Maths teacher Hayley Yelling gets a lot of mileage out of knowing Paula Radcliffe. Who wouldn't? The 2002 International Association of Athletics Federations female world athlete of the year is one of the biggest female sports stars in the world. After winning the two most recent London Marathons, breaking the world marathon record, and taking gold medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games and European championships, Ms Radcliffe has become a superstar of stellar proportions.
Knowing a superstar carries kudos, not only in the staffroom, but with pupils too. At Sir William Borlase's grammar school in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, where Hayley teaches, the children rush up to her asking, "Miss, Miss, do you know Paula Radcliffe?"
But Hayley Yelling is no mere acquaintance of Ms Radcliffe; she is a fellow runner, competitor and international team-mate. Sometimes those excited pupils add another, even more impressive achievement: "Miss, I saw you both on the telly."
And they have, too, most recently in December 2003, when Hayley was running alongside Ms Radcliffe for Great Britain at the European Cross-Country Championships in Edinburgh. Radcliffe won and Hayley finished fifth, three places in front of her sister-in-law, Liz Yelling, helping Britain to the team gold medal. It wasn't the first time she'd been a team-mate, however; she was also running for Britain when Ms Radcliffe won the World Half-Marathon Championships last October, and the world cross-country titles in 2001 and 2002.
At the end of March, the three were due to compete together again as part of the British women's team in the World Cross-Country Championships in Brussels. In the event Paula Radcliffe pulled out because of a hamstring injury, but the team took bronze, with Liz coming in 13th and Hayley 29th.
"Paula is awesome, simply awesome," says Hayley. "She's an inspiration to all of us. I've been in teams with her for about five years now, and she's a lovely person. Everyone keeps themselves to themselves before a big competition but she always chats to us at meal times and over coffee. I could phone her up and ask for advice, but I haven't because I know she's so busy. I just leave her to it."
Paula Radcliffe famously dedicates virtually every minute of her life to becoming the perfect runner - from the punishing twice-a-day and more-than-100-miles-a-week training schedules, to the intricately planned diet and specialist medical, physiotherapy and psychological support. As a multi-medalled, heavily-sponsored sports star, she can afford to be a full-time, fully dedicated athlete. So how can a maths teacher hope to keep up?
Hayley Yelling teaches 11-year-olds to sixth-formers, and fits her "hideous" training regime, running up to 80 miles a week, around four eight-hour school days thanks, in part, to the school's flexibility. "It's been really good by not giving me a tutor group this year," she says. "So I don't have to go out for my morning run until 7.15am, whereas I used to have to go out at 6.30am."
She runs about five miles in the morning, followed by a stretching session before school. The "luxury" of having no tutor group means she can arrive at 8.45am, ready to start teaching at 9am. She does much of her marking and preparation as soon as lessons finish, at 3.35pm, so she can leave by 5pm and be training again by six or seven o'clock.
"I go to the gym and run, or do a weights session in the evening, or drive to Windsor for track work," she says. "I get home at nine and go to bed by 10pm so I can get up on time. It's horrendous, I never have time to do ordinary things such as watch TV."
In these days of teacher overload, Hayley has more reason than most to feel exhausted, and more need than most to stay fit and healthy. "I get very tired," she says. "I have to schedule my time carefully. And I don't go out much."
Clearly, running is no mere out-of-school hobby for Hayley. Indeed, as one of the top women distance runners in the UK, she knows it's a serious business. She's currently the national cross-country and 5,000 metres champion, and finished fifth in the 2002 Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres.
Now she has her sights set on qualifying for this summer's Olympic Games in Athens.
Liz Yelling also started out trying to combine a classroom career with a busy running schedule, teaching art, cookery and PE at Mill Vale middle school, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, but plagued by constant colds, which she put down to contact with children in her day job, she quit teaching to become a full-time athlete in 2001.
Unlike her sister-in-law, Hayley hasn't become a full-time athlete, partly because she can't afford to - she missed out on sports Lottery funding because her best 10,000 metres time was two seconds outside the eligibility standard - but also because she genuinely loves teaching. And the school, in turn, clearly loves having an international runner to boast about - it displays her Commonwealth Games kit during open days.
"I get respect at school for my running," she says. "Especially when I come back from a big race. People like to know how I got on. It's great."
In the past, Hayley has helped coach the school's cross-country team, although she's dropped all "extra responsibilities" this year to concentrate on Olympic training. Three years ago, the school allowed her to go part-time, reorganising the timetable to fit her lessons into four days.
"It's made a lot of difference," says Hayley, who turned 30 in January. "I am only going to be running at this level for so many years, so I've got to give it my best shot. I worked out how much time I could afford to have off, and the school's been very supportive."
