NATIONAL WINNER of the AoC Sport Fitness Trainer Competition 2020
I’m a 47-year-old Mum of 2 teenage children who loves running and fitness. I had been looking for a change in career for several years having spent 15 years working from home as a website developer. It wasn’t exactly my dream job and I sorely missed interacting with other people, but it worked while my 2 children were younger - it meant I could do the school run every day, watch their assemblies, be around in school holidays and let my husband pursue his career as a hospital consultant and academic. My youngest child started secondary school last year and that was the impetus I needed to finally make that change; to do something I was really passionate about and interact with other people on a daily basis. I enrolled at Trafford College for the Level 3 Diploma in Fitness Instructing and Personal Training and loved every minute of it!
By March 2020, I had everything in place to launch Run PT (my Personal Training business for runners). What a time to start a business! Just a couple of days before my first outdoor session, the national lockdown was announced and all my plans were put on hold. At the time, my sister asked if I might try PT sessions via Zoom, but my immediate response was “No, I’ll leave that to the experienced professionals”. I did some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions in the garden with my son and we recorded a few exercise demonstrations on TikTok for my PT website, but that was about it. At least I had my website business as a back-up. I suspect that I would still be doing that now if Rick Poole, my Trafford College tutor had not put me forward for the AoC Sport Fitness Trainer competition.
I passed the first ‘Passive stage’ in May (an online exam and 2-minute video). The next stage - a brand new ‘Virtual Heat’, gave me the opportunity to try PT via Zoom with my chosen client, Clare, an experienced runner who needed to work on her glute, core and hamstring strength and wanted to get faster over 5K. I was surprised how well the Zoom session worked, and with Clare and I both having a TRX suspension trainer at home, there was quite a lot we could do. I was also able to incorporate Tabata-style ‘on the spot’ running drills into the sessions, which I felt would help her develop a more efficient running form and faster running technique. I also loved the challenge of using a broomstick in our workouts and found some great exercises online. We completed four sessions together followed by the live Virtual Heat on 29th June. We both loved it and I was really buzzing afterwards. It even inspired me to start a 4-week 5K Improvers Course in July with a weekly outdoor interval session and a weekly Zoom class. The course concluded with a 5K time trial. I did the sessions myself (separately) and proved its worth by scoring my fastest 5K time in over 3 years at the virtual England Athletics 5K Championships.
In August, I was delighted to hear that I had got through to the National Finals and relished the opportunity to keep up the focus on my PT business. I still had a bit of a wobble in the summer though, wondering if I was ‘good enough’ and how on earth I was going to get any official PT clients. I put a post on my personal Facebook page asking for someone with weight loss, fitness and running goals to be my 12-week competition client. The fact that we were going to be working on Zoom meant that I was not restricted by geography – I could work with anyone, anywhere! I had some great responses almost straight away, but the one that jumped out at me was Lynda, an old friend from our pre-parenthood days who had moved out to Cheshire some years back. I knew from Facebook that she had taken up running but like many, Lynda had experienced a ‘lockdown slump’, gained half a stone in weight and seen a corresponding decline in speed and fitness. We chatted on the phone, collated measurements, and I carried out a consultation and some fitness tests via Zoom. We got started soon after, and Lynda has kept an entertaining blog tracking her progress ever since (which inspired one of Lynda’s running friends to sign up to a 12 week PT programme with me).
My initial Facebook post was shared by a few others, and a friend’s friend (who lives in the Midlands) was drawn to the idea of Zoom PT sessions as she felt uncomfortable training in public and liked the idea of working out from home. I was delighted to start training her too – my first official PT client.
To communicate with my two clients outside of our weekly sessions, I set their weekly Cardiovascular (CV) work and strength and conditioning sessions using my Run PT app. I liked the fact you could include videos of all the exercises to make it easier for them to follow from home. I realized there was a potential here to build a range of ‘off the shelf’ progressive online training plans for runners, combining weekly running sessions with strength and conditioning workouts. In the run-up to finals, AoC Sport with British Rowing, put on a rowing masterclass for us. This cemented another idea that I had for a 4 week ‘injured runners’ plan, allowing runners to keep their CV fitness going when unable to run due to injury.
In September, I also started outdoor interval sessions – one on the track and another in a local park; these have been really well received and have resulted in another 2 new PT clients. Beside running, I incorporate a dynamic warmup, running drills and cool down stretches into the sessions. I’ve loved seeing the enjoyment people get from doing short speed efforts and several that have been running for years tell me that they are now getting faster times than ever before.
Completing the finals tasks
Getting ready for the competition finals has been a hugely intense process. What an exciting range of tasks we were set. I think nearly all of the finalists commented on the challenge of being pushed outside of their comfort zone and everyone has relished the opportunity to learn new skills. There have been many a sleepless night and late nights tweaking my 12 week progressive training plan, creating a 2 minute promotional video, filming a 10 minute workout video using household items and finally putting together a business plan and presentation for the judges.
For the live final, I was to deliver a 30-minute Zoom exercise class of my choosing. I wanted to do something different so decided on a kettlebell and stability ball workout. Along with Lynda, I approached 2 other friends who like to run, and we commenced a Monday morning ‘Bells & Balls’ class (or as I liked to think of it ‘Belles with Balls’). It was great fun and, though no-one else in the group knew each other, we were soon exchanging banter via a WhatsApp group. I tried out various exercises with them each week before fine-tuning it to a 30 minute, fast-paced, class that would flow well for the finals. We had a timed run through the week before, then I did another couple of practice sessions with friends who had the necessary equipment (including my college tutor’s wife, also a PT who gave me some helpful tips!)
