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Run Anglia: Bungay Black Dogs Jo Andrews on how she became UK’s fastest V45

Jo Andrews during the Lord Mayor's 5K. Picture: Epic Action Imagery

Jo Andrews during the Lord Mayor's 5K. Picture: Epic Action Imagery

Epic Action Imagery

Run Anglia editor Mark Armstrong went to speak to Bungay Black Dogs’ Jo Andrews to find out how she became one of the fastest runners in the country

Jo Andrews on her way to second place overall at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships earlier this month. Picture: Mark HewlettJo Andrews on her way to second place overall at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships earlier this month. Picture: Mark Hewlett

Runners normally fall into two categories.

There are those that fit their lives around running and then there are those that fit running into their lives.

You might think that someone like Jo Andrews would slot neatly into the former bearing in mind she was ranked number one in the UK in the V45 age category for 5K and 5M last year.

When I went to visit her I was perhaps expecting to find someone who had immersed themselves into the running scene, looking for every marginal gain they could to continue bringing her times down into her late forties.

Bungay Black Dog Jo Andrews with her daughter Tess. Picture: Ken HurstBungay Black Dog Jo Andrews with her daughter Tess. Picture: Ken Hurst

It couldn't have been further from the truth. Whilst running is important to Jo, it's not the priority you would perhaps expect when looking at the times she posts.

She confesses to finding all the talk around running "quite boring" - you're definitely unlikely to find any back issues of Run Anglia lying around her house in Kirstead Green, near Brooke, that's for sure.

Jo won't spend hours scouring the internet looking for training programs but that shouldn't denigrate what an awesome athlete she has become in the near seven years she has taken to the sport.

Quite the opposite.

She runs "three or four times a week" and gets the absolute maximum out of every session she does. It's working.

"I do plenty of it (running) but I really don't think about it too much," she said. "I just try my absolute hardest in every session that I do and try to put myself through my paces.

"I never take it easy in training and I don't do stats or anything like that.

"I know I have the ability to push myself until it really hurts and when I get to that point I push a bit harder to make sure it's over quicker!

"I don't do a lot of miles because work/family life commitments don't allow for that. I think you also get to the point where you know what your body responds better to.

"I know a lot of people run every day but doing 20-25 miles a week works for me."

Despite being a relative latecomer to the sport, 2019 proved her most successful year yet as she posted personal bests in all distances from 5K up to half marathon.

Her times of 17:37 at race three of the Wroxham 5K Series and 29:18 at The Great Yarmouth Promenade 5M are the standard bearers in the V45 category whilst her time of 1:22:57 at the City of Norwich Half Marathon ranked her sixth in the UK in the same age grading.

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However, with success comes expectation, be it her own or others, and she admits to struggling to come to terms with being someone who is up there to be shot at.

"It's a real mixed bag when it comes to racing," said the Bungay Black Dog runner, who took up running nearly seven years ago when her children, Rueben and Tess, now aged 15 and 13 respectively, showed an interest in the sport after being taken to parkrun by her husband, Tim.

"Sometimes in the lead up to a race, or even during it, I think to myself 'why am I putting myself through this?'

"But then I finish and think 'that was brilliant - when's the next one?'

"I'm getting better at controlling it because I'm doing more and more racing. But I normally wake up in the early hours before a race and I'm not be able to get back to sleep.

"I think it's a bit of expectation on me as well. When people say when are you racing next and then say 'ooh you'll win that...' you kind of feel that horrible pressure of 'what if I don't?'

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"I have to manage that expectation now because there are some really quick young girls out there now.

"At 46, coming up 47, I can't really expect myself to compete with them... but I do! It's a bit ridiculous really - you have to try and keep things in perspective and target the age group you're in."

After coming to the sport so late she admits to wondering what she could have perhaps achieved if her natural talent had been harnessed from an earlier age.

"Sometimes my mind wanders but then I think about the race nerves issue and whether I would have enjoyed running professionally," added Jo, who is a full-time painter and decorator. "I like the fact I can stop whenever I want - I don't have to do it.

"It almost feels nicer doing it at this age - it's quite affirming. You think to yourself 'still got it'. I can still do this at this age which goes to show you can do whatever you put your mind to."

There is of course one thing missing from Jo's running resume... a marathon. However, she insists she's happy for that to remain the case.

"I can safely say I don't have any desire whatsoever to do the marathon," added Jo, who is now a Run Leader with Bungay Black Dogs. "I much prefer the short, quick stuff.

"I like the 5 milers and 5Ks are probably my favourite. I might have to re-think things as I get older as it's quite hard on the body and it's a young woman's game really.

"But whilst I continue to post personal bests then I will keep going."

Cross country

Whilst Jo Andrews is ranked amongst the top road runners in the country in her age category, cross country is where her running heart truly lies.

The 46-year-old took second place overall at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships earlier this month in Thetford behind City of Norwich AC athlete Iona Lake.

The general opinion amongst the running community was that Jo would win the race behind Iona, who is targeting the Tokyo Olympics later this summer and so it proved.

However, Jo wasn't as confident given the strength of the women's field.

"When I saw who was there I thought that I would probably come fourth, especially with Iona, Colleen (Mukuya) and Mabel (Beckett) there. Mabel will often beat me on the road and I've not run cross country against her since last winter and I know she has been posting some good times on the road.

"I thought I only had to get in the top five to get to Loughborough which was the main aim."

Jo now can't wait to lead the Norfolk effort at the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships in Loughborough in March where hopes are high the women's team can produce another strong showing.

"We've got a really great group of girls and hopefully a lot of them can make themselves available," she said. "Everyone got to know each other really well last year and I'm looking forward to it.

"But looking at who qualified this year I think you would have to say it's the best it's been."

Senior men and women now compete over the same 10K distance at the championships when before last year men would run over 12K and women 8K.

The move was to promote gender equality but Jo wishes the status quo had remained.

"I think it's unnecessary," she said. "The problem is that most cross country races you do in the lead-up are over five miles. You are just not used to running that extra and it does make a difference.

"But you just have to accept it don't you? We will all just give it our best shot - it's a race that I'm really looking forward to."

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