We spoke to double-Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes about running, the Olympics and her alpacas in an exclusive interview
NURVV Run, pioneers of wearable technology and biomechanics that help runners of all levels run faster, further and reduce injury risk, has unveiled its first official athlete association, with British running legend and all-round Women’s Running hero, Dame Kelly Holmes.
So what’s this NURVV business then? In short, what you get is a powerful run coach and physio tucked away in the soles of your feet. Using sensors embedded in insoles paired with a little device you hook on to your shoes, NURVV accurately captures data from your feet at 1000 times a second, per sensor, providing unique running metrics such as cadence, gait, step length and pronation – showing a complete picture of your running technique. It then uses that data to deliver simple, actionable insights and personal coaching before, during and after each run. Clever stuff. And no surprise, then, that Dame Kelly wanted to be involved.
We were given the opportunity to talk to Kelly (squee!) to ask her about this recent partnership and to find out how lockdown has been treating her.
I’ve been enjoying your workouts, but to be honest the thing we love the most about your Instagram feed are your alpacas…
Kelly: [laughs] I remember when I started doing that and I did it every single morning and people started following me for the alpacas, but then started doing my workouts. Lockdown has been pretty positive in that way. I mean last year was a bit up and down, I lost one of the alpacas last summer which was heartbreaking. And then I had an operation on my heel, and then I got Covid. So all of that was hell. But everything else was positive. I got back into my running, I built up a brilliant community of people over at Military in Motion. It all became a really nice respite, all of it. I was spending more time with the alpacas than before. And I started [posting those videos] because I thought people needed something to take their minds off everything. And because they’re weird characters as well as cute, that people would be intrigued by them, and we had beautiful weather, and people could see them gallop over, it was great.
You promote the mental and physical aspects of running. How does running help our mental health?
Kelly: More people are a lot more open to conversations around mental health these days. The link between your physical and mental health is so entwined. If you feel good about yourself, it motivates you. That gives you a positive attitude and a more focussed mindset. So if something impacts your mental wellbeing – ie this challenging time, stress, anxiety and worry – then using running in particular as a tool to get out, breathe, to get that adrenaline round your body, being in the present time, that can really help so many people.
You have to have time where you’re only thinking about you. If you don’t get a sense of you, you lose your identity. But running allows you to do that. You can either be in the present, to notice the birds, the wind. Or some people go out on a run, with music on, in a daze and the next thing they’re home. But they’ve done it, they’ve not thought about negative stuff, they’ve enjoyed it.
Can you tell us what that double Olympics win was like? The training must have been brutal, and the experience itself…
Kelly: It was everything! It was definitely emotional, that realisation that you’ve worked and trained and lived for it for so many years. The training is so intense anyway because of the physical side, but also the time and the routine. And outside of the physical element it’s the rehab, the massage, the ice bath, the food, the sleep. You’re thinking constantly about the end goal, so everything is very intense. So it’s very different to now. Even if I did an event now, I’d never get so stressed.
How has your relationship with sport changed?
Kelly: It was my career, it was my life, it was everything when I was doing it. And that’s not always enjoyable. It’s not always happy and it’s hard. But that’s because you’re pushing your body and your mindset to the nth degree. Even if I do an event now, I still get nervous because I want it to go well, and most of us think about what will happen if it doesn’t. But as an athlete you train to race, so every day your replicate race day. Athletics is something I enjoy watching now, I don’t miss it at all. Keeping fit is more important now, and running is part of that.
What did you want to do when you were a girl? Have those ambitions changed?
Kelly: When I was 14 I wanted to be in the army and to be a physical training instructor, and I did that when I was 18. And at 14 I also I wanted to be an Olympic Champion after watching Sebastian Coe. And I did both those things. I didn’t have any other dreams as they were pretty big ones!
Since then, I’ve had to create pathways. You have to think of the skillsets you’ve got and then it’s about opportunity. And then it’s about finding a passion in something again, and passing my experiences on to other people to motivate and inspire them. Since lockdown happened, but I’ve started sharing more on social media and that was really with this whole sense of how could I keep people motivated, and how can I get people to reach their full potential, how could I build a community of people. And Military in Motion came out of that, and it’s been amazing to see people of all shapes and sizes and abilities just doing things they never thought they’d do because they gave themselves the chance to do it.
