drop it, so I stopped before it and let a boy beat me! Still kicking myself.

Ha ha, I bet you’ll never do that again! And what inspires you now? Would you say you’re very competitive, do you run to keep fit or is there something else that drives you?

What inspires me now to keep running is simply the way that running makes me feel and how it’s shaped my life in the last 5 years. Running has allowed me to grow from a very insecure teenager into the version of myself that I am today. It’s helped me unlock not only bounds of confidence, but unveiled levels of mental strength and determination that I didn’t know I was capable of.

I would say I’m quite competitive, but not excessively. I tend to lean towards entering races and events that, firstly, I know I’ll enjoy running and then, secondly, I’ll consider the competitive nature of the race… whether that be aiming to come top 5 or to just compete with myself for a PB. Although, I am guilty of being a very competitive Strava user when it comes to collecting crowns!

Initially, I started running about 5 years ago, to get into shape and keep fit after I’d put on a lot of weight from being unwell for a few months. I remember just running up my road and back feeling like a hellish eternity. I hated it. My stubborn side kicked in and I kept at it, though, thankfully. Nowadays, I’m still driven by that urge to stay fit, but my biggest motivation to run is how running makes me feel. I thrive on the exhausted elation that you get at the end of a great run.

What was it that prompted your move to Brighton, and how did you come to join Arena 80?

I moved to Brighton about two and a half years ago after having visited a few times in my gap year. I decided the University of Brighton was the one for me. Immediately, I searched for a new running club, having come from a brilliant club in North Hertfordshire. I did a bit of research and found Arena 80. I wanted a really friendly club that I could belong to, without having to commit to training sessions, simply because my student lifestyle is a bit all over the place. I’m so glad I chose Arena as they are just the most wonderful club, full of the most welcoming, warm and supportive members. What I love most about the club is the particularly strong women’s side; there are so many ladies in the club who really inspire me with their training and racing.

What are you studying at uni? And do you also have a part-time job to help fund your life in Brighton?

Right now, I’m in my last year of studying Philosophy, Politics and Ethics. I’m enjoying it, but I’m very glad my academic life is coming to an end fairly soon.

I’ve always had a part time job since I was around 14 and the last couple of years have been no exception!  Most recently, I’ve been doing bar work, but unfortunately the bar is closing so I’m currently looking for something else.

Ah, sorry to hear that, but hopefully you’ll find something else very soon.

I understand you were just a teenager when you ran your first marathon. What do you recall of that experience?

I actually ran my first marathon at 18! I was at boarding school for sixth form in Hertfordshire and entered the Milton Keynes Marathon without telling my parents. I’d entered because I’d asked my Dad if he thought I could do a marathon and he said no… so, naturally, my stubborn side took over! I followed a really basic plan and, because I wasn’t living at home, my dad didn’t notice! I finally had to tell him, as I realised I’d need a lift there and back. It was torrential rain and utterly freezing from start to finish, but I absolutely relished and loved every single second. I finished in 4:02 and my dad was so surprised at how easy I’d found it that he suggested I enter Chester, which was to take place a couple of months later. I did just that and finished in 3:16. It was quite the surprise! I know I was quite young to run a marathon, but I’m so glad I did it, even though I faced a lot of discouragement from others. It cemented in my mind that, with hard work and dedication, I could achieve things that I believed to be unachievable or beyond my reach. Next, I asked my dad if he thought I could do an Ironman. He said no, so naturally you can guess what happened the following year!

Wow, that’s impressive, at such a young age! And is it fair to say that, since then, you’ve concentrated more on off-road events?

Definitely! In 2013, I entered the Beachy Head Marathon, very last-minute as an impulsive decision. I knew I had a solid fitness base from Ironman training and just fancied doing something completely unknown, to challenge myself. 26.2 incredibly hilly and beautiful miles later, I’d fallen in love with, and was hooked on, off-road running!

What is it that appeals to you about the off-road races? You clearly have some ability in that area… not only were you second in last October’s Beachy Head Marathon, you also went on to win the Mince Pie 10-miler in December!

The main thing that appeals to me in off-road running races is that I see them mentally as ‘me vs. the terrain’! In a hilly race over the Downs, for example, it’s all about conquering the hills and whatever else nature decides to throw at you, rather than gunning for a PB as the main focus. I think there is also a greater sense of adventure to be found in running off-road, especially in really epic events like Beachy Head where the scenery is just breathtaking. I think my body type is quite suited to hill running as well, which helps; I’m fairly light, but with strong legs. I do enjoy running on the road, but my heart is well and truly in the hills!

Having said that, you’ve recently been achieving regular PBs at parkrun. Does this mean that your running focus is shifting, or are the 5k events part of your marathon training?

I’m really getting into parkrun at the moment, though I struggle to get out of bed for it. Getting my 5km PB to 18:30 at Hove Prom was a huge thing for me, as I never dreamed I’d ever be sub 19. Realising I’m getting quicker at shorter stuff has prompted me to re-asses my running focus, but I also knew I couldn’t do a spring marathon because of university and other commitments. So, instead, I’m just enjoying running and training for the sake of it, without having a big race planned quite yet. I’m still following a weekly plan that includes doing parkrun as a 5km time trial on Saturdays and then running long with RunBrighton on Sundays. I’m feeling a lot fitter than I ever have before, so I think it’s working!

Once I’ve got my university exams done and dusted in May, I’ll pick my ‘A’ race! Right now, I’m quite happy to just keep chipping away at my parkrun time each week and I’d like to cash in on my current fitness levels at Worthing Half Marathon to see if I can take a chunk off my PB! I’ve entered a few off-road races in May, including the Seaford Half, but the South Downs Way Relay in June, with Arena 80, is probably going to be my next big serious event.

I know you also do a fair bit of gym work and include things like boxing in your training regime. Is that purely because you enjoy the diversity, or do you see the cross-training as an instrumental part of your running success?

I’ve always loved going to the gym alongside running. I used to be really into spinning classes, which helped when I was doing triathlons, but I think they ended up hindering my running more than helping. I switched in September from spinning as my cross training to focusing on strength work and then doing a combat-style class instead. The strength work is paying off massively; I think it’s something that is so important for runners to do. I do the combat class purely because I need a little bit of diversity to keep me motivated. There’s nothing quite like having a rubbish day and then channelling it into an hour of punching and kicking! I always leave that class with a smile on my face, which to me is the most important thing about exercise… it needs to make me happy!

And how are you enjoying your role as a RunBrighton ambassador?

I am absolutely loving it! Everyone in RunBrighton is just fantastic. Getting to meet so many new people and to share in their marathon training journey is a huge privilege. What I love most about being a part of RunBrighton is sharing in the community spirit that’s been created. It takes something really special to motivate 200+ people to get out of bed early on a Sunday morning to run for hours in the cold and still come back, week after week, smiling. RunBrighton offers that something special and helping in any way that I can really brings me joy.

Emily, I feel privileged to have you on board as an ambassador, and I’m also delighted you’re going to be part of the RunBrighton pace team in next month’s Vitality Brighton Half Marathon. Well done on your recent string of parkrun PBs and on all you’ve achieved so far. And I look forward to watching you progress much more at whatever events you decide to focus on.


By Mike Bannister