This is Stuart Weir’s final article on Eilish McColgan’s incredible year of 2022 and her plans in 2023.
9 questions Eilish McColgan
Eilish McColgan is one of the most thoughtful and articulate athletes I have ever spoken with. In the final article, she answers questions on a range of topics relating to her career.
RunBlogRun, #1: What were the challenges of the three championships in one year in 2022 (Worlds, Commonwealths, and Europeans)?
Eilish McColgan: I would say that the biggest challenge is the mental aspect – finishing, picking yourself up to go again, and dealing with the media demands. That was all a bit overwhelming. Then you have to forget about it and focus on the next race and then the next one and just keep going and going and going. But you come to the point where mentally, you feel a little bit fatigued. But we knew we had three championships to prepare for, and I was very up and ready to do that. Maybe because the last two years have just been rubbish with COVID and no spectators, no fans in the stands, I wanted to make the most of this opportunity and enjoy it for what it was because we’ve had two very disrupted years in the sport, which wasn’t fun for anyone. So it was just nice to be back racing in full stadiums. It was nice to be back to normality.
RunBlogRun, #2: You are a busy athlete, running a Half Marathon in February and still going with a 15K in November 2022!
Eilish McColgan: Before the 15K in November, I had already had my holiday. I’d had some time off. I wasn’t in the shape that I would like for that 15 K., But that race in the Netherlands is one that I always get asked to do, and my agent is Dutch. I’ve always shied away from it because I’m coming off a holiday and think that I don’t want to run a race when I’m not fit. But this year, I just thought, “why not? Am I ever going to be in peak shape for a race in November? Probably not, so why not just go and do it and enjoy it”. I didn’t run as fast as I would like, but I broke my mom’s record. My mom won’t mind me saying this, but it’s a weak record for a distance that doesn’t get run that often. I think I ran faster over that distance in the Great South Run. In the two years, I did the Great South Run, I ran faster through 15 K than in the Dutch race. It a nice to come away with a record, but it wasn’t one of the key races in my season. It is just a way of getting back into winter training.
RunBlogRun, #3: The half marathon in February?
Eilish McColgan: It was the same really in February. It was just something I wanted to do because I was in really good shape as we had put in some serious work from November right the way through to February. I was in Dubai, and the race was only an hour away, so I thought it was a great opportunity to showcase the fitness I’d built up over the winter. And I think it’s a little bit different when you’re running on the roads from the track, so it didn’t feel like I was preparing for the track that was just me doing winter training and including a road race to see where I’m at. The summer track season for me is quite separate.
RunBlogRun, #4: Will you be in the Budapest World Championships, the marathon, or the track?
Eilish McColgan: Good question. It really depends on how London goes and how quickly I recover off the back of London. But even if London goes well, I may think it’s too tight to do another marathon so soon and that it might be better to do an autumn or winter marathon. Regardless, I would like to be in Budapest. If London doesn’t go as well as I would like, and I think I’d like another go at the marathon, I wouldn’t have time and couldn’t do Budapest. It is probably more likely I would be in Budapest for the 10 K. I still want to remain competitive over the 10 K. I think if you look at the world’s top marathon runners, they are all world-class over 10K. Undoubtedly, they could go to the Worlds or Olympics for 10 K. In fact, the elite runners in the marathon go through 10 K in quality times but just keep on running.
One of the good things about the marathon is that there are so many options, although you can probably only do two or a maximum of three in a year. But the good thing is that there are big ones to aim for every two or three months, spread out throughout the year. And even if it’s not a major marathon, you have a Valencia and Seville and other smaller marathons which are fast. That means you can be a little bit more flexible in your planning. So we’ll wait and see how London goes before making plans for the rest of the year.
RunBlogRun, #5: If the marathon switch goes well, will you continue to run some 10Ks?
Eilish McColgan: I still want to keep an eye on that and don’t want to get to a situation where I can’t compete in 10 K because then I think I would lose my quality over the marathon distance too. They all link to each other. So realistically, probably a 10 K in Budapest, but it all comes down to how well London goes and how well I recover on the back of that and whether I feel I can do another one in August or if I think it’s better to expand that out a bit and aim for a winter marathon.
