Run Anglia: CONAC athlete Iona Lake can’t wait to take to the big stage at the Commonwealth Games
PUBLISHED: 11:00 30 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:40 11 April 2018
Iona Lake runs in the Commonwealth Games 3,000 steeplechase on Wednesday morning... she’s come a long way from the girl that ran along the Bure Valley line to go and see her Nan for a cup of tea, as she told Mark Armstrong before heading out to Australia.
Iona Lake has come a long way from the girl that ran along the Bure Valley line to go and see her Nan for a cup of tea.
In under two weeks’ time the 25-year-old, from Hainford, will be lining up against some of the world’s best steeplechasers at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
But the former Reepham High School student, who is also a regular on the Norfolk parkrun scene, isn’t daunted by running in such illustrious company.
Lake hasn’t got grand expectations of herself going into the games. She has an appreciation of her sport thanks to spending five months on the sidelines in 2017 after returning from a two-year scholarship at the University of Virginia with a serious hamstring injury.
The break gave her time to evaluate her career and make her realise just how much she loves running.
She shot back into national consciousness with a superb performance in the steeplechase at the British Championships, claiming the title among an impressive field. She followed this up by winning at the England Track and Field Championships.
It put her firmly on the radar of selectors and she was confirmed as being part of the English team that is preparing for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
She’s had a strong winter under coaches Tim and Pauline Ash, who took her under their wing at the City of Norwich Athletic Club nearly 10 years ago.
But she is not putting any undue pressure on herself and knows that she still has a lot to learn in what will be her maiden major championships.
“Realistically it will be very hard for me to medal but it’s my first big championships as a senior and I’m just going to go there, enjoy it, and see what I can get from it,” she said. “In steeplechase anything can happen – it can be a bit of a messy event sometimes.
“I don’t like to look at the field too much before I race. I could easily look at the field and see there are a lot that are quicker than me but it comes down to the day really.
“There are some good Kenyans and there’s a really good Jamaican in there. The British team is really strong as well.
“I am fit and I’m getting fitter – my aim is to come in the top eight.”
Lake wasn’t sure the day would come when she would compete in a big championships.
Her time in America was a steep learning curve and being able to devote so much of her time to athletics established a level of professionalism that stands her in good stead for the challenges ahead.
But the hamstring injury that came along with being pushed too hard in the US was one of the downsides and it was only thanks to former Norwich City FC physio Tim Sheppard that a rehabilitation program was put in place to get her back on the track.
“I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been in 2016,” she said. “I was really excited for the track season and I really thought that potentially that I could get the qualifying time for Rio (Olympics).
“But in the indoor season I slightly sprained my hamstring and it caused tendinopathy, which is a horrible thing to get rid of, because it just aggravates your sciatic nerve.
“That’s the downside of America – I think they can push you a little bit too much through injury. They patched me up and let me get on with racing and it never really healed.
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“When I got back I had a complete break for five months. I went to the gym and made sure that I got strong and worked on all my weaknesses.
“I went back to what was causing my injury in the first place. My glutes were not activating as they should be and they were causing my hamstrings to work too much.
“I just had five months having a bit of downtime as well. Sometimes you need that because it’s quite an intense lifestyle.
“It let me relax but it also made me realise how much I missed running.
“I came back from America not really knowing if I was going to be able to run or whether I should pursue a different career.
“It makes you question a lot when you’re injured so it made me realise that I did want to run and how much I missed it.
“When you see others doing so well that you’ve been training with and beating before it gives you motivation to be as good as them.”
Tim and Pauline Ash took charge of Lake’s development once again upon her return from America and she admits she “definitely wouldn’t be running” if she hadn’t come back under the pair’s tutelage.
Tim and Pauline eased Lake back into full training and reaped the rewards when she surprisingly won the British Championships.
“I don’t think until I came home and won the British Championships that I truly believed it (athletics) could be my profession,” she said. “I still don’t think of it as my profession – I don’t really make any money out of it! But maybe if I could get a little bit quicker then it could be.
“I now have that self belief, which I didn’t have before.”
Advice for youngsters
Iona Lake loved running as a youngster.
But it wasn’t the only thing she loved.
She was also a footballer, a dancer and she enjoyed playing the guitar.
Lake insists enjoyment should be the only consideration when picking a hobby growing up.
“I started up once a week doing sportshall and then alongside that I did every other sport,” said Lake, who joined City of Norwich Athletic Club when she was 11. “I did dancing, I did football - my sister (Georgina) and I were really into guitar growing up so I had a lot of musical influence in my life.
“It wasn’t just running from a young age, which I think is really important.
“It’s really important not to be obsessed about one sport from so young.
“I didn’t specialise in running until I was about 15 and that’s when I joined Tim and Pauline (Ash).
“I’d had a few different coaches, with the club, which was really good fun.
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“I knew that if I wanted to progress then Tim and Pauline were the best for me and the most serious about endurance running.
“I joined them when I was 15 and my improvements were huge when I joined them.
“They gave me structure. I played football until I was about 16 so to have the training structure from them to run alongside that was something that I had never done previously.”
So what is her advice to any youngster looking to get into running?
“If you just enjoy running then just carry on doing it,” she said. “If they live near a local club then join it and see if you like it.
“It’s a lot more fun running with people, especially when you’re younger.
“But don’t take it too seriously and have fun with it. Carry on doing a lot of other sports – I played football until I was 16 and I think it really helped me with my fitness.
“I did dancing until I was 17 and that helped with my flexibility. If you specialise too young then I think you miss out on all those other qualities that help when you’re later on.
“It’s only when you’re about 15 or 16 then perhaps you do need to start thinking about specialising and dedicate yourself more to one sport.
“But you always have to make sure you enjoy it, especially at a young age.”