The British champion and teacher schools Matt Long on the art of indoor 400m running
Glasgow Emirates Arena. February 23, 2020.
Powering into the lead over two laps is a 25-year-old school teacher sporting a famous light blue and yellow Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow vest.
Holly Turner and Krystal Galley give chase in vain and settle for silver and bronze as Jessie Knight crosses the line almost a second and a half clear of the field to be crowned British indoor 400m champion.
I remind Knight that she had every right to feel confident as just eight days previously the hurdles specialist had clocked a stunning 400m PB of 51.57 at the very same venue in defeating a world-class field including Poland’s Justyna Swiety-Ersetic at the Müller Grand Prix.
“After running a PB the week prior, I was really excited to compete at the British Championships,” said the former Loughborough student. “I knew that I was in good shape so I just wanted to run two solid rounds and end the indoor season on a high.
“Last year, I narrowly missed out on the final so going into this year’s championships as a contender was a really different experience. I just focused on my own race plan and attacked the first lap as I know I am quite strong in the second half of the race.”
Indoor season as a facilitator for outdoor success
So why did she make the decision to compete indoors over the 400m and in what ways does this facilitate her outdoor season over the hurdles?
With enthusiasm she responds: “I always love competing indoors as I feel it is a good indicator of how training is going and gives you a focus leading into the outdoor season. Having a faster flat speed will definitely help my speed over the hurdles so the two events go together nicely.
“Another aim of mine is to compete as part of the GB 4x400m relay team so indoors is a great opportunity to compete in the 400m flat.”
Coping in the context of the coronavirus
The mood darkens when we inevitably talk about the devastating impact of the current pandemic. How is she adjusting in light of the coronavirus and has she effectively written off the track season?
“Things are very uncertain at the moment but our aim is keeping training as normal as possible,” she says. “I do not have access to a track at the moment but our training plan is being adapted slightly so sessions can be done on grass or road instead.
“My main aim is maintaining fitness at the moment so whenever things go back to normal, that will be when we get ourselves ‘race ready’.”
Knight’s reference to ‘our aim’ leads me to naturally ask about her working relationship with current coach Marina Armstrong.
“We have a great relationship and I really trust in her training programme,” Knight asserts. “Marina knows how to get me mentally and physically ready for competitions, which is so important to perform at your best.
“She is very supportive along with the whole of my training group. It is a great set up!”
Advice for young athletes
I remind Knight that one of her big breakthroughs as a junior came in bagging a coveted English Schools title way back in 2012.
What advice does she have for young athletes looking to follow in her footsteps? Philosophically, she maintains: “I think the key thing is enjoying the sport and not putting too much pressure on yourself.
“It is important to work hard in training but also have some balance and distraction from athletics outside of training.
“I feel that this is important for younger athletes to stay in the sport and continue progressing as a senior.”
Our interaction culminates with me pressing this modest and intelligent athlete about her future ambitions. Despite the current postponement of competition she is understandably optimistic, adding: “I narrowly missed out on the World Championships in Doha last year and despite having a successful indoor season this year, the World Indoor Championships in Nanjing were postponed.
“Therefore, my long-term ambitions are to qualify and compete for Great Britain in all of the major international competitions.”
Note: As Knight does not have access to a track, she is running time-based, rather than distance-based repetitions, and has settled into a routine within two weeks of lockdown.
Monday: 2×70 second runs on the road
Tuesday: 8×30 second grass runs as a tempo session with short recovery
Wednesday: 4×40 second runs on the road
Thursday: a range of strength and conditioning circuits as no access to gym equipment
Friday: acceleration runs on the grass
Saturday: long (150m) hill session
» Matt Long has led the recent Youth Endurance Webinars for England Athletics, facilitated by Spencer Duval and Scott Grace