This is part 2 on Laura Muir, and Stuart Weir has done a nice job on how Andy Young is managing both Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie.
Laura Muir Part 2
Running has been part of Laura Muir’s life for a long time. The first proper race she remembers was when she was about 10 years old and she took part in the local cross country championship in Perth, Scotland. “I definitely didn’t win but I think I was top ten”. Powerof10 website records her finishing second in an under 13 race over 1500m in 2005, when she came second in 5:33.16. When she started her course at Glasgow University in Veterinary Science in 2011, she was keen to continue running but had no real ambitions to become a professional. Remember that in the UK there are no sports scholarships.
Having grown up with animals – “I had a pet rabbit, a guinea pig and a dog. As early as primary school I knew I wanted to do something with animals. Zoo keeper was one idea, or a marine biologist. By second year in high school when I had to choose subjects I knew I wanted to be a vet”.
Someone who knew Laura and who knew Andy Young called Andy and ask him to look out for Laura. And ace first impression of Laura was that “beyond talent there was something about Laura. She had a fire in her. If we did a track session Laura would always be chasing the person in front. And when she caught them it would be the next person – often a boy. I was only taking the university club two or three times a week but Laura expressed an interest in taking it more seriously. So I started working more with her, giving her a weekly schedule and introducing some strength and conditioning. Her 1500m PB dropped by about 20 seconds and she made the World Juniors that summer ”. Nine years on, Andy young is still her coach.
I asked Laura what Andy gave her as a coach. Her reaction was: “Oh goodness what a question!” as she reflected further, she suggested that it was a question that could be answered at many different levels. A short answer was: “Motivation and belief in yourself”.
She then described how the partnership had developed from their first meeting as he was starting at university: “When I first went to Andy, I was quite unaware of the whole athletics scene. I didn’t know that there was a World Juniors or European cross country. So, he exposed me to the various levels you can compete at. And that gave me the motivation with him saying ‘if you do this and this, then you can run at these championships’. Also the motivation to be the best athlete I could be. When you have somebody who believes in you that much, you want to prove them right. He opens the eyes of athletes and unlocks the potential of what they’re capable of doing”.
In February this year, Laura opened her season with an 800m race in the Scottish National Combined Events meet. She ran a commendable 1:58.44. The only problem was that her young training partner, Jemma Reekie, ran 1:57.91. Laura insists that he was delighted for Jemma and not at all annoyed that Jemma had beaten her. What is more I’m sure she means it. This will be the first of many times that the pair are in opposition – and usually with more at stake there was the case at that low key event.
Competing with her training partner, must be difficult though: “Not really, to be honest. I think we’re both very respectful of one another. We are such good friends and we’re both very good at compartmentalizing things when we’re training and when we’re off the track. We work very well together in training – we are not competitive with each other in training but we work together. So when it comes to a race, it’s a complete mind-switch. For me, Jemma is just like any other athlete when it comes to racing. I think we are both very good at that and we can work well together and both improve our own performance but then when it comes to a race, it’s that mental switch when we’re focusing on ourselves. It’s been great to see her doing so well and being so dominant. It’s been really exciting for both of us to be racing so well this year, ahead of next year”.
Jemma Reekie, photo by British Athletics
If Laura and Jemma were to make the same Olympic final, how would it work? How would Coach Andy Young prepare the two athletes to beat each other? Laura again doesn’t seem remotely bothered by the prospect: “I don’t know we haven’t yet been in a championship final together. Andy generally gives both of us our own race plan. Sometimes we know what the other person is doing and sometimes we don’t. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and we both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses”.
Typically. Laura actually sees a positive in it: “When we’re in rounds, it’s very useful having her there because if we need to work together in rounds, we can do that, which is great. But when it comes to the final – I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see when we come to that situation”.
I am always interested in how a coach athlete relationship works. I asked Laura does she decide how she is going to run a particular race or does Andy: “A bit of both. When I was younger Andy dictated more how I would run a race because he had been on the scene longer and knew what my strengths and weaknesses were. As I have got older and more experienced, he takes my opinion into account as well. I have raced against a lot of the girls throughout the years so we know each other very well and I know how each athlete typically runs a race, which is not to say that someone can’t produce something of a curve ball. I will have in my head what I want to do and Andy will know what he wants me to do and normally they marry up. We are usually on the same page which makes everything pretty straightforward”.
In a country like Britain, there are few realistic Olympic medal hopes. Only four athletes got individual medals in Rio and only two at the 2019 World Championships. This results in real pressure being put on potential medal-winning athletes by the public and media. Laura is very much in that category. “I see pressure more as a support”, she told me. “The pressure and expectation is only there because people expect you to do well. And that people are expecting me to do well, I take confidence from that. Ultimately the only pressure that I feel is pressure that I put on myself. I’ve developed this mentality about championships that that is what you work hard for in training so you need to go out and enjoy it. I would hate to get to a championship and be so nervous that I couldn’t enjoy it. I’ll feel that if I’m nervous it takes away from my performance. I try to be as relaxed as possible and enjoy it, and when that happens, I tend to run pretty well. At a championship anything can happen. We’ve seen it so many times, for example, an underdog can come through and the favorite might not even make the final. Nothing is certain until you are across the finish line. I have a lot of respect for other athletes”.
Laura Muir is an impressive athlete. She is an equally impressive human being.