Tracy Barlow: London calling for grassroots marathon star

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July 19, 2017
The British Athletics Championships and World Trials at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, United Kingdom on 1-2 July 2017
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July 25, 2017

Tracy Barlow: London calling for grassroots marathon star


Thames Valley Harrier, Tracy Barlow, continues to chronicle her marathon build-up – just this time it’s to the start line of the IAAF World Championships marathon this August

From a 3:52.59 marathoner in the midst of the masses to an elite runner bounding home in 2:30.42 at the London Marathon last April, Tracy’s journey offers inspiration to any ambitious grassroots runner.

With now just two weeks to go until she toes the line alongside some of the world’s finest distance runners, Tracy is back out in Font Romeu, training hard and building up to the biggest day of her running career.


Coming back out to Font Romeu, this time with the British Athletics team, has been a whole different experience. Things started to finally feel real after meeting everyone at the airport for the first time.

As I’d been out in Font for three weeks prior to this camp and hadn’t had long at home, me and my coach decided that I didn’t need as much time to adjust again. So, on day two, we cracked on with a gem of a session built into a 90 min run: 1k threshold, 1k floating x10.

I did it on the track to keep the pace for the threshold similar for each rep. I was certainly relieved to finish it! I’m not a fan of running in circles and this session in particular is one I always dread. And doing it at altitude added in another level of difficulty.

As most people have easy or steady runs in the evening, it means there is always someone to run with. This makes a huge difference when you are already tired from the morning session or run.

Helping hand from marathon great

On any day of the week there is always someone on hand to offer pacing, timing or just general support and motivation. Having the group’s support as I completed my track session definitely motivated me to train harder and get the most out of myself – especially when I had Paula [Radcliffe] timing me, then jumping into the end of the reps to help me keep up the pace right to the very end.

I also got to experience having an actual ice bath post session. I can honestly say I would rather have done the session again! Even my brain hurt while I was in there. Lots of warm clothes for up top needed for the next one!

Two weeks and counting

It’s great to be able to complete the final long runs with the support and company out here before I head to the holding camp in Paris. Being in such a group allows me to focus solely on training, eating well and, most importantly, the recovery side of things.

At the moment, running in the world championship marathon doesn’t quite feel real – though I’m sure as soon as I reach the holding camp in Paris, it will start to feel very real very quickly.

Tracy joins Charlotte Purdue and Alyson Dixon in the IAAF World Championship Marathon for Great Britain at 2pm on Sunday 6 August.


In my second week at altitude, I was able to have the company of Aly Dixon on my easy runs. It was great to be able to run with someone and be shown all the best routes. As she has been to Font so many times before, she could take me on various routes that differed in altitude and terrain.

It was really useful to mix it up and get the strength work in while running on the hillier routes. More importantly, she was able to tell me where all the best places for coffee, crepes and pizza were – all the essentials to help enable recovery from the hard training sessions.

Eyeing up an escape route

I got to go up to the plateau with Aly. After the first downhill mile, the route then climbs rather steadily for almost another two miles. The conversation ceased at this point and the focus was just on getting up to the top. Each time I looked up, the path snaked round and upwards still. All I could think was: when does it end?

The views at the top, though, certainly made it worth the effort. I went back up a few days later, this time on my own, and met a horse up there who wasn’t at all keen on me running around at the top near to its foal. A rather twitchy horse eyeing me up, with only an uphill escape route over long rutty grass – it certainly did not fill me with great joy.

I retraced my steps and eyed up a nearby tree just in case I needed to climb one should the horse decide to make a bolt for me. I was rather thankful to make it down with no mishaps.

Much-needed reassurance

My training buddy from Winchester, Vicky Gill, joined me for two weeks of training along with my coach, Nick, for some of it. Having both of them there made such a difference to my training. Being able to get immediate feedback from my coach and his view on how the session or run went was invaluable to my confidence and reassured me that things were going in the right direction.

Having never had the experience of completing hard sessions at altitude, I wasn’t sure if paces were meant to feel easier after a while or if I would always feel like I was working harder to achieve the paces I’m used to at sea level. I’ve learnt that when training at altitude, even the easy runs will always place more of a stress upon the body.

While the paces you’re running at don’t particularly fill you with confidence, you have to believe that you are training harder than you would at sea level.

