Lauren Cooper: “Just enjoy being back on the start line”

Source: British Athletics (via Getty Images)

By Ella Fenwick | Sport Editor

Incoming local lockdowns and new restrictions set by the government have seemed to put everything back on standby. After the sporting world was returning with a good start and many athletes getting stuck back into their sports the ever-changing rules are bound to have an effect on the participation at sporting events. Training and competing during a global pandemic was one thing athletes doubted they would ever come face to face with in their careers. 

Many sports have only just been found to return back to the scene after a long six months off, and for Wales it saw the return of road racing on September 18 with the Cardiff Sunset 5km run. Following new restrictions, the race was held on a socially distanced flat course around Cardiff, which is a step in the right direction for runners in Wales. Two of the runners who competed were in fact from Cardiff University. Cardiff alumni and former BUCS Champion, Alaw Benyon who came in fourth with a time of 17.05 minutes. While Charlotte Arter, a member of staff from Cardiff Uni Sport, came in at first place with an impressive time of 15:59. 

Unlike the other two representatives, Cardiff University’s high performing athlete Lauren Cooper was unable to join in with the return of road racing having been put into local lockdown. Despite spending months in a national lockdown, motivation was far from low by Cooper and she continued to stay positive in her training and still push towards her future goals.

“My motivation remained pretty high during lockdown, which surprised me. I had no access to the track or gym facilities and was unable to train with my coach, which was difficult to deal with at the start. I also use racing as my primary motivation, and all races were cancelled indefinitely. Luckily, lots of organisations put on virtual races and I ended up ‘racing’ every week! It’s not the same as real racing, but when I was progressing week on week, it gave me a reason to keep pushing.”

Even though Cooper couldn’t return for the Cardiff Sunset 5km, she was lucky enough to put back on her club’s vest and compete in a couple of competitions. Although she was disappointed in the result of her first race back and finding she couldn’t catch a break after her second race being held in the middle of Storm Dennis, it was all made up for Cooper after her performance in the British Athletics Championships. 

“In my short season, I managed to take 12 seconds off my 3000m pb time and 13 seconds off my 3000m steeplechase, leaving me two seconds off the Welsh Record and two seconds behind Bronze medal at the British Championships.”

For Cooper the near future of racing seems uncertain, with no races planned for anytime soon, she is relying on the changes in guidelines of her Borough but remains eager to continue racing and is adapting her training to the circumstances.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have access to track facilities at the moment, which is hindering my ability to train effectively for shorter distances. I am doing a lot of strength work at home, and trying to find the flattest parts of road for sessions (not easy when you live in the valleys). I am grateful though, it is far easier for a distance runner to train in lockdown than a jumper or thrower for example. Besides a track and a few hurdles, I only really need my trainers- I can run from my front door.”

Having stayed motivated and positive no matter what has been thrown her way Cooper gave advice to other athletes that might be struggling during these times on how to manage their training.

Have specific goals and make sure your training is geared towards that. In the past, I have been guilty of wanting to race every distance, but it’s just not feasible. Your training will look very different if you want to run and 800m versus a 10k. Keep your goals in mind. Write them down, think about how you’ll achieve them. Tell people about them to keep yourself accountable. Every run you do is working towards those goals. I find this helps motivate me on days where I’d really rather stay in bed- especially with the colder weather coming.”

Cooper continued to give advice on returning back to the swing of competing, especially after she had struggled in her first race for pushing herself too hard in the first kilometre, encouraging other athletes not to make the same mistake.

“Don’t get carried away in the first part. I know everyone always says it, but I’ve only recently acquired enough speed to hurt myself early on- you can’t recover from it! Try not to put too much pressure on yourself when racing returns, just enjoy being back on the start line.”

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