And in an flash – it’s over. Four years of preparation.The hard graft of training, the blood, the sweat, the blisters and the tears…all for one moment. There is no question that every single athlete toeing the start line has survived the roller-coaster of injuries and illnesses. With dogged determination, they’ve made it to the world’s greatest stage – The Olympic Games. Making it this far, isn’t easy and in the blink of an eye, it’s over. The next opportunity – a further four years down the line. I still can’t quite believe my spikes have graced the track of not one but two Olympics to proudly call myself a Double Olympian. To make things even crazier – over two separate events.
I made the decision to base myself in Font Romeu, at altitude with the rest of the Team GB endurance squad. It was a tough decision; I’ve never used altitude before a major championships. It meant skipping the Team GB holding camp in Belo, Brazil along with the Opening Ceremony. Missing both wasn’t a huge deal – I didn’t even attend the Commonwealth Games opening and that was about 90 minutes from my house!
Being in France, with limited wifi and no TV was very strange. The Olympic Games were underway but I was completely isolated from it. I had THEEE Olympic Games in less than a week but the buzz was missing. The hard work was done but counting down the days to Rio was becoming tedious. I couldn’t wait to get into the village, be engulfed by the Games and to feel that nervous excitement flooding my veins.
I was also excited to get away from the bloody cross trainer. I’m extremely grateful to Paula (Radcliffe) and Gary for allowing me to use their cross trainer every evening; interrupting family life, to jump on the big machine situated in the hall way of their apartment. The kids were brilliant at keeping me company and making the minutes pass faster. My favourite question was, ‘Why do you like pretending to run… up here on this… in the air… when everyone else just runs?!’ Gary was a brilliant help for the entire duration of my stay. He helped to pace my track sessions on the bike – I can’t explain how much of a help this was! He’s an unbelievable metronome; clocking the right splits every single 100m. I suppose he’s had his fair share of practice – pacing Paula throughout the years!
On arrival in Brazil, our passports were stamped with a Rio 2016 logo – a nice memento in every olympians passport. You then receive an accreditation which becomes as important as a heartbeat – an olympic lifeline.
Everything within the village and throughout the Olympic venues are accessed by this one laminated picture and barcode. The bar code is scanned on entry to everywhere – lose it and well…I would imagine you would be up the creek with no paddle. Athletes from around the world become pets; a lanyard, collard around their necks, containing their name, country and photo.
Each nation is easily recognisable. Athletes, coaches and staff wear their countries kit colours, 24/7 whilst in the village. The food halls becomes a colourful sea of national uniforms. There are no designated seats and so athletes from different events from all over the world, mingle amongst each other with their plastic plates and brown food trays. The food becomes quite repetitive after a few days but you have to admire the effort to accommodate mass catering for that many hungry athletes. Every evening, without fail, there is grilled chicken, pasta options, rice options, noodle options, pizza, potatoes and dim sum. New things come and go. For breakfast there are a wide range of hot foods available but I stuck to what I knew best – porridge. Although I had to improvise a little… dried oatmeal with the addition of some hot milk from the coffee machine – they certainly weren’t Scottish Oats!
By far the best thing you could find within the huge, white, UFO-looking food hall was the greek yoghurt. Genuinely, these little tubs became gold dust. If you were in there any later than 8am for breakfast, you could wave goodbye to the creamy god of yoghurt – unbelievably good. Another item that seemed to be extremely popular – bananas. There were several mornings I had to go on a banana hunt. (No innuendo please.) The food hall is 24/7 which means that as people finish competing it becomes a hotspot for hungover delicacies. Whilst I was grabbing breakfast on the morning of my 5,000m heat, I was surrounded by grown adults, each eating 5 chocolate muffins and looking rather delicate.
A slightly strange edition to the food hall was the condom vending machine – perhaps slightly out of place amongst the bottles of water and paper plates. The machines were continuously topped up by some sort of condom post-man; delivering a fresh stash from his huge bum-bag. Bizarre.
