Jill Boltz- Runner, Coach, Wife, Mother, Champion.
By Nicole Martin-Capturing Cairns
I recently had the privilege of talking with Jill Boltz (nee Hunter), two time Olympian, who proudly represented Great Britain on the track in the Seoul and Barcelona Olympic Games in 1988 and 1992 respectively.
What an amazingly modest individual.
She chats with a natural sincerity, and a deliciously light hearted disposition. She shares her experiences happily, in aim of passing her knowledge forward.
Hiding underneath her witty sense of humour and contagious laugh, is a strong competitor, a rare talent, a wealth of knowledge, and a heart of Gold.
Please enjoy this transcript of an Interview with an understated champion, in so much more, than just running.
THE FAST 10
💬What is your favourite cool drink?
🏃🏻 -Pepsi max
💬21 km or 5 km?
🏃🏻-At the moment 21 km
💬Hot weather or cold weather?
💬Teenager or toddler?
🏃🏻-Oh easy, toddler
💬Sleep in or early riser?
💬First thing you do after a hard run?
🏃🏻-Have some water
💬What do you tend to do when you are angry?
💬Introvert or extravert?
🏃🏻- Ooooooh, depends on my mood…oooh-I actually don’t know?
💬Does ageing bother you?
🏃🏻-It wouldn’t, but I’m turning 50 soon and I’ve got a saggy bum, so now it does.
💬Are you ever lazy?
💬You’ve represented Great Britain in two Olympic Games- Seoul (1988), and Barcelona (1992). Which was your favourite and why?
🏃🏻I loved both for different reasons.
Seoul, I didn’t expect to make the team, so that was a pleasant surprise! It was only my second time on a GB team, so I was a bit overawed by it all, and at first I was knocked out of the heats. I felt like a loser so that was tough.
It turned out to be really fun though because loads of people were knocked out in heats, and as a result, we actually got to see so much more of the Olympics than I actually did at Barcelona. It was actually an invaluable learning experience because it made me realise I had to up my game if I wanted to stay at that level.
In Barcelona there was a lot more focus on my performance and a different pressure level. I had to stay very focused and away from everything, but saying that, it was probably my favourite. I made the final and came 10th. I was hoping top 5, but during the race in the final I got distracted-I do very stupid things sometimes!
💬Don’t we all! What happened?
🏃🏻There was a girl, Elana Meyer, it was very hot and there were sponges on the outside of the track. She went to get one, and I followed her. I don’t know why, I didn’t need it, and then when I came back, I was at the back of the pack, and I never got back into it. I was thinking too much about her, because she was the favourite, and I thought to myself, “I’m going to do what she does” instead of sticking to my own game plan. That bugged me for years, but through my involvement in coaching, I have realised those mistakes and similar ones like it, have taught me invaluable lessons.
💬So what does it take then, to be a champion?
You all get to that starting line, you’ve all put the work in, and so it then comes down to who believes they can do it…and then, who manages ‘mentally’ to put it all together on race day. Some athletes have an ability to focus and block out the pressure more effectively than others.
My coach never actually told me he believed I could win a medal, and with that, I thought getting to the Olympics was probably the best I could do.
I wasn’t expecting to win, but I was hoping to get in the top 5. If he had have told me he thought I could get on that podium, maybe I could’ve upped my game, looking back now.
💬So how much of that PB, or podium finish, at an elite level, is mental?
🏃🏻A HUGE amount. More than half, I would say. At a National level, if I was told I could win, I believed, and I’d go out and do it, but when there were competitors from other Nations coming into the mix and I was not used to racing them, the gates of self-doubt would open.
Unless you have a strong ability to focus, it will muck with your head, and therefore your performance.
💬Does an Olympic Games feel different to a World championship or a Commonwealth Games?
🏃🏻Oh Yes. I won a silver medal at the Commonwealth games, and it definitely didn’t feel as pressured. In an Olympics, there is an enormous amount of pressure on you from your country, and that’s really hard to get your head around, because you don’t want to disappoint them.
💬I have heard before that the way the Olympic Games is portrayed in the media, is totally different from what it’s actually like-it’s not all roses. Was this true for you?
🏃🏻No, that was not my experience, I absolutely loved it. The village was like its own little world, it made you feel like everything revolved around the Olympics and nothing else was going on. Everything was there, we were very well looked after. We mixed with all the athletes, it was a total blast- except for some of the more well known ones of course, who would choose not to stay in the village to avoid distraction.
💬We all know there are Performance Enhancing Drugs in elite sport.
Do you think the incidence of it has increased, or has it always been there?
🏃🏻 I think it’s always been there, but we chose not to believe it back then, and now it’s simply more exposed.
