It is neither a holiday nor a vain attempt at natural tanning.
“For any athlete, especially in endurance, it’s so inspiring,” the Dundonian proclaims. “Until you’re there, there’s no way to describe it, the way the kids all enjoy running and the whole town seems to hang around the track. It’s just different to anywhere else I’ve ever been. And it’s a really friendly environment to be in.”
Liverpool’s Sefton Park is about as great a contrast as is imaginable, especially once hundreds of hardy athletes have dug in their heels to convert the grass into a mudslide. But that is where the UK steeplechase champion will be found this afternoon, having eschewed the stimulation of Africa to contest the trials for the forthcoming European Cross Country Championships.
This, McColgan concedes, is not her natural terrain. “Because I’m not in Kenya this year, instead of me slogging through winter training for the next two months without any aim, my mum said, ‘you might as well do a few races,” she shrugs of the edict laid down by matriarch and coach, Liz Lynch.
“It will strengthen me up as well mentally and physically. There’s not much harder than a cross-country race. I’m fit and I’m healthy for the first time in 18 months. So I might as well take the opportunity.”
Injuries and illnesses have bedevilled the 24-year-old but, touching an entire forest of wood, she is taking advantage of a clear run. For the past two months, she has eschewed caution to undertake specialist hurdles drills under Loughborough’s head coach Nick Dakin, seeking small increments which could slash large chunks off her steeplechase times. “It’s something which is part of my programme to help my running technique,” she confirms. “The sprinters, like Adam Gemili, do it as well. Before, I was the only person not doing them and I’m meant to be a steeplechaser. It’s a huge thing that was lacking for me.”
With Lynch now based in Qatar, the pair have sought outside assistance, and Rob Denmark, the former internationalist who is the guiding hand behind Jessica Judd’s nascent rise, is providing day-to-day assurance. “He’s timing all my sessions and being the eyes and ears to report back to my mum.”
Having impressed in a first competitive road outing over 10-kilometres a fortnight ago, the prognosis has been positive. Merseyside will provide a further examination. Yet earning a place in the Great Britain team for Portugal might require a trip outside her previous comfort zone.
“I probably would go if I got in,” McColgan admits. “What would I have to lose? But my expectations are set a bit lower than the top six. The girls who are going for cross-country are at a complete different level. If we’re on the track or the road, I’d feel a bit more confidence. But there are a lot of girls in Liverpool whose goals are to go to the Europeans whereas mine are different.”