Now, on Fridays, she can be "a real lazy bones", waking at 9am and running for an hour or so before a plyometrics session (that's leaping and bounding to the rest of us). The free Friday also allows her to do some housework, maybe get a sports massage, and complete her planning and schoolwork before the weekend, when she races or trains extra hard.
Having that Friday away from school is the closest she comes to Paula Radcliffe's lifestyle. Ms Radcliffe often sleeps in the afternoon between training sessions, and it's having the time for rest that Hayley appreciates most.
International marathon runner Jo Lodge, Hayley's friend and sometime training partner, is also a part-time teacher. "Full-time teaching is pretty full-on," says Ms Lodge, who teaches art three days a week at Gunnersbury Catholic school in the London borough of Hounslow. "To move ahead with my running I had to give myself more time to recover between training sessions. I couldn't do it otherwise."
Like Hayley Yelling, she's grateful to her understanding colleagues ("they could easily get cheesed off," she says), and to the school for its support - the head even allows her to take a week off either side of the Christmas and Easter holidays so she can train at altitude. "The school's been brilliant and because it's done that for me, it's important that I'm as flexible as possible when I'm at school," she says.
Jo, whose days start with a 6am run, has also raced with Paula Radcliffe, most notably in last year's London Marathon, when she was the second British woman to finish - not that she saw much of the winner. "I didn't even see her at the start," she says. On April 18, Jo will again be pounding London's streets in the 24th Flora London Marathon, aiming to be one of the first two British women home, a position that will guarantee her a place in this year's Olympic team alongside Ms Radcliffe.
Yet, neither Hayley nor Jo envy Ms Radcliffe's lifestyle. "It's very hard to be a full-time athlete," says Jo. "When I go altitude training I just sleep, eat and run, and by the end of four weeks I've had enough. Being part-time gives me just enough time to switch off from school each week. I do admire Paula, to be that focused all the time is tough.
"Hayley and I have hectic days, and have to pick ourselves up to go out training when we just want to sit in front of the telly. It's a different kind of mental discipline, I suppose. On the other hand, if I'm injured, I can throw myself into school and off-load a lot of anxieties and stress. I don't think I could have done as well at running if I hadn't been teaching."
Jo Lodge, who at 35 represented Britain at last year's World Athletics Championships in Paris, finishing 39th (out of 68) in the marathon, also believes her running has made her a more motivated teacher. "I'm definitely more energised and alert," she says. "And it makes me more confident as a teacher to know I have some success outside the classroom."
And when the teaching gets tough, she can always go home, put on the video of the Paris race and relive her dream-come-true - hearing Steve Cram commentate as she approaches the finish line. "I'd always imagined it," she says. "Hearing it for real was just great."
* The first London Marathon was held on March 29 1981, and 6,255 people finishedl In 2003, 2,036 of the 33,000 runners were teachers (898 women, 1,138 men)l This year, 1,982 teachers have entered (920 women, 1,062 men)l More than pound;200 million has been raised for charity by London Marathon runners since it started
ON YOUR MARKS
Teachers consistently make up the largest occupational group in the London Marathon, outnumbered only by students.
Catherine Cranmer will be one of 1,982 teachers attempting to complete the famously gruelling 26 miles, 385 yards on Sunday, April 18. A 31-year-old English teacher at the Royal Masonic independent school in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, Ms Cranmer will be raising money for homelessness charity Shelter as she pounds the capital's streets, accompanied by 35,000 other brave souls. "I always thought it would be a marvellous thing to do," she says. "I suppose it's one of those things to tick off the list of achievements."
She was persuaded to enter for her first marathon by a friend who teaches PE at the same school, but admits the training hasn't been easy. "My days are hectic and in the evenings I am knackered and don't feel like going out in the dark," she says, although with hockey twice a week and long weekend runs, she's still hoping to complete the course in less than four-and-a-half hours. "It always looks so exciting, I'm sure the amazing atmosphere will carry me through."
She admits she's looking forward to "getting it done" but dreading the actual run "because I know it's going to kill me". However well she does, though, come Monday morning she'll be back at school early for meetings, "hobbling all over the place, no doubt".
Ian Holland, head of the upper school at Weybridge comprehensive in Cornwall, is also running for Shelter. He has the advantage of having completed a marathon before, although that was at least 25 years ago. Now 54, he puts in 40 to 50 miles a week, mostly in the evenings and weekends, and is "reasonably confident" of finishing. "Running at the end of the school day is great," he says. "It just wipes the slate clean and de-stresses you. Teachers' lifestyles are so stressful anyway, the fitter you are physically, the more alert you are mentally."
Like Ms Cranmer, on the Sunday evening Mr Holland will be ticking the London Marathon off his list of things to do in life, leaving only the base camp at Mount Everest and catching a salmon. With any luck he'll hit his target time too, crossing the finish line on the Mall in less than four hours - a mere hour and a half after Jo Lodge.