Read on for the last of our three interviews with Hannah England and Luke Gunn. This time, we chat to Hannah and Luke about their lives, Birmingham and their coaching inspiration.
Being in a relationship with another professional athlete must mean you both understood what was involved and the pressures you were under. Were there any cons?
Hannah: Fairly early on in our relationship, we found the biggest challenge was that we very rarely performed really well at the same time. Athletics has many ups and downs, and unfortunately we didn’t always seem to be in sync! We learned to support each other, regardless of our personal situation, and ultimately that really helped in 2012.
Some of the toughest occasions came at the British Championships: there were a good few years when the women’s 1500m was about 90 minutes after the men’s steeplechase. I would have to try and watch Luke’s race without getting emotionally invested so that it didn’t drain me for my race. I’d have to bottle everything up to celebrate or commiserate together once we were both done.
Bud Baldaro coached you both at Birmingham University. How has he influenced your coaching?
Hannah: By his relentless positivity!! Athletics can be absolutely brutal: you often have to go through real physical and mental vulnerability in training and competing, and to have Bud there as a constant positive influence made this tolerable.
Luke: Quite simply, in every way. He is the sole reason I chose to pursue a career in coaching. I find my own coaching simply projects all of Bud’s influence and style. I hope that even a small amount of his ability to instil belief in everyone he advises or talks to has rubbed off on me.
You and Luke met in Birmingham, and now you’re both athletics coaches, Luke for Birmingham University and Hannah for the Birmingham Athletics Academy. Why have you stayed close to home?
Hannah: We both love the city of Birmingham – it has so much going on. We really enjoyed our time here as students and have a lovely network of friends from athletics and university, which would be very hard to leave!
Luke: Birmingham has transformed in scale, diversity of offering and modernisation since our time here as students. It’s a great place to live, with some brilliant people around, and we’ve both grown roots here. Athletically, there is so much on offer around the university, which allows huge variety within our working life, coaching life and social life, testing us both and keeping every year fresh.
Hannah, you once said “I think it’s hard even for parents or friends to get [how much training we do], let alone the general public. The only thing I can compare it to is when you’re really young and fall in love with someone and it’s all you can ever think about. That’s how I feel about athletics.” Do you feel the same about coaching?
Hannah: I get a real buzz out of working with the younger athletes at BAA and watching them fall in love with athletics. I love the inclusivity of our sport: the range of events means that there’s almost always something for everyone.
Luke: Ha ha, I don’t know what Hann is alluding to! Coaching is a 24/7 all-consuming passion, but my main advice to aspiring coaches is to ensure that you keep plenty of ‘down time’ for your own well-being and to ensure longevity in the sport. We don’t want talented young coaches to burn out.
Do you ever work together? Do you always agree about how to train young athletes? If not, what do you disagree about?
Luke: Yes! Hann is a huge resource of experience and knowledge that I try to utilise with my athletes wherever possible. Although Hann doesn’t coach any of the university students, she is very involved in a mentor capacity and is more than happy to muck in.
Often athletes stop ‘hearing’ their coach telling them things all the time, so I try to bring in Hann and others for insight and advice to keep the athlete growing and developing. And trust me, Hann is never shy about quizzing me on the approach I take with an athlete. She’s a great sounding-board and acts as an informal ‘check and challenge’ system.
It's been a pleasure chatting to you both about your lives. We wish you the best of luck with your coaching and all the other projects you’re involved with!
Follow Hannah and Luke:
Twitter: @hannengland, @BhamAthAcademy, @gunnyluke, @BhamTrackElite, @UBSportAthletic
Instagram: hannengland_, birminghamathleticsacademy, gunnyluke, birminghamtrackelite, ubsportathletic
Interview copyright Jane Hammett/MKDP.