It’s been a whirlwind month. After a huge 3000m personal best in Monaco, I was gearing up for the World Championships in the best shape of my life. Finding the balance between training hard and tapering off for racing is something I’ve always struggled to do in previous years. But this year, we seem to have it nailed.
I headed into the World’s knowing I was ready. I was nervous, of course, but it was a good kind of nervous. It was a self-inflicted pressure, I wanted to make another global final and I was willing to run out of my skin to do so.
I never expected it to be easy. The 5,000m races have been extremely tough this year with the African nations dominating and running some of the fastest times the world has ever seen. I knew that to make the final I needed to run fast.
The atmosphere in the stadium was electric. It brought back the goose bumps I felt at London 2012, but it felt different this time around. Five years ago I was like a scared little rabbit when my name was announced to the enthusiastic crowds. I found myself wanting to run and hide and therefore underperformed. But that was a different Eilish – younger, more naive, inexperienced and lacking confidence. This time I was more prepared than ever before. I soaked up the cheers from the 60,000-strong crowd, knowing how hard I had worked to be on the start line. I was in the zone and ready to perform. It was my time to get it right.
After crossing the line, it was an agonising few seconds waiting for the result. It felt like a lifetime. It was a huge relief seeing the big ‘Q’ next to my name. I had done it and would be back to do it all again in a few days’ time. I didn’t even notice that I had run a PB of 15 minutes flat. I was a little perplexed as the pace was so slow but I had run my fastest ever closing laps which meant I knocked five seconds off my previous best. A sub-15 clocking was certainly on the horizon.
Heats are nerve wracking because you have more to lose, whereas in the final there’s everything to gain. I was bracing myself for a fast pace. The gun went. It certainly wasn’t fast. Like slugs we crawled around the first few laps, going slightly faster than walking pace. Finally, after a few laps there was a strong injection of pace. I did my best to hang on. I was a little disappointed to finish 10th even though I had run another PB of 15 minutes flat (again!), and come agonisingly close to my mum’s PB by less than half a second! I had wanted a top eight finish, but looking back I know where I made mistakes and I can only learn from it.
Keeping motivated after a major championship isn’t easy but I was determined to make the most of being healthy. With my confidence on the up, I wanted to put in some good performances and knock out some more personal bests.
First up was the Birmingham Diamond League. It was great to run in front of another British crowd so soon, it felt like an extension of the Champs. I put in arguably one of my best performances all year to take 5th place with a new PB of 8.31.0 for the 3000m. It was another confidence boost and showed that Monaco wasn’t just a one-off.
This year has been the first time I’ve been able to train consistently without any major injuries. No surgeries or broken bones stopping me. No illnesses interrupting plans. Yes, I had a few muscle tears but in the grand scheme of things, it was a few weeks off rather than a few months. The consistency has had such a huge impact on my training and fitness levels – shocking even me at times.
Before the end of the season, I had two more major goals to tick off – my 1500m and 5,000m PB’s. I only had one opportunity for both and so there was no margin for error. I needed to get it right.
Next up was a 1500m at the Berlin ISTAF meeting. It was a serious shock to the system to be running at a pace much faster than I had experienced all year, but I loved every second. I stuck in as much as I could and moved through the field on the last lap to take 2nd place and clock a new PB of 4.01.6! Crazily, I was disappointed. I was secretly eyeing up my mum’s PB of 4.01.3. But considering it was my first 1500m in over a year, I can’t complain. She’s very lucky that there aren’t any further races this season otherwise that family record would have certainly been under threat.
Finally it was the big one, my last 5,000m at the Diamond League in Brussels. I’ve been on the brink of breaking 15 minutes numerous times – so frustratingly close but not quite achieving it. This was my last chance saloon but weirdly, I wasn’t nervous. Making the Diamond League Final was a huge achievement in itself. I went into Brussels as one of only two Europeans with the rest of the field either Kenyan or Ethiopian. I knew it was going to be flat out because with the championships over everyone would be looking to clock fast times. Crossing the line in 8th, I was over the moon to see a brand new PB of 14.48.43 on the clock. It wasn’t the 14.40 I was looking for, but in such a scrappy, unevenly-paced race on very tired legs it’s still a huge step forward.
At the time, I didn’t realise this time would take me to 4th on the all-time list behind legends Paula Radcliffe, Jo Pavey and Zola Budd. I also didn’t realise it was a Scottish record, breaking Laura Muir’s best for the distance. All things considered, it was a great way to end my track season.
Athletics has brought me some unbelievably low moments throughout the years but times like this make it all worthwhile. I certainly wouldn’t change it for the world. 2017 has taught me a lot but most of all, it’s taught me to believe in my capabilities and that I can compete amongst the best athletes in the world.