💬How do you keep the spirits of an athlete up knowing that it may not be a level playing field, as a result of drugs?
🏃🏻 We were always told to be the best that we could be, and if the cheats were there, they’d get found out eventually. There was really nothing we could do about it.
I think it’s important to remember that if your heart is really in it, you’re in it to do the best you can, and that’s all you can do. You train as hard as you can, and know in yourself on race day, that you’ve done it the right way.
💬Do you think it does affect some athletes? Knowing they are competing with cheats? And thinking “I can’t beat them because they’re probably on drugs?”
🏃🏻Well if they think like that, they have the wrong attitude all together and it will affect their performance. Some people are always looking for an excuse. I always tell the kids if you put yourself on the starting line, even if you’re not 100%, you don’t go up to someone and say “oh I wasn’t well” you just say “well done”. You can come to me and we know where you’re at, but you never make an excuse if you’re on that starting line.
Honestly, if an athlete is not having fun, and constantly making excuses for their performance, they won’t be able to sustain the mental strength and self belief required to make it to the top, and that is the bottom line. In my experience, if an athlete doesn’t want to be there, there is no parent and no coach, that will ever be able to change that. You have to be absolutely mentally solid, and have an impenetrable self belief.
💬So how do you recognise a champion in a Junior athlete?
🏃🏻It’s funny looking at the kids, because some of them are born with it, you can tell.
💬What are they born with?
🏃🏻It’s like an inner drive.
As Phil Bradshaw said, “Champions are born, and then they are made.”
Genetics is first, but then they need to put in the hard work, and they have to realise that-Genetics is never enough. They need to have loads of resilience to be unaffected by the disappointments, and that stoic mental edge to cope with the pressure…and of course, they need the opportunity. Many don’t have the opportunity, and that’s a shame.
They have to be able to endure the pains and discomforts, be tough in training and know it’s going to hurt.
Some kids look at our training board and are nearly in tears, and others just say “Right. Bring it on”. They know it doesn’t matter if they don’t achieve the times I’ve set out and they seem to know that if they stick with it, they eventually will. You sometimes have to intervene and pull these kids back a bit. Those are the ones that will achieve to their maximum potential. They’ve got the correct mindset and the ability to focus on their goal.
💬How old were you when you started to get really good?
🏃🏻Not until I was about 16. I would make top 10 at Nationals, but I wasn’t on the podium until then.
💬Have you always wanted to run?
I can remember when I was 8 years old saying I wanted to go to the Olympics, and there was nothing going to stop me. I was going and that was that. It was never really an option in my head not to, I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t run. I had no other plans. I was so determined that when there was a break in the season, and I was asked to stop running, I didn’t want to. That was the turning point for me-when I realised that I couldn’t NOT do it. Having said that, it is very important to have a break, and so I reluctantly agreed.
🏃🏻Yes. It takes a lot of maturity to have a break. If you don’t, it will be more detrimental to your performance than if you do.
💬When did you retire from competitive running?
🏃🏻In 1996 I qualified for Atlanta, but I got a stress fracture in my hip. I went to the training camp but I didn’t get any further than that-I never really got back after that. I did a few races but never to that level. It was from 1993 to 1996 that I repeatedly got injured and that just started to mess with my head, as I knew mentally how important it was to be at peak fitness to achieve at the top level.
💬Looking back, what contributed to your injuries?
I didn’t eat very well. Nutrition wasn’t really a big focus back then, it’s much better now. When I was about 18 I got told I looked like a chipmunk, they said I was carrying too much weight for a runner. I asked them what I should do, and they simply said to cut back to 1000 calories a day, but they didn’t elaborate, so I had no idea what to eat.
💬Is it easier for young athletes now with so many services available to them?
🏃🏻I wouldn’t say it’s easier because it’s available to everyone, but it’s NORMAL now to involve massage, nutrition, and physio. It’s just upped the standard on a global scale I guess- it’s more professional theses days.
💬Do you miss it?
🏃🏻I miss the feeling when everything is going well and you feel like you could just fly, it’s awesome. It’s all clicked and you’re on that starting line and you’re prepared…and it doesn’t matter if you don’t win, you know you’re going to put a pretty good race in out there. I miss those moments.
💬Take yourself back to an Olympic Games. At the start line, waiting for the gun to go off, looking up at the crowd. Tell me about that feeling.
The worst part, was that last visit to the toilet before you dragged yourself out there. I can remember thinking – “I’m not going out, I’m not going out, I’m not going out”… and then you remember everything you’ve done to get to that point. I tried not to think about other people because you’ve got to do it for yourself first. So I just went out there and did my best. There’s no way I would intentionally run badly, so if I didn’t perform, it didn’t matter. I was fine once the gun had gone off, it was the waiting that was hard.