Pushing harder

By my final week, I could certainly notice a difference in my ability to push myself harder than I had been able to when I first arrived. While I completed a track session that was 12k in volume with Aly that left me feeling partly broken, I was able to push my pace and achieve the times I would do back at sea level.

Returning for a short period of time before I head back out with the British Athletics camp next week will enable me to see how I respond to the altitude training.

I’m looking forward to heading back out there. This time it will just be for two weeks before heading to the holding camp in Paris, where I will be doing the final preparations for a marathon on the world stage.


The past week, I have been out in Font Romeu as I continue with my marathon preparations for the world championships.

This is my first time at altitude, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d done some research and got in touch with exercise physiologist, Jamie Pringle, at Loughborough to get an idea of what to expect when first getting to altitude – and also while training there.

Not knowing how many of my staple foods would be available meant I brought a lot of things out with me. If I’m to expect my body to adapt to the stresses that altitude brings, then I need to make sure I have the right nutrition to allow it to do so.

Up and running

Aly Dixon had given me some running routes, the majority of which are a short drive away from the town itself. Once I was unpacked, I headed out on one of the simpler routes.

The first thing you notice is how breathtaking the scenery is. This is closely by how ‘undulating’ it is – or hilly for me, being a west Londoner used to the Thames path! I couldn’t work out whether my breathlessness and heavy legs were due to the altitude, the hills – or the fact I had pretty much been travelling and on the go since 5am that morning.


I’d taken Aly’s directions with me, so I was running with bits of paper and stopping regularly to check I was on the right path. At least these pauses came as a welcome break for my heavy legs.


My threshold session on the Saturday was round the lake, which is at a slightly lower altitude and a flatter route – unless you go wrong like I did and end up climbing the other side of the dam to get back to where I started.

Probably not the best session to use to go exploring, but at least I knew the right route for my long run the following day.


With the first of many high mileage weeks being completed, it’s fair to say that the marathon prep has begun once again.

In a way, it’s like a comfort blanket for me as it’s back with the same routine and long runs. It’s also back to feeling pretty shattered from 12 sessions a week. The familiar aches have returned when I get up in the morning – that’s until I get moving properly, get caffeinated and out the door for the first run of the day.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had two races: Vitality 10k in London and then a track 3k the following Saturday at the UK Women’s Athletics League. The 10k on the Monday was the first hard run out I had done since the marathon. It was certainly a shock to the system, and it hurt, a lot!


Picking up the pace

Normally I would get to halfway, if not further, before it started to get really tough. This time it felt like a sprint from the start!

It was great to run through the streets of London again and have so many people out cheering and supporting everyone. I heard many cheers for me, some I recognised and some I didn’t. It was a huge help having the crowds getting behind me and the other runners.

I had hoped to dip under 34 minutes, but it wasn’t to be [Tracy ended up finishing fifth in 34:01]. I worked hard from the start and knew I couldn’t have gone any faster, so I was happy with the result. My legs just weren’t ready to go any quicker.

Even though 10k is considerably shorter than the marathon, it feels significantly harder. The burning lungs and legs that occur within the first kilometre of the race is not something you get with the marathon. That’s a different type of pain and one I can cope with (to a certain extent!).

One and only track race

The following Saturday, I joined my fellow team members at the UKWAL in Eton. It was my first (and possibly last) track race of the season. It was great to compete for my club and see old friends again who have supported me so much in the past few years and have enabled me to follow my dreams.

The race was a good way for me to shake off any leftover heaviness in my legs from Monday, and force me to run hard at a sustained effort without thinking too much about it.

It was followed by a session, as usual: 2 x 4k at marathon pace. Thankfully, there are some convenient flat fields at the back of the athletics centre in Eton, which was perfect for me to do my session – though I was joined by the odd dog on occasion wanting to chase my feet!

Strength and length 

The next Sunday was my first long run of a decent length, just over 19 miles, in which I tried to include as many of the hills in Richmond Park as possible. A bit more strength work always helps when starting marathon prep.

Needless to say, the accumulation of the two races, the increase in mileage and a long hilly run left me feeling like someone had poured lead into my legs come Monday morning.

Still, a bit of moving around and half a cuppa later, off I went shuffling into my run, and business resumed as normal.