Here’s What Happened When Katharine Merry Asked Mo Farah For Great North Run Training Advice

Great North Run
(Image credit: Unknown)

Whether it’s a local 5K or a major half marathon like the Great North Run, having a fixed event on the calendar is a great way to motivate yourself to be more active.

That holds true for rank amateurs and former Olympians alike. Katharine Merry, who won bronze in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, will be running as a Duracell Bunny Pacer at the Great North Run this year. That’s a sight longer than Merry was ever required to run as a sprinter, and she now has to fit in training around work as a commentator and her family, so Coach spoke to Merry to see how her prep for the big day was going and what advice she has for rank amateurs like us.

How hard was it to get back into running? Had you been doing other training since retiring from the track?

I didn’t do anything for 12 years, other than five or six very recreational netball matches. I didn’t have the drive or desire. Then when the opportunity came up for me to do the Great North Run with Duracell, I jumped at the chance. I needed the motivation – something to commit to.

I started running again in mid-May. I got myself a training plan, started at one mile and went from there.

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So you really started from nothing?

Definitely! I told my husband I was going to be a pacer and he just laughed. I told my older brother that I was running the Great North Run and he laughed, and said, “there’s no way you’re finishing that”. These are the supportive family members that I have.

I was the same as anybody. I started from one mile and worked my way up.

Have you followed the training plan the whole time?

I was running four times a week to start with – following my plan to the letter. But the timings, the minutes per mile, were too slow. I was barely moving, so I didn’t follow the plan, I just tried to keep it nice and controlled.

I had a couple of issues – I pulled my calf about ten weeks in, only a little grade one tear. My physio had me off for ten days and then I changed my plan. I thought, “I do know a little bit more than I’m giving myself credit for with the training”.

I knew I couldn’t physically run four times a week. So I still followed the mileage but I cut it down to three runs a week. And took a very simplistic approach – one long run on a Sunday, a medium run and a shorter run. I followed my own instincts, and I asked my friends’ advice. I even asked Sir Mo [Farah], and, once he’d finished laughing he said, “just make sure you do at least two 10/10½-milers”. And listen to your body. I knew that made sense.

It’s the same for all runners – it’s good to have some flexibility and the belief in yourself that you shouldn’t be afraid to change your plan.

How hard has it been to fit training in around work and family commitments?

I’ve just had to, and that’s the same for everybody, right? I’ve got two small children, three and six, and I’m working [as a broadcaster]. I’ll do a big shift at the World Champs and then I’ll go and run on the treadmill at 11 o’clock at night, or I’ll get up at six in the morning to fit it in, because I know I have to and I want to as well.

I’m doing more on the treadmill than I’d like – I’d like to be out on the roads – but when you’re moving around with work and you don’t know where to go, so a treadmill is fine. Some of my running friends don’t know how I can run 8½ miles on a treadmill, they think it’s so boring, but I quite like it. I get into it.

Sprinters tend to hate running anything longer than 400m… have you changed your mind about that?

When I used to train and my coach said I had to do 500m it would go down really badly, because I hate running the same stretch of track twice. The thought of running anything far was really quite daunting.

But now I really enjoy it. I love it, so if I miss a session or don’t do what I want to do in a session I get very annoyed because I’m totally immersed in it.

When I had ten days off when I hurt my calf, I was bartering with my physio. He said not to run for at least two weeks. But I was going to New York and I’ve always wanted to run in Central Park. So I said, “how about ten days?” He said no, but I didn’t listen to him.

Do you have advice for people who pick up an injury during training?

It’s about being flexible. The two sessions I didn’t run, I went on a bike, so I was still doing some form of cardio. I can’t tell people to be patient because I wasn’t! I was chomping at the bit and cutting my recovery time down. Try not to beat yourself up and do something else if you can.

Katharine Merry will be running as a Duracell Bunny Pacer at the Great North Run

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.