Dina Asher-Smith is the fastest British woman in recorded history – and she’s not done breaking records yet. We sit down with the Müller Corner Ambassador and multi-medal winning sprinter to discuss post-pandemic goals, strength training for speed and the need for more sweaty, powerful role models.
Dina Asher-Smith is one runner who barely needs an introduction. At just 25-years-old, she’s the fastest British woman in recorded history, running 200m in a breathtaking 21.88-seconds at the 2019 World Championships in Doha and 100m in 10.83. That’s about the time it takes for most of us to tie one shoelace.
That 2019 championship meet saw Smith add one gold and two silver medals to her already bulging collection. She won gold in every race at the 2018 European Championships, gold at the Commonwealth Games, silver at the 2017 World Championships and Bronze at the last Olympics. Needless to say, she’s far from ready to hang up her spikes. We spoke to the sprinter about what’s next, the role strength training plays in her fitness regime and why women deserve more sweaty, powerful role models.
Sit back, relax and get ready for a serious dose of running inspo which you can take with you to your next parkrun.
Strength training for speed
“The name of the game is being very strong and very powerful; it’s how we can move that strength and power as quickly and efficiently as possible. I’ve just reduced the number of gym sessions I’m doing per week but if you asked me last week, I was doing four gym sessions a week alongside five track sessions as I was in a hard training block. I’m back down to three sessions a week but it is an integral part of my training.”
Phew, and we thought that a bi-weekly session was tough work!
“I always eat before a training session otherwise I won’t have enough energy or sustenance to get me through the session efficiently and you can risk putting yourself in harm’s way,” Smith explains. While she doesn’t have a go-to snack, she says that she makes sure that any snacks or meals consist of protein, carbs and lots of vegetables.
“The amount (I eat) depends on how tough or light the session is. I’m eating really healthily to ensure I have enough fuel to help me get through what I need to do. When you’re training for the Olympics every session counts. When time is of the essence and I’m on the go, I find protein in things such as Müller yogurts.”
Strength and feminity
Despite the number of fitness influencers flooding our social media feeds, many women and girls still worry about appearing “too masculine”. At SWTC, we’ve heard lots of people asking about whether strength training can lead to bulking, suggesting that many of us are still believing negative, misogynistic tropes about strength and power. It’s not our fault – as the saying goes: you can’t be what you can’t see.
Smith is a big champion of showing female athletes as they really are to help dispel that kind of negativity. “That means muscular, that means strong, that means powerful. It’s important for everyone to see sports and strong women… If they want to pursue a career in sports, they can see themselves and picture the life and hard work that comes with it and be ready for that.”
She points out that the glitz and glam of big games like the Olympics is only a tiny part of the process. That 100m race in front of the world’s media is the victory lap after years of hard graft. “Most of it is hard work, lifting weights, running, and being really disciplined. The sports industry needs to show sportswomen in their full, vibrant capacity – with muscles and sweat. It needs to show them being themselves.”
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New season, new goals
With all recent races being cancelled, it’s easy to see how one might become dispirited and unmotivated. Smith, however, is ready to hit the ground running (sorry!) next month. While she can’t say where she’s competing or how many races she might be taking part in, she does say that she’s “really exciting”.
“I personally haven’t seen the Olympic schedule yet but we’re assuming it will be business as usual and will allow me to go for both 100m and 200m as it is a common double. Obviously, I still have to go to the trials, qualify, make the times and earn my spot.”
A tight quad saw Smith opt out of the last month’s European Indoor Championships but she says that she’s now “absolutely fine”. If there’s anything we amateurs can learn from her, it’s to be sensible about injury prevention and care while pursuing big goals. “I’ve been training well and am excited to get the outdoor season underway. I wasn’t ruled out of Euros,” she stresses. “As a team, we reassessed and then plans changed accordingly. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that we have to be flexible and smart on our way to the big goal. Staying safe is always the top priority.”
“The pandemic has really shown us what we cherish the most – the safety of our friends, the safety of our family and our own personal safety in terms of health,” Smith says, “and also being able to do stuff that we took for granted before like seeing our mates, going out to eat, going for a coffee.” For many of us, athletic events play a huge role in terms of entertainment and inspiration, and Smith predicts that athletes and fans alike will be ready to get back into the stadium.
“That feeling when everyone is cheering and happy is unmatched and it’s unique to track and field because when someone does something amazing, the whole crowd cheers.” During the pandemic, race organisers played crowd soundtracks in the same way that the Premier League did. Smith says that they worked well: “They were sometimes very convincing and you’d forget for a moment that it wasn’t real, but I love a full crowd.”
There’s something clearly magical about British athletics. “There’s a lot of respect for the sport and the athletes. You don’t have to tell the crowd to be quiet for a race to start because they know and they will cheer every single person on the line. It’s not just cheering British athletes – the crowd will cheer absolutely everyone, especially if you’re from a really small country. They respect people’s performances too. When someone runs super fast, they don’t have to wait for the commentator to tell them that something special has happened, they already know.”
Smith recalls talking to other athletes while on the road about events they’d missed over the past year, with “The Müller Anniversary Games in London being one that came up a lot”. She says that the crowd at those games exemplifies what British athletes and the international community is all about. “It’s why I’m so excited to get going with outdoors racing again. To be back in that real-life atmosphere of happiness and joy will be amazing.”
Building emotional strength
While Smith is undoubtedly one of the strongest women on the planet, one thing that athletes aren’t really expected to talk about is emotional resilience and mental strength – two things that we’ve all had to hone over the past year.
“This whole (pandemic) situation has emphasised the importance of checking in on people, making sure they’re OK and (offering an ear when they’re not),” she explains. To get through successive lockdowns, Smith spent a lot of time in her family bubble, regularly kept in touch with friends via WhatsApp… and invented a new Müller Corner.
She says that faced with so many possible taste combinations, she eventually decided to go with a concept rather than a flavour, choosing “love” as the theme – complete with little hearts in the corner. “I didn’t anticipate the world being the way it is when we launched but I’m really happy that I’ve been able to create something with my name on it as part of a true collaboration that makes me smile. The whole process has made me very happy and I hope it brings some joy to people.”
Ready to take your running up a notch? Join our Strength Training for Runners four-week plan to run faster, longer and stronger.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.