AUGUST 2014: In April this year, at the age of 13, Almi Nerurkar won the under-15 category of the Brighton Marathon Mini Mile in a time of 5 minutes and 29 seconds. A week later she proved she was no one-hit-wonder as she proceeded to win the Virgin London Mini Marathon over 3 miles in a time of 17 minutes and 5 seconds. And in June she became U15 1500m county champion at the Sussex Schools Championships.
Almi’s father Richard was one of Britain’s best marathon runners in the 1990s with a PB of 2 hours 8 minutes and 36 seconds; he also won the 1993 World Cup Marathon and finished 5th in the 1996 Olympic Marathon. So, having her father’s influence – and not forgetting her mother Gail, who has achieved running success at county level – Almi clearly has athletics in her blood.
But surely, good genes in isolation do not bring success? I was curious to find out more about Almi’s training regime, and if it in any way conflicts with more normal aspects of a teenager’s lifestyle. And having spent much of her childhood growing up in Ethiopia, I was keen to hear her observations on moving home from Africa to Brighton.
Almi, it’s a pleasure to chat with someone so talented at such a young age and with the promise of so much more to come. Firstly, I know you spent most of your childhood in Ethiopia. Were you born there?
I was actually born in Teddington but we moved to Addis Ababa when I was 3 months old.
What was life like in Africa?
Everything is very relaxed and casual. It’s quite normal for people to start dancing on the street, and no one gets embarrassed. And there’s not much routine there.
My parents were keen for me to learn another language, so I went to a German School. We just went to school in the mornings but started early – 7am to 1pm. In the afternoons I did extra German… and played football. I also learned Amharic. I can’t speak it very well but I can understand it.
Can you remember when you first started running?
I never really ran in Ethiopia. I played football quite a lot as there weren’t any other clubs. But, just for fun, I took part in a few children’s races which dad organised. I think the best I ever came was about 5th. They were meant to be for under-12’s, but there would be children aged around 15 joining in – a lot of people in Ethiopia don’t know their date of birth and there’s no official record. Some of those in the races were clearly much older than 12 though!
So, I only started running properly when we moved to Brighton about 4 years ago, when I was 9.
I imagine, with parents so involved in athletics, that you got to meet some top runners in Ethiopia?
Yes, dad is very good friends with Haile Gebrselassie. In fact, he’s my brother Lukas’s godfather. Haile’s children are similar ages to Lukas and me. They had a swimming pool, so we used to play there together.
I also met Tirunesh Dibaba, and Meseret Defar. I think I also met Kenenisa Bekele.
Was there anyone (other than your mum and dad) who inspired you?
Everyone in Ethiopia wants to be a runner – it’s easy to be inspired as there are so many really good runners there. Haile probably inspires me the most… and, as a woman, Tirunesh.
And when you moved from Addis Ababa to Brighton, was that quite a culture shock? What would you say are the most noticeable differences between life there and life here?
I think the biggest difference is the weather, which is so much better in Ethiopia. I don’t like the short days here in the winter – it gets dark quickly, and cold!
Also, there’s a lot more religion there than there is here – more religious holidays and celebrations.
And, as I mentioned earlier, the pace of life is more relaxed there.
Are you enjoying school here in Brighton? What are your favourite subjects?
Yes, I enjoy school here and have made some really good friends. Year 6 was particularly good. I’d say I like all subjects, except Music!
Do you have any idea at this stage what you’d like to do when you finish school?
I’m not sure. I just know I want to go to university, but I don’t know what I want to study yet or what I want to do eventually. When I have to choose which GCSE’s to do, I’ll probably see who the teachers are going to be.
So, what does a typical training week look like for you? And who do you train with? I don’t suppose there are many girls of your age who can keep up with you?
I’m a member of Phoenix. I train with them on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Saturdays if I’m not racing.
On Mondays, we normally do hill reps in Withdean Park, or a tempo run, such as 7 minutes out and 7 minutes back, on the sea front.
The Wednesday sessions are always at the track. A typical session would be 3 x 300m. We do them quite hard, and get long recoveries of 10 minutes. Otherwise we do say 6 x 300m, not quite as fast but with shorter, 2-minute recoveries.
My races are often on Saturdays, particularly the cross-country races in the winter. But, if I’m not racing, I’ll do another track session – or a session in one of the parks in the winter.
My friend Naomi is at a similar level to me. She’s just coming back from injury so we’ll be able to train together again soon.
As you spend a lot of your spare time training, do you think you miss out on doing nice things with your friends?
Actually I don’t think I miss out at all. When I’m training, most of my friends are doing their homework, but I don’t normally have homework as I usually do it when I’m in class.
What do you think it is that motivates you to run and to train so hard?
I want to be a good runner and I always want to win my races. When I’m training, particularly when I’m doing hill reps, it really hurts, but I just think about how I’ll feel afterwards. It always feels nice when I’ve finished the session.
And finally, what is your greatest ambition?
I don’t know what exactly I’d like to achieve in the future. I think the important thing for me is just to enjoy my running and to keep it fun.
Almi, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you. Thanks very much for your time today, and I hope you continue to enjoy your running!
By Mike Bannister