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Interview: Hayley Tullett

By Chris Lear

More Information:
UK Athletics Bio of Hayley Tullett
Hayley Tullett competes in the 1,500m at the 2001 World Track & Field Championships.
( Photo)

When contributing writer Chris Lear spotted Great Britain's Hayley Tullett at a track in Boulder, Colorado earlier this spring, he took advantage of the opportunity to chat with one of the world's best 1,500m runners. Though many Americans may not be familiar with the name, Tullett has an impressive resume which includes being an Olympic 1,500m finalist in 2000 and a personal best of 4:01.23. Tullett ran her seasonal best, 4:03.54, in Monaco on July 20th and is now headed to the World Championships to represent Great Britain in the 1,500m.

Hayley, thanks for taking the time out for an interview. I noticed you on the track in Boulder yesterday (5/11/2001), and you are leaving to go back to England today. How long was your stay and how productive was it?
I've stayed for just under five weeks, actually. I think I've trained well. I am training well, really getting ready to kick down as I call it, when I get home. We'll see when I get back to sea level.

Let me backtrack a bit. Since most Americans are not familiar with you, could you tell us a bit about your progression, i.e. when did you start running, where you attended university, etc.
I started running when I was 12 and I wasn't very good at all. I was rubbish. But I just enjoyed it. I started as a sprinter; I enjoyed going to track with friends. I drifted away from sport at 16, and trained maybe once or twice a week for a number of years, just going to the track and running sprints, odds and ends. I went to Loughborough University at 19, and trained more seriously, running maybe 5 days a week, but it was not until I was 22 that I got my act together and started training regularly and really progressed (she's 28 now). I started doing the 1,500 in 1999 and ran 4:05 and just missed out on the finals at the Worlds and in 2000 I ran 4:01 and made the Olympic final, and fell (laughs).

What happened there?
I don't really know. I don't know who it was. It was one of two girls who were behind me. But it happened so quickly that I didn't know what happened. It was with 700 to go.

It happened to Hicham El Guerrouj in 1996 and he responded by putting a photo of himself lying on the track after it happened on the wall next to his bed. How did you react to it?
It (getting tripped) happens to [somebody] in every Olympics. I don't dwell on it.

Has the disappointment of getting tripped made you more hungry?
I'm not sure. I talk about it matter of factly now. I can't say what will happen this year because you can't say what will happen. But I feel as though I didn't finish a job I went to do. I can't compare the shape I was in there with what I'll be in this year. I'm not any more hungry because that's always been there. I know what I have to do and what I want to do.

Americans are funny in that they say that any sport that attracts next to no fans here is huge in Europe. You could find a unicycle racer or a curler or someone who shoots marbles and they'll say, "It may not be big here, but in Europe, it's huge!" That said, how popular is track with the fans in England and with youth as a participatory sport?
We have quite a few fans. We have a British athletics supporters club that follows the athletes all around the world, you can see them in the stands at all the major events. We have that. In Europe: in Germany, Holland, Spain, they are mad about their athletics. They are really keen on their athletics. Even the smaller meets have massive crowds cheering, and all that. I guess it is not like that in the U.S., you just have too many other sports I think. (But) People love it (track, in Britain), it is a good spectator sport. These meets last 3 to 4 hours with a full timetable and there are good athletes competing.

We've all heard about the Big Three British men milers (Sebastian Coe, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett), how is the British women's miling scene? You're the national indoor record holder (4:06.75). What's the outdoor record and what are your goals this year?
Kelly Holmes, 3:58.07.

You sure responded quickly.
Oh yeah, it is probably the only one outside of my own times that I do know (laughs). One year I hope to get it, but I don't know whether it will be this year. My goal this year is to run well at the Worlds. I can be close but I don't know if I can do it this year. Three seconds is quite a lot to knock off of 4:01 when you are already flat out there.

Are women given as much encouragement and support to take up sport, track specifically, as men in the UK?
Yeah, pretty much.

Is that a recent change?
I can't say it is recent. It has been that way since I've been running seriously. The Cram, Coe, and Ovett era is finished, the probability of getting that again is slim. It is done. They are not around any more. There are other people here who are good. It is dead and buried now. We've got other people now.

You seem almost bitter mentioning those three.
No, I'm not at all, but you get asked that (about whether or not there will be another era of great British milers) all the time. What they have done is fine. But instead of looking at the past, look at the future. What has been done is done, forget it and move on.

