I spent the day training with Katarina Johnson-Thompson

This super-athlete – KJT to the athletics fans – has returned to the top of the podium, and her triumph over adversity is something we can all learn from.

Im not a shot putter, nor can I throw the javelin as far as heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompsonor KJT as she’s known. But to be asked to spend a day training with her and some young athletes in her hometown of Liverpool was an honour.

She’s an ambassador for Funetics, a campaign to get youngsters involved with sport. And, I can tell you, she’s a major inspiration. She answered every question, no matter how mundane, from the eager young audience. And she had time to work on specific individual needs. She looked at hurdle techniques – and discussed her favourite type of cake – with equal passion.  

Katarina Johnson-Thompson and a young athleteCredit: England Athletics
Katarina Johnson-Thompson devotes much of her spare time to helping young athletes develop their skills

Every runner, of any age whether youre thinking of taking it up for the first time or, like me, an experienced veteran in your sixties can benefit from her resilience, tested time and again. She’s been been injured and struggled with poor form. But, having chatted to her and seen her inspire other athletes, I can report that its by no means luck that she won gold at the recent World Athletics Championships in Hungary 


Who is Katarina Johnson-Thompson?

It’s been a long journey back to the top for KJT, after a ruptured Achilles at the end of 2020 looked to have ended her career. The previous year, she had won her first World Championship gold. Had it not been for Covid and the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, she might have been victorious in that event as well.  

But its tackling those setbacks that has made her the incredible athlete she is today.  

A tricky time

Sporting superstars often dont appear to struggle with everyday issues like demotivation, but KJT has gone through it all, and more.  

Then, when the going gets tough, she simply buckles down and gets on with the work needed. I have to have the belief that Ive done it before, so I can do it again,she says. When your belief falters, its very easy to fall back and say, ‘Thats who I am now’, but if you dare to dream, then its possible to move on. 

For me, having also ruptured my Achilles, those were words to soak up. And shes right. Three years on from not being able to run to the end of the drive, I can now run up mountains. 

Dealing with disappointment

I first chatted with KJT on a Zoom call at the height of lockdown. At that time, we were all restricted to our homes, and had to come to terms with what that meant. For KJT it meant understanding she wouldn’t have a chance of going for gold at the Olympics.

It was fascinating to see how she dealt with that, creating fitness sessions for her dogs online and generally putting a smile on everybodys faces. She also pursued hobbies and worked on her weaknesses in her own training programmes.  

She did her best to make a tough period as positive as it could be, and improved her core strength. She worked on her mobility and generally trained exceptionally hard.

I remember thinking how rubbish everything was at that point for everybody, but how especially difficult it must be for someone who had all but won the Olympic gold medal. Yet she was upbeat, looking to the future, and ready to embrace everything it would bring, be it more disappointment or something better.

Now, that is positive. 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson shows a young athlete how to do a sprint startCredit: England Athletics
KJT understands the importance of learning sporting movement at a young age

Family comes first

Back to the present, KJT identifies the most important thing in her life, and thats what she calls her team: her family and coaches. She says with a smile that, thanks to them, she’shappy off the track and on it. They have belief in me and support me in everything I do. 

That smile is hugely important, and it reflects something that is rarely mentioned in running: it’s fun. You lace up your trainers because running is an enjoyable sport. Ever since meeting KJT I make sure everybody I coach has a smile on their face. In our group, we run 100-mile races and the pain they involve is something to look forward to. We love hill running. We cant wait to feel our muscles burn. We’re there to have as much fun as is humanly possible. 


Helping others

If media images are to be believed, world champions dont turn up in old Nissans to small local schools to spend a day coaching kids. KJT does and loves it. It’s fantastic to see the kids enjoying the basics of what athletics provides. Really thats what its all about enjoying yourself,she says. It’ll be great to see how this helps the next crop of talent come through. 

Indeed, Katarina recently launched the KJT Academy with exactly this sort of thing in mind. Reaching your full potential in sport, and in life, should not be about what you look like or how much money you have,” she says. “It should be about your passion. It’s about your desire and your willingness to work hard. I couldn’t be prouder or more excited to be able to help young athletes from the most underserved parts of our community in whatever way I can. 

Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins


Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors.

But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide. In fact, he’s still very competitive. In 2022 he ran in the World Masters’ Mountain Running Champs in the over-55 age group and is now looking forward to moving up a category and taking on the 60-year-olds.

He’s also part of the England Team Management set-up in road running as well as being an England team coach in the U18 age group for track and field athletics. Currently, he coaches a group of athletes ranging from 13 years old to 55 at his local club.

Outside of work, Paul loves cooking and driving classic cars. He’s owned everything from a 1966 Ford F-250 pickup to a clapped-out 1987 Porsche 944. He’s married to Elaine and they have a West Highland White Terrier named Benji, who’s not that keen on being timed for every run!