Jonathan Hopkins will make his Commonwealth Games debut for Team Wales on the Gold Coast in the 3,000m Steeplechase, an event that he believes has transformed his running career over the past two years. The Bridgend based athlete, who competes for Swansea Harriers, believes he’s found his ideal event after a tumultuous period in which he became disillusioned with the sport. After returning from a spell out at Providence College in the US, Hopkins decided to coach himself as he searched for a way back towards enjoying the sport of running.
During that period, he also received some guidance from long-term mentor Ridley Griffith, a man whom he believes saved his athletics career and helped him along the road to achieving his Commonwealth Games dream. “I’ve got a lot to thank Ridley for” said Hopkins, “After coming back from America and trying to coach myself, he gave me a lot of assistance and advice and in truth, probably kept my running career alive”. But as he geared his training more and more towards the 5,000m, he realised that perhaps it was time for a change; time to try something different.
In the summer of 2014, Hopkins decided to attempt his first ever 3,000m steeplechase in a British Athletics League meeting at Cardiff, an event he says he’ll never forget for several reasons. “I’ll never forget that first steeplechase event I ran, there was a howling gale and the rain was lashing down, the conditions were horrendous. But I won that race in 9:12 and really enjoyed it, and I never looked back after that”. Since that day, Hopkins’ steeplechase progress has gone from strength to strength. In 2015 he lowered his lifetime best in the event to 8:46, before clocking a Commonwealth Games B standard of 8:37 in 2016. But it was 2017 that saw the Swansea Harrier book his place on the plane to Australia as he twice dipped under the B standard, running 8:39 and 8:36, before storming to an A standard clocking of 8:34 in Belgium last May.
Hopkins, now coached by Welsh Athletics National Endurance Manager Chris Jones, fits in most of his training around his work as an occupational therapist at the Princess of Wales hospital. He also manages to get away to warm weather and high-altitude training camps with Welsh Athletics whenever possible, where he can focus on steeplechase-specific training. When planning his training for the steeplechase event, Hopkins outlines three top tips for getting himself in peak shape:
- Getting into good 3k / 5k shape – “It’s crucial that you’ve got the speed-endurance to be able to run a fast 3k or 5k on the track before attempting a steeplechase race”
- Steeplechase-specific weekly drills – “I perform specific hurdle and plyometric drills every week to improve the technical aspect of my hurdling over the barriers”
- Loading off the hurdle – “I always try to focus on loading off the hurdle when performing steeplechase-specific training. I believe it’s far more important to have the strength to push off after jumping the barrier, rather than focusing on the approach to the barrier”
Hopkins will now spend two weeks at Welsh Athletics’ holding camp on the Sunshine Coast, before entering the Athlete Village a week in advance of his Commonwealth Games 3,000m Steeplechase debut for Team Wales at the Carrara Stadium on 13th April.