What brings you to train in Boulder? There have been some British men's milers in town recently. Are you affiliated with them?
No. My coach used to come here and he is friendly with Steve Jones (the former marathon world record holder and a Boulder resident) so we just come here.

Will we see you racing in the U.S. this year?
Probably not because of the jet lag factor. I start racing at home June 4. The only time I'll be here (North America) would be hopefully Edmonton. After that I will race all the time, and there may be races here, but all I am thinking of is Edmonton. Possibly after that, before that no.

Eating disorders receive a lot of attention here, and a lot of promising careers have been cut short because of them. Is it a big problem in middle distance and distance running in England?
Yeah, it is with the juniors. We've got a couple of problems with the juniors. The seniors have made it by then and are usually okay. The younger, more inexperienced ones are the ones who have problems. I have noticed that the girls here (in Boulder) are really thin, I notice that all the time. I am quite powerful compared to athletes out here. Here, God, they make me look massive. But you have to keep things in perspective. I am a big girl, but then again, I am running alright, and I don't know how they are. Besides, I like to eat, it tastes good (laughs). And if you are training hard you can get away with it most of the time anyway.

How does the club system (in England) compare to our university and lack of post-collegiate system?
You have your intercollegiate athletics. If you're good enough (in the U.S.), you can run for a Nike club or Reebok club. In England, we have our university track teams for only university students. When you finish you have a town club or city club you can join. Anybody can still run, whereas here (in the U.S.) if [you're] not good enough, it's tough to get competition. In England anyone can join a club and get competition. Not elite, but you can compete indefinitely, at a level of competition to suit yourself. I think that is one of our strong points. If you don't make the grade, you are not forced to quit. We have a league system from Division 1 to Division 8, with the best racing Division 1. The elite get their best races abroad. People in the middle here are forced to quit, that is different for us. I'm talking about 400, 800, 1,500 runners -- not road racers.

How does training at altitude help you as a middle distance runner?
I think it worked last year. I came last year and I want to give it another go this year and see what I can get out of it again. It can work as long as you are not here too long. You can't run as fast here and that is an important focus. We need a good aerobic base but we also need to turn it over. You stay too long (at altitude), and you actually get a detraining effect because you can't move quick enough with a short recovery. There would be no point in living here. You come here to build aerobic base and then go do fast stuff back home at sea level.

The mile can be approached in any number of ways. Do you train more like a 5k runner or an 800 meter runner?
I emphasize 5k base work throughout the winter. You need to be able to do three runs at 1,500 to be any good. But you also need the speed of the 800 meter runner to cruise at a faster speed. But I do more 5k and 3k work at this time and I'll be kicking down from here on in.

Have you any advice for promising U.S. women looking to make the jump to the professional ranks?
God, I'm not even a professional myself! I think it's important to keep at it, but have realistic goals, that is the main thing. There is no point shooting to win an Olympic Games when that's not going to happen. You have to have something to strive for and run for. It should be possibly realistic and right on the fringe. To say, "I want to be Olympic gold champ at age 42," you don't need that, that's not going to happen. Keep everything in perspective, and be sensible.

I noticed Reebok sponsors you. Is support hard to come by for you -- a national indoor record holder?
It's not too bad. I am sponsored by Reebok but only through December. My contract restarted in February. We also get funding from the government, but I work part-time. I teach 7-11 year olds. I'm not sure what you call it here, we call it our prep.

Your training partner (a guy she called Widget) was here with you. Do you train with many women back home?
Not a lot. There are two other girls in my group but they do different events. They're 5k and cross runners. I mix and match a lot. We have a small group of guys as well. It is all a mix and match sort of thing. I do what I have to do for my event. You slot in where you need to be.

I ask this of all my interviewees: You are stranded on a desert island with one book, one record, and one movie: what are they?
Oh God. One book, hmm, that would have to be something I haven't read and it would be a biography but I couldn't pinpoint one for you. I'd have to go to a bookstore first and have a good look. The record would be something by Gloria Estefan that I could sing along to and have my own karaoke show. I struggle on movies actually, but it would have to be something entertaining like The Mummy Returns, nothing too deep.

Best of luck and thanks for your time!
OK, thanks!


Chris Lear is the author of Running With the Buffaloes. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

(Posted 07-25-01)


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