Spikes16 Apr 2015

Return of the Jack


Jack Green

British 400m hurdler Jack Green removed himself from the spotlight 18 months ago after revealing he was suffering with depression. After making his return to the track at the Florida Relays earlier this month, he tells SPIKES he is back and hungrier than ever.

The circumstances of Jack Green’s first competitive run in 21 months were not ideal. Running third leg for his IMG Academy team in the 4x400m at the Florida Relays on the first weekend of April, a last minute dropout meant he completed his lap in the wet Gainesville conditions before passing the baton to nobody. But that didn’t really matter for the Brit, whose return will be welcomed by all across the track and field community.

“I love competition and it was nice to be back,” he says. “As I arrived at the track it started raining ... I’ve run all my best times in the rain. So I was like ‘Yeah, I’m meant to be back’. It was good.”

His performance in Gainesville provided another reason to be cheerful. He clocked a sub-45sec split: the only occasions he had done that previously had been in both rounds of the 4x400m at London 2012, where his team finished fourth, a mere 0.13 seconds off a medal.

At that home Olympics, Green progressed to the semi-final in the 400m hurdles, where he fell after hitting a barrier. A year earlier he had made his senior major champs debut at the Daegu World Championships, where he also qualified for the semis.

Though he won no medals, it was still a remarkable achievement for the 20-year-old. The 400m hurdles is like a sprint-distance steeplechase, and success in it requires gumption that can really only be learned through years of experience. It pointed to a bright future for the 2011 European U23 400m hurdles champion.

Jack Green

After falling in the Olympics, Green told the BBC: "I'm not going to let that happen again. You learn."

Yet Green did not see things like that at the time. Rather than taking his performances as a base from which to build, he used them as a rod with which to beat himself up.

“It was always a failure in my mind,” he says candidly. “I wanted to be the best in the world, and I wasn’t yet so therefore it was a failure.”

This “skewed way of looking at things” was not just a facet of his obvious ambition: it was also a symptom of Green’s deteriorating mental health. In July 2013, he ended his season early citing “personal issues”. A few months later he revealed that he had been battling depression and would be taking a step back from the sport. 

He completely removed himself from the world of track and field, leaving coach Malolm Arnold’s Bath-based training group (which included 2011 400m hurdle world champ Dai Greene, who he speaks very highly of) to return to his Kent home.

Green kept his fitness ticking over with training stints at professional rugby clubs (the sport he says is his first love), and there were rumours he was considering a switch from athletics all together. But in early 2014, invigorated and recharged, he began looking for a route back to the track. 

“I woke up one morning and thought ‘I want to run’,” he says. “I started doing sessions on my own, timing myself, and I was actually doing quite well, just because I was refreshed and ready.”

Green dug out coach Loren Seagrave, who invited him to Florida to take a look at his stable at the IMG Academy. Impressed with Seagrave (“the guy is the most intelligent person I’ve ever met”), Green was all set to move Stateside and compete at last year’s Florida Relays.

But ahead of his move he discovered he had a fractured back. It was a setback in terms of Green’s return, but on reflection he believes the resultant break worked in his favour.

“It forced me to really step back and learn about myself and also be a normal person,” he says. “I went professional at 18, I didn’t get to be that teenager that a lot of people get to be.”

Jack Green

"I’m a competitive beast. I like to beat people."

A year on from that injury, he is now fully settled in Florida and training alongside the likes of Darya Klishina, Tianna Bartoletta and Libania Grenot. Rugby remains his preferred sport, and he candidly concedes that he can find life as a professional athlete boring – Green wasn’t even in to sports growing up; he has always been an animal lover and his plan was to be a vet or a zoo keeper and he still visits “every zoo possible”.

But make no mistake: Green is fiercely ambitious and is training with serious intent.

“It’s a long way from home and given my mental health problems and what I’ve been through before it was a big risk,” he admits.

“I know and understand myself well enough that I am confident to take myself away from my family and friends and my comfort zone to make the sacrifice to achieve what I want to achieve.

“I’m a competitive beast. I like to beat people and I like the reward that comes from all the training. No one should just enjoy training. That’s not how a competitor works. I hate training really. I’m good at it, but I hate it. I want to get the reward for all the hard work that I put in.”

And unlike his younger self, Green has come to respect the process that is necessary if he is to meet his high standards.

“I’ve got that sense of perspective now. I look at the top of the ladder and my top goal is to be the best in the world, and I know I’ll get there one day, but I appreciate that there are steps to it.

“I just used to beat myself up 24/7. If I didn’t run a world record in training or a personal best it was a failure. When actually you can’t do that, it’s not possible to do that every day. But I demanded it of myself because I expected to be the best. Now I’ve got a different way of looking at things and it’s already helping me hugely.”

From yesterday's hurdle runs!

A video posted by Jack Green (@jackpgreen) on

Green also works with psychologist Angus Mugford, a fellow Brit, once a week. Though the focus is on performance psychology, the sessions give him an outlet to get things off his chest. Nonetheless, Green knows that his depression will never go away.

“I will spend the rest of my life having depression and having to manage it. But I manage it well enough. I’ve had one or two bad days out here but that’s it. And who doesn’t have bad days?”

On the track at Gainesville two weekends ago, Green certainly didn’t have a bad day. His newfound ‘que sera’ attitude has helped him get back to running at his strongest, and also prepared him to deal with the blows that are par for the course for any athlete.

“If I look back one or two years before, I’m in a much better place now,” he says.

“I’m running the best I’ve run. Ever. In my head I want to be in the world championship final for the 400m hurdles. That’s the next step up for me. I’ve been a semi finalist at the Olympics and at the worlds, so the next step is to make a major championship final in the senior ranks. Anything more – fantastic. Anything less – I’ll deal with it. That’s fine.”

Click here to read Jack Green's blog.