Caroline Wood didn’t join a running club until she was in her forties. What started as a pathway into a changing life became something bigger than she imagined. Not only did it lead her to living on the south coast, it has also taken her across the world winning international medals. Kate Matthews caught up with the phenomenal Arena 80 athlete to chat about her background, training and how she is dealing with changes following isolation and Coronavirus.
Kate: Who are you?
Caroline: My name is Caroline Wood and I am 57.
Kate: What are your favourite distances/disciplines?
Caroline: My favourite discipline is xc, xc and xc – 5k to 8k preferably with some hills, mud, water and proper conditions such as driving rain and wind! I prefer the cooler temperatures of winter so the two are a perfect fit. I enjoy parkruns all over the UK and beyond for the social side. I ran the London Marathon in 2008 and am glad to have had the experience but long distance is not for me. I had never run xc before I moved to Sussex and it was a chance remark by Fiona Jamie when I had newly joined Arena which saw me at the first League fixture at Goodwood in Oct 2008 and I have never looked back
Kate: How did you get into athletics?
Caroline: By way of background information I was born in Surrey but moved to Scotland (near Stirling) when I was 9. I was not a sporty child and did not do athletics at school. I went to university in Aberdeen and lived in Aberdeen for many years. I did a lot of hillwalking for which I did casual running as a way to keep fit for the mountains. I was widowed at 42 and as part of my transition into a new life I went on a running weekend and it was suggested that I join a club so I signed up with Metro Aberdeen in 2007. I also made the decision that I would run the London Marathon in 2008 on a charity place. I started training in late summer 2007 then disaster struck – I got achilles tendonitis which put me out for seven weeks. I remember my first run after injury – it was a beautiful autumnal day in Deeside – I was a bit wobbly but it was so good to be back on my feet. Luckily my recovery happened at the right time as I was booked on a trekking trip in Jordan where I met Mark (Stephenson) my partner from Hove. Fast forward 8 months and in July 2008 I moved to Hove. Parkrun had started in Hove Park so that was my first foray into running in the area and I joined Arena 80 in August 2008 as it had (and still has) a strong Vet women’s section.
I am coached by Bob Page at Arena and also my long-suffering partner Mark Stephenson. I am lucky to work part time for Oatopia making flapjacks and brownies also do volunteer gardening for the National Trust at Sheffield Park. I am looking forward to returning to both in due course.
Kate: What do you love/hate about the sport?
Caroline: I love and hate competing in equal measure – I don’t enjoy feeling nervous before a race but I enjoy achieving and pushing myself. I have been lucky that apart from my spell out in 2007 I have only had minor niggles and one bout of ill health so I have never been away for long. I don’t like number swappers and the issues they cause for race organisers. On the wider athletics scene I don’t like the fact that drug cheats deprive those who should have won of their moment of glory.
Kate: What is your most proud athletics’ achievement moment?
Caroline: My proudest athletic moment was winning an individual W55 bronze medal for GB at the World Masters , Torun, Poland in March 2019 in a strong field. I am also proud to have made AW Masters W55 UK xc rankings (4th) for 2019/2020 xc season and to have been selected for the Women’s Masters England team for Masters International xc on five occasions.
Kate: What has been the toughest moment?
Caroline: My toughest moment was finishing that World Masters xc race in Torun – I was spent and being chased down but managed to find a last burst to get up the final hill then to the line.
Kate: How often do you train (in normal times)?
Caroline: In normal times I run 5 times in 7 days which includes a long run (over an hour) at a steady pace, a tempo run at a quicker pace (5 miles), two interval sessions (on the Track or in Hove Park), and often in normal times a parkrun/race at a weekend. An important component of my training is strength work classes with Matt Barsch at Riptide, Hove park (currently doing his classes at home via Zoom). Strength has really helped my core, posture and helped maintain muscle mass – particularly important as you age.
Kate: Other than actual achievements/PBs, what has being part of athletics brought to your life?
Caroline: Athletics has enriched my life. Apart from the competing and podium positions I have met many lovely and inspiring people. I have travelled all over the UK (and abroad) to compete, particularly at Masters level. I have participated in and volunteered at parkrun on numerous occasions and really enjoy its social side and inclusion. On the volunteering side I am level 1 field and have been helping out at local events.
Kate: Best athletics memory?
Caroline: My best athletics memory is going for a run and keeping up with Sonia O Sullivan on a running weekend in Deeside (she was taking it easy!)
Kate: Weirdest athletics memory?
Caroline: I made up the numbers in a Track Relay and then dropped the baton!
Kate: What would you say to younger people wanting to get started?
Caroline: To youngsters I would say start with Junior parkun – a very manageable 2k as this is accessible to all with no waiting lists. If you are really keen, sign up to Withdean Athetics academy or a club with a junior section. Go to watch athletics – a local meet or a major event and be inspired by what you see. The main thing is to have fun
Kate: What would you change about the sport?
Caroline: What I would change – please schedule adult xc in the morning!
Kate: How do you juggle training/competitions around work?
Caroline: Juggling – I am lucky that I work/volunteer part-time so I have time and energy to train but am careful not to do too much
Kate: Favourite athlete (past or present)?
Caroline: Favourite athlete – Clare Elms – W55 Masters world record holder at many distances.
Kate: How are you managing to keep fit/train during Corona?
Caroline: Training during Corona – am trying to keep to a normal training routine and stay motivated. I am doing fast work early in the morning when few people are about. My tip for others is not to stress about lack of races but to maintain fitness, mix up your sessions not just long runs and keep physically and mentally fit and well.