University is what first drew Laura Weightman to the city of Leeds, and now seven years later it’s her idyllic home outside the ‘system’ with the support of coach Steve Cram and a fantastic team.
In his own words, Weightman reflects on his time in Leeds and shares some interesting information about life as an independent athlete.
In 2010 I moved to Leeds to study Sport and Exercise Science at Leeds Beckett University. As a 20 year old, I was excited to leave home and couldn’t wait to get into heavy training (and study…) in a new environment.
When deciding where to go to college, my coach, Steve Cram, advised me to go somewhere where I could build a strong team around me, which would allow me to create an environment where I wouldn’t. not to worry about funding and the “system” aspect after me.
It was one of the best advice he had ever given me and he probably hadn’t realized at the time how important it would become.
So here I am, still in Leeds, over seven years later and I love the decision I made.
At the time, Steve and I had only worked together for a year, but despite this short time together, we had a successful 2010 season where I finished sixth at the World Junior Championships. From there, I knew I wanted to continue working with him.
I have always been an independent athlete, even from a young age. I don’t need Steve to be at every session or tell me what to do on a daily basis. I think it was important when we started the coach-athlete relationship because I was ready to be independent from the start.
Plus, with his busy schedule as a track and field sports commentator, he’s unable to be there 24/7 – but at least he can watch my runs while he’s in the commentator’s cabin.
So why Leeds?
My decision to move to Leeds was due to several factors. I was interested in the course, but I guess I could have done it at any university.
Another important factor was that Mick Hill (former Olympic javelin thrower and more recently known as Jess Ennis javelin trainer) was at the time in charge of athletics at Leeds Beckett University.
He encouraged me to come down and look around, and I guess as a former athlete I could relate to him because he understood what I was looking for. To me, Leeds seemed to have everything I needed; a big city (good food / shopping), good universities, beautiful countryside and running tracks (a runner’s dream), close enough for Steve to visit and a track right on campus.
I think Leeds is a hidden gem for endurance training, the Brownlees have created a triathlon center, it is the walking center in the UK and endurance racing is growing year by year. Athletes often tend to head to universities with high performance centers, which is good if that decision benefits you and not someone else.
It’s easy to be drawn to the “bright lights,” but a big part of athleticism is being happy in yourself and happy with your setup. Leeds is a sporting city where you are constantly surrounded by world class athletes from various sports.
Build a team
Competitive sport has developed tremendously over the years, and this is often reflected in the teams that support athletes.
Knowing this, the next step was to build a multidisciplinary team around me and luckily there are several people on my doorstep who are all participating.
Andy Henderson, Leeds Coach – Plays a vital role and oversees all of my training, which I talked about in my strength and conditioning article here.
Alison rose, physio – I’ve seen Alison every week since I’ve been in Leeds. I have had several complex issues over the years and without her I would not have achieved everything I have.
Ian mitchell, massage therapist and runner – Ian taught me all the routes I know!
Dane mitchell, strength and conditioning – Lead my program in the gym. To learn more about the work I do with Dane, click here.
Louise Sutton, nutritionist – Louise has provided me with support and advice over the years to facilitate my development and training. In addition, she made me participate in the education of other young athletes working alongside her.
André Manely, psychologist – I have been working with Andrew for a year now but have known him since moving to Leeds. He has been a lecturer on several of my university modules.
When I decided I wanted psychological support he was a natural fit and a brilliant addition to my team.
A runner’s setup is not complete without their training partners. During my time in Leeds, a large group of female athletes developed. Having this group around me really helps keep training fun, and keeping the fun going is the key to surpassing myself day in and day out.
One of my favorite training days of the week is Sunday, where we go for a long run, explore new routes and then end up in a cafe having lunch, tea and cake!
Plus, there are also several guys in Andy’s party that I chase down the track and who certainly help push me through the road sessions. However, if they like to be chased, that’s another matter!
If you know anything about Olympic sport and its financing, then you know that the financing of lotteries for athletes is a complicated, political and sensitive subject.
Currently I am not funded by the lottery which is a complex matter! However, lottery funding doesn’t define you as an athlete and when I was taken out of funding in 2016, I continued as usual.
Fortunately, I turned pro in 2010 when I sang with Nike, and I’m incredibly lucky to have their support and confidence in me, which still allows me to devote all of my time to running. This, combined with the fact that my team is based outside the ‘system’, allows me to focus on improving as an athlete.
In addition, I am also fortunate to have the support of the London Marathon which plays an important role in funding the UK endurance athletics program, especially those not currently funded by the lottery.
They helped me attend altitude training camps in South Africa and Flagstaff which was a big part of my preparations for the 2017 season. Thanks for reading and if you want to know more , you can read all about how I train at altitude here.
Another article that you might be interested in is also the details of my strength and conditioning program, which can be found here.