It’s safe to say the last few months haven’t exactly gone to plan. Since returning from Kenya in February I just haven’t been feeling right. It all kicked off with a virus and things seemed to snowball, or more accurately, avalanche, from there. Health is always a tricky one for professional athletes as we tread such a tightrope between being fighting fit and tipping over the edge.
Perhaps it was the added stress of travelling half-way around the world for the Commonwealth Games but since then my body has been in limbo, with my training levels going up and down like a yoyo. From viral illness, insomnia, heart palpitations, nerve issues, tweaked muscles – you name it, it’s happened. I could genuinely write a best seller on mishaps faced over the last few months. The hardest part has been trying to pin-point the initial cause, learn from it, and then do everything I can to prevent myself from falling back into such a vicious cycle.
In hindsight, there’s no doubt that running in two championships whilst carrying a virus was senseless but saying ‘no’ is a weakness of mine. I love racing for my country and turning down the opportunity isn’t an easy decision to make, particularly after spending a few years out with injury, but it’s certainly a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. Health should always be the first priority.
The GB squad have been training out in South Africa so I made the decision to join them for three weeks. South Africa is heading into winter and so the temperatures were much cooler than Doha’s sweltering 39 degrees and more comparable to a summer’s day in the UK. Our training location was Potchefstroom, a quiet university town at only 1300m altitude. It really is a beautiful place with brilliant training facilities – a pristine grass track and wonderfully groomed cricket pitches to run around. It’s definitely somewhere I will visit again.
Training in Potchefstroom seemed like a very good environment for me to be in with the added bonus of having a bit of support in both coaching and physiotherapy. For the first time in months, I started to sleep better at night which in turn helped to calm down my heart palpitations. With better sleeping and recovery, my training was also starting to pick up.
Unfortunately just as things were starting to look a little more positive, I tweaked my quad muscle on the cross trainer and subsequently had to fly home early, missing my first 5000m race in Europe.
On my 18-hour journey home, I managed to snag an entire front row to myself AND get a refund on my cancelled flight. Lady luck looked to be heading my way….finally! After a week at home and with some enforced rest, I was feeling much more like my usual self. Although preparations weren’t ideal, my leg was starting to feel better each day. I was very aware that the qualifying period for the European Championships was starting to slip away and with very limited 5000m races across Europe, I managed to get a late minute entry into a race in Nijmegen, the Netherlands on Friday evening.
The field was strong and the majority of the entrants were looking for European Qualifying Standards for the upcoming Championships in Berlin this August. This was my first time in the beautiful town and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The spectators were allowed onto lane three of the track which created a brilliant atmosphere.
Also, new technology which acts as a pacemaker was being trialled. It is called the WaveLength and is a light that sped around the inside rail of the track over a prescribed length of time. It’s a really clever idea which benefitted not only the athletes with regards to pacing but also roused excitement in the crowd. They could see just how far the athletes were ahead or behind the required qualifying standards. You could feel the excitement buzz through the air.
Heading into this race I was very short on confidence due to the procession of setbacks I had faced. My coach and I decided to focus on two aims. Firstly, to get round twelve and a half laps in one piece and secondly, to finish under the qualifying time of 15.30.
Tactically, I ran very poorly but luckily I came away with both boxes ticked and was ever so close to taking the win! Coming from 8th to 2nd over the last lap, I made a real effort, finishing the race in close to a PB for my final 200m. Frustratingly, I almost caught the entire field and the winner was less than half a second ahead. Crossing the line I was initially disappointed in my performance but running a 15.17 qualifier meant everything. I had gone into the race feeling extremely unconfident, but left the event knowing that with another few weeks behind me, I’ll be ready to roll.
After my race, a race director from back in the 90s stopped to congratulate me and tell me that my mum had been the first big name to race and win the Seven Hills race in Nijmegen many moons ago! It’s still one of the most surreal parts of this being my job – following in my mum (and dad’s!) footsteps, quite literally, around the world. Visiting the same towns, cities and countries in which they’ve competed. It’s pretty cool and always makes me appreciate just how lucky I am to do something I love so much. There are many tough times in this sport and nothing is ever a given, but moments like these are why I continue working towards my dreams. A little glimmer is all I need to keep focussed. There are bigger and better things to come in 2018, I can feel it.