GB athlete Alyson Dixon: 'I love the simplicity of long distance running'

In the run up to marathon season we meet GB athlete Aly Dixon to chat training schedules, tasty snacks and what motivates her to keep on moving.

GB athlete Alyson Dixon: 'I love the simplicity of long distance running'

When did you first start running?

I started running at a very early age as I used to do fun runs when my dad was racing. I joined the local club when I was 11 and made my way up through the distances as I got older. I ran my 1st half marathon at age 17 but didn’t run my first marathon until I was 31.

How did you discover you have a talent for long distance?

Pretty much just by running long distances. I’ve never really possessed much speed so I would always opt for the longer options. My dad was a decent marathon runner (2.21 PB) so I suppose it’s in the genes.

What do you love most about the sport?

The simplicity of it and the freedom it gives you. All you need is a pair of trainers, a t-shirt and shorts/leggings and off you go.

How many events do you normally run in a season?

For a marathon I will do a 12-week specific build-up. I work on a 9 day cycle so I will cover 10 cycles. Apart from a 10-14 day recovery period immediately after a marathon I train all year through. I will run a few 10K and half marathons throughout the year depending on my marathon schedule.

What’s your favourite race of all time?

I have a few for different reasons. Obviously the Olympics was a pretty special race. The crowds at New York City Marathon were amazing and it was that race in 2010 where I fell in love with the distance. The Blaydon Races in the North East is also very special to me as I first ran it as a 16 year old, it was my very first road race, and it took me another 21 years and 17 attempts to finally win the race in 2015.

What do you think gives your running the edge?

My stubbornness and determination. If I start something I will make sure that I will finish it and do the best I possibly can.

What does a typical training week look like for you?

My training doesn’t follow a 7 day week, I work on a 9 day cycle where I do 3 hard days with 2 easier days in between. I’ve found the last few years that this suits me much better than the ‘traditional' track Tuesday, tempo Thursday, session Saturday, long run Sunday. Instead my cycle will go:

  • Day 1: 2 easy runs
  • Day 2: track (around 12k worth of effort) + gym Day 3: recovery run + easy run
  • Day 4: Medium long run (16)
  • Day 5: long tempo (10-15miles) + gym
  • Day 6: recovery run + easy run
  • Day 7: two easy runs
  • Day 8: long run (22-26.2)
  • Day 9: rest or one easy run

Do you make any changes to your diet during training, and what’s your favourite running snack?

I follow a sensible balanced diet with plenty of carbs, protein and fat to sustain my training. I don’t restrict any food group or follow any fad diet. I tend to eat a lot of malt loaf during hard training.

Do you have any tips on juggling long distance training with everyday life?

I’m lucky in that my family and close friends understand that running is my job. I try my best to balance social events with my training but I do end up missing out on some events.

Even before I was professional I always put my training before my social life. Most of my friends are athletes so we are all in the same boat and understand that we need to be in bed early rather than partying until dawn!!

Is being a part of the running community important?

Most of my friends are fellow athletes though not professional. I do have some non-athlete friends but as my life has pretty much been surrounded by sport even my non-athlete friends have a love and understanding for sport. I think it’s important to have some non-athlete friends so that you can hang out with them and not have all the chat about training, racing etc. However, on the other hand it’s also very good to have a good group of athlete friends who know what you are going through in training and competition etc.

What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome as an elite athlete?

I suffered a very bad injury at my first major champs in 2011. I had 3 broken bones in my foot. After the race I couldn’t run a step for 3 months and then spent a further 2 months in intense rehab. Thankfully I had the goal of making the GB team for the London Olympics the next summer as my motivation to keep training hard and get back to fitness. In the end I didn’t make the team but without that on the horizon I don’t think I would have came back to the level which I did and then go on to achieve what I have since then. 

What are your 2018 goals?

I don’t have any specific goals for this year. I want to keep on enjoying my training and racing and getting better. I have the Commonwealth Games in Austrailia in April where I would like to be competitive and finish as high up as I can. After that I will have a look at my options for the summer and autumn. I would like to try and run a 5K PB and a marathon PB this year.

What’s the most valuable marathon advice you’ve ever received?

Respect the distance but don’t fear it. You need to stand on the start line of a marathon confident of making it to the finish and not worrying about hitting the wall or dropping out. 26 miles is a long way so you need to respect it and prepare properly for it but never fear it.

What advice would you give to nervous beginners preparing for their first marathon?

Don’t neglect the long run. A lot of people will train up To 18-20 miles and hope that the final 6 miles will take care of themselves. I always advise runners to do at least 23 miles in training as so much can happen in those last 6 miles past 20 miles. For most people a 23 mile training run should be roughly the same amount of time on your feet as your goal race time.

Can you offer any advice on coping with a heavy training schedule in the winter?

Find a training buddy or group. Training with other people makes you accountable for your training. If you arrange to meet someone for a run you are less likely to back out due to bad weather, as you are then letting the other person down. Make it a social experience as well as a training run and you will enjoy it much more and get more out of your training.

When you are in heavy training don’t neglect rest and recovery. It’s as vital part of training as what the hard miles are. Schedule regular rest days and if your body feels excessively tired or you start to feel run down then don’t be scared to take a rest day but also don’t try to make up lost miles elsewhere in the week. 

Any more marathon training tips?

My biggest tip would be don’t try anything new on race day. Make sure that all of your kit – shoes, socks, shorts, vest etc have all been tested in training and don’t rub. If you plan to use gels or sports drinks during the race test them in training. There’s nothing worse that doing all the training and then ruining your race by taking a new gel only to find that it doesn’t agree with your stomach!!

Aly Dixon is part of the Everyone Active Sporting Champions Schemehelping local athletes to achieve their sporting potential by offering them access to high-quality training facilities, financial support and expert advice. From grass roots competitors through to Olympic medallists, it has already aided more than 300 people on their sporting journeys since its launch in 2016.

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