When TrackField97 spoke to her last year, she had recently won BUCS (British Universities Championships) and South of England titles. After winning the 1500m title at the AAA English National Championships this year, the 23-year-old believes that entering the world of senior competition has been “a big eye opener, and a step in the right direction.”
Although she is pleased with her transition so far, she admits that there is a lot of hard work and adapting ahead as she tries to build on her success as a junior. “It took me a while to get going this summer after graduating from university, but I managed to pull it together after the UK championships. Unfortunately, the World trial was not a success for me this summer, but I did come away with a gold medal at the England Championships a few weeks later.”
Three years since becoming national under-23 champion and setting her personal best times over 800 and 1500m, the Basildon AC athlete stresses the psychological battle she’s faced in trying to keep moving forward. “I think the biggest challenge when you stop progressing is the mental side of things which can also impact on the physical. Since 2012 it became very frustrating racing the 1500m and always getting the same result of running in the teens and watching others move forward whilst you stand still.
“I have realised this season that I now need to put in more work and mental focus as it requires so much more being a good senior. I haven’t stopped progressing – it’s just about sticking in there and getting your head in the right place to move forward once again!
“However, once the junior and under-23 vests have gone, it can feel like you are in limbo as sponsors also withdraw if you are not performing. Being a senior takes more sacrifice on and off the track, but the main advice I can give when transitioning is stick in there because the first few years are not going to be easy.”
With this in mind, Kersey says she’s ready to take up a more professional approach, with the help of her coach Eamonn Martin. “My mindset for a few years was still very immature and I can finally say that going into this winter my approach is going to be different. Some of the minor changes include running to miles instead of time so that I know clearly each week what I am doing. I will also be upping my mileage.
“I may even have my first shot at altitude training. Regular circuit and plyometric training will be included because this is something I neglected during my degree. It is important that I get more responsive with the ground this winter, especially as I have come unstuck in the last 200m of a 1500m on the track in the past. A finish is what I am aiming to work on, as I already have the strength.”
Another notable change to Gemma’s programme will see her moving up to 5000m on the track next year, after a strong debut on the road this season in her home county of Essex, when she clocked a time of 16.29. “I will be stepping up to the 5000m in 2016, but I may run the 1500m at the Olympic trials depending on how I take to the 5000m. I am hoping that if I perform then opportunities will arise.”
She has also decided to take a gap year to concentrate on her running, helping her to set some clear performance goals for the coming months and the year ahead. “My main target for this winter season is a top twelve finish at the European Cross Country trials in November. A vest would be nice, but the summer is going to be my sole focus.
“My main target for 2016 is trying to make the European Championships. The Olympics will be a whole different board game, but the Europeans being in the same year will give the next lot of aspiring athletes an opportunity to get a senior track vest.”
Support for athletes is something Kersey feels passionate about, and is reflected in her assessment on the state of her event. “I believe British middle distance running is strong but there is more that could be done to encourage these females. I know there are standards to be met to make British teams, but how can British distance running develop when full teams are not always taken? I believe that athletes can over-perform when at a major championships.
“I am not on any funding and I am not worried if I never get funded as I believe it is important as an athlete to be able to fund yourself. Funding to me would be an added bonus!
“However, I have been supported by a lovely local solicitors company for the past four years in Essex which helps pay for my treatment, travelling to races and warm weather training. The Rob George Foundation has also been a wonderful help this summer giving me a grant whilst I take a gap year to focus on my athletics.”
This won’t stop Kersey, who has a Fashion Design degree from Middlesex University, keeping herself busy pursuing a variety of interests. This can also provide a distraction from the pressures of being an athlete. “When I’m not running I like to get my mind stuck into different projects. My main one is designing and making clothes. I have two totally different lives, which makes things refreshing when I go back to training and competing.
“During my gap year, I want to stay in touch with fashion, starting on a new sports wear collection and I have recently joined my first agency for styling.”
“Who knows what 2016 will bring…”
Facts about Gemma Kersey
Personal best performances:
Ultimate goals – “Obviously every athlete’s dream is to get an Olympic medal, but my goal for this moment in time is to make my first senior track championships next summer. I will then aim higher if that’s a success”!
See previous feature: http://www.trackfield97.com/?s=Gemma+Kersey
Feature by Alex Seftel for TrackField97.com