Yaya Village is excited to be hosting Julia Bleasdale, one of the top international distance runners of 2012, for a 6-week winter training block. A native of London, Julia finished 8th in the both the 5k and 10k at this year’s Olympic Games, running personal bests of 15:02.00 and 30:55.63 along the way. She is currently preparing for the international cross country season and will debut in Edinburgh on January 5, with sights on the World Cross Country Championship in March. Julia is a great addition to Yaya Village and has become good friends with Dan and Becky, who interview her below…
When and why did you first begin running? When I was about 6 or 7, I was on holiday with my family. My dad would go for a run every morning, and one day I asked my dad if I could come and so we jogged 2 or 3 miles. From there, he’d take me on more runs, once a week or so, and I also did some fun runs. I was 9 or 10 when I joined a more formal training set-up.
Tell us a little about your running background. My first love is running in nature; hills and mountains, enjoying the fresh air, feeling the ground moving fast beneath me, having a great landscape and a good view. In those cases I feel inspired and I can run fast and free. I initially competed quite a lot in cross country, and that slowly evolved into track racing. When you’re really strong and fast the track is fitting but my first love is challenging myself and testing my own limits in nature without a stopwatch or a track.
When did you first come to Ethiopia and why? I first came in March 2006. I was invited by Richard Nerurka to take part in the Women’s Run, which was being advertised for two Great Britain females. I was selected by UK athletics to be one of the two, and I was up for the challenge and adventure. The first visit was just two and a half weeks, but in those weeks, I experienced so much. It was my first proper trip to Africa, and it was a real eye-opener. Taking part in the women’s 5k was a totally crazy experience, as was training in the Ethiopian style.
What about Ethiopia has brought you back so many times? That fist experience was just so special and I had a great girl to share the experience with in Mary Wilkinson, an elite mountain runner. We had fun, explored, met some great people, and did some good running. The country and style of running just had a great impact on both of us. In subsequent years, other elite females from the UK have been invited to the Women’s Run, and many of them have returned multiple times. It takes the right kind of person to fit in here; if you like exploring, trying new things, embracing the way other people train, nature, training at altitude and breathtaking mountains you’re set to have a great time! Some people can’t cope with having to slow down and build strength by going in and out of the trees, up and down, and such, but I find that I come away stronger and tougher.
How does training in Ethiopia fit in with your goals? Leading up to the Olympics, I trained at altitude but in the range of 1600-1800m, which is more a standard approach to altitude training. I also trained with my coach, Nic Bideau, in Australia. But having not been in Ethiopia for a while, I feel like now is a good time to get back to running in its most basic and pure form. Obviously Ethiopians do very well in the Olympics and they’re a constant source of inspiration to me. I feel like it’s the right time to learn more from them and try to progress to the next level in the lead up to Rio, which hopefully will result in a medal.
What have you learned from training in Ethiopia and with Ethiopians? I’ve seen and experienced a very different style of training, which has been a big eye opener. There are many periods where the running is slow and relaxed, but the Ethiopians maintain excellent form and poise, even while weaving in and out of trees. Sometimes the pace increases and increases, and you have to dig deep and try to hang on. The combination of altitude and the way in which these runs take place takes you to a new level and a different kind of level than you’d experience at home. A lot of their runs are very controlled because all the groups have a pacemaker, so it’s never really ad hoc. It’s all planned, even the easy runs; the pacemaker knows exactly what to do.
What do you find in Ethiopia that you can’t get elsewhere? This is one of the only altitude training locations where you can train between 2700-3000 meters, which is a significant level of altitude. Secondly, you’ve got the density of runners around here, where you can find people of all standards and you can easily link up with athletes doing different sessions. There’s also the diversity of running locations, including mountains, hills, flat grassy areas, nice paths and lush eucalyptus forests. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll be able to find it somewhere. Also, the fact that now there are facilities like Yaya Village make it easy to come here and train, either on your own or as a part of a training group. This is a great facility where you have everything provided for you and there are other runners, and you don’t have to know too much about the way things work over here before coming. The climate is another big benefit; the temperature is great, it’s fresh in the mornings, and it doesn’t get too hot. Finally, the culture is amazing. It’s a safe place to be, people are very welcoming and friendly, and I always feel very encouraged. And the fact that there’s no jetlag from the UK because of similar time zones and direct flights from UK and Europe means that you can get here readily and get straight into training or go straight back home for a race.
Finally, what are you 2013 goals? The World Track and Field Championships in Moscow is the main focus. There’s the World Cross Country Championships before that as well. I hope Ethiopia will play a big role leading up to World Cross as I am putting in a good base. I’m also racing in Edinburgh on January 5th, and will do some faster sessions as that approaches. I’m excited to see how I’ll do coming down from this higher altitude and I look forward to racing. But there’s a lot of training to do in between now and Worlds.
We have really enjoyed getting to know Julia and are glad that she is enjoying this period of training in preparation for 2013. Stay tuned for another blog recapping her stay before the race in Scotland in early January. Go Julia!