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clays mould into great athletes

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Bobby Clay

23 January 2014

Over the past couple of years Bobby and Alex Clay have established themselves amongst Britain’s most promising endurance talents. A string of encouraging performances culminated at the turn of the year with the sisters occupying the top two positions at high profile cross country events on successive weekends.

Bobby was a runaway winner of the junior women’s race at the Great Edinburgh XCountry on January 11, with Alex finishing second, before the result was repeated at last weekend’s Cardiff Cross Challenge, and she admits that her recent performances have been something of a pleasant surprise.

“It wasn’t really expected” 16 year old Bobby said. “I’d struggled with injury at the end of the summer which meant I wasn’t quite on form at the European Trials. At the European Championships I ran an OK race so I went into Edinburgh trying to prove mainly to myself what I’m capable of. I knew that my performance was a lot better than it had been before Christmas, but I just didn’t know what to expect.”

With both girls still at school, balancing academics with international athletics can be difficult, but Alex saw the Christmas holidays as a chance to focus their efforts solely on running.

She said: “I wouldn’t say it was expected or a target to do so well, but Bobby and I put in some really good training sessions over the Christmas period. It’s quite hard juggling school and heavy training so it was good to have the holidays to put all our energy into training.”

The Invicta East Kent duo train together under the tutelage of coach Peter Mullervy and the sisters agree that their training group is a key component of their success.

“It’s great to know I’m always going to have a training partner of a really high standard,” Bobby enthused. “It’s so good that I’ve got someone who is going to push me along and it’s the same for Alex I think.

“Sometimes it can be hard because some people like to pit us against each other and it’s not really like that. Obviously when you’re racing it’s every man for himself, but as soon as we cross the line we’re sisters. We aren’t enemies or rivals so we want to share it together.

“We have a brilliant coach, Peter Mullervy, who really works well with us as individuals. The setup isn’t anything special, I think it’s more that we’ve all improved together at a similar rate so there’s never been someone ending up way ahead of the rest. It’s always been a competitive group, so I think it’s down to that.”

“I don’t really see any negatives in it,” Alex agreed. “It’s so good to have someone on the start line there with you and during the race. In Edinburgh I felt good and was in fourth when I saw that Bobby was miles ahead. I thought ‘why am I settling for this when I’m capable of more?’ So it pushes me on.”

2013 was a hugely successful year for Bobby, representing GB & NI at the World Cross Country Championships, European Cross Country Championships and over 1500m at the World Youth Championships in Donetsk, where she finished fourth. She looks back on her experience in the Ukrainian city as something of a turning point.

“That was when it hit home how much I want it, because I came fourth. If I’d have come fifth, I’d have been absolutely over the moon. But I came so close. I got a PB, but there was a part of me that was so upset at the same time – it’s an emotion I’ve never really felt.”  

It’s easy to forget that Alex is just 18 and Bobby still only 16, so how do they balance their training around schoolwork and the other demands placed on teenage girls?

“It’s just about time management,” explained Alex. “It depends because there are times when schoolwork obviously has to come first and there are other times when it’s not as crucial. I think when you are an athlete you’re quite a perfectionist anyway.”

Bobby also believes that planning her time effectively is how she gets the best out of herself.

“I do all of my work at school so I have a lot of my evenings free for training.  When racing is really heavy, I probably do neglect my friends a little. But they’re so supportive and they’ll watch me race – in Edinburgh they all saw me on TV.”

Despite their close bond, the sisters do disagree on one thing though. When asked whether they prefer competing on cross country or the track Bobby responded with “I’d probably have to say track because it’s so exciting”, while Alex instantly said “cross country; I prefer the longer distances and it can get boring on the track!”