Joasia Zakrzewski is a GP in SW Scotland. She was initially a race and expedition medic but wanted to experience ultras from the other side and so entered the Atacama Crossing in 2010. This had her hooked and Joasia has now represented GB at 50km and 100km on the road and the Trail World Championships, and Scotland in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games
What brought you to running? Do you think that a sporting background as a child is important in order to be competitive in racing?
I was definitely not a "sporty" child. My main memories of school was trying to get out of doing anything competitive at Sports Days....the egg and spoon race probably being the only thing I would compete in. I guess that the attitude of my teachers at the time didn't help as one of the strongest memories I have is of a teacher saying "You're out....and 2 rounders off for not trying!"
I had knee problems (and still do) so it takes a whole for them to loosen up and loose their stiffness, hence I can never sprint, and short distance is what it is all about as a child.
This played a big part in my mindset as a child, so I think the general attitude nowadays of being geared more towards taking part rather than having to be competitive is much healthier and more conducive to people sticking with exercise as part of their lives.
Where do you live now and what benefits and/or limitations does your area have for training?
I live in Dumfries (in SW Scotland) which is a beautiful part of the world, but it does tend to be rather isolated. This means that I do most of my running alone, and have to travel significant distances to race, but it also means that I feel safe when going out and running on either rural roads or in the forest.
I discovered a few other limitations when injured - such as not having a proper swimming pool (we've had a temporary 1m deep one for several years, so it is impossible to do crosstraining such as aquajogging) and gyms having a minimum membership requirement.......but on a positive note, there are many cafes with delicious home baking that are just a "run away" from my house!
How many hours do you train per week? Do you also work fulltime/parent/student? How do you manage to balance everything together?
My training tends to vary slightly week by week as I fit it in around my job as a GP. Short recovery runs can sometimes be done before work, and if I'm doing a long run, them it is left for the weekend. I try to do a faster speed/effort session midweek, but sometimes this has to be deferred due to work/hospital/educational commitments. One day a week I run straight from work, so the next morning I am forced to run back to work (though admittedly, I have been known to make this run in rather short!).
Do you feel that running eats into your social life? How do you feel about that?
A lot of my friends are quite active and so I try to combine running with socialising, be it at races, meeting up for a run and then food on an evening, or arranging to meet at a specific cafe at the weekend, and we arrive separately on foot, by bike or in the car.
Was there ever a time when you were close to quitting? What keeps you going through the tough times? (injuries/bad performances etc)
I guess it depends on whether you mean quitting mid race, mid run or just altogether as I've come close to all 3. I think the important thing for me is to remember that running is a hobby and so I should either be enjoying it or stop doing it. I don't mean you have to enjoy every second, such as in a race, halfway up a hill, or in a speed session, but when looking at the bigger picture. Even if I stop competing, I will still try to keep running if I can....or be active in some way.....as I love the freedom and mind space it gives me. The thing to try to remember is that tough times do come to an end, such as a hill you are running up in a training run, and so sometimes you just need to keep going no matter how slow that progress seems.....and hopefully you'll then be able to look back and realise how far you've come and how much you've gained from that time, be it mental or physical.
Do you have a visualization/race specific meditation routine? Would you mind sharing it with us if you do?
I actually don't have anything specific that I do pre-race. No matter how many races I do, or how lowkey they are, I still get nervous beforehand, but I think that in general this is a good thing, as it means I'm not taking anything for granted or treating any event with the respect that it deserves. I've come to realise that I often have a series of runs that feel terrible in the lead up to a big event, and rather than think of quitting or pulling out (which I am very often tempted to do), I just need to remember that I've performed well in the past after feeling like an awful runner beforehand.
How do you spend your off-season? Are there sports that you enjoy doing that you feel compliment running?
What's an off season?
It's difficult to define seasons for my running, though I do tend to vary distances and terrains through the year to keep the interest. I don't stop running, but after a big event I take a few weeks and just do gentle runs ....or bike rides....usually to cafes, to remind myself of the enjoyment factor. I have recently started doing a few shorter XC races in the winter and then do longer road/off road races in the summer.
What is your favourite race and why?
Comrades has to be one of my all time favourite races (which I've written articles on and described on a couple of occasions in my blog so me won't go into too much detail here). It is the oldest and biggest ultra in the world and is held at the end of May/start of June every year in South Africa (one year from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and the next year in the opposite direction). The whole event is televised from start to finish, the route is lined with spectators the whole way (several deep in places) and I think that everyone you speak to in South Africa has either run it or knows someone who has). In brief, it's an 89k moving party and buffet, so what more could you want from an event?
Share with us any unexpected/funny events that happened during racing or training?
Oh my, so many things to choose from......be it accidentally running out of the EU and crossing into Ukraine (without being shot), being chased by deer along a road in Poland, drug testing in a portaloo in Wales with runners still racing past, knocking myself out briefly in the Dragon's Back Race and so trying to negotiate Crib Goch with a bloody face, bloody leg and broken finger......
What are your next goals?
British Athletics have done the great honour of selecting me to represent GB in three World Championships this autumn - the Trail Championships in Portugal, the 50k in Qatar and the 100k in Spain. I think they have confidence in my ability to eat and recover well, but I've opted to take up the places in the Trail and the 100K Championships in order not to spread myself too thin.
You can follow Joasia on twitter @jozakruns or check out her blog at joasiazakrzewski.blogspot.com