For some, medals and personal bests will be on the mind. For many more, it’ll be their first taste of athletics action at a high level.
Many of today’s top runners have come through the door of English Schools competition. We’ve been in touch with a few familiar names and faces to find out their best memories and words of wisdom for this year’s athletes. See if you can guess who’s who in the images below.
But it isn’t the be all and end all. It’s well documented that success at English Schools a future senior champion does not always make. It’s the ones that finish fourth, fifth, sixth that are often the names you need to keep an eye on for the future.
On the flipside, well-known faces like Elliot Giles and Andy Vernon never even made it to the start line of a summer English Schools competition. They weren’t running at that point or simply weren’t good enough.
What are we saying? While the pressure cooker environment of English Schools Track and Field Championships might seem like just that this weekend, it doesn’t define the future. It can offer some sort of indication – and more importantly for those taking part, provide lifelong memories and inspiration.
Nick Goolab, Middlesex
4th Intermediate Boys’ 3,000m, Gateshead 2006
My favourite memory was my first English Schools on the track as an intermediate boy in 2006. Just to be there was a big deal for me, as I had to break the 9-minute barrier for 3,000m to get into the championships.
I don’t remember much of the race itself, but I do remember the field being 20+ athletes and two events from the race in particular.
The first is going through a lap in last or second-to-last feeling way out of my depth. The second is out-sprinting someone for 4th place. I went from doubting myself on the first lap (which I still do to this day) to running a 13-second PB and a club record at the time.
‘Learning from these races will help you in 5-10 years’ time when you’ll hopefully be challenging at the senior level.’ Nick Goolab
I’d never done anything significant in any national event up until that point, so spending most of the race going past the field and finishing amongst the “big dogs” of my age group filled me with confidence (although I was still far away from a medal).
To everyone competing this weekend I would say not to read too much into the result, good or bad. Just get used to being involved in a championship environment and that type of racing. Learning from these races will help you in 5-10 years’ time when you’ll hopefully be challenging at the senior level. Best of luck to all competing.
Rebecca Murray, Bedfordshire
2nd Senior Girls’ 3,000m, Gateshead 2012
My best memory is probably the first year I went. The whole process was completely new – I’d never even heard of a call room, and the atmosphere was great. The few days off school to go on a trip with your friends definitely added to the novelty too.
My advice to this year’s athletes would be to remember that the race itself is nothing you haven’t done before, so to embrace the rest of the experience around it.
Ross Millington, Manchester
3rd Intermediate Boys’ 1500m, Don Valley 2006
My best memory would probably be my best result – when I got third over 1500m in 2006 and was finally able to beat my nemesis Dave Forrester. But I also loved my first English Schools on the track in 2003. It was my first major championship as a youngster and to be racing in a stadium like Don Valley was, at the time, a great experience. Walking out into the stadium with my then-coach Dave Turnbull is a memory that has stuck with me for some reason.
‘Walking out into the stadium with my then-coach Dave Turnbull is a memory that has stuck with me.’ Ross Millington
My advice would be to enjoy it, make the most of it – and don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders!
Looking back, I put myself under far too much pressure. Just know that there are much bigger and more stressful occasions to come in your athletic career. Make the most out of being part of your county team too and enjoy the occasion as a whole, not just the racing.
Hannah Viner, London
4th Senior Girls’ steeplechase, Birmingham 2014
My best memory of English Schools was totally surprising everybody, including myself, by running a PB and finishing 4th in the steeplechase. I got to stand on a podium built for six people, which was incredibly exciting, especially after my first year where I fell over in the race. Travelling away from home and staying in a hotel was something totally new for me. Being with my teammates and wearing my London kit was the bees knees.
My advice would be to take no notice of start lists as even if someone is quicker on paper, in a race anyone can win.
Matt Wood, Lancashire
3rd Senior Boys’ 1500m, Birmingham 2005
Although I went to English Schools four times in three different events, won a medal once, fell over in the final once and messed it up totally twice, my favourite memory is the oldest: the first time I ran.
When you’re a younger team member you don’t tend to know anyone on the team bus (in my case, Lancashire), so it’s all very new. For a hyper active social person like myself, I was in my element. We had it in Exeter, which was so far away from where I was from, so we had plenty of time for team bonding.
My memories are mainly made up of the girls I kissed, the friends I made, the songs we sang and the sheer enormity of the experience when seeing all the other counties in one place.
I fell over in the final in my first year but went on to win the AAA (British Champs) later that year. My memory of the fall and running myself back into contention, only to faint over the finish line in fifth, will never leave me. Looking back, it shows what kind of a person I aim to be now.
‘My memories are mainly made up of the girls I kissed, the friends I made, the songs we sang and the sheer enormity of the experience when seeing all the other counties in one place.’ Matt Wood
The English Schools shaped my childhood and my life. My advice for an athlete this year is: enjoy the experience, make friends, don’t take yourself too seriously – but never take your eye off the prize, whether that’s a PB, a final place, a medal or a win. The fun is always in the journey.