With just 4 days to go to the live finals, I had a setback when an old back injury flared up during my Zoom PT session with Lynda. The following day, I managed to hobble to the physio for a sports massage and got a last-minute appointment with the chiropractor. I could only hope that my mobility would return in time for the finals.
Finals day dawned: I tried to keep my nerves in check but apparently looked petrified as the judges introduced themselves and explained the procedure. Once the class started though, I was ‘in the zone’ and everything with the class seemed to go really well – my back injury meant I could really focus on my clients and was able to make relevant corrections to their positions and also show them progressions where needed. With 1 minute left on the clock, the last 2 stretches were a little rushed, and I immediately wished I had dropped the ‘kneeling quad stretch’ to focus on my last, easier to manoeuvre, ‘figure of 4’ stretch.
However, there was no time to stop and think about it – on to the next challenge; recreating my 10 minute home equipment workout video. This was a fairly intense, full-body strength and cardio workout featuring wine bottles, tin cans, and paper plates (as sliders). Given that I wasn’t 100% happy with the workout video I had submitted, and with my mobility restrictions due to my back problems, this was the part of the finals I was most nervous about delivering (why, oh why had I included so many paper plate 'mountain climbers'?) But I gave it my best shot, albeit with a bit more emphasis on the beginner version of each exercise!
Then it was straight onto a 15-minute Business Presentation. There was a momentary panic when I thought I had lost the Internet connection and I desperately scrambled to switch to a 4G connection instead (calling on my husband for technical support). All seemed OK though and I used Zoom screensharing to commence my PowerPoint presentation. I knew time was against me now and I talked through all my slides as quickly as possible, elaborating on key points. However, with 2 slides remaining (including my 12-month targets and profit and loss spreadsheet), Head Judge, Karen, called time. My live final hour was over and I was left reeling from the fact that I hadn’t had the chance to complete my presentation or answer any of the judge’s questions! All I could think of was the cautionary advice in our competition brief – “remember that ‘less is more’”. I felt deflated afterwards but was at least cheered to read the enthusiastic comments of my Zoom class team in our WhatsApp group (who felt the live class had gone really well).
My first job interview in 20 years
The next afternoon was my final task, a mock job interview for a PT role with a regional chain of Health Clubs. I was definitely feeling the nerves as the interview started but was primed and ready to talk about my reasons for becoming a PT, to elaborate on my strengths and weaknesses, how I could operate as a gym-based PT and even to discuss current fitness trends. However, the interview simply consisted of a series of 4 specific PT questions. Within a matter of minutes, it was over. As I logged off the Zoom call, I immediately thought of a myriad of more detailed responses I could have given. Had I done enough?
A couple of days later, I gave my media interview to the lovely Kerry from Active IQ. The purpose of this was to catch up with each finalist and find out how we thought the competition had gone for us. Whilst I felt I hadn’t performed as well I could’ve done, I tried to focus on the huge impact the competition process had had on my business and was able to chat happily about everything that I am now doing as Run PT and the fantastic progress my clients are making. The format of the competition this year has meant that we haven’t got to meet our fellow competitors, so the media interviews also gave us a chance to watch each other, and find out how everyone else felt that they had got on. On the whole, everyone seemed pleased with their performances and excited about their new businesses. I was a little in awe of a couple of the finalists (and particularly impressed by the fantastic range of branded kit sported by the 4-strong Welsh contingent)!
The next day, all 10 finalists gathered on a Zoom call with AoC Sport's Angus and Christopher, Head Judge, Karen, and Kerry from Active IQ. We prepared to hear the results of the 2020 National Fitness Trainer Competition. By now, I was convinced that I hadn’t done enough to get a placing in the competition, so I actually felt quite relaxed. I was pleased to hear each award winner announced (including the Judge’s Special Mention Award to Catherine Spencer, Riot Coaching who also won Bronze and the Active IQ Media Award which went to James Allen, Goliath Fitness for his show-stopping promotional video). I was especially delighted when Hazel Maddoc-Sutton, Hazel Hynes Fitness, also from Trafford College, won Silver. When my name was announced as the Winner of the 2020 AoC Sport National Fitness Trainer Awards, I was absolutely gob smacked but utterly delighted! I could not believe it. Before I knew it, it was just myself, Christopher and Kerry on the Zoom call and I was able to say some words of thanks to my college tutor Rick, to Lynda and a few others who had played a role in my journey and then briefly summarise what the competition had meant to me.
One day on, and I am still getting my head around the fact that I am the National Winner of the 2020 AoC Sport Fitness Trainer Awards. I have battled with my confidence throughout the competition, so this is an amazing validation for me, and one I will be sure to take forward with me in my PT business. I am sincerely grateful to Angus, Christopher, Karen and all the team at AoC Sport for persevering with the competition in 2020, and for adapting it to its new virtual format. To quote silver medalist, Hazel – it’s been a life-changer! The AoC team must be hugely proud of the impact they have made on the businesses of each and every one of the 10 finalists. Though intense, the competition has given all 10 of us a great basis from which to launch our PT ventures. I wish all the other finalists the very best of luck moving forward.
ZOOM PERSONAL TRAINING
One-to-one personal training sessions delivered via Zoom tailored to your personal aims and objectives - whether it is to increase speed, rehab an injury, strengthen areas of weakness or to boost your fitness.
Socially distanced interval sessions for runners of all abilities. Combining fun & varied speed sessions with a focus on running technique. Includes a dynamic warm-up, strength work & cool down.
ONLINE TRAINING PLANS
Chasing a PB? Training for your first Marathon? Experienced runner looking for a progressive strength & conditioning programme? I will deliver you a bespoke progressive training plan using my Run PT app.