Payne steps into elite company on long road towards Olympics

the main present under the Payne family tree for daughter Jocelyn last Christmas was an entry ticket into the Berlin Marathon.

Marathon runner Jocelyn Payne. (Picture: Simon Hulme)

Most people would settle for a dvd or an item of clothing, but not this long-distance running fanatic, who has spent the past few years funding her way around Europe, pushing herself to run lower times in the continent’s big marathons.

So when free entry to one of the top long-distance events is gift-wrapped for her, it is always greatly received.

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Imagine her delight then when it is announced that her home county will be staging a marathon for the first time, and that not only is it on her doorstep, it is also free for her to enter because as the fastest under-23 marathon runner for the past two years, Jocelyn Payne is one of the hottest prospects in the discipline in Britain.

Tomorrow, York hosts the inaugural Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon, a chance for elite runners the world over to descend on the famous city to mix with celebrities and selfless charity supporters running 26.2 miles dressed as a giraffe.

It is also the chance for young Britons and Yorkshire runners to stand on the start line against the finest distance runners in the world. Such an opportunity is one Payne is relishing.

As the fourth fastest under-23 in British history and the quickest for 30 years, the Doncaster-born runner is ready to make the step up to challenging at elite level.

Olympic and Commonwealth Games might be beyond her at this stage of her development, given she only started running seriously four years ago.

But setting targets, and breaking her own personal best times, on home soil, are very much in her sights.

“It’s going to be a massive experience for me to line up on an elite start line with some of the world’s best marathon runners,” said Payne, who will have Kenya’s Helen Koskei and Ethiopia’s Tigist Sheni for company tomorrow.

“Up until now, I’ve been a big fish in a small pond. I can go to local and county races and finish in the top three, but this for me is the level I aspire to be at.

“You know at some stage you have to be on a start line where some of these athletes are going to be 10 minutes faster and you’ve just got to let them go.

“I’m not good at doing that, I’m a racer, so to have the experience of standing next to these guys and thinking ‘I’ve got to run my own race’ – that will be really useful.”

Since starting to run to get fit at the age of 18 because her father Nigel refused to buy her a gym membership, Payne has gone from strength to strength.

Describing her ability as natural, her talent has been harnessed into rapid progression by Leeds University running coach Greg Hull, under whose tutelage she has been for the last four years.

But Payne is very much a self-starter, and a student of the sport. Much of her technique and pacing has been learned from the mountain of running books she has read.

To develop as a competitor, she has never been afraid to dig deep into her own pocket to fund trips to places like Berlin and Amsterdam to compete in their marathons.

Last month in the German capital, when she was cashing in her Christmas present, she ‘jogged’ round the course because she did not want to burn out ahead of her ‘home’ marathon.

Her personal best is 2hrs 45mins 58secs, set in April when she finished third in the Greater Manchester Marathon.

Lowering that mark is the aim tomorrow, with a predominently flat circuit in York said to be conducive to quick times.

“I want to do anything under 2.44:59,” said Payne, who at that time is likely to be 17 minutes down on the front-runners.

“I don’t want to go out at 2.40 pace and blow up halfway, I want to go at 2.45 pace and try and strengthen. If you’re running 26.2 miles, you can’t go out and smash it, you’ve got to think about it, so the aim is sub-2.45 and try and consolidate at that time.

“The Yorkshire Marathon has been my target all year. I can run this with a lot more heart and soul.

“When I run abroad, I go there to run set times, like a time trial, but when I’m in England I race to be competitive.”

Payne runs an average of 90 miles a week during intense training blocks and has also set up a young marathon club for students at Leeds University, where on top of all that, she works full-time to support her passion, because marathon running is not ‘glamorous’ enough for a major funding programme.

Adjusting to the new working hours has levelled off her upward trajectory, to the point where forcing her way into competitive Commonwealth Games teams next year might prove difficult.

Due to family background, Payne can run for Scotland or England, and although she has prospered training along the canal path in Leeds recently, her future lies north of the border, with a move planned for some time next year.

Her goal is to be competing at major events at the world championships in London in 2017, with Tokyo 2020 her long-term Olympic ambition.

“I’ll be 30 then, that’s the most realistic option, allowing for setbacks, injuries and life getting in the way,” said Payne, who has been utilising experienced Leeds marathon runner Sue Partridge as a font of knowledge.

“Sue’s career trajectory is something I would hope mine would follow.

“Sue is 10 years older and where I would want to be at that stage, so chatting to her is invaluable, particularly on things like training.

“Working 40 hours a week has taken its toll, and I’m having to learn how to train smarter, to make every single mile count.”