And now you’re a global ambassador for NURVV, too – what’s that all about?
Kelly: It really came at a very good time for me, because I’d had the operation and then I had Covid, and that put me out of running for ages. And it really knocks you out. And then because of the op I was going through some rehab and it had affected my running. So when NURVV came to me I was interested in seeing the results: I wondered if it would show me what I feel anyway, that I’m unbalanced, that I’m not running how I would normally run. I’m a forefoot runner, my cadence is really long, and I hardly hit my heels on the ground. And I wanted to see if because of the op I had a weakness or I was pronating too much or not running on my toes. And it’s obviously given me that indication. It’s a running tool.
These days, people want to get data. Most people who love running and are really avid fans of running, those people need more support and they need more feedback, and this is a great tool for that.
That sounds great, but what can it offer the plodders among us?
Kelly: It’s that whole thing of being able to see from your first step, the imbalances, the force that goes through your foot. You have all these sensors on the insole, and that insole shows up a graph that shows the force of your running: if you’re running equally or if you’re pronating. Or if you’re running more on one heel than another. And this is a great tool for beginners, because beginners can get injured very quickly as they don’t understand their body, and they might just run and not do anything to strengthen their body. You get the metrics and the profiles, all the basics you’d expect to see, such as time, heart rate, cadence, and your step length, [but you can also] use it as a tool to improve your training. A lot of people run blind, and only go by time and distance, and they don’t record how their body’s reacting to training, and managing risk. So over pronating will, if it’s not corrected, cause an injury; imbalances will cause an injury, so it’s a great indicator for that.
Is it like having a running coach?
Kelly: Yes definitely. NURVV will give you a lot of data that which will help with training. It’s giving you the really key stats on how to help with your running. When I first used it, I used it on my treadmill, and I was impressed by how it told me how fast I was running and where my foot was landing, and you could hear it rather than looking at your watch. And this is nice because it links up everything in one place. That technique and performance feedback is going to be very beneficial, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginning or an advanced runner. I’ve spoken to complete beginners about technique, talking to them about pronation and niggles on one side or the other. The more they understand their body the more they progress their running. Then it makes you more motivated, you get more passionate about it, and you start setting goals.
Do you feel like you’ve fully recovered from Covid now?
Kelly: I feel like a Duracell bunny now! Literally! I don’t know if it’s my mind going, “I’m not getting old!” – I have a big issue with age, if you hadn’t guessed! So yeah I feel really good. It did really hit me and wipe me out. I felt so fit over the summer and then I just got hit. But I was sensible, sleeping more, taking that time off, looking at what I was eating. I started doing some upper body weights first, then my core, then slowly from there. I’d say it was three months I was really building myself back.
I wanted to share how I was feeling on social media [at that time]. Because I’ve always been open about my health and my mental health. And with my fitness, I want to inspire people because I’m a double Olympic champion, but I do it to keep fit now. I’ve been retired for 14/15 years, but fitness wise I’m fitter than I’ve been for years because I made the conscious decision to be more proactive and be more consistent. And by passing that on to other people, it changes their mindset about what they can achieve. I say to people, do not care about anyone else, you can’t worry about what someone else does. I’m working 100% and you’re working 100%, and what you’re doing is just as hard as me. I’m doing Lunch Date with Kelly during the week now three times a week, because I thought so many people are doing the fitness and running and using this time to get fit, and those that are so less active cos they’re sitting at the computer and don’t walk to work anymore. So I thought anyone can get off their backside for 20 minutes a day and shake it all out, have a bit of positivity and be re-energised for the rest of the dat. I just thought I’d do that until the world gets back to normal.
And we hope she continues to do it afterwards, too! Honestly that daily dose of Dame Kelly positivity, fitness and alpacas is pretty much what kept Women’s Running going last summer. We’re looking forward to the next instalment already.
We took an in depth look at NURVV, and all it can do for us as runners, in the February issue of Women’s Running, available here.