In the world champs they kept us waiting for 20 minutes at the starting line, which was torture, because Carl Lewis was going for the world record in the long jump, it was awful, the crowd was massive, sold out.
💬Have you ever had any great disappointments in your career?
🏃🏻 When I kept getting injured, it was demoralising. I’d work so hard to get back to where I was, only to re-injure myself and not be able to run. There were three times that that happened and then I broke down, it was messing with me.
💬Do you still run today?
🏃🏻Well I have scoliosis in my lower back and if I do too many kilometres, it can be a problem.. like more than 21…that’s probably my limit.
Most of my training these days is with the kids, although I can’t keep up with them, so I go with the younger ones.
💬Tell me about PACE PROJECT
🏃🏻It all started when my daughter Poppy started running. She attended a training session, and it took 2 and half hours and they hadn’t really done anything productive, so I thought… “I should coach them”. I started coaching her and her friends, and it developed from there.
The only thing I don’t like, is that we turn kids away, because I haven’t got enough time. We are currently trying to get a feeder program which will be great.
💬So who are the athletes to watch in your group?
🏃🏻Six were Queensland representatives in the State cross country team (Clio, Oli, Gordon, Taylor, Connor and Toby) and we had two State champions this year, Clio and Oli (my boy). We are currently training for Nationals.
💬Why do so many athletes struggle with depression and substance abuse when they retire?
🏃🏻Because they lose that high. I know personally that after a major championship it was always a downer. You’d work so hard and then it was over, just like that.
Many in my era, should have stayed on in school but left early and had nothing to fall back on. My advice is to keep studying, because not many will make a living out of running, and if they do, it’s only whilst they’re running and not afterwards. Having something in your life other than your sport is important. It makes the transition away from top level competition easier.
Interestingly, I performed better when I was actually working in a department store at the same time as training. Then I went over to the USA and I got a contract with Nike and all I was doing was running. I was around runners, I was living and breathing running 24/7 and I started to train more when I didn’t need to which resulted in injuries. Where as when I was working in the department store, I was meeting normal people and my life was more balanced. It was actually a much better formula I think.
💬What training did you do when you were young?
🏃🏻3 days a week at 10 and 5 days a week at 12.
I swam before I ran, and stopped when I had to train in the mornings. Swimming requires a lot of discipline which actually helped me with my running.
💬If you weren’t a runner, what would you have been?
🏃🏻I would have picked an individual sport. Probably swimming. I tried swimming but I was too nosey and I talked too much and would get into trouble, so I started running as well, where I could talk! Then the swimming coach got me going in the mornings, and that was it for me. Swimming is very time consuming.
💬How do you prevent burnout in kids?
🏃🏻They need breaks. Some kids don’t break and then they eventually get tired.
💬How long is a break?
A month in the middle of the year or end of the season, and a couple of short week-long breaks throughout the year.
💬Can you pick burnout in kids?
🏃🏻Most of the time, yes. You can see it in them, there are tell tale signs.
You can tell in their sessions, in their attitude, their times are down, they lose interest. Sometimes they’re tired and we’ll cut back a bit if we see that, and sometimes during heavy phases of training, they’re tired, but you’ve got to push them through it, which is hard. If they’re really struggling I just let them have a break, because you don’t want to lose them to the sport. You see so many kids pushed so hard.
I can remember a little boy when I was younger, his dad pushed him so hard, pushing him around the track. He never smiled, and by the time he was 14 we never saw him again.
Keeping them interested is important. I’d rather have them only come once a week, or have them there, and give them half a session to do if they seem burned out than not at all. Then hopefully they’ll come back.
💬What’s the difference between training boys and girls?
🏃🏻If a boy’s really developed, they run better, and if a girl is underdeveloped, they also run better.
💬What do you think of barefoot running?
🏃🏻I wouldn’t recommend it.
💬Do you know Zola Bud?
🏃🏻Yes, she comments on the kids stuff sometimes, because her daughter runs. We were in two GB teams together but because she was so good, she was secluded from everyone and we didn’t get to socialise with her a lot. She was brilliant. It’s a pity there was all that controversy involving the tripping incident and Mary Decker. It was probably nothing but the media blew it out of proportion which was damaging to her career.
💬Have you met Rob de Castella and Steve Moneghetti?
🏃🏻Yes Daniel (my husband) and I know them both. Daniel used to train with Rob, and we know Monna’s.
💬Is it true Monna’s eats a Mars Bar before a marathon?
🏃🏻Probably, sounds like him, I’d believe that, because they used to go to Macca’s…but he wouldn’t eat like that all the time. Just remember, everything in moderation. If you talk to them, it sounds like that’s all they eat, but it won’t be!
💬What would you eat the morning of a 21 km race?
