Competing at the very top levels of athletics requires hard work and dedication, and to balance this on top of full-time work is a skill in itself!
For endurance runner Jacob Allen from Highgate Harriers, his career as a secondary school PE teacher allows him to follow his passion in sport, inspiring the potential stars of the future. 2023 so far has seen Jacob represent the red rose throughout Europe on the roads, but how does he balance it all?
We caught up with Jacob to find out more about his journey in the sport, why he wanted to become a PE teacher, and how he is supporting children in London to fulfil their potential and enjoy athletics.
Back to the beginning
Alike so many athletes throughout England, Jacob was introduced to the sport by his parents.
“My parents took me down to my local club, Rugby and Northampton AC. It was a great opportunity to go to the multi-events group and try everything. There were local meets that you could enter through the club, and I did 200m and threw the discus before settling on middle distance.”
The support and perfect dynamic at Highgate Harriers
Working as a full-time PE teacher, Jacob finds attending his training group sessions at Highgate Harriers to be the perfect mental break.
“Having a good team dynamic will keep you in the sport for longer, having close friendships is often a common misconception from people who don’t compete in athletics. I appreciate on the day it is an individual sport, but for the most parts it will be a team that have got you to the start line.
“Clubs give you a community, friends for life and it’s a great part of my week. Going to the track makes a big difference mentally and gives me time to spend with friends.
“If you can base yourself within an elite training environment, it really does make a big difference. I train closely and have a good battle with Alex Lepetre. We both came first and second at the England 10k Champs as he pipped me on the last mile. He didn’t let me forget about it the following week in training, but we keep it light-hearted. Training at top levels can be hard to do on your own, and I know Alex being there and training together makes a massive difference.”
Becoming a teacher and inspiring the next generation
Studying at both St Mary’s University and University of San Francisco, Jacob then started his career in teaching and has not looked back!
“I have always had a passion for sport, and I have found a career within it. As time has gone on, I have realised you can really shape the lives of pupils through sport and can have an influence on their experience in school.
“There’s around 13-14% of school children go to a private school and therefore almost 85% of pupils go to a state-funded school who won’t necessarily have the same opportunities. A big part of what drives me and gets me out of bed in the morning is trying to create these opportunities for children in the state funded sector.”
Creating opportunities for children and setting them up for the future
Athletics is fantastic as it is accessible to people of all abilities to give it a go and have fun – something which Jacob is enabling at his school with his athletics and cross-country club.
“People would be surprised about the varying levels of ability within our cross-country team. A large part of that is because it is a fun, enjoyable environment for them to come along to. It is meant to be an entry level to the sport within school. Those who are showing a real interest or talent can be encouraged to go down to a local club for extra support and guidance, but the school club is mostly about making it fun and working hard.
“We have a great facility at the school, and I give the kids 15 minutes after school to relax and chat. I like to show the children videos on YouTube in our sessions of meets from over the weekend or elite athletes talking through their training. This inspires the children and really focuses them on being a team.”
As well as creating a positive environment for his students to thrive, Jacob reiterated to us the importance of supporting children with their health and wellbeing. In athletics, we are extremely fortunate to be able to teach young athletes crucial fundamental movement skills of running, jumping and throwing used within the array of events.
“I think the subject of Physical Education is going in the right direction but certainly as educators we need to think about the fundamental movement skills and what are the things we can do in schools to help kids to long term retain this information and have good knowledge to apply.”
Keeping the right balance
The more we spoke to Jacob, the more we realised what an incredibly busy man he is, whilst still retaining such a high level of training and competition – you may be wondering how he fits it all in.
“I run mostly before school. It does require a level of organisation, the night before my kit will be laid out and I’ll know what I’m having for breakfast. I am working on my feet all day and I am generally a morning person most productive at this time so training early works for me.”
Creating competition opportunities
As the summer season gets underway, schools throughout England will be looking towards sports days, competitions and even English Schools’AA championships. Within his Borough of Islington, Jacob is currently organising a range of competitions, from smaller running events to larger scale Borough-wide track and field competitions. To help other secondary school teachers within the state funded sector, he is currently working on a ‘How-To’ series full of free resources and top tips to help you on your way. He will be showing this on his Instagram @jacoballen_pe – watch this space!
If you are a primary school teacher or educator, why not check out funetics – the England Athletics programme for children aged 4-11 to learn their fundamental movement skills with trackable and fun exercises! Find out more about funetics.