RunBlogRun, #6: What is your average weekly mileage?
Eilish McColgan: I am quite unusual. I had a really bad injury in 2011. I completely fractured my navicular bone in a steeple chase and had five screws and a metal plate in my foot. In 2015 I fractured my ankle on the same foot, and they put two more screws in, so I now have seven screws in that foot. And when I started back running after the surgery, my foot was so painful.
I realized there was no way I could run twice a day. I quit the steeple chase because I couldn’t hop on my foot, never mind steeple chase. So I changed to flat running all the time. I was very careful about where I would run and brought my mileage right down, just running once daily and through the pain. In the evening, I would aqua jog or go on a spin bike or cross-trainer because I didn’t have pain when I did that. I did that for the whole of the end of 2015. In 2016 I went to my first race of the year at Stanford, one of my first 5k for years, and I think I ran 15:09, which was a qualifying time for Rio and a 40-second PB.
RunBlogRun, #7: How did you react to that excellent time on the back of low mileage?
Eilish McColgan: I couldn’t believe it and remember texting my mum, ‘whao!’. I had just run a huge PB off running 30 miles a week. It seemed ridiculous. I had never run such low mileage and yet had run so well. And from that, perhaps we realized that I need to do something different. My mum struggled with that because she was always used to running 100+ miles per week. So to see me running 30 but running better than I ever had been was a strange transition for her to get her mind around. But over the last few years, we have realized that I am different. I am taller and built a little bit differently. We’re different people, and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.
Over the years, we’ve gradually built it up, starting at 30 miles per week, and we’ve built it to the point now where it’s probably about 65 miles per week. I am still cross-training but not as much – I have reduced the cross-training as I have increased the mileage, but I think that’s what has allowed me to be injury free – of course, I still get injured, but nowhere near to the extent I used to, where I would be spending months and months out, on crutches and getting surgery. It has been a very different way of training, just running once a day, but it has worked, so we stuck with that for now. The ideal would be that I get my mileage up to 75 or 80 – that would be a goal of mine for this year, reducing the cross-training to allow me to get up to there. But it will still be a huge part of my program when I cross-train or aqua jog and offload. It’s been a good way to keep my body, heart, and lungs going but without the added impact.
RunBlogRun, #8: With your mom based in Qatar, Michael (Rimmer) seems to play a big role in your career? How does that work?
Eilish McColgan: During the pandemic, we got stuck abroad, and we made a commitment there and then that we would do everything we could to ‘go all in,’ as we called it. If it meant that we would have to travel 11 months of the year to get better training conditions, altitude, etc. I would, but Michael would come and be with me. It made a big difference having someone there supporting me because, in the past, I would go to an altitude camp for five weeks, totally on my own, sitting around in a room by myself, going out training by myself, but it makes such a big difference having Michael there. He’s around me so much that he knows me better than anyone else. And from a mental perspective, instead of being alone all the time – missing home and family – which I think is one of the hardest parts of being an athlete. But it makes it a lot easier when Michael is by my side, and I have my best friend with me 24/7.
RunBlogRun, #9: Does he help with training?
Eilish McColgan: He is a huge part of my support system and helps with training and day-to-day decisions. Having someone to come out on the bike with me and time my sessions to pace my sessions is such a help. Even for small things, he does all my physio and rehab. When I wake up tired, normally I would just go and do the session and crack on because my mom has set for it, and it is on my program, and that would be it. But Michael would be like. ‘let’s not do that today. Let’s delay it a day. Let’s change it a little or make it less intense or give longer for recovery’, changes like that that make a big difference. I struggle to make them because, as an athlete, I want to do more. I want to add on extra reps. I just want to train. Even if my foot is sore, I want to go out and do a session. But Michael will say, ‘No, you are sick today’ or ‘your foot is sore, let’s take a day off, take a couple of days off, and go in the pool instead.’ Just making small changes. It has allowed me to be far more consistent than we ever have been, but it’s also a big commitment on his side. He has left his career behind in order to do so. He’s left his family behind and everyone in the UK. There’s the commitment on both sides, but I am very lucky that he’s on this journey with me.
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