On October 8 Rose Harvey heads to Chicago. Her simple aim? To run a time that qualifies her for the Olympic Games.
2:26:50 or better.
A daunting task but all a matter of perspective. Four years ago the 2022 British champion was a full-time corporate lawyer, living a different kind of fast paced life. Working in-house for a finance provider, Harvey provided legal advice on the deals they brokered.
The 2:27 marathoner joined Clapham Chasers on moving to London in 2015, the club she has ran for ever since:
“At the time I was a trainee lawyer, which is long hours, a very different environment, very intense. It was a great stress release from that as well. It became this real social network that I would have never have made if I’d not had a running club.”
Running, like for so many first finding their feet in London, became Harvey’s joy. To say she didn’t show signs of talent would be unfair. Quite how far it could have gone will have surprised most optimists.
In 2015 her 10k time ranked 351st in the country. Three years later her 37:02 personal best had seen her climb to 236th. There were, however, hints of what may come. As she closed out the decade, Harvey ran 76:04 in the half, a personal best by almost four minutes and the 35th fastest in the UK that year.
Shifting the gears
2020 was the year everything changed. With the world grinding to a halt, 23 Capital, Harvey’s employer at the time, lost a huge chunk of their business. Staff numbers were cut from 70 to roughly 15, the then 27-year old one of the unfortunate majority.
Eager to keep herself busy Harvey threw herself into her running, aiming initially just to run for her county, Surrey. Training regularly in Battersea Park, Harvey immersed herself in a testing regime. She ramped up volume and intensity in tandem.
Though she would return to work in the later half of 2020 the die was already cast. Clear progress for Harvey came quickly, though she lacked opportunities to show it. Her sole outing in 2020 a 75:03 half-marathon win at a low-key race in Dorney Lake.
Along came the Chester Marathon in Spring 2021. A year of serious training behind her Harvey came into the race boasting a personal best of 2:55:41 from 2016. Her most recent attempt to improve on that saw her run eight minutes slower in 2018.
The cameras that day fixed on the battle up front in the men’s race, Jake Smith pace making Callan Moody, before deciding to finish himself and earn the Olympic standard.
Social media exploded, news outlets from throughout the world picking up on Smith’s performance but the more eager-eyed spotted an equally noteworthy performance. Almost exactly 20 minutes behind, Rose Harvey had taken almost 25 minutes off her personal best.
2:30:58, Harvey’s ambitions to compete for Surrey had proved modest, her breakthrough within the Commonwealth Games standard.
Major championships calling
Little did Harvey then know that the Commonwealth Games would be missed in favour of an even bigger prize. In February 2022 Harvey ran 2:27:17 in Seville, 13th on the British all-time list and well under the World Championships standard.
Harvey left her previous coach before those Eugene championships for a variety of factors, but one of them was a training schedule not quite tailored to her needs:
“I used to do three sessions and a long run a week, which for me was way too much. And I got injured. I think that’s a lot more than most people do.”
She spent the last few weeks of her build-up taking advice from 2:14 marathon man Ross Braden but bad luck prevented seeing the results, good or bad, of that collaboration.
Harvey did not finish her debut World Championship marathon and a day after tested positive for COVID-19, cruel irony given how her venture into elite-level marathoning started.
Athletes at any level will know a disappointing outcome often leads to some soul-searching but Harvey’s unique path in the sport allows a bit of perspective:
“I just kind of find a lot more joy in it than others sometimes. Even when it’s not going well, I kind of still have that perspective of I’m still doing what I love and it still feels like I’m just doing my hobby. I think having that perspective on just being able to find the joy in it does really help, especially in the tough times when it’s not going totally smoothly and you’re not flying, which of course is all part of the journey.”
Harvey now finds herself under the guidance of Alistair and Amy Cragg. Alastair was a European Indoor champion over 3000m, Amy a World Championship medallist in the marathon. The pair are the coaches of the Puma Elite group on the East Coast of the USA.
It’s been a long-distance relationship that’s lasted much longer than first anticipated:
“After the World Champs, I was out in America anyway, and I asked Puma if I could just go and meet the group. I was like it’d be a fun time to see how pro training group works and spend a bit of time in North Carolina. It just sounded like a really cool opportunity. And then I got there and just loved it. I really got on with Amy and Alistair, loved their approach.”
