The Welsh athlete was hardly the fastest at school but is now making her mark as one of Britain’s best endurance runners

Ten years ago Charlotte Arter finished last in the English Schools 3000m final and just managed to squeeze into the top 100 at the English Schools Cross Country Championships. Yet this weekend in Lisbon she will attempt to improve on the excellent seventh place she achieved at the European Cross Country Championships last year.

From humble beginnings, after a decade of hard training and gradual progression Arter is now one of the leading cross-country runners in not only Britain but across Europe. On the roads, meanwhile, she recently ran an impressive 31:34 at the Leeds Abbey Dash for a mark which moved her to No.4 on the UK all-time rankings before it was discovered that the course was just 23 metres short.

“It shows that things don’t happen overnight and if you work hard over a long period of time it’ll all come together,” she says. “My coach, Chris Jones, and I are still learning what works for me but we’re now getting a good understanding.

“I did a school visit recently and my main message was when it comes to the longevity of your career it’s all about working hard over a long period and you’ll get your rewards in the end.”

Arter knows she has not reached the peak of her career yet, though. She is hungry to make more international teams on the country, road and track in coming years. She has half an eye on Olympic selection. The European Championships is definitely a target. One day, she smiles through gritted teeth, she will give the marathon a crack too.

Born in 1991 in Cumbria, she grew up doing a variety of sports like netball and particularly hockey. She reached county level in hockey and running but did not train particularly hard. This explains her modest schools results. The 2009 English Schools 3000m senior girls’ race in Sheffield was won by Charlotte Purdue while Arter was more than a minute behind at the back of the field in 17th, whereas at the English Schools Cross Country Championships at Stanford Hall she was almost three minutes behind the winner, Loulou Rowlands.

Off little training, Arter did show promise, though. At the 2006 English Schools 3000m in Gateshead she was eighth in a race won by Jess Piasecki (née Coulson). She was 11th at the English Schools 3000m in 2008 (won by Purdue) and finished 19th in the English National Cross in the same year (won by fellow Cumbrian Laura Park).

Arter also won Cumbrian titles. Aged 18, however, she moved to South Wales to study at Cardiff Met University (formerly UWIC) and began to focus more on athletics than hockey.

“I never had a GB vest as a junior,” she remembers, “and I still feel I’m a late developer in athletics as I never did too much (training) when I was younger.”

Arter began to take her running more seriously and was coached by James Thie. “He took me from a 4:40 1500m to a 4:18 runner by the time I left, which I was pretty pleased with,” she says.

“I was then offered a scholarship to go to America to the University of New Mexico aged 21. Joe Franklin was the coach in Albuquerque and I did my masters out there and had a great time immersing myself in a totally different culture which was fun. There were not many classes during the week either so it was my first real taste of committing to athletics properly.”

Photo by Paul Stillman

After her spell in the United States, Arter returned to South Wales and got a job at Cardiff University. She worked as a performance sport officer, looking after the high performance programme across a variety of different jobs.

“It was a really nice job and I enjoyed it but I got to the point where I didn’t want to look back in 10 years’ time thinking I’d not given athletics my full attention,” she says.

Arter was then lucky enough to engineer a career break where she could put her job on hold and have a stint as a full-time athlete. “I’ve lived the life of a full-time athlete for a year and I’ve recently extended it for another year,” she says. “I’ve really got to grips with being a full-time athlete over the last few months and I’d like to see what I can really do in the next year.”

So far Arter has run 32:15.71 on the track for 10,000m, but her recent road mark shows her potential. Her strength is evident, meanwhile, from the 69:40 she ran in the Barcelona Half-Marathon in the spring.

As an aside, Arter also gained notoriety this year by running the fastest ever time in a parkrun by a woman with 15:50 in Cardiff – although she has run 10 seconds quicker on the track.

This winter so far, too, she started her racing campaign with victory at the Cardiff Cross Challenge and then in Burgos, Spain, she finished seventh – and first European – in a cross-country race won by Senberi Teferi of Ethiopia. At the Euro Cross trials in Liverpool she placed second to secure her place on the plane to Lisbon.

Part of Arter’s success story is her training set-up. She is good friends with Jenny Nesbitt, the Inter-Counties cross-country champion, and the two of them do most of their hard sessions together. “We get on very well and we’re similar level so we run together in the reps and it works really well,” Arter says.

It bodes well for the next few weeks. “I’ve not thought much past December,” Arter admits. “At the Euro Cross anything can happen and I’d like to finish as high up in the race as I can.”

» This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the November 14 issue of AW magazine

» Charlotte Arter is a Saucony UK ambassador and is supporting the launch of the Triumph 17 and Guide 13

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