The village was cool but it was no London 2012; similar in ways but on a much smaller scale. From a huge 24/7 McDonalds in 2012 to a restricted hours McCafe in 2016. Obviously these things are so minor and in no way related to performance! Asides from a McCafe, there was a 24/7 gym, polyclinic, dentist, entertainment centre, post office, hair and nail salon, bank, florist (yes that’s right.. a florist) and a convenience store. It is a small town, trapped inside a bubble (a bubble surrounded by beefy security men with guns I wouldn’t know the name of!).
The dentist remains one of the highest sought out for bookings; athletes from all around the world take the chance to get their gnashers checked – more importantly, for free! For some of the nations with no access to medical care – this is a huge lifeline and the opportunity to get all their ailments checked before going home again. It is a bit of an eyeopener as to how lucky we are to have medical access and the NHS at home.
I didn’t hear a single utter about Zika despite the media making us feel like we were going to be stuck in a blender filled with mosquitos. There were a few security issues but nothing major (that I know of!). I had a few items stolen but I did my best to limit the damage by padlocking a lot of my stuff in my bags, hidden under my bed. A few items of clothing and pin badges were stolen but I’ll survive. The only item I was disappointed to have stolen was my Waterfi iPod. I got it last year when I was chronically injured and spending my life aqua-jogging – it’s a completely waterproof ipod shuffle! Again, not the end of the world but a little frustrating.
I did however gain a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone so that definitely made up for the loss of my ipod! Every olympian was gifted with the brand new phone with free data to use in Brazil. By far it’s the best gift I’ve ever received from a championship! The Olympic rings etched onto the back was a really nice touch.
Noise within the GB block was pretty low but there was always a constant bustle in the air. As more and more athletes finished their events you could feel a different vibe stretch across the village. In London 2012, I joined this majority and partied my little heart away in our capital. Four years on and partying couldn’t have been further away from my mind. Perhaps I overdid it at uni (100% the case), perhaps i’ve just grown up (thats a huge perhaps) but maybe it’s a mixture of the both. Either way, my mindset has changed. I obviously enjoyed my time in Rio, fitting in a few touristy things after my competition was over but then I got straight back into training again; my season wasn’t over just yet. I felt like a proper granny but all I wanted to do after my race was have a McDonalds, get a chocolate muffin, one of those greek yoghurts that disappear from the food hall like Houdini and spend the night with my boyfriend (we had been placed in separate apartments during the Games!)
Rio 2016 was cool… but it certainly was no London 2012 (sorry first time Olympians!!). It was always going to be difficult to follow up a home games. I also had the amazing experience of Glasgow 2014 and although it was only a Commonwealth Games – the support and buzz around it was far greater. Perhaps the time difference made it difficult for non-athletics supporters to get behind the Olympics. In London, everyone and their gold fish watched – even if it was their first time ever watching track and field. Unfortunately with the scheduling of the races, a lot of people weren’t going to get up at 3am in the morning to watch people run around in circles, throw some things or jump far – to be honest, I don’t blame them – I probably wouldn’t do it myself!
Another cool aspect which differentiates the olympics to any other championships are the hospitality houses. These are corporate houses hosted across the Olympic Games to accommodate athletes and their families. To gain entry, you usually have to have a connection to that company or a contact who can add your name to the list.
Nike went over and beyond to create the most amazing hospitality house for their athletes! I genuinely wanted to live there. With a hair and nail salon, a golf course with unbelievable views, swimming pools, amazing food and a serious about of freebies – it was definitely my favourite place to chill out throughout the Games. Beats by Dre also had a large house hidden away in one of the suburbs. It was much harder to get into, considering the amount of athletes looking to get a free pair of limited edition headphones! Luckily we managed to squeeze in on the last day before heading home. I didn’t get the chance to visit the other hospitalities but I heard Oakley and Omega had pretty amazing places too. This was Rio de Janiero…so the views were always going to be spectacular!
