Women

In our quest to get involved in all things Olympic, Laura Potter jumps at the chance to join golden girl Jess Ennis on the track. But will she still be jumping after seven hours of grueling training?

What does your Monday fitness regime look like? An hour’s gym session to cancel out weekend excesses? An easy lunchtime jog around the park? Nothing at all? Mine could be any one of the above, but this Monday that’s all set to change. I’m going to Sheffield to spend a typical training day with Team GB’s brightest athletics star – heptathlete Jessica Ennis. As my alarm screams me awake at an hour I hope never to see again, I begin mentally preparing for a day of high jumping, long jumping, javelin throwing, shot putting, running and hurdling. But to my surprise, I soon discover that an average day in the life of a heptathlete isn’t a dry run of the seven disciplines, but a focused day of building general fitness. While I rock up at a leisurely 10am, along with a group of other normally desk-bound journalists, Jess has already been lapping the track for two hours under the watchful eye of her coach, Toni Minichiello. In my world that would mean it was time for a congratulatory pat on the back and a celebratory frappucino – for Jess it’s a case of two hours down, six to go. As she finishes another set of punishing grass interval runs, bent over double to catch her breath, Toni tells me it’s time for me to get involved. But while he calls them grass runs, Jess calls them ‘death runs’. This doesn’t bode well.

Absolutely axhausting

We jog on the track to warm up, then Jess explains how the death runs work. Her description, I learn, is bang on. I have to run hard for 40 seconds until she blows the whistle, then ‘shuffle run’ (jog easily to get my breath back) for 30 seconds, hard again for another 30 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of recovery, and so on until a final ten-second spirit. As a regular runner I hope this won’t be too painful. I’m wrong. The first 40 seconds feel never-ending, and the recovery jogs aren’t long enough to get my breath back. I repeat this punishing routine three times, Jess cheering me on from the sidelines with a stopwatch and – shock horror – a steaming mug of hot chocolate (now that’s more like my average Monday). I’m relieved to discover that, despite being a professional athlete, Jess hates this part of training, too. ‘Mondays are really tough,’ she says. ‘When I wake up my body’s screaming at me not to go, but I drag myself out of bed because it’s my job – and no-one likes Mondays anyway, do they?’ She reasons, before jogging back onto the track to show me how it’s really done.

Next up, we head indoors for circuits (did I mention that between interval runs Jess grabs a quick lunch, then does an hour of shot put?). She effortlessly demonstrates squat thrusts and burpees, then we go up against Toni’s dreaded stopwatch for three sets of 15 different exercises. During the ski sits (against a wall, knees bent to 90 degrees) Toni encourages me, thighs a-quiver, to go to my ‘happy place’ while Jess barely breaks a sweat. But even the most positive thinker would struggle with what comes next – looking round, I find myself in the unflattering position of performing side planks next to the world’s most perfect abs…

Training like a champ

Jess is so relaxed, warm and encouraging I forget I’m training alongside a former world champion (well, abs aside) – until Toni mis-times a set of exercises and, disappointed, she reminds him that ‘we’ve stopped too soon’. It’s a momentary flash of the kind of steely determination that makes the difference between a world-class athlete and, well, me!

Circuits complete, I’m gasping for water, my muscles like jelly. Jess, on the other hand, is seven hours in and ready for her next training session to begin. But as I ponder a whole day’s worth of exercise, I realise that for Jess, this is her day job and what it takes to be a champion. I leave inspired, but relieved to get back to my own physically undemanding day job. Maybe next Monday I’ll up the tempo a touch on my lunchtime run…

Jessica Ennis is an ambassador for Aviva. Meet the rest of the Aviva GB & NI Team at aviva.co.uk/athletics or follow them on [email protected]

Jess’s healthy body, healthy mind mantras

Keep a balance. ‘It’s really important for me to separate work from home. On the track I’m serious and focused; at home I’m sitting in my PJs, hair scrapped back, watching rubbish on TV.’

Allow yourself indulgences. ‘People expect athletes to be on a really strict diet but it’s about making sure you’ve got the energy to compete and recover – not dieting. I have a really sweet tooth but I train hard so I can enjoy the odd chocolate brownie safe in the knowledge I’ll burn it off.’

Go for your dreams. ‘If you’re talented, you have to make the most of your opportunities while you can. You have the rest of your life to do things that you perhaps missed out on because you were pursuing a dream.’

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