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Jo Pavey remembers winning 10,000m gold just four months after she stopped breastfeeding

Jo Pavey won gold in the 2014 European Championships 10,000m in Zurich. She became the oldest female athlete to win a European gold medal, only 11 months after giving birth to her second child. Jo is supporting 'Run It' a campaign from the charity Join In to put more volunteers into grassroots running. Visit www.joininuk.org/run-it/ for more information.

Early inspirations: Liz McColgan and Sally Gunnell get gold

Kids nowadays get more opportunities to try different things but all I got to try at first was 60m or 70m sprints on sports day and I never shone in that. I roller-skated for hours and played football but it wasn’t until secondary school that my PE teacher asked me to run 800m. I then started going to an athletics club with neighbours when I was about 13 and found that I loved distance running.

I looked up to runners like David Moorcroft, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett and Liz McColgan. Liz was very successful and such a gutsy runner who gave it her all in every race. I remember watching her win the [1991] World Championship in Tokyo when the conditions were difficult but she pulled through.

Sally Gunnell was another great example. My future husband and I were driving home to watch her go for gold in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when our car broke down and we were taken to a Portakabin to wait for a lift. I was thinking ‘don’t come and get us now because I want to watch Sally win the Olympics’ and in the end we saw her get the gold on a little TV in the cabin!

Kelly Holmes was very supportive in my early career when I first made it onto the Great Britain team. We roomed together and we were in the same house when she won double Olympic gold at Athens 2004.

Jo Pavey at the launch of Join In's Run It Jo Pavey supports Join In's volunteering campaign

From breastfeeding to European champion in a few short months

When I won the European Championship 10,000m I was more shocked than anyone. I thought my chances of gold were way behind me - I’d been trying for so many years and never achieved it. To finally do it over the age of 40, after becoming a mum to two kids and a few months after I was breastfeeding was a big shock!

At the start of the season, my thoughts were simply about the possibility of a place in the British team. I was still breastfeeding at the start of April and had 10,000m trials to run on May 10th. I passed through all the qualifiers and the Commonwealth Games came first before the Europeans.

I knew how good the Kenyan runners were so to be competitive with them in the 5,000m gave me a big lift. I told my husband I’d go for a medal even if it meant I could end up last. I had nothing to lose but the Kenyans kept coming back at me and on the final bend they were coming again. I just sprinted as hard as I could and won bronze.

The European Championship 10,000m was ten days later in Zurich. Most of my rivals were only doing the Europeans, so I still wasn’t brimming with confidence. I trained for both but it meant tapering off at a time when I’d otherwise have been putting in really long sessions for the longer distance at the Europeans.

It was a messy race and a battle all the way to get the inside lane. It was quite exhausting, so I ended up running quite wide to help keep me focused and relaxed. It’s a lot of laps in spikes on a hard track and my legs began to feel tired. But when somebody put their foot down, I thought ‘go with them’.

I took the lead at the bell and tried to run a controlled last lap. I wanted to save something to kick and kick again in the last 200m. When I crossed the line, it felt surreal. I put my hands up and thought ‘have I got it wrong? Surely I can’t have won!’ I was given a flag and did a lap of honour and it felt like it was all a dream.

If I’d won gold when I was younger, it wouldn’t have been as special. Having my husband, my children and my Mum and Dad there was amazing.

On the vital role of volunteers

Running has really taken off and it’s so exciting now to see all these different races where people can enjoy running and take the family along. They all need volunteers and London 2012 wouldn’t have happened without all the Games Makers who got behind the Games and always had a smile.

I wouldn’t have a career in running without volunteers.  Without the timekeepers, people setting things up, making tea and coffee and so on, there wouldn’t have been a club for me to go to or any meetings to compete in. They gave me the opportunity to enjoy running and achieve some of the goals I set myself and I’ll always be grateful