I almost forget how lucky I am to have a partner who travels the world with me. Having Michael compete at the Olympics too, was amazing. Neither of us had any family who could afford to travel to Rio and so knowing that Michael was at the finish line watching me made things that bit more special. Unfortunately, I missed his first-round as I was on the flight to Rio! We also didn’t get to spend as much time together as we usually do because he was down with some sort of plague that was spreading throughout the camp.
Over the last year, i’ve turned into a complete germ-o-phobe and so I stayed about 10 metres from every human I came in contact with until the morning of my race! Viruses and illnesses can ruin an athletes games, more so than any other contributing factor. 4 years of hard graft and meticulous planning all wiped out with a single cough. It’s heartbreaking to watch. Seeing Michael so ill before his semi-final, was tough. I knew how hard he had worked to be there. Food poisoning ruined his 2008 Olympics, injury in 2012 and now a virus had destroyed his chance of a third time lucky. He wasn’t the only one though. Several of the team fell ill alongside a lot of the staff and medical team.
Thankfully, I had my own little room – hidden away behind the kitchen like Harry Potter living under the stairs. It was tiny but more importantly it was GERM FREE! I was literally bathing in alcohol gel for the week. Every single opportunity, I used it. I also had Berocca and multivitamins on tap alongside my first defence nasal spray. I even started eating with plastic cutlery because they weren’t re-used like the normal metal cutlery. Completely OTT… but guess who didn’t get ill? 😉
I decided to stay on the same time zone as France. It was a strange strategy and one which a lot of people thought was a bit stupid but running in the morning is my idea of hell. My heat was at 9.30am which in France was 2.30pm. A 5am wake up might not seem early to most people who are in the real world but for me, with only running on my itinerary – 5am is EARLY. I wanted to make sure I was up, ready and raring to go in order to give myself the best chance of making the final. It did mean I was in bed at 7.30pm which was hugely unsociable!
On race day, I felt OK. I hadn’t seen Michael at all for a few days due to his illness so it was a nice surprise to see him waiting by the morning bus for me. I was still in germ-o-phobe mode though so I sat next to him with my hoody over my nose and mouth like a Japanese tourist on a plane. Call up was 40 minutes before my event so I started my warm up an hour before my race and tried to stay in the shade as much as I could. For that time in the morning, it was hot. But nowhere near the temperatures that i’ve had to endure whilst training in Qatar. I was nervous walking through the call rooms, attaching my number and lacing up my spikes. For the first time, it clicked that this wasn’t just any other race – this was the Olympic Games. All the tears i’ve cried with this injury, every hour spent on the cross trainer was for this one moment. I was so disappointed with my performance in London 2012, I wanted more this time around.
There was a slight panic in the call room. My number was wrong by one digit and so they wouldn’t allow me in. I pointed to my name on the sheet, told the official my name, showed them my accreditation and explained it was the number I had been given. He didn’t budge. Repeating ‘No, sorry, no’ over and over again, I thought I was going to lose the plot. I tried to bargain with him, showing him I could write the correct digit on the number with a black marker pen but again he refused. This was the Olympic Games and I was going to be racing even if he had to draw a number on my forehead in permanent marker – I didn’t care – I was racing; number or no number. I ran outside again to find one of the British coaches to see if he could locate my correct number. Thankfully, we persuaded them to print off my correct number just minutes before I went into the final call room! Panic over. My Olympics was about to commence.
The race started slow. It wasn’t a huge shock but with Ayana in my heat, I thought it would have been moving a little quicker. I was following in Ayana’s rangy stride before she took off like a gazelle after the first mile. The surge was big but I wanted to try and run an even paced race because the surging is something i’m not used to. I found myself floating further to the back of the field. 5K is still relatively new to me, I find the laps a bit of a mental challenge sometimes. In the steeplechase, I was continually distracted by the barriers rather than counting laps – it will definitely come with more experience in the event. I hung on to the back of the group but with 800m to go, I was beginning to lag a little. It’s always a difficult one coming down from altitude; you go through phases in the race where you feel awful and then next minute you feel great. That’s literally what happened to me. With 500m to go, I could sense I was catching the top 5 girls, which would be an automatic qualifying place in the final. As soon as I heard the bell ring, I took off. My last lap ended up being a 62-63 seconds! Again, I’m hoping with a bit more experience, i’ll have the confidence to push on in the race a little sooner. Crossing the line in 5th, I was over the moon. I wanted to wait until I saw that big Q next to my name on the scoreboard.
