The Altitude Centre client interview: Rebecca Robinson

We caught up with elite runner Rebecca Robinson, who achieved an exceptional PB of 2:36.51 at the London Marathon this year after renting one of our sleep systems.

Rebecca Robinson running a PB in London 2015
Rebecca Robinson running a PB in London 2015

You’re a Doctor of Sports Medicine: How does this help with your training? Does it ever hinder?
It’s definitely an interesting parallel which has led to some great opportunities: Whilst working at both the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, I was preparing for World Mountain Running championships. Opportunities such as altitude training have helped me develop as an athlete and learn about physiology as a physician at the same time. My exercise medicine work is focused on trying to get patients with chronic illness more physically fit, and at the other end of the spectrum, sports medicine helps heal the injured athlete. Being an athlete myself does help in understanding what drives sportspeople to push the boundaries. I’m also really keen that a big part of my future work will be to help more people enjoy being active.

How do you balance work and training? You spent time in Kenya at a training camp: Is work supportive and understanding about your commitments?
Juggling might be a more accurate answer! I’m lucky that work is more flexible than junior doctor rota hours, so I was able to take three weeks’ holiday to train at this year’s British Athletics camp in Kenya- an amazing opportunity. That said, I now have more different aspects to my work and a research proposal and a couple of articles had to be written in the African sun, but it was not too much of a hardship.

Both medicine and athletics have been part of my life for so long it seems like a good balance. Sometimes a session will fit refreshingly between the day’s clinics.

What is the hardest thing about being a very competitive athlete and working full time?
Remembering to recover! Although currently, I don’t work nights, most days are long and I’m in a different hospital or clinic environment, travelling between cities, covering a sport at a weekend or doing research. Family and friends are very important to me, too. So whilst the training always fits in, gaining all its benefits from adequate rest and recovery is something I have to be strict on.

Do you have any tips/ life hacks/ advice for our clients who are struggling to manage training, work and personal life?
Sometimes less is more- it’s easier to say this than actually do this. But remembering that the body won’t differentiate between life, work and training stressors is important. If you’re driven, just pushing harder can seem like the best option, but the best performances can come when you’ve got the balance right, not from hitting a magical number of miles.

What are your favourite pieces of kit/ gadgetry right now?
It’s not really a piece of kit, but sleep is my most important tool! There’s quite a lot of sports science interest in the importance of sleep in regards to illness and injury reduction, but it is also common sense.

It’s an area I try to help the athletes I work with focus on, especially with travel or in the run-up to competition. There are apps, devices and medications to optimise sleep, but the best advice evidence seems to be adopting a healthy routine, putting down your smartphone and having a cut off for evening work emails and social media. I had to work hard on this in my taper for London.

What do you think about during a hard training session? What’s your motivation when you really don’t feel like training or going on a long run?
Ideally, I’ll be focused on the session and its outcomes. Training is one time I find it hard to multitask! However, I’m lucky to train in the Lake District and Peak District and have just been to Kenya, which are naturally beautiful and inspiring places to train.

It is rare that I don’t want to train and if I’m really tired, I’ll question myself whether a rest day is due in order to prevent overtraining. But on days when the grind of training is a planned part of the process, focusing on my running form can help me feel like I’m trying to improve one thing that day, especially if pushing the pace is not a focus.

What would be your advice to those who want to achieve a PB this year?
Patience. Good coaches have said this to me over the years. I’ve run for half my life now and was lucky enough to represent GB in the European marathon after my first London marathon in 2010. It took me five years to return to London and I hope I will have longer to develop and to reach my goals.

Running, like any sport is unpredictable: The hard graft of training can be difficult to quantify in results and there can be more ups and downs than the hilliest run. But ultimately we get to pursue a sport we love. A second point I’d add is to share the experience with friends. The training partner who meets me at 7am on a dark winter morning is a big reason I’ll make it to the start line of the next race, and those friendships last a lifetime.

Rebecca rented a sleep system from The Altitude Centre. ‘Sleeping high’ is a well-recognised training protocol for endurance athletes and those acclimatising before a trip to high altitude. To find out more, email/ or call us (020 7193 1626) to talk to one of our team.