Scottish distance great, LIZ McCOLGAN spoke to NICOLA BAMFORD about her time at the top amongst the World’s best long-distance runners and offers the Run Britain audience some inspirational insights and tips...(written for UK Athletics 06/08).
The 1991 World 10,000m Champion, 1988 Olympic 10,000m runner-up and 1996 London marathon winner took time out from her chaotic work and coaching schedule to take part in an enlightening Q & A...
1) How did you get into running? I started running at 12 years old, when I went to first year of secondary school. I was spotted from my PE teacher, who advised me to join the local athletics club. I loved running the longer distance from the start and never seemed to tire as much as the others in my group.
2) Did you do mainly distance running? When I first joined the club I did 200m and was rubbish, I also high jumped. The way I got into distance running was when the club held a fund-raising race, where we had to run laps of the track - all the sprinters struggled and I just got left to run all the laps. That’s when I discovered I was a distance runner, so then changed groups.
3) Did you have much success as a junior? I was never the best runner in my age group when I started but was always in the top 10 of the country, so I suppose I wasn’t the worst. There were always very good youngsters to compete against but I still made Scottish teams. I came to be a better runner when I was around 18/19 years old - that was when I won my first UK title. Running is full of disappointments; they far outweigh the better performances
4) Who were you coached by? As a young girl to the age of 17 I was coached by Harry Bennett; he died when I was 17. I then self-coached myself to win the Commonwealth Games 10000m 1986, when I was 22 years old. I met John Anderson after the games in 1987 and he coached me for 18-months. I then coached myself to the World 10000m title, and London, New York and Tokyo marathon wins. I then met Grete Waitz; who coached me from 1992-1996 to which I then retired.
5) How did you feel when winning your first major medal? I felt a great deal of relief when I won my first championship medal; which was the Commonwealth Games in 1986 - it was Scotland’s only gold medal on the track for the entire games. The pressure was unbelievable before the race, especially when one by one, athletes were coming back to the camp without medals they thought they were going to get. When I got to the stadium, it was the most nerve-racking moment of my life but I knew I was going to do it which was really weird.
6) Explain your perfect race day... Get up, go for jog, get breakfast, go back to room to think about race, look at start list times etc, plan what time to leave, get to stadium etc, get running attire ready, go for walk, talk about race with husband, get lunch, have a sleep, stretch, have a snack, get ready to leave for stadium, arrive 3 hours before race to get into atmosphere of race, have black coffee 1 hour before race, then start warm up, in call-up room 20-mins before race, think only of race don’t speak to anyone, run 10000m, win world title, in drugs room, back to camp/accommodation, light supper, to bed.
7) What was biggest set-back? My biggest setback was the Atlanta Olympics; I had prepared the best I ever had, moved to the athlete’s village 2-nights before my marathon and got bitten on the Achilles by an insect. Because of the heat, the poison went straight into the blood stream; I was given 2 different penicillin medicines, and though I could still run the race, it was a total disaster; I don’t know how I ever finished that race, but it was one of the worst moments in my career.
8) What was your warm up like? Stretch with a rope, go for 15min jog, stretch and drills, strides – fast, race.
9) What would a typical week’s training be like?
Mon am: 10k sustained pm: 5miles
Tues am: 5miles pm: 6xmile - 60 sec rec
Wed am: 10 miles pm: 5miles, gym work
Thurs am: 5miles pm: 20x400 - 30 sec rec
Fri am: 5k sustained run pm: 5miles
Sat am: 3k/2k/1/800/600/400/200 - rec 2min/90/60/45/30 pm: 5miles
Sun am: 15mile run pm: 3miles, gym work
All sessions warm up and down 2 miles Total 101 mile week
10) Did you ever try altitude or warm-weather training? I tried altitude training five times and never felt comfortable with it; I much preferred to go to hot, humid conditions, so based myself in Gainsville, Florida.
11) Did you enjoy travelling to races so often? I did not really enjoy the travelling to the races, as you never got the opportunity to sight-see; I just flew in and out.
12) Did you become friends with your rivals? I only really became friends with my rivals when I finished competing. It was hard for me as I wanted to run my hardest against them so felt it better to not be to close too them. In saying that, I did spend time in training camps etc with some of my rivals so did have the opportunity to talk to them, and get to know some of them, but at the same time was very aware they were the people I had to beat.
13) Do you have any tips for fellow runners? My tips are - train hard and be true to yourself. Don’t be happy to just make a team, but try to be the best that you can be.
14) Did you have a large support network? No, I never had a large support network; I was never lottery funded. I had to win races to get my income. I employed one therapist that worked solely with me and travelled to my races etc. I had my husband who was my training partner/manager
15) Did you ever have any other jobs? My income came from winning races so I did not work when I was at my best. In saying that, I worked in a chip shop in my early years, and also a jute factory when I was 17.
16) What was your favourite road race in the UK? My favourite road race was the London marathon; just a brilliant course. The Great North I would rank as one of the best road races in the UK.
17) How do you feel the UK road-racing scene could improve? The UK road scene could improve by getting more Brits racing against each other and I would like to see some more shorter road races introduced.
18) How much sleep do you get? I have around 8 hours sleep a night
19) Do you have any hobbies? I love going to the cinema and like to read John Grishham books
20) What was motivation during your athletics career? Don’t be afraid to dream big; I was told all through my career I would never do anything, but I always believed in myself and never let anyone’s thoughts effect me. In athletics you have to be positive, accept the bad races and learn from them; they make good race great.
21) Did you ever indulge during your career? I don’t think I over-indulge, I had a tendency to train hard, some may say over-train but I don’t think I did.
22) What have you been up to since retiring from competition? Since retiring, I have been Chair of Scotland Athletics and am heavily involved with coaching. I also have a property business, run a health club and have 5 kids, so pretty busy.
23) How would you like to be remembered? I would like to be remembered as an athlete who always ran her hardest no matter what; who was never afraid to give it a go.