Between my heat and final, I made a few mistakes. With hindsight, there’s definitely a few things I would go back and change. With the low mileage I’ve been doing, it was always going to be difficult to put two 5K races together within 4 days when i’m only running 45 mile a week.. When you include a taper, it drops to less than 20 miles a week. I can almost be guaranteed that no other athlete, toeing the Olympic Final start line will be operating on such low mileage but it was the situation I’ve been trapped in all year.
Warming up, I felt good, I felt ready. Unfortunately, in the race – the nervous excitement and energy flooding through my body flittered and tiredness replaced it. After my heat, I should have sat on my bum for the two days and rested. Instead, I continued running both days, on the concrete 1.5mile loop around the accommodation blocks. I just don’t think my legs recovered in time for the final.
The first mile began at a canter but when the girls began to surge and upped the pace – I was left on empty. Those 15 minutes and 12 seconds of my life, were probably the most important to date and the amount I learnt within such a short time frame has been priceless. As I crossed the line, I glanced over to see athletes from around the world, exhausted, collapsing to the ground, one by one, knocked down like skittles. Despite the overwhelming feeling of pain and fatigue – there is no other feeling like it. Every one of us, Olympians. A memory to stay engrained with us forever. I was hugely disappointed with 13th place at the time, but looking back now t’s an amazing achievement considering where I’ve come from.
In our sport, we very rarely get to attend the opening ceremonies. This doesn’t particularly bother me – it looks better on the TV anyways! I did however make a conscious effort to attend the closing ceremony but after an hour bus journey and then a further 2 hours standing in the pissing rain – I lasted a total of 10 minutes within the stadium in my red spotted chinos and flashing shoes! In hindsight, I should of stayed and watched it from the comfort of my bed.
We did try our best to get a Scotland team photo but there was so many of us – a few sneaked away before the camera came out! Some of these people I’ve grown up around and so it was a bit surreal; looking around at folk I’ve known since I was 12! From racing Chris O’Hare at the U13 cross countries, to being stuck on a bus from Scotland to the London Mini Marathon with Del Hawkins as 14 year olds and there are too many memories to recall with Lynsey Sharp, Beth Potter and Chris Bennet! It’s amazing to be sharing more memories with these people – they’re a good bunch.
Afterwards, we had a small party in the front yard of our accommodation block. It was pretty relaxed and chilled. Beer and wine were flowing with someones ipod blaring out some old-school R&B. Coaches, staff and athletes were all celebrating a successful games. Most of the athletes had been on a wild one a few nights before and so this chilled out vibe was all they could handle before the prospect of an 11 hour flight home!
The only regret I have from Rio is that I didn’t get the chance to explore the city as much as I would have liked. I only had three days after my competition to get out into Rio. Sod’s law, the weather took a turn for the worst and we were stuck under cloud and rainstorms for the entire weekend! This obviously limited our sight seeing. The beach was out and unfortunately so was sugar loaf mountain. That’s the one I’m most gutted about. It’s somewhere I really wanted to visit but we had to make do with Christ the Redeemer.. which to be honest was just as spectacular. Definitely one crossed off the bucket list.
All in all, Rio de Janeiro was more than I could of asked for. The people I came across were extremely friendly, welcoming and helpful. Looking ahead, I’m excited for what the next Olympic cycle holds. Without a doubt, it will be filled with highs and monstrous lows but i’m ready for the challenge. The Olympic Journey is an insightful one and i’ve learnt so much from the experience.
The goal now switches to becoming a triple threat – a three times Olympian at the age of 29. I might even attempt to challenge for a spot over the 10,000m! Three Olympics in three events – that would certainly be a story for the grandchildren. And who knows.. Tokyo 2020 might even be the one to topple London 2012 off it’s throne!