Modupe Shokunbi has long been one of the brightest young talents in British sprinting. In 2013, she was the country’s no. 1 ranked U15 in the 100 meters. Now a student at Brunel University, she runs for the Blackheath and Bromley Harriers and has found new ways to adapt her training during the Covid-19 pandemic. From Zoom yoga sessions to the importance of discipline and community, Modupe talked us through her life in running.
Q&A with Modupe Shokunbi
Modupe – when and how did you discover running?
It was at a school sports day. I beat my classmates, my teacher saw some potential in me, and he referred to the local athletics club. In those early days, I’d maybe only run twice a week. But when I reached 14, it became more serious. I was starting to see that I was gaining in my performances. I was going to competitions and generally coming first. I was hooked.
What did you fall in love with – the running, or the winning?
It was the winning. I was getting medals. I could see that I was good at it. And each week, I could see my time was getting faster and faster. I was getting 100-meter personal bests every weekend. It gets addictive.
Since then, running’s been a constant in your life. What does it mean to you?
It’s woven into my life. It’s a daily routine, a ritual. If I didn’t do it, I don’t know what else I’d do. It shapes everything. If I go to the gym, it’s to help with running. If I’m doing deadlifts or hang cleans, it’s to get power. Without running, I wouldn’t know what to do.
Why do you do run?
First, it keeps you fit and healthy. But I’ve got ambition too. I want to progress, run for my country and be involved in big events like the World Championship – either as an individual or as part of a relay.
Beyond that, running is a sanctuary. It’s a place where you can escape from normal things. I’m studying accounting and finance at university, so running gives me a chance to relieve the stress. And because I train in a group, with people at the same level and who share the same goals, it’s a great community to be part of.
How would you describe your relationship with running?
It’s definitely not perfect. At the stage I’m at, especially at my age, it’s harder to win competitions. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s circumstances, daily life, or stress from going to uni. When I was younger, it was so much easier. I wouldn’t have to go training. I wouldn’t go to the gym. A quick warm-up would do. Now, there are other things that impact how you run in lots of different ways.
Do you still get the same buzz, now that running has switched from hobby to professional ambition?
Yes – that sense of enjoyment is still there. You know that when you put in the work, you reap the reward. My training is full of targets and my coach videos everything. So you can see the progress, the achievements. That’s a good thing. It gives you that buzz.
What effect has the pandemic had? Did 2020 change your relationship with running?
It was difficult. I couldn’t train with my group. And I was on a placement for my degree, so initially I was still going to work every day. When I got furloughed, I would train in the morning at the local park. Then we’d have Zoom calls and do group yoga sessions. All our interactions were through social media, which was difficult. But I learned so much more about myself and how I train.
I became more comfortable with adapting training sessions if I was feeling down or unwell. I became more independent, not always asking my coach what to do.
Did 2020 make you value the running community more than you had?
Yeah, certainly. When you train by yourself, there’s nobody cheering you on when the session’s getting hard. It’s just you and your headphones. So I appreciate being in a group of people who I can train with and who are my friends.
What does your typical run look like?
Because I’m a sprinter, training is a real mix. Some days we’ll have a speed session, which might be two sets of four 100m sprints. Others will be about acceleration in the first few steps. Maybe there’ll be a hill session thrown in. Then after each session, we’ll do either a home gym or circuit session.
What do you think about when you’re running?
I try not to think about anything. It’s all about what I need to do in the session. In a 100-meter race, you don’t have time to think about anything other than the first few steps, your acceleration position and your standing position.
How does running help with other areas of your life?
I know I’m healthy and physically strong from running. But there’s also time management and discipline. Sometimes training takes every ounce of my energy, but then I’ve to return home and complete my studies too. Because of that discipline, I’ve learned to make sure everything gets done, however tired I feel.
What would you say to someone new to running?
Don’t do anything too unrealistic. Go for progress, not a 10km run straight away. Run for five minutes a day. Then 10 minutes a day the week after. Don’t do something that deters you from running again. Running helps you mentally. It’s therapeutic. It gets you away from anything that’s stressful. So stick with it and enjoy it.
Today, like every day, is dedicated to you.
The good days, when it’s easy and light and I explode from the blocks.
The bad days, when the hill stretches out ahead and there’s nobody to battle with except the voice in my head.
And every day in between.
I’ll be there. And I know you will too.
You’ve been with me since my childhood and you’ve given me it all. Health. Strength. Friendships, too.
You’ve taught me things I’ll use for the rest of my life. Discipline. Independence. Dedication.
And now, as the days turn into weeks, months, years, decades -- from the park track to the full stadium -- our journey continues.
I don’t know where you’ll take me. Those stories have yet to be written, our final destination still unknown.
But, together, we’ll keep moving forward.
Keep pushing to the limit.
Dear Running, you’re woven into my life.
Your daily ritual shapes my existence and keeps me grounded.
For that, I’ll be forever grateful.
My shoes are on, my focus set.
Let’s go. Again. Again. And again, again.