Luke Gunn has been Head of Athletics at the University of Birmingham for nearly 4 years, and in that time, the Athletics Club has been visiting Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees every Easter. Font Romeu is a sleepy ski town, set at 6,000ft altitude, only a 2 hour drive from major airports and is proud home to thousands of miles of scenic, well-maintained trails. Here’s Luke’s Day in the Life of…
This year we have a group of 57 self-funding athletes, spending 3 weeks in one of the internationally renowned centres for running in the world. As a young aspiring athlete, I first heard of Font Romeu, following the career of Paula Radcliffe – who still owns an apartment in town. Since then British Athletics have frequented here to prepare for every major championships since 2010, bringing world medallists Mo Farah, Laura Muir, Hannah England (Birmingham alumni) and many more of the country finest endurance athletes.
We bring the students here to rub shoulders with some of the world’s best runners, test their own limits and learn more about how to reach the pinnacle of their own ability. For many, this is the first time they have gone away to focus entirely on their sport – and for even more this is their first time at training at any significant altitude (which is pretty tough by the way).
The sorts of things the athletes will do during their stay are interval track sessions, long runs, hill sessions, threshold running, speed work, technique drills, strength and conditioning, circuits, hurdle drills, yoga, barefoot drills and lots and lots of easy running.
The daily routine sees the athletes train 2-3 times a day and is regimented to maximise training as one whole group and help establish a strong routine to their day – whilst also giving ample opportunity to communicate with the coaches and role models within the group – passing on invaluable knowledge throughout the camp and even more importantly to take away and implement into training throughout the year.
The day starts early when the athletes wake to have breakfast before their first train session, then at 8am, the athletes report to HQ to test a number of key indicators of readiness to train for that day.
The groups meets and perform their main training session of the day before returning to the apartments for lunch, rest and academic work.
The group then meet for some low impact supplementary work, largely around injury prevention before easy running again at 5pm.
Myself and my wife, Hannah, have been to altitude a combined number of 31 times, to various destinations around the globe with different professional groups, and because of this we try to share our vast wealth of experience and instinct to help the athletes make the best informed decisions on their own training and aspirations. Just as importantly though, the younger members of the squad gel and pick up traits and tricks from our older, established student-athletes in the group including Jonny Davies, Mari Smith and Becky Straw – who have all reached the pinnacle of junior GB competitions and have frequented altitude on multiple occasions. Although they are teammates throughout the year too, there is nothing like a camp environment for these cross-communications to occur.
Following the training camp, many of these athletes will go on to compete at the BUCS Athletics Championships between 5-7 May, but all are preparing for the summer track season. This is easily the hardest block of training they will do throughout their time at University, which is why we ensure that coaches, mentors and high performance centre staff are present to help all of the athletes successfully navigate the transition towards to summer season of racing.
Check out our other Day in the Life of blogs here.