Friends like to call them the Posh and Becks of the track but, in truth, Hannah England and Luke Gunn could not be further removed from the Beckhams.
The understated pair would rather be doing a crossword puzzle or being competitive watching University Challenge than launching a fashion label à la Mr and Mrs Beckham.
This weekend, for the first time as husband and wife, they will represent Great Britain at the European Team Championships in Braunschweig, Germany – England in the 1500 metres and Gunn in the 3,000m steeplechase.
England, as for so much of their careers, is the one in the limelight. A previous World Championship medallist, she is captaining the team, her husband joking he has taken to saluting her in the build-up. But the slight disparity of their positions on the global athletics stage is not, as one might think, a problem for the pair.
Gunn explains: “My whole best man’s speech at our wedding was basically how much better an athlete Hannah was than me. Having to answer to the captain has led to a whole new onslaught from my mates this week.
“But it’s not difficult. We’re very much on the same team. I probably celebrate her success more than she does and I’m under no illusion that, if it had to come to a decision who we were going to look after, Hannah would take preference as for us she’s a medal chance and also our livelihood in a short career. I happily at times play Mr England. To go through this together as a couple, it’s amazing.”
The couple live and breathe running. They both ran on the morning of their wedding, although it has not always been such a happy medium. “For a couple of years, we couldn’t run together as we’d argue,” recalls Gunn. “She’d run too fast, me too slow.”
They first came into contact through athletics at a training camp when Gunn was 16 and England 14 but did not meet properly until England started her first year at the University of Birmingham, where they both still train, living just a mile away.
“Ironically, when we first met, I was by far the best athlete,” says Gunn, his wife joking it was “the speed goggles” that attracted her to him and that “he taught me everything I know”.
Their career paths have been different. While England, 27, is a full-time athlete on National Lottery funding and backed by Nike, Gunn, 29, has to double up his athletics ambitions working as sport scholarship manager at the university.
The ultimate dream for husband and wife is to run together at the next Olympics. London 2012 had been the initial ambition but England, who overcame an Achilles injury, made it while Gunn did not. “It was hard to do that without Luke,” she said. “It was crap. You should have seen Luke when he came to visit me at the holding camp with all the kit laid out. It was too much. He was like, ‘I can’t be here’. Gunn added: “It was too raw”.
At that point, Gunn took a step back from running until after their wedding last year but steadily he has got the passion back with the help of the pair’s coach Bud Baldaro, who, they joke, doubles up as a marriage counsellor. It was by his own admission “a long road back”.
Braunschweig, combined with the couple’s joint selection for England’s Commonwealth Games team, is reward for the hard work. In the former, they will run moments apart, England’s 1500m finishing 10 minutes before the gun goes for the men’s steeplechase, hardly ideal for a couple who admit they do not like watching the other race because of the nerves it entails.
The aforementioned Baldaro has both of their four-year plans mapped out up to Rio, taking in even the more personal details.
Gunn said: “It’s very odd having a coach instigate the discussion about when you’re going to have a baby. I’ve seen him write our four-year plan and put baby at the end. I’m like ‘Bud, I think we need to discuss that as a couple first!’ ”
England admits that the pair are “both a bit broody”. Unlike the Olympic heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who is set to give birth this summer, England says: “I’m putting it off as a female athlete as I want to achieve all my goals before we move on to that. I’m looking forward to having that other dimension to life after athletics.
“I personally feel I don’t want to gamble that I’ll get back to this level after pregnancy. That’s not to say I won’t put my trainers on straight away after that but I want to feel satisfied with it.”
The ultimate this summer would be for them to come away with a championship medal of some description. Some couples ooze an easy, likeable charm. The Englands, the Gunns – they answer to both – are just that. You cannot help but will them to win.