Jenny Meadows on life after retirement, the importance of recovery and Glasgow 2019

  • Kobe Tong

“I’ve found my way back into the sport.”

It’s been three years since Jenny Meadows hung up her spikes, but the Wigan-born runner looked as comfortable as ever beside the track on Tuesday night. The track at Yarborough Leisure Centre, Lincoln, was abuzz with junior and senior runners, investing their effort into the polyurethane beneath them in the presence of a World Championship medalist.

Meadows passed on her wisdom to the attentive group of Lincoln Wellington athletes, moving from session to session as if at home in the intimacy of such a small, community-driven club. Speaking to GiveMeSport after a talk on rest and recovery, her passion for the grassroots of athletics was as apparent as it was motivational for the participants that night.

The 37-year-old explained: “I started the session by telling them about how I started in the sport when I was 7, almost age 8, having the desire to go to the Olympic games and managing that, even if it took me 20 years to do it! I think it’s important talking to youngsters about having aspirations and to not worry that the journey isn’t smooth.”

Whether your career builds towards the Olympic games or the ParkRun performance of your life, it all starts with the common denominator of hard work and commitment. There’s an air about track and field – of which Meadows is an obvious champion – that everybody is there to get the best out of their own athletic performance, a mutuality that breeds a true sense of community.

The importance of rest and recovery

“I think it’s really important to know everyone is exactly the same, nobody gets the results really easily,” Meadows explained. “It’s one of those great things where running is a community, so no matter what your standard and what your ability, everybody is like-minded and you don’t do well in the sport if you don’t put in the effort, no matter who you are.”

However, the blind application of 100% effort isn’t always a recipe for success on the track or road, a point that Meadows was sure to make during her talk with England Athletics. The former 800 metre runner was keen to emphasise the importance of scheduling rest, while also finessing the minutia of recoveries within the training sessions themselves.

It’s an approach that helps to mitigate injuries, benefit rehabilitation and proved a clear cause of rumination amongst the listening athletes. Meadows reiterated to us afterwards: “Don’t be afraid to take risks in order to repair, recover and improve. Hopefully it can stimulate everyone to think that by taking a rest, you’re not being lazy, international and elite athletes do that.”

Returning to the athletics world

There are no better fonts of information than athletes that have tried these approaches themselves and at the very cutting edge of the sport at that. So, it’s certainly admirable that Meadows is continuing to travel the country passing on her advice, even if those listening are competing on a far more recreational level than her own blue riband career.

Yet, Meadows is certainly enjoying life after retirement, even if the occasional temptation to attack a ParkRun creeps into the back of her mind. “When I first retired from the sport, I kind of thought I’d done my time but because I’ve been involved in the sport for so long now, like 30 years, I’m just embedded in the culture of the sport,” Meadows mused.

“I’ve been doing quite a lot with England Athletics, workshops like this evening which are great to engage with people and I think I’ve realised that we have such a running community. I’ve really loved this initiative from English Athletics, actually going into the clubs, going into areas and making them really feel part of something, which they very much are!”

Meadows’ reaction to Glasgow 2019

There’s arguably no better time to spread endurance-running acumen than amidst such a golden epoch for British athletes, a fact solidified in Glasgow earlier this month. The indomitable Shelayna Oskan-Clarke claimed gold in Meadows’ very own event, while Laura Muir exhausted our list of superlatives by completing the double-double in omnipotent fashion. 

“Well, Shelayna, I did champion here to win that,” Meadows smiled. “She’s such a tough competitor and so hard to beat. The time – which was 2:02, I think – wasn’t anything special but it’s just the manner of how she runs, she’s just such a dominant championship performer.

“So, I’m so happy that was she able to win the title and improve on the silver that she won two years ago. And Laura is really just a phenomenon, I don’t think I’ve got any words to explain her. She works so hard and she deserves everything that she gets.

“I genuinely believe she’s the best middle-distance athlete in the world at the moment, so I’m really hoping in Doha in September and October, she can get a couple of gold medals because that’s the only thing she has missed from her athletic CV at the moment.”

Only time will tell whether Oskan-Clarke and Muir will transfer their success to the great outdoors, but you can bet that Meadows will be cheering them on from the stands or commentary tribunes. There’s such a rich culture of middle-distance running in the UK and Meadows’ transition from competition to media work emphasises the constant student-teacher cycle within athletics.

The former UK athlete has strode through the mental and physical obstacles necessary to become a top-level athlete, yet remains thoroughly grounded in her quest to pass on the lessons learned. A cold, March night in Lincoln may seem unassuming surroundings, but the advice and inspiration will far transcend its boundaries.

Banker, lawyer or Olympian – it’s all spikes on track, one after the other.

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