Caroline, Queen of parkrun

JANUARY 2015: Caroline Wood of Brighton’s Arena 80 has just clocked her 100th parkrun victory, only the third person in the UK to do so. And at 51 this makes her the oldest runner to reach such a tally.

In the last 4 years, Caroline has twice been selected to run for her country. On both occasions her team finished in gold position.

She agreed to meet me and share some of the secrets to her success.

Caroline, what an astonishing achievement – 100 parkrun wins! What does that mean to you? I know you’ve been quite instrumental in the management of both Brighton and Hove parkrun and Preston Park parkrun.

I am delighted to have clocked up 100 parkrun ‘first finishes’ as parkrun is a run not a race (although try telling that to the frontrunners!).

My running ‘journey’ started with parkrun in Hove in June 2008. I was new to the area, had never heard of parkrun, knew no one other than my partner Mark, and parkrun was a great introduction to the running scene in Brighton and Hove. The rest, as they say, is history.

I got my 100th first finish at Bognor on Christmas Day 2014 and celebrated with a little Prosecco provided by one of the runners. Although the majority of my victories have been at Hove and Preston Park, I have achieved first finishes at 21 other parkruns and have particularly enjoyed the challenging courses at Lyme Park (Cheshire) and Queen Elizabeth Park (Hampshire). The parkrun community is welcoming wherever you go and I am as happy to be helping out at Brighton and Hove with our lovely management team and volunteers.

And how did you feel when you were first selected to run for England?

In 2011 I started doing some British Masters events. These are events over various distances and disciplines for athletes aged 35 plus. A chance remark from Tom Ulliott saw me apply for the England Masters XC International team that year, when I was 48. I didn’t get into the team but was 1st Reserve and went to a very wet and windy Glasgow to run the Open race. The undulations and the ankle-deep mud and water suited me, and I was 1st Female.

The following year I applied again, aged 49, and was 3rd reserve for the team which was travelling to Belfast. A week before the race I was called into the team. I remember feeling excited and terrified at the same time. I was very proud to be handed my England vest and very scared standing on the start line at Queen’s University. I had a reasonable race and scored for the team.
My goal for 2013 was, when I turned 50, to get straight into the team and I achieved this and donned the England Masters vest a second time to run at Cardiff.

You’ve also had some impressive UK rankings. For example, in 2013 over 5000m you were ranked 4th in the UK in the V50 category. And back in 2009 you were 2nd over 1 mile in the V45 category. But overall, what would you say has been your greatest highlight to date?

Undoubtedly the highlight(s) of my running career were in Budapest in March 2014 at the World Masters. I ran for the W50 GB XC team with Jane Pidgeon and Fiona Mathieson and we won team Gold. Topping that, however, was my W50 3000m indoor track race. I was running against the World Champion Fiona Mathieson and World Record holder Clare Elms. It was fantastic to run in such a quality field and I was delighted with my 5th place and PB of 11:13:96. I will never forget the tension in the call room before the race.

So, what’s your secret? Is it all down to hard training or are there other factors which contribute to your success?

Hard work and focus is important. It is vital to have goals and work towards them. I think particularly when you are older you have to make every session count. I do not believe in clocking up junk miles. As important as training and hard work, is determination and the will to succeed.
I could not have achieved what I have achieved without the help of others. Bob Page, Arena club coach, has given me advice and pushed me at training sessions. My club mates have pushed me at Track sessions. Fiona Jamie has given me regular massages to keep me going. Mark has been a stalwart, driving me all over the UK to races, giving helpful advice during races and hanging around for many prize-givings.

What does a typical training week look like?

Monday is a coached session on the Track – intervals. I do a tempo run on Wednesdays – about 6 miles – usually something hilly (depending on what I am training for). And Thursday is 30 minutes of hill reps and sprints in Hove Park – my favourite session of the week.

What I do at the weekend depends on whether or not I’m racing. If not, it may be parkrun on Saturday (which I use as one of my fast sessions) and a long slow run on Sunday – 8-10 miles on the South Downs. I don’t run Tuesdays and Fridays.

In addition, I stretch every day, swim once a week and walk everywhere.

So, going back to the beginning, I understand you got into running relatively late in life. When did you start and how did it come about?

I did a bit of casual running when I lived in Scotland to keep fit for hillwalking. I did a few races and thought that, with a bit of training, running was something I could pursue and hopefully do well at. I have run seriously since I moved to Hove. Before coming to Sussex I had never done cross-country or even run on a track, so it was all a learning experience.

You’ve raced all distances up to marathon. What would you say is your best distance?

Definitely not the marathon! I am glad I have experienced what it feels like to run a marathon, but I prefer something shorter. I love off-road running and cross-country. My strongest distance is probably 5k.

How about when you’re not running? What do you do in your spare time?

I do various things for parkrun and for Arena 80.

I volunteer for the National Trust twice a week – gardening and Estate work which can be anything from digging out bamboo to thinning lilies in the lake. I enjoy being outdoors and having the privilege of beautiful surroundings and lots of sightings of wildlife.

I also do a bit of gardening in Hove Park with Friends of Hove Park.

In the Spring I enjoy helping out with Brighton Marathon and, in the Autumn, the Run the World children’s event.

What’s your next running goal?

My general goal is to remain injury free and keep on running. I am in the process of formulating my running goals for 2015 – I will aim to have three target races during the year and would really like to get an age grading of 88%.

Well Caroline, you are a true inspiration, particularly to women in the local running community. What would be your top running tip, perhaps for women who think they’re too old to compete?

You are never too old! My top tip is to have a goal – focus your training on that goal and don’t do junk miles.

Thanks Caroline. Well done on your success with parkrun, and on England selection, and good luck with whichever races you decide on for 2015!

By Mike Bannister