🏃🏻Porridge or honey on toast, but 4 hours before, because that’s what my gut needs. If I was racing at 0800 I’d get up at 0400 to eat. Some people can eat half an hour before.
💬How about your diet a week before the lead up to a race?
🏃🏻I wouldn’t change anything from what was normal for me every other week.
💬Post race hydration…what do you drink?
🏃🏻I’m not really into any of that fancy stuff, just water. However having said that, if it was a long race and I was in the heat, I guess I’d have an electrolyte drink. I know the kids have Gatorade now and then, but water is probably the best thing for the amount they’re doing.
Adults in an Iron man who are out for hours and hours, need a lot more nutrition and hydration. It depends on how long you are out there.
💬What is your sports shoe of choice?
Daniel likes Asics, and he has Poppy in those.
Nike Pegasus worked for me when I was injured and I don’t like to change. I had an A shoe once and it felt great and all cushioned, but I kept getting heal injuries, so it depends on your foot. It’s entirely individual.
💬Do you believe in heat training?
🏃🏻If your race is scheduled to be run in the heat, you need to train in the heat and get used to it, or you will suffer on race day.
However, not every day, because it drains you, so it needs to be incorporated into your training schedule. If you do it on race day and you’ve never done it before, your body is going to be in shock.
💬What are the aspirations of your children?
🏃🏻Oli thinks he’ll be Mo Farrah, Milo thinks he’ll do it, but he thinks he can just go…Milo wants to know why I didn’t go to the Olympics for swimming and I said to him “you don’t just go Milo…you’ve got to work hard.” Poppy loves her AFL.
💬Is there anything you find difficult to handle when coaching kids?
🏃🏻Display’s of bad sportsmanship when they don’t run well.
That’s hard to deal with. I try to encourage them to accept it for what it is, learn from it, and move forward with extra motivation, rather than dwell on the negatives.
I have one female athlete who is an exceptional role model when it comes to professionalism-Clio Ozanne-Jaques. She has set such high standards. When she doesn’t race well, which is not very often, she just says, it’s been one of those days, and she gets on with it. She always congratulates her fellow competitors, and supports her team mates. She is amazing. We will miss her next year when she moves to Brisbane. Hopefully we’ll be able to line her up with a great coach down there, as she wants to continue running.
💬What do you do to prevent injury in your athletes?
🏃🏻We do a dynamic warm up. No stretching before running, that’s gone out of vogue. High knees, lunges, bum kicks.
💬Do you believe in massage?
🏃🏻Oli at 12 years of age has massage every 6-8 weeks. It’s good because they can pick up if they have a tightness during heavy periods of training. It can prevent injury.
💬Do you still enjoy running?
🏃🏻Yes. I would go mad if I didn’t have it. It’s more a release for me these days.
💬If you had your time again, would you change anything?
🏃🏻Yes. I’d stretch more. In my running days, I’d let a niggle go, and it would get tight and lead to an injury. That’s why I’m on it with the kids. ‘Fix me’ look after a lot of the kids. Preventative measures are very important.
💬Do you have any regrets?
🏃🏻I went to the States, for professional reasons, where I was paid to run. It was good in the short term but not in the long term looking back. Perhaps it would have been better for me to stay in England. I was racing and running every weekend, and I think I lost focus on what I was really doing. The championships were really what I wanted to do well in, but then I was doing other things.
💬Do you feel you were running for the wrong reasons?
🏃🏻Not at the time, but looking back I think I probably got wrapped up in the money and it distracted me from my goals.
💬What advice would you give to young athletes who make it to States or Nationals?
🏃🏻I’d tell them that they’re as good as everyone else, they’ve made it there, and they’ve done the work. They’re no different to their competitors. I believe you have to bring everyone down to your level. I encourage my kids to talk to the others, and then they realise they’re just normal, they’re just like you, they’re not doing anything different. Trust your coach, they will make sure you are doing all the required work…and most importantly, believe in yourself.
💬If they don’t do well, and they’re disappointed, what do you say to them?
🏃🏻Anything at a new level needs to be treated as experience. The next year there will be opportunities to build on their performance, and if they don’t perform, then we’ll sit down and analyse it together. It could have just been an off day, they could have been nervous, so I’ll ask them why they were nervous. Often it’s just…..they don’t think they’re good enough, and they’ve never told me that before. So I ask them why they think they’re not good enough.
Sometimes they have too high expectations. It’s important to be honest with them as to where they’re at as well. It’s important to keep them grounded and realistic.
The same goes for anyone trying to achieve a dream. Don’t give up too early if you don’t see results straight away. It takes time to reach ones potential.
Persevere, love what you do, and success will come.
…and MOST importantly, believe in yourself!