Street Athlete: Niamh Corbett
I met Niamh Corbett at an event recently and had a good chinwag with her. She has a high-powered, super-stressful banking job and is really involved with an organisation called ‘The 30% Club’ which aims to get more women on corporate boards. Anyhoo, during our chat, where I’m kinda blow away by the sound of her job, she drops in that she also happens to be an ultra-marathoner. Err, WHAT?! How the heck does she fit that in?! That level of badassery means she’s obviously a perfect candidate for Street Athletes. Check out more about her below, in her own words.
Investment Banking – I spend a LOT of time in Canary Wharf.
What’s your sport?
Marathons, Ultra marathons and any distance in between!
How did you get into it?
I was on an M&A deal at the time and was working some pretty crazy hours. It was about midnight on a Friday night, and I was in the office feeling pretty unhealthy, unfit and out of shape. I was so fed up that I decided to do the most feasibly ridiculous thing I could think of at the time – apply to do the London marathon. I sent off an application form there and then and promptly forgot all about it. Three months later I got an email out of the blue telling me I had a place and thought ‘well, I suppose I’d better do it, but I’m definitely only doing it once’. 8 marathons later I’m still going.
I think you either love or hate your first marathon. It’s pretty binary. You get people that cross the finish line and demand that their running shoes are immediately destroyed, and then you get those people that get inexplicably bitten by the running bug somewhere over those 26.2 miles and never look back.
What’s been your best moment in your sport so far?
It would have to be standing on the start line of my first marathon, London, in 2007, not able to believe I’d actually made it through all the training. That mixture of fear and excitement never goes away. Each race I do has to be longer or faster than the last one, and it’s that fear of how your body is going to react versus the excitement of what you might achieve, that keeps you going when everything hurts.
That and finally crossing the line of the Stockholm marathon last year. It was the worst marathon I’ve ever done. Despite it being the end of June, there were gale force winds, freezing temperatures and sheet rain. I was so cold I actually went blue. But I inexplicably refused to give up, and running into the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm with the finish line in sight, was sheer joy!
What motivates you?
Running for me is so much more about the mental benefits than the physical benefits. It quietens my mind, and on days when you get ‘runners high’, you feel like you can run forever. There’s also nothing quite as satisfying as the feeling of really sore legs!
How do you push yourself when you don’t want to train?
I don’t think anyone has an easy answer to that! I usually focus on reminding myself how good I’m going to feel afterwards, and failing that, just get ready and get out there with the minimum amount of faff so I don’t have time to talk myself out of it!
What’s your favourite motivational quote?
All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. (T.E.Lawrence).
What events do you have lined up for this year?
My wedding! I’m getting married in France at the end of August, and the planning involved in that has definitely curbed my sporting activities of late!
I did do the Eco-Trail de Paris in February, and I’ve got a place in the New York Marathon in November, rolled over from last year after I made it to New York and 36 hours before the race when it was cancelled! I was in the expo when they announced it was cancelled over the tannoy. Cancelling it was the right thing to do, but it would have still been the right thing to do a week earlier.
After that I want to take up Cross-Fit, which I’ve been putting off as I just don’t have enough time, and I’d also love to start building up enough points to qualify for the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc – 150km across the Alps – that really is the ultimate!
What role does fitness play in your life?
A huge role. I think it goes back to the mental benefits you get from sport. If I don’t do sport for a while I start to miss it. It also keeps me sane when work gets busy!
Do you draw inspiration from any other types of sport?
I love lifting weights. I get a real feeling of strength, and building up my leg strength with weights has actually done more for my marathon time than any amount of running has done.
I think that the Olympics last year changed the perceptions of women’s bodies. Fit, strong, muscular bodies were seen as successful and desirable by both men and women, and I think we’ve seen the start of a very subtle but permanent shift.
What’s your top training tip?
It is as much about training your mind as it is about training your body, especially for long distance running. Running for me is a form of active meditation, and it’s about recognising when your brain is trying to tell you to stop and give up, and somehow override that. I would say you run the first 20 miles of a marathon with your legs, and run the last 6 miles with your mind.
On the practical side, I really struggled in some of my earlier races as I hadn’t properly worked out mid-race nutrition. I just wouldn’t feel hungry so I’d get by on a few jelly babies but my energy levels would be dropping off a cliff. I’m now an energy-gel convert and also swear by electrolyte drinks.
What do you do in your down time?
I’m very involved with the 30% Club – it’s a cross-business initiative started with the aim of getting more women onto corporate boards, but now with a widened focus on developing female talent at all levels. We’re going global this year, and are very excited about it.
But I’m mostly spending a lot of time planning my wedding at the moment! There’s not a lot I don’t know about biodegradable confetti, disco classics, and sugared almonds at this stage.
Follow Niamh on Twitter @CorbettNiamh