What you can learn from Keely Hodgkinson's training and race-day prep

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Photo credit: Jean Catuffe - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jean Catuffe - Getty Images

Keely Hodgkinson shot to stardom in the 800m final at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. It was quite a year for Keely, who was also crowned Diamond League Champion in the 800m and became the youngest ever 800m European Indoor Champion.

This summer, she's back to it, having just taken silver in the 800m at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon – with the Commonwealth Games still to come. We caught up with Keely, so she could share all things training and race preparation (including the all-important race-day breakfast)…

What does a typical week in your training diary look like?

‘A lot of people find my training quite weird, because I don’t really do slow stuff. Long runs are not really a thing in my training plan except in the summer, because that’s when the track sessions get more intense, so that’s when you need the slower recovery days. In winter, I do a lot of cross-training to try to keep off my feet. Too much time on my feet and I end up getting loads of stress responses. So it’s cross-training on Mondays. On Tuesdays, I’ll do a session on the cross trainer and then I’ll do a track session. Wednesdays are a 30-minute run and 40 minutes on the cross trainer, plus some gym work. Thursdays are similar to Tuesdays, but with maybe more of a tempo-type session. I always have Fridays off, then Saturdays in the winter will be a longer session and in the summer a track session. Sundays in the winter will be hills, and in the summer I’ll do a 15-minute run.’

So lots of quality sessions and not too many total miles?

‘I’d say I almost train like a sprinter, but I think the 800m is getting towards that now. There’s a whole new science, a whole new perspective on 800m training, that you actually need the speed and it’s not about doing miles and miles. But then it depends on what kind of 800m runner you are – if you’re a 1500m and 800m runner, you’re going to run it differently from how a 400m and 800m runner is going to run it. It’s very interesting.’

Do you even count your weekly mileage? Or, as it’s not about longer runs, do you not really care?

‘My watch will tell me because I keep it there, but no, I don’t count. Trevor [Painter, Hodgkinson’s coach] might count them, though. This winter, we tried to go with around 35 miles a week through the winter – some weeks would have been 28, some would have been 36, it just varies depending on what we’re doing. Other than that, I don’t really like to count it, I just like to know my recovery when I’m doing reps.’

Do you have a key session that tells you when you’re getting close to race fitness?

‘Yeah, there’s a session I do which is usually the last one I’ll run before a champs. It’s a split 800m, so a 400m, 30 seconds’ rest and then another 400m. The outcome is very accurate in terms of telling you what you’re capable of. When I was in Tokyo, I did that session before the champs and I split a 1:55.3, then I ended up running 1:55.8. So it’s a really honest reflection of where you’re at.’

What’s your go-to race day breakfast and pre-race snack?

‘It’s probably one of those questions where nearly every athlete has the same answer, but I’d say porridge… and I always have a cup of tea. Then white toast. I’m usually the athlete who doesn’t have the snacks, although there will often be some granola lying around somewhere.'

Away from competition, are you strict with your diet?

‘I eat pretty well. I’m not really a person who craves takeaways or things like that, because they just don’t make me feel very good. My friends will say, “Let’s get a Chinese,” but I’d rather just eat a chocolate bar, to be honest, that’s my thing. So I eat pretty well, not so much because I have to, but more because I like to. I eat a lot of fruit and veg and good carbs, but there will always be a chocolate bar, too. I think I need the calories, to be honest!’

Do you ever take yourself off for a run just for the fun of it? Or do you not have the spare time and energy?

‘If anything, I’ll find a reason to sit on the couch! Sometimes when I’m in the off-season or on a break between races, I do quite enjoy going for a nice little run where you don’t really feel you have to do anything, and I do feel better afterwards. But no, in general, there are no extra runs being thrown around.’

What shoes do you race in and what’s your take on shoes boosting performance?

‘I raced in the [Nike ZoomX] Dragonfly spikes all last year and they’re very comfy, but I’m thinking I’m going to switch to the [Nike Air Zoom] Maxfly. The Dragonflys have the X-foam, which is a bit more spongy with a bit more cushioning and people have told me that they can help with calf fatigue, but the Maxflys have the carbon plate. People are getting quicker on the track, but whether that’s all to do with shoes I’m not sure – it’s probably worth maybe half a per cent, which at elite level is a lot, I suppose. But it’s good to see 30-year-old world records being taken down, and if technology is playing a part in that, it’s still good to see.’

Do you have a whole roster of training shoes for different sessions?

‘I’m quite boring when it comes to this. I just use [Nike Air Zoom] Pegasus and that’s it. A lot of people do tempo sessions in the [Nike Air Zoom Tempo] Next%, but I don’t always want the carbon plate advantage in training. It’s like when you’re warming up in trainers and then you put your spikes on and you feel really good – I want to do all the dirty work in just the normal shoes and then, when it comes to racing, I’ll put on a pair of spikes and I’ll feel absolutely great. It’s probably also a psychological thing, but I’ll run in Pegs and then on the track, depending on the session, I’ll vary between the Dragonfly and the Maxfly.’

Are there other areas where you think tech is helping athletes?

‘Training has definitely improved technology-wise, and there’s also the pacing on the track now. I know a lot of people have opinions on it, but I think it can be quite good. It’s the same as a pacemaker, really, isn’t it? And I hope where all this tech will go is that people will just get faster. I think there’s also a lot more information now on things like nutrition and recovery, which from what I’m seeing is adding years to people’s careers. There’s also a really good new understanding around female athletes coming back from pregnancies. I’m only 20, so I’m not having kids any time soon, but I used to think that was something you had to do after your career. Now, I feel like if I want to have kids when I’m, say, 26, I can. Watching people like Allyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce come back and still be at the top of their game is amazing, and I think it’s going to create a whole new line of thinking that it’s pretty normal to do that; to have kids and come back and still have a career.’

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