As I have mentioned previously, the media coverage of Hayley’s run has been surreal to say the least. The positive response has been overwhelming, something to be very grateful for.
As the race was unfolding I hadn’t really had much of a clue as to what was going on, as I was running around the course myself from the mass start. I am at heart a running nerd and as a fan of the sport there are loads of questions I was urging each journalist to ask as Hayley was shown her collapse again and again. And again. So, I thought I would ask them and get the interview I wanted to read, hopefully it will be of interest to some other people too, but it is largely a selfish endeavour. So I dragged Hayley away from Hello, OK and all the other magazines scrabbling for her attention, cornered her in a coffee shop and geeked out. I need you guys to take on faith that we recorded this and then I transcribed it verbatim as best I could.
DR: So, put yourself in my shoes, waiting around to start the race and then being given your 5k split of 17:07 – how do you think I was feeling?
HC: Panicked. I can imagine you were aware that this wouldn’t feel like it should that early in the race. I can guess that you were hoping that the timing system had failed. I’m glad I didn’t know at the time, that’s for sure.
DR: Yes, that sounds about right. I certainly took a deep breath. When I watched the footage back though, and saw you in those early stages, it looked really smooth and relaxed. If I hadn’t known the splits you were running, I would have thought it looked spot on. How did it feel physically in those early miles?
HC: Fast but controlled. I was just trying to stay in the moment and enjoy it. I just stuck in the group and sheltered at the back, just like we talked about. Honestly, I thought I was running to plan. I knew I was around the same fitness as some of the other athletes so although it crossed my mind that it was fast I just told myself that they would be thinking the same.
DR: Beforehand we had talked a lot about the different challenges presented by being in a women’s only start in such a high-profile race. We were also very committed to going in there to race the others first and foremost. How did you react to being in that group early? Did you feel comfortable in that company?
HC: I was very glad that we had done the Big Half and I had managed to get over some of that imposter syndrome I felt so strongly before that. Although it still felt like a daunting task I wasn’t intimidated and just wanted to see where my best race might put me. Unfortunately, I never got to find out because that early pace was far too fast.
DR: So, if we acknowledge that the first 10km was where the problem was created, what in hindsight should you have done to fix it? I know that’s a brutally hard question…
HC: I should have definitely trusted my ability at the back end of the race more. That has always been my strength in the past and all of the long runs in training felt better the further I went. Letting them go would have been the really brave thing to do. The thing I am probably saddest about is that I didn’t get to show that because we went out so fast. Having said that, I am still very inexperienced and although this was a horrible way to learn that lesson, it has well and truly stuck with me now!
DR: So you ran the first 10k just over a minute outside your PB. You didn’t know this at the time because I had cruelly taken your watch away (we might come back to that). The physiologist in me thinks it must have been starting to bite by then, was it?
HC: In a word, yes. Next question.
DR: So you were pretty much all in by that stage and had left yourself a 20 mile run to do. Good work. I am guessing that you might have needed some of the sports psychology strategies we spent so much time on by this point, nudge nudge?
HC: I remember we talked about having a toolkit of strategies for different points in the race. I quickly decided that the bag wasn’t big enough… I did start to use them and it definitely helped to avoid focusing on feeling as I did with 20 miles to go. That distance felt impossible. By bringing things like if-then planning and imagery into play I managed to shorten up the targets. I tried to stay just in the moment I was in and run the best I could. It was truly horrible though, I genuinely shudder to even think about it. In the tunnels all I could think was “you could stop here and no one would know.”
DR: So why didn’t you stop?
HC: Because I knew that wasn’t really true. People would know, and most of all I would know. Every time I started to think about the reality of stopping I became almost brutally aware that it wasn’t an option. I would never have been able to forgive myself. It got so bad that I was almost wishing I could be injured so that I would have a valid reason to stop. But I didn’t and so it was a matter of carrying on regardless.
DR: It was around 35km when I ran past you in the other direction screaming at you to chase Lily. To be honest you didn’t look that great! I imagine you would have liked to hop over the barrier and kill me at that point?
HC: If I could have I would have but murdering you would only have cost me even more time.
DR: So, the point everyone focuses on is the finish, but if I had to guess I would say that the hardest moment psychologically would be when you realised you weren’t going to achieve the goal. Did you have a moment like that?
HC: Yeah. I don’t really want to answer that, it breaks my heart…
DR: Ok, let’s move on rapidly. When we met up afterwards (after I had dragged my sorry backside to the finish), you were understandably very emotional. I think it would be interesting for people to know how you felt in the immediate aftermath. Are you happy to share it?
HC: When I first came round I just asked the paramedics over and over if I had finished so that was the most immediate response. They were asking me how I felt but I just wouldn’t engage with anything until they answered that. When you finally got back to me, and what took you so long by the way, I was still in a bit of a mess. I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I had let myself and all you guys down.
DR: I know, that was a very tough moment for both of us because all I wanted to do was make you understand that you hadn’t and nothing I could say could take it away. I felt really helpless. Thankfully it didn’t last all that long. When did you start to feel just a bit better?
HC: When I got downstairs at the hotel to see my family. I was still very emotional but it was just a relief to see them and get hugged half to death.
DR: By Sunday night we started to suspect that something was going on around the coverage of your finish. I don’t think either of us quite expected the extent of it though. Again, your initial response to being on the front pages wasn’t that positive. Can you explain why?
HC: It brought up those feelings of failure from the day before in a very sudden way. Initially that photo just represented everything that had gone wrong during the race. I wanted to run out of the shop so no one would recognise my face. I couldn’t understand why my finish was being covered when other people had performed so much better and weren’t really being mentioned at all.
DR: It’s been a pretty steep learning curve this week. And not much of that is to do with the race. Whilst adjusting to your new celebrity lifestyle (mocking tone here readers), have you actually thought about the race and where it went wrong?
HC: Yes, thanks for that top quality bants. Yes, I have thought about little else. In the end though I think we agree that we know the lessons and that we can avoid a repeat.
DR: We’ve talked a lot about what to do next. You’ve gone from wanting to race this weekend to retiring half a dozen times and all points in between. How’s the motivation level right now?
HC: Off the charts. The thing that keeps coming back is that I want to find out how good an athlete I can be. I don’t want to be defined by a picture of me falling over on The Mall. I know that nothing I do in running might ever get the same level of coverage and that is hard to take but for myself I need to put this right.
DR: I’m pretty happy with that mindset so I’m going to shut up now before I undo it! So is it too early to ask for a testimonial for this website?
HC: No, as long as I stay the favourite, I would recommend you to anyone.
I think reflecting on this as a coach it is clear there are a number of lessons. It is hard to substitute for experience or predict every eventuality and the start of the race clearly played out differently to how anyone expected. The key for us moving forward will be to try and reinforce Hayley’s ability to use the strategies which were effective rather than simply add a greater number. There is no doubt that her physical experience from London will be invaluable. It is very difficult to recreate these physical sensations in training, nor would you want to do so too regularly. In fact, realising what she coped with on the day can only enhance confidence that she can overcome challenging sections of the race in the future.