The pair’s philosophy has seen Harvey move down to two sessions a week including one as part of a long run workout.
“Then after the World Champs, partly because I got COVID and so didn’t complete the race, I then decided to do London Marathon which was October. So it was quite a quick turnaround. And I needed a coach to get me there. So I sort of said to them, can you help me out to London? I don’t know what I’m doing so I definitely can’t coach myself. Just get me through this and then I’ll figure something out. I don’t think they ever intended it to be a permanent situation but here we are a year or so later and it’s going well.”Embed from Getty Images
The Cragg’s steered Harvey to the British title in late 2022, running 2:27:59 for 10th place at London. They’ve also used 2023 as an opportunity to reset, a year to work on some of the speed that Harvey naturally might have bypassed in her fast-track journey to the top:
“It has been a different year and it’s very much been conscious. At the end of last year, I felt like I’d rolled from marathon block to marathon block and was sort of hanging on by a thread by the end of it. It made sense, timing-wise, to take the spring off a marathon and have a really solid build up that wasn’t rushed, that wasn’t cramming it in and trying to get over an injury or anything.
Also I’ve always felt like speed is my weakness. I’ve never really trained it. I’ve only ever done the marathon and I felt like I had the most to gain there. So I did a lot of work on my speed, but very much in the context of like, okay, let’s try and make marathon pace feel easier and work on that upper end so I can be more efficient over the marathon.
If I was going to take a bit of a break from the marathon for one season, it was the time to do it. Then come back for autumn and smash autumn. I think it was challenging in that the marathon’s my comfort zone. I’m good at it and I know how to do the training. I was then thrown into this 10K group in Colorado. I’ve never trained that high before. And these girls run 10K for the US. So I was properly in at the deep end. It was a humbling experience but you know I feel sometimes those are the times that you learn the most about yourself and learn like the mental toughness you get from doing that. You can take that into other training as well.”
Big Half bounceback
Harvey’s 70:02 performance at the Big Half in not ideal conditions suggests that break has been worthwhile. But the physical training is one part in her holistic approach to the sport. One that consistently emphasizes the importance of the mind:
“I think a lot of athletes do use sports psychologists, but I think sometimes it’s thought of you go to a sports psychologist if you’ve got something like an issue or you’ve had a bad experience, but that wasn’t at all why I went. It was more that I thought, well hang on, I’m training my body. but the marathon is such a mental game. Like why wouldn’t you train your mind as much as you train your body? So I have pretty regular sports psychology sessions and I work on everything from race day mindset to how I’m going to manage the buildup and a lot of it is around being patient and not overdoing it.
Managing, especially coming into the Olympic window, that desire to kind of compete with everyone and you look around and see what everyone else is doing and think, oh God, I’ve got to be running like 130 miles a week and managing all of those emotional sides of running that translate so much into the physical. But yeah, a lot of it’s, you know, the marathon. The actual race is such a mental game. You have to be so mentally tough. You’re going to have a bad patch and you need to know how to get through it.”
Speaking to Harvey it’s tempting for the outsider to look at unearthed talent as the simple reason behind her success. That would, however, fail to consider everything around it. Her journey allows a fresh perspective, difficult for elites who have always grown up with the carrot of major championships. Athletes who have always seen the Olympics as their ultimate prize.
Rather than imprisoned by pressure, she is emboldened by opportunity.
Run 2:26:50 or better and Harvey gives herself a chance to call herself an Olympian but failing to achieve it won’t define her relationship with the sport:
“Obviously I always watched the Olympics and enjoyed it and thought it was incredible, but it never even crossed my mind that I could be going for it. So, I wouldn’t say it’s been something I’ve dreamed of since a kid. Obviously it’s an insanely difficult thing to do to get to the Olympics. I’m definitely fully aware of that. I’m not playing it down at all. But yeah, I think in a way it helps that it’s not been this childhood dream, that it is the be all and end all.
I think for me, it would be absolutely incredible to go and of course it would be probably the biggest achievement of my running career. But I think having a bit of perspective on it helps, makes it not feel quite so overwhelming.”
Joy, perspective and balance, Harvey heads to Chicago a liberated runner making up her own real-life dream.
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Featured image of Rose Harvey courtesy of Jerry Sun (Curated for Runners)