They say that ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ but if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that no plan should be set in stone and we should pride ourselves on our adaptability. We had all hoped 2021 would be a little more straight forward and in certain ways it has been as we have grown used to the changes in our normal life. Covid tests have become a regular part of my life – for competitions, for travel and to use training facilities; travel restrictions and following all the Covid guidelines have become the norm but still continue to cause disruption across the world.
We were very fortunate to have left the UK before the most recent lockdown and travelled out to the UAE to prepare for my debut half marathon, scheduled for the 19th of February. It was to be held in Ras Al Khaimah which is located in the northernmost emirate of the United Arab Emirates.
In preparation for this key competition, I raced a local 10K road race in Dubai and clocked a huge personal best of 31.08, taking me to third on the UK all-time list. I had covered the full 10km distance but unfortunately had been sent down the wrong road by the race marshals! It was yet another frustrating stumbling block in season of many but if nothing else, it gave me the confidence to know that my fitness was in a great place.
After putting together my most consistent block of training ever, I just needed some races. Sadly, we then found out that despite the UAE being open, the government were pulling the plug on the famous RAK Half Marathon. They had tried to create a Covid-secure, bubble hotel but with cases starting to rise, it became apparent it would be too difficult to bring in elite athletes from around the world.
We had been building towards this race for four months – we had based ourselves in Dubai, thousands of miles away from our family and had invested a lot of money into this training block – so naturally I felt disappointed. Was all my training a waste of time? Could we have just stayed in the comfort of our own home? Was it worth the money, the effort, the time?!
However, when I took a step back to rationalise things, my initial disappointment faded. We had spent several months in one of the best training locations in the world; sunshine every day, access to world class facilities, great running routes and weekly Covid tests to ensure we remained virus free. There may have been no competitions to recoup the financial outlay or to showcase my fitness, but this felt like a good overall investment towards the summer season. I was healthy, happy and fitter than I have ever been in my career – what was there to be disappointed about?
Over the past year, I’ve made some big changes to my mindset. Instead of worrying about what races would or wouldn’t happen I have focused on what I could control. Why should my happiness be directly linked to a major competition going ahead or not? Ultimately, I love to run so, even without competitions, I can still seek enjoyment in the pureness of running. There is nothing more motivating than pushing myself in training, getting fitter and seeing my times improve. I don’t feel as bound to competitions as I once was. If they happen or not, I’ll continue to pursue my passion.
I had hoped to come over to Europe to compete in some indoor races but as Europe and the UK ramped up their travel restrictions it became apparent that it wouldn’t be as simple. With the prospect of hotel quarantine being floated around, the need for numerous Covid tests and having to travel indirectly via open countries, we decided it wasn’t worth the stress and to find an alternative option.
Had I known in advance that my half marathon was cancelled, I could have tweaked my training to prepare for the European Indoor Championships (5-7 March in Torun, Poland) but we just didn’t have the time to make alternative plans. It’s great to see the championships going ahead and although it’s turned out to be relatively weak fields (with many of the top European athletes choosing to focus on the Olympics), it’s a great development stepping stone and for many athletes it will be their first GB vest.
Instead, we headed across the pond on a flight bound for Los Angeles. We found out very last minute that a USA professional running team were setting up an extremely small, Covid-secure, secret-location event in Southern California. We actually found out about this race via Instagram as I had put out a post asking my followers if they knew of any races going on across the world. The beauty of social media! I genuinely didn’t know what would be in store, but I wanted to capitalise on the several months of training behind me and so jumped at the opportunity. After a 16.5-hour flight and 12-hour time difference, my body was feeling a little ropey, but I was super excited to toe a proper starting line!
Moving up to the 10,000m has always been my target. I had hoped to race the event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but of course with the postponement, we naturally moved that goal into 2021. This competition in California, was several months earlier than both myself and my coach would have liked but with the pandemic still causing so much uncertainty around races I jumped at this chance! Last summer all my key races were cancelled so I didn’t want to risk missing more opportunities
10,000m races are few and far between. They have been removed from the Diamond League circuit for several years now and the only elite event we have in the UK, the Highgate Night of the 10,000m, has been cancelled for the second year running, due to the pandemic.
Crossing the line in 30:58 minutes, I was naturally a little disappointed. My mum’s personal best and the Scottish National Record is 30:57 – so to run 25 laps of a track and be SO close to her time was a little frustrating of course. But if anything, it has really given me the fire in my belly to aim for more this year. Sub 31 isn’t enough. I want to get as close to 30:30 as I possibly can. And with evolving shoe technology, who knows what’s possible beyond that.
It’s crazy to see my own goals evolve year on year. Even a few years ago, running in the low 31-minutes arena would be an outlandish goal – never mind breaking it. A teenage Eilish would never have dreamt of this being a possibility; it was so far outside what I believed my body could achieve. But now I’m striving for more.
If I’ve learnt anything over the past year it’s to be ready. Ready to take on the challenge. Ready to take the opportunity. But to remember that without the medals, the finishing positions or official times – your passion still exists. The small improvements you continue to make each day, don’t go to waste… because no one ever regrets going for a run!