Pippa Woolven is a GB cross country runner and steeplechaser, who balances being an elite athlete with giving inspirational talks alongside her two sisters and working with the National Trust. Pippa reached the 2014 Commonwealth Games aged 21, but has also suffered several setbacks. Having returned to good health, Pippa is now going from strength to strength and was part of the silver medal-winning British Team at the Euro Cross Country Championships in December 2018. We caught up with Pippa to find out a bit more.
I got into running at school via the compulsory annual cross country race. It was the first time I beat my big sisters at anything so I took a liking to it and joined a club. My favourite event was the 80m hurdles in the summer and cross country in the winter. I was very eager to try the steeplechase once I was old enough because it seemed like a great mix of the two. I’ve loved it ever since.
I took running a bit more seriously in my later teens. I played lots of other sports then (and still do) but my coach encouraged me to cut down on the hockey and do a little more running. The results started to follow and running became the focus when I went to Birmingham University. After two years there, I took up a scholarship at Florida State in America, which felt like the natural next step. I thrived off the ‘elite’ environment initially but I soon got homesick and struggled with the strict structure. I wound up with a string of health issues including severe RED-S (relative energy deficiency) and had to take some time out from the sport. When I returned home I focused on starting a career and enjoying recreational sport again. Eventually, my health improved and I returned to my old running club, with no intentions of taking it too seriously. My coach helped me build things up very gradually and I found myself running for Great Britain again. Now, I balance a full time job with a variety of training/sports and I’m in a good place.
I love Andy Murray but if it has to be a female, then my role model would be my big sister Becky. She is an international event rider and has an unbelievable work ethic. She’s shown me how you can succeed in anything you’re truly passionate about and how to bounce back from failure - time and time again!
A typical day starts with some breakfast and my trusty probiotic. I’ll do a morning activity (e.g. run, bike or gym) before heading to work for the 9 to 5. My work (as a Visitor Experience Officer for the National Trust, Cliveden) is very varied so sometimes I’ll have my head down in the office and other times I’ll be out and about in the gardens - I have to be careful not to overdo the outdoor activity on training days. After work, I’ll head home for some life admin/relaxation before group training or a run with my partner, Rich. Then we’ll cook together and chill out with a good crime drama.
I relax and chill out by spending time with Rich and friends or going home to see my family and dogs. We’re desperate to get a dog of our own but ever since starting up a vegetable patch this summer, we’ve realised we’re not ready for the commitment!
I try not to have too much structure with any aspect of training. Over the past few years, I went from being tied in to a very rigid routine (in America) to having none at all. Flexibility works best for me so I just stick to the basics before a race. I like to warm up with other people and try to enjoy the build up as much as possible. In the past I took it all very seriously so now it’s refreshing to just have fun and relax.
Cross country - it’s where running started for me and I have many happy memories of travelling to far-flung places to race and train. I love exploring new places to train and my coach Matt is equally adventurous so we have fun finding new venues.
Some nerves seem to help me before a race but I try to avoid getting overly anxious. Work keeps me distracted during the day and in the evenings I’ll do some yoga or socialise. If I’m struggling to maintain perspective on things, then I’ll read a chapter from the Book of Joy (by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu). It always helps reframe the importance I place on a race in the grand scheme of life!
If I really don’t feel like training, then I’ll try to work out why (quite often it’s hormones - thank you FitrWoman!). I usually look forward to training but if I feel exhausted, hormonal or short of time, then these days I’m never afraid to give it a miss. Sometimes it works better for me to shuffle around training days and do something different or have a rest day instead.
I’m looking forward to continuing training with my group and enjoying what I do. I have goals of racing at the World Champs in Doha and running some PB’s on the track but I’m most looking forward to striving towards Tokyo 2020 in a healthy, happy way.
My favourite food is chocolate - specifically M&S gigantic buttons. If I could eat nothing else all day I would, but I do love a hot cross bun too! My go-to meal is salmon with roasted sweet potato and greens. I’ve mastered the art of getting home from training, pre-heating the oven while I chop the sweet potatoes, then roasting them with the salmon while I shower, and then steaming the greens while I lay the table!
My advice would be to learn how to work with your hormones, rather than fight or ignore them! They are mightily powerful and can impact your whole life so you may as well embrace them.
FitrWoman has helped me anticipate the fluctuations in my mood/physical feelings. It’s incredibly reassuring to understand why you feel the way you feel, especially when you’re pushing your body so hard each day. The app helps me stay one step ahead of the hormones and structure things around my cycle. How ever did I train well without it!?
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