And when I say journey, I mean philosophical, not the actual coach journey.
Tamara Armoush, Derbyshire
4th Junior Girls’ 1500m, Gateshead 2006
My best memory is when I surprised myself and took 8 seconds off my PB from 4:48 to 4:40 and came 4th. It was very unexpected, but I felt absolutely no pressure and just enjoyed it – which is the advice I would give anyone doing it. I had many good memories with friends I made there too. They have become some of my best friends.
Jonny Davies, Berkshire
1st Intermediate Boys’ 3,000m, Gateshead 2011
My best memory would be my first championships there in 2011 when I won the intermediate boys’ 3,000m.
It was by far the biggest competition I’d ever done and I remember getting a massive thrill from competing. I knew I’d have a chance to get a medal but to win was just amazing. English Schools is the biggest race of the season.
You need to embrace the championships and take as much in as you can. It’s the closest thing to a global championship and you can learn so much. Enjoy being with a bunch of athletes, compete to your best and love every minute.
Molly Renfer, Surrey
3rd Senior Girls’ 800m, Gateshead 2011
My best memory of English Schools was my first year as a senior girl, which was also my first time qualifying for English Schools.
I went into the heats with an outside shot of making the final. I ended up scraping through to the final after placing 3rd in my heat. I then went into the final with no expectations and shocked everyone by placing 3rd (with a 3-second PB) behind Adelle Tracey and Alex Bell. Today, all 3 of us represent our countries on the international level.
‘I finished third behind Adelle Tracey and Alex Bell – and all three of us represent our countries on the international level today.’ Molly Renfer
Never doubt your ability as anything can happen if you give it your all.
Adam Hickey, Essex
1st Junior Boys’ 1500m, Nottingham 2002
My best memory is being selected to represent Essex in the Junior Boys’ 1500m at my first English Schools Championships in Nottingham in 2002. This was my first experience of a big track championships, so it was a great opportunity to go through the process of heats and (hopefully) finals.
I qualified second in my heat and went on to win the final in a big PB of 4:04.
My advice for any athletes competing this year is to enjoy every minute and try not to get too nervous if it’s your first champs.
Naomi Taschimowitz, Somerset
9th Senior Girls’ 1500m heat, Birmingham 2007
I only went twice and the first time was as a last-minute reserve for someone else. To be very honest, I hated the experience at the time (and also ran badly).
‘English Schools helped me deal with the pressure of big competitions in the future.’ Naomi Taschimowitz
But English Schools helped me deal with the pressure of big competitions in the future. It wasn’t the be all and end all – and hasn’t stopped me in my running career since.
Richard Goodman, Middlesex
1st Senior Boys’ 3,000m, Birmingham 2010
My first experience was awful. I didn’t make it out the rounds of the 1500m. I was overwhelmed by the amount of quality athletes competing and I struggled to deal with the pre-race nerves.
My second experience was much better. I won the 3,000m. I went from not making the final of the 1500m to winning the 3,000m senior boys’ race. I was much better prepared and knew what to expect.
Calli Thackery, Derbyshire
Intermediate Girls’ 800m, Don Valley 2009
The hype when you’re there is just something else. My advice to youngsters is to enjoy it but don’t get too carried away in the race. It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself when the expectations seem higher and the build up to perform well is that bit more pressurised.
‘My advice is to tuck in, don’t get too antsy at the start, save energy and sit back for the first part of the race.’ Calli Thackery
My personal experience, and something that I was renowned for when competing at the English Schools, is that I used to go off like a bullet. I front-ran because it’s the only way I knew how to run. I worried that if I was too far behind then I would stay there and not be able to work my way through the pack of runners.
I learnt the hard way, so my advice to middle distance runners, in particular, is to tuck in, don’t get too antsy at the start, save energy and sit back for the first part of the race.
I wish I told myself that as it’s much better to sit in and then go past the field rather than the other way around.
Sean Molloy, Kent
1st Senior Boys’ 800m, Birmingham 2014
I loved English Schools. It was great to mix with the best athletes in your county and there was always such a great sense of team camaraderie.
‘The fact I could achieve an England vest and the chance to be on TV was huge.’ Sean Molloy
I learnt a lot in my first year, coming last in the final. But that experience allowed me to win the next two years. The fact I could achieve an England vest and the chance to be on TV was huge.
Words by Bo James
Main image from Angela Mount (Twitter)
Image 1 – L to R: R. Goodman (11), R. Murray (4), A. Hickey (11)
Image 2 – L to R: H. Viner (49), M. Wood (43), T. Armoush (20)
Image 3 – L to R: J. Davies, S. Molloy (40), N. Taschimowitz (70)