An Edge Hill University student is aiming to represent Great Britain on the world stage after enjoying success in her first international competition.
Tiffany Penfold, who is in the second year of a Sports Therapy degree, competed at the European Under-20 Cross Country Championships in Tilburg, Netherlands, helping GB earn team gold after an encouraging debut performance.
She impressed selectors at the European trials having already produced some eye-catching displays in 2018. A time of 9:37:25 in the 3,000m in July – her only track run at the distance – ranks her eighth in Britain. In her first road race, over 5k, her time of 17:02 sees her third-best in the U20 age group.
These performances culminated in a sixth-place finish at the British Athletics Cross Challenge held at Sefton Park, Liverpool in November.
“Leading up to the GB call-up, my coach and I agreed it would be unlikely I made the team, as it was the top five that made automatic qualification”, she admitted. But, fortunately Tiffany got the unexpected nod.
“I had never intended to make the team leading up to Sefton Park. The aim was just to run well, but not that well! It was a total shock, but now I have put my name out there and will hopefully be selected again in future events.”
The journey has not been easy for the 19-year-old, from Egremont, Cumbria. Tiffany has had to endure serious injury problems which made her consider a future without the sport she first took up at the age of eight when, encouraged by a neighbour, herself and her sister joined the Cumberland fell runners club.
“It was always a bit of fun at the weekends, and it wasn’t until I was 12 that I started training with one of the coaches’ group on a Tuesday and Thursday as well.”
Her progression meant that she focused solely on the track – and at the age of 15 qualified for the English schools 800m, having won her first county championships race. But injury ruled her out of competing – and nearly out of athletics altogether.
“I had incredibly bad shin pain (suspected stress fracture)”, she revealed. “I basically quit the sport I loved and lost all my fitness. I lost any drive I once had.”
Tiffany’s hunger for running eventually returned in her final year of sixth form at West Lakes Academy, with training taking place in a domestic setting…
“I started to increase my work, with the majority on a turbo trainer I had set up in my kitchen! Slowly I got stronger and gradually increased the amount I ran. Towards the end of sixth form I had regained my mojo and started to train properly!”
And yet it took the convincing of teachers – and most of her sports class (who were also heading to Edge Hill) to persuade Tiffany that university would help provide a base from which she could flourish on and off the track.
“I decided to have a look at Edge Hill and loved the campus and sporting facilities! I looked at different degrees and after suffering with injury, which put an abrupt end to the best season I ever had, I decided to apply for Sports Therapy.
“The knowledge which I have gained from the course supplements my training well, as I have a deeper understating of a wide array of influential subjects, such as anatomy, injury prevention and rehabilitation.”
The move to Edge Hill saw Tiffany link up with Liverpool Pembroke & Sefton Harriers & Athletic Club, allowing her to really step up her training, helped by the guidance of coach Mark Bleasdale.
“I typically train twice a day (mornings and evenings) Monday-Friday, and then once on a Saturday and Sunday”, Tiffany reveals. “I wake up early weekdays at 6am and train in the gym when it opens at 7am. This then gives me time to train in the mornings and attend my lectures, which typically begin at 9am.
“Depending on the day, training can be a mix of steady runs, strength and conditioning, swimming, spinning and x-training. My hard sessions are on a Tuesday and Thursday evening with the club, and on a Saturday morning.”
Tiffany’s fell running background means she has always pursued middle distance running, with her early track experience coming at 800m and 1500m – although longer-term it could be 3000m which she concentrates on, with cross-country naturally complementing her work in the off-season.
“It helps runners build strength through the tough winter season, in preparation for the summer on the track. I have never sat down and decided to be a ‘cross country runner’; however, they just complement each other in the opposing seasons.”
There is some tailing off in her training now, and even a few days off before her first action of 2019, at January’s county championships. But the main early-year focus is on the World Cross-Country Trials at Prestwold Hall, Loughborough on 9 March, with the main event being held at the end of the same month in Aarhus, Denmark. After that, the track season provides cause for optimism…
“The trials will be difficult, as I will have moved up to the Under-23 age category. As the youngest, I expect the older girls will be stronger and more experienced. Nevertheless, I will give it my best shot.
“Regarding the track season, my coach and I have agreed to focus on 3k. We believe I have potential over the distance, and with specific training, we’re hoping I could really make something out of it.”